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Carol Anne Costa: I Heart My Farmer…And So Does the Farm Bill

Thursday, February 13, 2014

 

We will all be glad for the Agricultural Act of 2014 when strawberry season comes along.

In the political chattering class, much of the talk has swirled around bridges, bullies, and Boehner. But a funny thing happened on the way to the scandal—a bipartisan bill blossomed in Congress and will impact millions of Americans in a very positive way. The Agricultural Act of 2014, also known as the Farm Bill, is a bipartisan compromise that emerged from the House-Senate Farm Bill Conference. The pleasant surprise is that it actually came out of the Congressional rabbithole not to be swiftly snatched up by the vultures, raptors, and predators waiting to kill anything that could look like progress in an otherwise Congress that is wrought with stalemate and standoff.

Four years in the making, the bill finally gets moved forward through the efforts of Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan and House Republican, Representative Frank J. Lucas of Oklahoma. If I close my eyes, I can hear the heavenly choirs rejoicing...or is that the sound of revving tractors, combines, and milking machines? No matter, as it is about time that we can deliver some certainty to the folks that grow, process, deliver, and manage our food supply. It is in all of our best interest that this bill finally gets reauthorized. But the Farm Bill is not a monolith speaking only to agriculture. I prefer to focus on how it helps those who grow, steward, and harvest our food, as without them, all bets are off.

A tough row to hoe

This bill represents a remarkable reform of policies that directly impact American agriculture. The bill speaks to jobs and subsidies in a very bold way. Direct payments to farmers for not growing crops will end, thereby streamlining programs and cracking down on fraud, waste, and abuse. According to a bill review issued by Senator Debbie Stabenow, Chair of the United States Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry includes provisions for solid reforms for folks who actually farm including:

•   Closing the “management loophole,” through which people who were not actually farming obtain subsidies.
•   Strengthening crop insurance so that farmers are not wiped out by a few days of bad weather.
•   Consolidating 23 existing conservation programs into 13 programs while maintaining existing tools to protect and conserve land, water and wildlife.
•   Expanding support and access to local farmers markets by providing matching funds up to $20 million to incentivize SNAP to buy more wholesome and locally grown food.

This, in my view, is farmer-friendly action, and in a time when we should be consumed by food safety and buy local initiatives this represents a step in the right direction, not to mention proving the Congress can act in a bipartisan fashion even in these polarized times.

Needless to say, “I heart my farmer”! I can boast being a graduate of one of the pioneer RI high schools in the business of creating, educating and supporting farmers. Oh yes, I am a proud member of Ponanganset High School, Class of 1978. So many of the kids I went to school with were as adept at sports as they were at 4H and FFA. And for this transplant, the ability to tell a good looking Myotonic (fainting) goat as well as magnificently executed jump shot have become points of pride. So a bill that can emerge from Congress to help farmers and provide supplemental nutrition and cut waste, fraud, and abuse while supporting local farmer’s markets is as welcome as a crisp fall night picking crops under a bright harvest moon.

Connecting urban and rural communities

Like the country mouse and the city mouse, we have more in common than we realize. My early years were spent happily in the Silver Lake section of Providence, at the knee of a grandfather who transformed a small plot of earth into a bounty including fruits, vegetables, greens, and fresh eggs. Learning early on where food grows and the talent and tenderness it takes to get to harvest is a life lesson I cherish. I admire and celebrate every person who respects the planet and has a hand in producing safe, organic, and wholesome food. To this day, I have so many friends from Ponaganset and Adah S. Hawkins Elementary School who have devoted a great portion of their lives to farming in big ways and small, and all of them are about sustainability and educating the next generation. That is why the community support in this bill is terrific for farmers and neighborhoods alike.

According to Stabenow, by providing access to healthy foods by strengthening programs that focus on fruits, vegetables, and organic crops, this bill not only promotes healthy home grown foods but also makes farmers markets and specialty crops one of the fastest growing segment of agriculture, making them a critical part of the U.S. economy and an important job creator. The sale of specialty crops nets nearly $65 billion annually.

Hope springs eternal

I can say this—hope springs eternal—but my oh my, so does this long and frozen winter. With each cold day, flurry, hard driving rain, ice, and blustery wind storm I find myself hoping, praying, and wishing for spring. This year when it comes—and I know it will, whether like a lion or lamb—I yearn for that first head of romaine lettuce and tasty strawberry and will frankly oggle the first crocus peeking its head through the dirt. Come on, admit it. You are with me on this, especially as you drive to work in a still-cold car and can't wait to tell coworkers your crocuses, iris, and tulips are peering through the soil, a sure sign of warmth and birth. It certainly does make the coffee taste better, as the promise of growth is right around the corner. You hearken to early June when you can pick your strawberries and your Facebook page is alive with stories of new lambs, kids, and chicks.

Soon enough the people who tend the earth will be collecting fruits, veggies, fresh eggs, goats milk, wool, and so much more. That is why “I heart my farmer” and the farm bill. But it only succeeds when we as a society value and support the earth, the farmers, the food and merchants. Buy local, and above all spend your money with your hometown grower! As for me, I am off to get my fresh eggs from my elementary school classmate, Lee at Heritage Haven Homestead.

 

Carol Costa is a public relations and community outreach specialist; she has experience in both the public and private sectors. She is the Chairwoman of the Scituate Democratic Town Committee and has extensive community affairs and public relations experience. She previously served in the Rhode Island Judiciary for nearly 17 years. Carol also enjoyed a successful development stint at the Diocese of Providence as Associate Director for Catholic Education and is currently a public housing manager. Her work has been published in several local outlets including GoLocal, Valley Breeze, The Rhode Island Catholic, and Currents Magazine.

 

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