Tag Archives: public health

A 2012 Farm Bill Almanac

Predictions for upcoming seasons are laid out each year in the pages of The Old Farmer’s Almanac — charting the sun, moon, tides and past weather records to forecast the year ahead. With that in mind, we’ve done some calculations of our own and gauged the temperature of discussions surrounding farm and food policy for the 2012 Farm Bill.

Should the stars align, here are our predictions for topics to anticipate during the farm bill reauthorization process this spring.

Deficits and Cuts

The national deficit continues to loom overhead and the debate over the 2012 Farm Bill will be dominated like few others this century by deficit pressure. Every section of the legislation will be affected, but by how much we do not know. However, we do know that the deal to increase the debt ceiling means the farm bill will be cut by about $15 to $16 billion as a result of automatic sequestration. These cuts will most likely be the starting point—and not the end point—for final numbers.

Safeguarding the Environment

For conservation, 2012 will be a year when climate and environmental issues establish new trends and challenges. Dramatic weather events in 2011 created highs and lows in American agriculture, and coming years will be no exception. The discussion will focus on how to make conservation programs more efficient while equipping farmers with conservation tools and programs to meet environmental challenges and regulatory burdens.

With conservation programs having already contributed more than $2 billion to the nation’s deficit reduction through appropriations cuts, we think the farm bill debate this spring should center on promoting conservation funding without the threat of additional cuts. Conservation programs are too valuable to lose now—and for our future.

The Future of Farm Support Programs

Caught up in the budget belt-tightening are proposals to alter farm support, or subsidy, programs. For the first time in two decades, it is likely that direct payments will be eliminated. What will replace them is unclear, but the debate is currently focused on the appropriate role of government in helping farmers address risk.

We believe that  new safety net programs must protect farms from risks they can’t control, while also minimizing the programs’ influence on the economic and environmental behavior of farmers. The debate will be vigorous but we believe it will be critical to creating a farm support system that works effectively for both farmers and consumers.

Who Will be Farming and Stewarding the Land?Woman farmer and child looking out of a barn

Now more than any time since the end of World War II, it’s important for the nation to have a serious discussion about the generational and gender shifts happening in American agriculture.

According to the 2007 U.S. Census of Agriculture, there are more than five times as many farmers at age 65 and older as there are 35 and younger. As the overall farm population ages, the influence of female landowners is predicted to rise.— 70 percent of farmland is expected to change hands in the next 20 years, with women potentially ending up  owning most of it. While we face the critical question of how land will be transitioned, at the same time we see the rise of young adults looking to start careers in agriculture but facing challenges securing land and succeeding in farming.

It will be difficult for farm policy leaders to ignore the changing demographics in agriculture. We think changes in land ownership, land stewardship and the engagement of young and beginning farmers in agriculture should be part of the discussion as Congress addresses programs for farmland protection, farm viability, and conservation.

Strengthening America’s Farm and Food System

Lawmakers will need to look systematically at what rural development policy is supposed to do to help today’s rural America.

The 2012 Farm Bill can be a catalyst to help rural America by finding ways to stimulate new market opportunities for agriculture and further support for local and regional food systems. Consumer demand for local food continues to rise, and farm policy can play a critical role in helping farmers provide it.

A Healthier Nation

Public health and nutrition, and the intersection with agriculture, is currently at the forefront of national interest. Amid on-going conversations about public health and chronic diseases is a focus on the availability of fresh, healthy food.

The connection between healthier diets and agricultural production is very real and easy to see. The demand for healthy food opens markets for agricultural products and potentially  helps keep farmers farming. Less clear, but no less important, is the role that public health demands may play in   local and regional food systems. The next farm bill presents the opportunity to explore public health while also creating market opportunities for farmers. We think 2012 will be the beginning of a long term trend of a new public health constituent group in the farm bill.

The forecast for the 2012 Farm Bill will take the direction of real forces shaping farm and food policy. As discussions around the 2012 Farm Bill get underway in Washington, we’ll be asking supporters of America’s farms and food to learn more, speak up and be heard.

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Ideas on Farms and Food Come to the Big Apple

Growing concerns about access to locally grown foods, public health issues and the conservation of natural resources recently converged in New York City at this year’s TEDx Manhattan. Among a diverse group including farmers, chefs, educators, environmentalists and local food advocates, I joined in for a day of idea sharing around the concept of “Changing the Way We Eat.”

The "edible" TEDx logo.

The "edible" TEDx logo. (Photo/TEDx Manhattan)

The backdrop of the Manhattan skyline was a surprisingly fitting frame for a discussion about farms and food. TEDx Manhattan was a discussion of ideas rooted in the value of connections between rural and urban people—whether young or old, foodies or environmentalists—and about finding better ways to protect farms and food across the country.

For Patty Cantrell, a journalist working to make the business case for local and regional food, new roads to new markets are not paved in asphalt. Rather, the creation of market opportunities for local food products starts with connecting people. “It’s about making our way back to each other,” she explained, “and moving forward as a result.” Cantrell pointed to the Kalamazoo, Michigan-based Fair Food Matters as a model for empowering communities through food and for connecting people with the land that produces it.

The idea of community was a bit different for Fred Kirschenmann. A farmer in south central North Dakota who serves as both a Distinguished Fellow at the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture and as president of the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, Kirschenmann appealed to the value of the land as a vital piece in the discussion about our food. “Soil is a vibrant, living community. A community of life,” he remarked. Using examples from challenging weather events of the past year, he warned of the pressures of environmental changes on soil that is continually slipping away.

Gary Oppenheimer, AmpleHarvest.org and Erica Goodman, American Farmland Trust

Enjoying a local food lunch with presenter Gary Oppenheimer, founder of AmpleHarvest.org (Photo/TEDx Manhattan)

Whether discussing how to safeguard soil quality to discovering new ways to provide healthier food options in schools, an undertone of the day was the critical need to think about the future today.  Michelle Hughes, Director of GrowNYC’s New Farmer Development Project, connected the rapid loss of farmland to development with the need to cultivate new farmers. The New Farmer Development Project works with immigrant families in New York City to provide access to farmland and to assistance in finding local market opportunities. As Hughes explained, connecting the new farmers to land is making a positive impact on immigrant families and communities while keeping farmland viable and healthy.

The farm and food innovators throughout the audience were an energized community in themselves. I was even able to catch up with Cara Rosaen of Real Time Farms after her impassioned talk on empowering eaters and farmers. In the end, I left with a hopeful feeling. The lesson of the day: When it comes to the health of our lands, access to healthy food, and a viable future for farms, ideas are worth creating, developing and believing in as part of a community invested in a healthy future for us all.


About the author: Erica Goodman is the Communications Associate with American Farmland Trust.

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New England: A Year of Progress

For many of us, this year will be remembered for its weather. The January blizzard and record winter snowfalls. The mind-boggling flooding that followed Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee. The wild Halloween snowstorm and its ensuing power losses. We were reminded that things we take for granted—like the rich productive farmland soils that have been farmed for centuries along the Deerfield River in Massachusetts—can disappear in a day down a river. We were reminded, too, of how important it is to have effective programs and policies in place to help farmers manage the inherent risk in farming so they can stay profitable and remain stewards of our vital working landscape.

This year, we worked with a wide variety of partners in the region to promote the critical importance of farms and farmland to New England’s economy, environment, public health, community character and livability. Here are a few highlights from our work across the region:

New England farmCreating a Vision for Rhode Island Farms and Food

With the Rhode Island Agricultural Partnership, we presented a new strategic plan for the state’s farms to Governor Lincoln Chaffee and state lawmakers at Rhode Island’s Agriculture Day in May. The new five-year plan, A Vision for Rhode Island Agriculture—the culmination of a year’s outreach to Rhode Island’s diverse agricultural community—will guide consumers and officials in building a stronger and more resilient food system and farm economy.

Connecting Farmers with Land in Connecticut

Faced with some of the highest farm real estate values in the country, farmers in Connecticut—especially those just beginning—often struggle to find productive and affordable farmland. Farmland ConneCTions: A Guide for Connecticut Towns, Land Trusts, and Institutions Using or Leasing Farmland, published by American Farmland Trust and the University of Connecticut, helps towns, institutions and land trusts navigate the process of leasing land to farmers or managing it for agricultural use.

Working Lands Alliance Secures Funding for Farmland Protection

With new governors in four of the six New England states, we worked to educate incoming administrations about the importance of state and federal funding for farmland protection, including—through the Working Lands Alliance—Connecticut governor Dannel Malloy. We were thrilled when Gov. Malloy and state lawmakers enacted a two-year bond package with $20 million for farmland protection, allowing continued progress toward the state’s goal of protecting 130,000 acres.

Cultivating Local Farms in Maine

In partnership with Maine Farmland Trust and the Mainewatch Institute, we produced a new guide to give communities practical ways to support local farms and keep farmland in farming. Cultivating Maine’s Agricultural Future provides examples of actions local officials and residents can take to protect farmland and make their towns more farm-friendly. Please contact Peggy McCabe in our New England Office at pmccabe@farmland.org for a free printed copy of the guide.

Scaling Up the Region’s Institutional Markets

New England’s 14 million consumers are demanding more locally grown foods, and the region’s institutions—including public and private schools, universities and hospitals—are looking for ways to meet that demand. This year, we were excited to help launch a new effort, the Farm to Institution in New England (FINE) project, taking a region-wide approach to expanding processing capacity, identifying distribution channels and best practices, and increasing institutional procurement of New England-grown foods.

A Look Ahead

Agriculture is rooted in New England’s history and is a critical force in guiding the region’s future. As we look to 2012, we will continue to work to support thriving farms throughout New England while improving access to healthy foods and growing the resiliency of our region’s farm and food system.


About the Author: Cris Coffin is the New England Director for American Farmland Trust, where she leads efforts to promote farmland protection, farm viability and conservation practices in New England through research, outreach, advocacy and policy development at the local, state and national level.

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