A Game-Changer for the Farm Bill and SNAP

In an audacious move, the Republican-led House passed a Farm Bill without the Nutrition Title. Over 70 percent of the Bill’s currently projected annual expenditures ($70 billion out of over $97 billion) will be moved to a separate nutrition bill. This radical vote is feared by many of my colleagues working on the California Food Policy Council. But they miss the fact that it signals an end to an old alliance that kept change from happening. Without that roadblock, a united food movement may be able to push for farm and food policies that will actually support food justice, rural renewal, human health and community resilience instead of lining the pockets of the nation’s most powerful factory farms and food corporations.

Those (including all the House Democrats) who fear the split will say that the Nutrition Title’s core, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), is all that keeps agriculture relevant to urban power centers. USDA Secretary, Tom Vilsack, has been warning for months that agriculture is losing its political power. He has implored agriculture to show its relevance again to the American people. He is right. But to clarify, relevance requires a new Farm Bill. The current Bill serves too few.

Most Americans neither understand nor support the $5 to $7 billion per year we have been spending on crop and insurance subsidies. For nearly thirty years agribusiness and big food have lobbied to support SNAP. But they did it to ensure that the hunger lobby supported subsidies for corn, soy, wheat, rice and sugar. The biggest growers reap most of the subsidies. They supply the raw materials of the industrial food system. By enriching the largest farmers, we also enrich the industrial food complex comprised of banks, insurance, GMO seed, chemical and industrial food corporations that churn out cheap, highly processed and fast food that undermines public health.

Because of this alliance of entrenched interests, new policies that respond to current health, environmental and economic challenges that impact all Americans have been stopped or kept to the Bill’s margins and starved for funds. Consequently, I am in rare agreement with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor who led the fight to split the Bill. But our goals are very different. Cantor wants to cut SNAP and public investments in agriculture. He bet that killing the powerful political alliance between the two lobbies will ensure cuts. I believe that the powerful urban members of Congress (particularly in the Senate), large city mayors and governors will limit SNAP cuts in any new nutrition bill. It is more likely that major cuts will undermine agriculture’s ability to feed the nation and the world without destroying our resource base in the process.

The current Bill’s failings are clear. The billions in unmet demand for USDA stewardship dollars reveals that too little money is available to farmers and ranchers seeking to build soil and stop agriculture’s pollution of waterways. Far too little money goes to research and innovation designed to meet the needs of nature and the challenges wrought by a warming planet. Too little of SNAP funds are spent on healthy fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts and whole grains. The Farm Bill remains wed to the 1940’s goal of creating abundant cheap calories, which we achieved. But in so doing, we ignited the obesity epidemic ravaging our families and healthcare system. 

Twenty-first century policies must acknowledge that healthy food and farms form the foundation for secure, prosperous and healthy communities. A new nutrition policy must provide low-income people easy and affordable access to nutritious food and commit resources to teach children and young families the skills and knowledge essential to food production, preparation, nutrition, and enjoyment. Agriculture policy must make more money available to protect soil, water, and biological diversity and prevent the exploitation of workers and animal cruelty. The next Farm Bill must aim to prevent any corporation or individual from controlling farmers, ranchers, genes and markets. The challenges of climate change and obesity require aide to farmers and ranchers harmed by flood and drought as well as support for beginning farmers and projects that build sustainable regional food supply systems that make nutritious fresh food available all across the nation.

Such policies would make agriculture relevant to every American: rich or poor, urban or rural. They would provide a basis for health to actually trump the financial goals of those harming people and planet to create shareholder wealth. They would favor farms, ranches and food corporations committed to our nation’s health and resilience as well as shareholder and employee wealth.

The House vote signals that the alliance against change may have been fatally wounded and new opportunities lay before us. The House must now work with the Senate and President to finish two bills. The food movement now has a moment to force some change. This is the time to focus on policies that make for healthy people and resilient communities.

4 thoughts on “A Game-Changer for the Farm Bill and SNAP

  1. Exactly what path do you see for the good food movement to “force some change” now that big ag-friendly bills have passed both the House and Senate? Do you expect the conferees (including the authors of these bills) to suddenly start supporting healthy food when they meet to iron out their differences? The only part of the current farm bill that remains open for debate is nutrition, and nothing good will come of it.

  2. I agree. The SNAP has much more use if its intent to provide children and adults with nutrition so they can develop mind and body. Food should be a major component of health in the congressional intent. Health care and SNAP – not as a give away but as a sensible approach.

  3. I am 4th generation Vero Beach, Florida. This is letter I am blasting out to my community along with state and government officials.
    My Country Tis of Thee…Land of the Liberty…Let Freedom Ring
    I’m meeting with Alma Lee Loy today along with a couple of ladies that have joined my efforts along the way. The subject is farming. I ask myself in the last several years of gathering information, attending countless meetings, traveling the state of Florida and countless conference calls….is all this really necessary? Do I really have to have all this information to bring an awareness to my community of the importance of growing our own food? Isn’t there enough awareness in the media? Doesn’t history speak for itself? Doesn’t the current food assistance, poor health, dependence on fossil fuels, etc., etc., say enough? Are we acting like growing our own food, canning our own food, preparing our own food is a thing of the past?
    One thing I can say after all this. I never realized how much farming and food brought people together. The one thing that I have seen in my 43 years as a fourth generation to Vero Beach, Florida is the separation of community due to the growth, a division of town and county. I grew up on what I considered the country side of Vero. We didn’t have to join any groups to connect with people of the community, the Winn Dixie out west of town did that, Jackie’s convenient store did that, Keen’s Grocery did that…my point is, that when a community is smaller, people connect at slower paces and at family owned businesses.
    My family (on my father’s side) still lives on the corner of 69th Street and 66th Avenue. My grandfather, John A. Jackson, used to plow the acreage with his green John Deere tractor and fill the land with field peas. I remember people coming of the road and filling their bags with the harvest. The county purchased 4-5 acres of this property due to the expansion of 66th Avenue. My great great grandparents (on my mother’s side), R. Gary and Elizabeth Roberts bought 10 acres from John LaRoche in what is now known as John’s Island to farm. They moved to the mainland and had children that farmed. They gave food away here during the Depression because people did not have the means to buy food.
    I asked county commissioner Wesley Davis, in which I graduated high school here in 1988, the future of agricultural property in Vero Beach. At the time, I was trying to save my own 5 acre homestead of 20 years that I never even thought of using for agricultural purposes until my divorce in attempts to supplement my income to afford such a property as a single parent. Commissioner Davis was not aware of what I could do to make a viable income that would allow me to be profitable…especially on such a small piece of property. He also spoke of the current situation with the citrus industry which is what the county’s main agriculture business consisted of. Well folks, my years of research has paid off!
    Not only did I find a viable income solution for farmers, but I have connected with two wonderful ladies that were on their own journeys for a better quality of life and solutions. Nancy Heinrich, Growing Healthy Kids, works in the community educating on childhood obesity and diabetes with her non-profit (outside of working a full-time job). Joining with Nancy, I realize that she has an established relationships with businesses and people in the community at multiple levels involved with community health among other things. I come from over 20 years in the health field and have great compassion in this area. Theresa Christian was working on farming more on a CPR level…conservation, preservation and revivification. The intelligence of this women is amazing. What an asset to our community with her knowledge to accomplish this great task ahead of us. As a gold star mother, losing her oldest son in Iraq, she has a heart for the veterans. Theresa knows law, policies, projects, etc. that are current and of the past that ties into this great effort of our quality of life. She looks at this as not only very patriotic (in which she sees Vero Beach as) but also a great opportunity for involvement of veterans of all ages.
    All I’m getting at is growing food, living in harmony with land is not something new people. It is not a thing of the past. As we can see with our environmental problems and poor health, we need to start redirecting some of our resources to the education and implementation of what we all share…our land, food and water. No matter of your religious beliefs, “this land is your land, this land is my land” is not an old song. It’s an old song that needs to be brought back into present times. Singing it from all walks of life, of all ages, from the mountain tops to the town streets.
    I’m asking for some community support in our efforts to bring back the community that I know exists. That people go elsewhere to see. That is farming. Yes, Vero Beach, Florida does have a farming side of town. A community of families that have history here. What excites me with bringing back farming at this time in my community are a multiple of things. Think about what farming and food meant to families in the past…community, wholesome living, conversation, helping one another, the list goes on and on. Now add the fact that we are a community of people that did not grow up together, different backgrounds, cultures, etc.. Now you have people learning about different walks of life and that is a beautiful thing.
    I’m a stickler for old sayings…”It takes a village to raise a child”… We have this responsibility for our children…for our future generations. We are doing such a disservice to our youth, and ourselves for that matter, if we do not teach and learn how to grow our own food. Also our responsibility of taking care of our natural resources that have been here since the beginning of time here on earth. This brings my closing to also include the teaching of what it means to be a proud citizen of the United States. Again, not a thing of the past, but something that needs to be brought back to present times. So that our future generations not only feel like contributing individuals but also a reminder to all of us the privilege we have to reside and share this great land called “The United State of America”!
    Respectfully yours,
    Kelly Jackson Nosler
    I can be contacted at 772-633-0089

  4. Absolutely great article. I had no idea! I have to say I am afraid to have hope however. The subsidies for corn and bigAg still have more than enough lobbying power to overcome any new opposition no?