Local Farms, Food And Jobs Act Would Shorten Supply Chains, Connect Farmers And Families

Bill Would Boost VT’s Rural Economy And Improve Access To Healthy, Fresh Foods

WASHINGTON (WEDNESDAY, Nov. 2) -- Senator Leahy has joined as an original cosponsor of reforms to support Vermont’s family farms and expand rural farming businesses, while creating jobs and investing in local and regional food economies.

The Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act (S.1773) is a comprehensive package of Farm Bill reforms that would help Vermont’s farmers and expand upon Vermont’s Farm to Plate Initiative by addressing production, aggregation, marketing and distribution needs.  The bill also prioritizes consumer access to healthy, fresh food by supporting technology and direct sales.  The bill is intended for inclusion in the 2012 Farm Bill.  Leahy is the most senior member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry.

“Quality food products are a Vermont specialty and a staple of our dinner tables, and promoting and emphasizing local food will help to grow Vermont’s economy, maintain our state’s working agricultural landscape and strengthen rural communities,” Leahy said.  “Americans want to be able to buy healthy and fresh foods that have not traveled halfway across the country or the globe. This bill leads us in a new direction for farm policy, making it easier for consumers and farmers to partner in local food systems.”

Vermont Secretary of Agriculture Chuck Ross said, “This legislation begins to update the Farm Bill to reflect the needed changes in national policy necessary to support the ongoing growth of local and regionally oriented food production that is sweeping Vermont and the nation.  Consumers are demanding high quality locally and regionally produced fruits, vegetables, meat and dairy products.  This legislation provides the leadership to show how to design the Farm Bill to sweep away obstacles confronting farmers while increasing the support for their efforts to supply the healthy and nutritious food our consumers demand.”

Ellen Kahler, executive director of the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund, which heads the Farm to Plate Initiative, said, “Consumers are driving this shift towards fresh, healthy and locally or regionally sourced food.  In order to meet this growing demand, we need to significantly increase the supply of locally produced fruits, vegetables, meat, grains and value-added dairy products.  In order to do that, farmers and food entrepreneurs need access to more capital, to business assistance to comply with new food safety regulations, and to easier entry points to selling their products to institutions such as schools and hospitals.  They also need access to infrastructure such as aggregation and storage facilities.”

Travis Marcotte, executive director of the Intervale Center, which promotes sustainable agriculture in the state, said, “Vermonters treasure the agricultural landscape and the people it supports.  This bill will help farm and food producers expand markets, enhance farm viability and improve access to the high quality food produced by our neighbors.  We’ve been working on these issues for over 20 years here at the Intervale Center, and it cannot be stressed enough how important our local farm and food producers are to the health of our economy, to our land and water, and to everyone who lives in or visits Vermont.”

Helping farmers sell their products directly to consumers and condensing local supply chains means that more of a consumer’s dollar stays on the farm, where it can be invested in local jobs and supplies, thereby boosting local economies.  Leahy noted that today, for each dollar that consumers spend on food, less than 16 cents goes back to the farmer.  While Vermont is a strong agricultural state, Vermonters still buy  95 percent of their food from out of state at an estimated annual cost of $2 billion.  He noted that with just a 5 percent shift, Vermont could grow 10 percent of its own food, generating $88 million each year in new gross domestic product and $177 million annually in new overall economic activity.  According to an economic impact analysis conducted for the Farm to Plate Strategic Plan, every 5 percent increase in local production yields 1500 new jobs.

The Local Food, Farms, and Jobs Act includes provisions that would:

  • Improve crop insurance products available to small and diversified family farms;
  • Eliminate penalties for production of fruits and vegetables on land previously dedicated to row crops;
  • Invest in critical infrastructure to enable farmers and food businesses to aggregate, store and distribute their products;
  • Increase food safety training and technical assistance for small- and mid-sized farming operations, as well as for small slaughterhouses;
  • Support organic farming by authorizing the Risk Management Agency to eliminate the organic premium surcharge and by funding the National Organic Certification Cost Share Program;
  • Reduce barriers to institutional purchasing, better linking Vermont farms with Vermont schools, hospitals and other institutions, and;
  • Enable SNAP recipients to purchase fresh, Vermont-grown food by helping farmers and direct sales markets acquire the technology necessary to accept electronic benefits.

A summary of the bill can be found here.

In addition to chief sponsor Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Leahy, an original cosponsor, other Senate cosponsors of the bill are Senators Robert P. Casey (D-Pa.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.).

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