The Farm Bill is about much more than just farms

By Lindsay Smith
Consultant, Washington Regional Convergence Partnership

The day before the Farm Bill failed in the House last week, the Bipartisan Policy Center hosted an event titled Food and Farm Policy: Impacts on Health and Health Care Costs. (It was one in a series highlighting BPC’s recent publication Lots to Lose: How America’s Health and Obesity Crisis Threatens our Economic Future.) There was some consensus among last week’s speakers that the anticipated re-authorization of the bill was beset by missed opportunities to consider ways that it could promote improved nutrition beyond the provision of critical benefits like SNAP (formerly referred to as food stamps.)

Ultimately, disagreements about funding levels for SNAP and eligibility requirements led to the bill’s failure. Although many have turned their attention to what last week’s vote means for immigration reform and other upcoming legislative priorities, just as much uncertainty remains over when we’ll have an approved Farm Bill. How will funding for critical programs like SNAP be impacted? Will Congress maintain or enhance other programs to improve access to fresh healthy food, to support the next generation of America’s farmers, etc.?

Whatever the Farm Bill’s final form this time around, it seems all but certain that work will remain to unleash its full potential to transform our food system into one in which everyone has access to healthy, fresh, affordable food, and opportunities for local economic development are maximized. In her introductory remarks at last Wednesday’s event, former USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan highlighted ten things that should be emphasized in the next Farm Bill to increase fruit and vegetable consumption and improve America’s health. From new farmers, to advocates for improved food access and healthy eating, entrepreneurs, health care providers, environmentalists, and many more, Merrigan urged a “Venn diagram approach” to identifying common interests for taking positive, solutions-oriented action. You can find her remarks here.

For some even more forward looking, big ideas for fixing the food system, tune in this Thursday afternoon to the University of Vermont’s event Leading the Necessary (r)Evolution for Sustainable Food Systems. This is UVM’s second annual event featuring “thought leaders from around the globe discussing the regional food system approach.” Check out event details for a connection to the webcast and an impressive roster of speakers.

The Washington Regional Convergence Partnership is housed with the Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers. If you are a funder who is interested in joining the effort and learning more about this Regional Convergence Partnership, please contact Lindsay Smith.