At a time when budget cutting is center stage in Washington, D.C., those who grow organic and farmer market fruits and vegetables are bemoaning the lack of any government assistance or “safety net” similar to what commodity grain producers have enjoyed over the years.
At the Izaak Walton League co-organized farm bill discussion earlier this year in Kansas City, it was pointed out that none of the farmers selling through farmers markets are covered by the current farm bill. “They are not covered in any of the commodity payments; they are not covered in the crop insurance payments,” it was noted. The majority of the crowd in attendance already knew about being part of the minority of farmers in the nation selling locally grown food.
Additionally, one audience member yelled out, “None of the crop insurance will pay me for GMO contamination of my crops either.”
Another audience comment was in support of organic growers. “How do we deal with the inequities in the system? We have a lot of small organic growers that need covered based on the value of the crops they are growing, and that is not happening. It sounds to me like the farm bill is administered protectionism at its worst for conventional crop growers.”
One speaker who has done lobbying of Kansas congressional members and lobbied at the state level in Kansas had strong opinions. Paul Johnson, a farmer who with six other farmers have formed Rolling Prairie Farmer’s Alliance to sell food to about 300 households per week in the Kansas City and Lawrence, Kan., area, complained that Kansas had 140,000 acres of produce crops being grown in 1910 as households had large gardens and farmers were producing for the local communities. Today, the acres of produce total about 6,700 acres.
Rolling Prairie Farmer's Alliance is a community-supported agriculture (CSA) produce subscription service with the farmers in the alliance operating as a cooperative.
Johnson calculated that of the annual food consumption in Kansas, about $750 million is spent on fresh fruits and vegetables, but the local and organic Kansas producers are only earning about $32 million of that food expenditure. He further complained that only $40,000 of food stamp or government food assistance money was spent at farmers markets in 2010.
From Johnson’s perspective and a highly agreeable crowd’s perspective, he said, “We need to broaden crop insurance to make it available to organics and sustainable farming practices and make it work for niche crops. We need to increase conservation programs for working lands instead of land retirement programs and use that money to support a broader base of farmers with different farming operations.
“We need to increase funding for research in organic and sustainable farming practices, and we need to do a lot more to increase the options for people to use food stamps and WIC coupons at farmers’ markets to buy local food.”
It is obvious that the Obama administration has given those described as the “locally grown” advocates some Department of Agriculture attention, but it has been verbal/news release attention rather than backing the stance with much money.
As attention will come back to lower level discussion than national bankruptcy, all indicators are that there is not going to be much government support going to “local growers’” as the 2012 farm bill has to be hammered out, especially looking at the cuts required under the debt ceiling legislation.