farm bill

farm bill

Bicameral Dissonance

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Here’s a follow-up write up to the previous post. It’s from this week’s newsletter and it was written by Ben.

With the failure of the Congressional super-committee to reach any sort of consensus regarding a deficit reduction plan, I think this is a good time to update you all on the Farm Bill and my letter to Rep. Renee Elmers. Here is the response I received from her aide who works on agricultural issues…

Thank you for your email Ben, I will certainly pass your concerns along to the Congresswoman.  She is keeping vigil as next week is when we should hear how Chairman Lucas is planning on moving forward with the Farm Bill.  Thank you, Allison

Short and bittersweet! The Farm Bill draft came to a halt with the failure of the super-committee to reach a deal on the weekend before Thanksgiving and was not submitted for inclusion in the mega-deal.Come to find out, the bill was being written by the “gang of four!” The “gang of four” consists of the two chairs and two ranking members of the House and Senate Agriculture committees. So my letter to Rep. Elmers was in vain, because even she was held at arms length during the process and was not allowed to participate as a House Ag. committee member! It seems to me our government has made a turn for the worst with the use of a draconian budget cutting exercise to avoid democratic consideration of our next farm bill and many other programs.

According to the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC), there are a few Farm Bill scenarios that can play out over the next year or so. The first scenario, also the most unlikely, is that the Farm Bill is passed by the end of 2011. Not enough time is left for such a deal. The second scenario, in two variations, is that the Farm Bill is passed in 2012 by either using the unpublished Final 2011 Farm Bill as the jumping off point or the Farm Bill is drafted from scratch. Neither of these variations seems likely in an election year. The fourth scenario, which according to the NSAC, is most likely, is that Congress will take a wait and see approach. This is most likely for a host of reasons, beginning with the fact that automatic budget cuts will begin January 2013 because the failure of the supercommittee to reach a mega-deal. This further means Congress will want to wait for the dust to settle on a possible 2012 mega-deal as well as on the deficit reduction targets before drafting the Farm Bill & budget therein to avoid doubling up budget cuts. NSAC expects the current Farm Bill to be given a one year extension and the drafting to begin after the 2012 elections.

I hope you have found this as interesting as I have. The Farm Bill has such large effects on the condition of our national food system that it is critical to the future vitality of this country. How would our lives change if commodity crops were not heavily subsidized? How would our lives change if healthy food were more affordable or perceived as equitably priced? How would our lives change if children receiving school lunch were fed good, healthy and local food? These are some things Patricia and I ponder as we think about the Farm Bill and our state of agriculture.

farm bill, SNAP


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This is a newsletter entry written by Ben.

Hello all. It has been a while since you have heard from me via newsletter…I can’t remember the last time. Anyhow, I have recently become aware that the Farm Bill is being rewritten behind closed doors in record time (2 weeks vs. 1 year!). Below is a little bit of information I found on the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition website followed by the letter I fired off to our Congresswoman Renee Ellmers (R), who happens to sit on the House Agricultural Committee. This is the first letter I have written to a Congressperson, ever! I called my father this morning for advice on how to speak to issues that concern us and our farm. He is a seasoned, politically active farmer because in the dairy business, wholesale prices are supplemented by gov’t subsidies which, unfortunately, are necessary for them to stay afloat as a farm. He enlightened me by telling me to speak to issues that directly concern us and not disparaging others and to directly contact the Congressional Aide for our Congressperson who deals with the issues at hand. He also suggested we attend affordable fund-raising dinners put on by our representatives and speak to them personally about issues which affect us directly, the method which tends to have the biggest impact for small folks like us. I will let you all know what becomes of my letter to Congresswoman Ellmers…

The following is from

 Last Monday, the Republican and Democratic leadership of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees sent a letter to the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction suggesting a net $23 billion cut in mandatory farm bill spending over the next decade as their collective recommendation to the Joint Select Committee (hereafter referred to as the Super Committee) that is tasked with finding $1.2 trillion in government-wide cuts or revenue increases over the next decade by Thanksgiving.

Having sent off the joint letter, the staffs of the two Agriculture Committees hunkered down all week to stitch together a farm bill in what, if successful, would be record time.   Due to the brief two week window, none of the normal congressional processes for farm bills or other major legislation are being used — no hearings, circulated bill drafts, mark-ups in which committee members get to offer amendments, etc.  The primary activity has all been behind closed doors and has for the most part only involved the staff of the chairs and ranking members, not the members (and their staffs) who make up the rank and file of the two committees.

With action on the farm bill moving (at least for now) at such a rapid pace, members of the House and Senate are getting ready to introduce two major new bills this week.  One contains major rewrites of programs and policies to assist young and beginning farmers get started in agriculture.  Another proposes a comprehensive set of revisions and additions to farm bill programs to help renew local and regional farm and food systems.  Both bills promote new opportunities in farming and increase rural job creation and economic growth.  Both also renew funding for farm bill programs that currently have mandatory funding but which do not have secure funding after fiscal year 2012. 

My letter…

Dear Congresswoman Ellmers,

My name is Benjamin Shields and I am a constituent from Clayton, NC. I started Ben’s Produce along with Patricia Parker, my fiancee, in August of 2009. Ben’s Produce is a small, un-certified organic produce farm that sells directly to the public via farmer’s markets (Western Wake Farmer’s Market and Clayton Farm & Community Market)  as well as our Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) with 35 member families. We also began Farm It Forward, a CSA program that provides our produce to families with children at risk of developing type 2 diabetes and teaches the participants how to build lifelong healthy attitudes about food and fitness. This collaborative program is coordinated by Advocates for Health In Action, the participants are drawn from the WakeMed Energize! program and the cooking classes are put on by the Interfaith Food Shuttle. Sixty percent of Energize! participants are low-income, which brings me to my concerns with the cuts being made to Farm Bill funding.

Every Saturday at the Western Wake Farmer’s Market (WWFM), we make a number of sales to folks who receive SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits. WWFM is the only farmer’s market in Wake Co. that accepts SNAP benefits. We also serve SNAP beneficiaries in our Farm It Forward program, 60% of the participating families are low income. Unfortunately, we do not currently accept SNAP payments from the Farm It Forward participants. As a small farm on a shoestring budget, every sale we make counts towards our profitability, including those sales from folks who use SNAP. I urge you to minimize funding cuts to the USDA Food and Nutrition Service, specifically the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

I look forward to hearing from you. Thank you for your service.

Benjamin Shields