The 2013 Farm Bill hangs in the balance in Congress, awaiting a final vote, expected Monday. As Congress continues to struggle to get a new bill passed, farmers, small-scale producers, and advocates working to bring fresh food to the underserved are having to do what they’ve always had to do. Be creative.
When it comes to growing food and feeding people, things are already happening in Michigan. The state is second only to California in agricultural production, and is shaping the way that the country looks at urban agriculture. The exciting work happening on the ground in communities and in farmers’ fields can seem far from the halls of Congress, but they are in fact closely connected.
In Michigan, we’ve seen a jump in farmers’ markets around the state, more grocery stores are starting to label Michigan-grown and local produce and value added products, more supports for the growing number of young and beginning farmers starting up organic farm businesses. We’re also seeing more innovative projects addressing issues of access to fresh, healthy, locally grown food in both urban and rural areas around the state. Across the country there is an increase in SNAP use at farmers’ markets, and in Michigan we’ve seen a big jump in consumers attending farmers’ markets that offer the farmers’ market incentive program, Double Up Food Bucks.
All of these examples show how Michigan consumers are demanding and engaging in local and regional food systems and how food and farm businesses are responding to that consumer demand for organic and local produce and products.
Gridlock in Congress that has resulted in last year’s failure to pass a Farm Bill and this year’s lack of funding for key programs means federal support has slowed—or stopped altogether the programs that support farm to school initiatives, new and underserved farmers, and other efforts to build a more sustainable future for food and farms. This has impacted Michigan along with the rest of the country.
The Downtown Ypsilanti Farmer’s Market (DYFM), one of several run by Growing Hope, a Michigan-based non-profit, can’t afford to let what happens in Washington impact getting affordable food on the tables of residents. Market manager Christine Easley says, “this market serves as hub for healthy food access.”
She notes that 34 percent of all sales at the market come from low-income shoppers. Not only do markets like DYFM increase access to fresh, affordable foods for residents, but they also help build markets for farmers to sell their wares and increase their bottom line. “Without the chance to apply for competitive federal grants, we have had to make sure that we have other streams of income to help us to continue to do our work,” Easley says.
Several farmers’ market programs in use on the ground in Michigan, such as Double Up Food Bucks and Project Fresh, are partially funded through Farm Bill legislation. They help boost market sales across the state—last year, the Ypsilanti market alone generated nearly $150,000 in sales, which Easley estimates had a $762,000 positive economic impact on the farmers, vendors and neighborhoods they serve.
Many who run farmers’ markets or programs that support the markets are keeping their eyes on the 2013 Farm Bill process and the recently introduced Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act of 2013 in hopes that its provisions become part of the final 2013 Farm Bill. Lindsey Scalera, a grassroots organizer with Michigan Voices for Good Food Policy, has been following the impacts of a tabled 2012 Farm Bill and the pending Local Farms Food and Jobs Act.
Scalera says, “Without these resources, it’s difficult for our government to invest in a more sustainable future for agriculture—and especially now is when all farmers, especially young and beginning farmers, need help.” She says Michigan needs the help to continue the growth of local and regional food systems and make it easier for new farmers to get started in agriculture.