The 2012 Farm Bill: It’s Not Too Late to Think Big | Civil Eats

The 2012 Farm Bill: It’s Not Too Late to Think Big

Mention the 2012 Farm Bill these days, which I do as often as I can, and you’re likely to be met with uncomfortable silence, head shaking, eye rolling, or worse. Legislators who are thinking about the next Farm Bill are already talking about it in terms of untouchable commodity programs, compromises they’re ready to make, and scraps they’re desperate to hold on to. Average Americans who are interested in these sorts of things–the ones who don’t stare blankly–are overwhelmed by the size of the bill, its complexity, and the various special interests at play. It’s not pretty.

Understanding the Farm Bill: A Citizen’s Guide to a Better Food System, a Facebook page launched last month by Mark Muller from the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) and myself aims to take a first, small step towards demystifying the Farm Bill. Our goal is to empower concerned citizens across the United States by communicating what’s at stake in the 2012 Farm Bill in terms that we can all understand. For example:

  • All across the country, children are being fed highly processed and packaged corn, soy, and wheat-laden school lunches, while at the same time we express increasing concern about childhood obesity. What farm bill policy drivers can help make our kids healthier?
  • We are wasting soil and water resources with inefficient, environmentally disastrous agricultural systems. What farm bill policy drivers can protect our environment and our ability to produce enough food for future generations?
  • Recently in New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg asked the US Department of Agriculture to disallow the use of food stamps to purchase soda for 2 years, allowing the city to gather data on whether or not this change has a positive impact on health outcomes. What farm bill policy drivers can help promote healthy food options without taking away freedom of choice?

We’re in a “dire federal budget situation,” Mark Muller says, “many have dim hopes for significant policy change in the forthcoming Farm Bill. But we simply cannot ignore this opportunity that only comes around about once every five years. Farm Bill policies are too expensive and inequitable, and they prop up a food system that quickly needs to become more sustainable and more healthful.”

Tactical Concerns

Many groups are already actively working on tactical Farm Bill-related issues, of course. The 2008 Farm Bill included funding for nutrition, rural development, energy, organic farming, forestry, and more, and groups whose programs are dependent on these funds are eager to protect them in 2012. This is as it should be, and yet there’s a clear opportunity for those without a specific program at risk to think about the Farm Bill more holistically. What’s the big picture we’re trying to accomplish? And if each group’s goal is to represent its constituents and protect its program, can we ever get there? Our experience with the 2008 Farm Bill–in which we sacrificed true reform for incremental change–says no.

newsmatch banner 2022

Our new Facebook page is just a start. Over the next several months, Mark and I will be inviting readers to post an article, express an opinion, tell a friend, or call a congressperson. We’ll be looking for people who are willing to think big about the 2012 Farm Bill, to share their experience, and to commit to making a difference. We are looking for tactical ways to empower people who are willing to fight through the bill’s complex bulk and participate. We hope you’ll join us.

We’ll bring the news to you.

Get the weekly Civil Eats newsletter, delivered to your inbox.

Today’s food system is complex.

Invest in nonprofit journalism that tells the whole story.

Lee is the founder of Simple, Good and Tasty, a web-based business focused on helping providers of good food to connect with consumers. Lee is actively working on promoting businesses and organizations that are focused on sustainable food, helping consumers make a difference, and making our food system understandable without “dumbing it down.” Read more >

Like the story?
Join the conversation.

  1. Holly Hight
    Hi Lee,

    Thanks for this excellent post. I recently attended a farm bill strategy meeting in Los Angeles for interested partners. It was a very diverse group of anti-hunger partners, organic farmers, pesticide groups and community organizations. I'd love to touch base with you about the meeting. Also, I worked on the last farm bill and we created a variety of public materials to help explain the "big picture" for the farm bill. Those materials mobilized folks in CA like I've never seen before...huge amounts of energy among our members. I'm happy to share those with you. I share your love of making these ideas simple and easy for people to understand. A lot is at's vital that people receive helpful and non-wonky info.
  2. Thanks for creating this FB page.

    Holly, I would love to see those Farm Bill materials as well if you could send them to me. I am a grad student in Food Systems and Policy at NYU working on my final project about programs that help new farmers develop sustainable regional food systems and how changes to the farm bill can help. I can be reached at
  3. Jody Pennycook
    I am a Physician Assistant student, and based on the research I have done I think that health care providers, in particular those working in Family Practice and Endocrinology could provide some much needed support of Farm Bill reform. I am interested in the links between the obesity epidemic and the current Farm Bill, and plan to work in one of these two areas of medicine upon graduation.

More from

Farm Bill


Elena Terry, (left) and Zoe Fess smile after showcasing Seedy SassSquash, a signature family dish, during the Smithsonian’s

This Mother-Daughter Team Is Sharing Food Traditions from the Ho-Chunk Nation

Through their nonprofit Wild Bearies, Elena Terry and Zoe Fess are advancing intergenerational seed-saving and knowledge-keeping. A recent spotlight at the Smithsonian is helping them make strides.


Absent Federal Oversight of Animal Agriculture Safety, States and Others Step Up for Change

A happy and healthy-looking worker in a clean and well-lit dairy. Photo credit: Vera Chang.

Tyson Says Its Nurses Help Workers. Critics Charge They Stymie OSHA.

An anonymous worker, 48, from Guatemala, has worked at the Tyson in Green Forest, Arkansas, for 20 years. She needs carpal tunnel surgery in both arms, and Tyson doctors have confirmed that she needs it. However, Tyson has told her the company will not cover the cost of the surgery. Her husband, also a Tyson worker, died of COVID in 2020. (Photo by Jacky Muniello for Civil Eats)

Biogas Expansion May Compound Worker Risks

An overhead view of an anaerobic digester pond next to animal barns and a cornfield. (Photo credit: Maas Energy)

‘I Was Coughing So Hard I Would Throw Up’

An animal-ag worker carries two piglets in a CAFO.