WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME) joined organic farmer, Sarah Smith, and Tom Colicchio, head judge on Bravo's Top Chef and owner of 12 restaurants, to outline legislation that would expand markets for farmers and increase the availability of nutritious locally-grown food. During a news conference today, Brown announced plans to reintroduce Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act, legislation that would help Ohio farmers by addressing production, aggregation, marketing and distribution needs. Brown, the first Ohioan to serve on Senate Agriculture Committee in more than four decades, first introduced the bill in 2011 and successfully fought to have key provisions included in the Senate-passed 2012 farm bill. Pingree also introduced companion legislation in the House today.
“Linking Ohio producers with Ohio consumers is common sense,” Brown said. “By increasing access to fresh, local foods, we can expand markets for Ohio’s agricultural producers while improving health, creating jobs, and strengthening our economy.”
"Consumers want to know where their food is coming from and they want healthy, local options when they shop for their families," Pingree said. "But national farm policy hasn't kept up with the public and it's about time we changed that."
Aimed at helping more farmers sell their products directly to consumers, the legislation would create jobs by assisting farmers and ranchers engaged in local and regional agriculture by addressing production, aggregation, processing, marketing, and distribution needs. It would also ensure that consumers have better access to nutritious, locally-grown food. There are now nearly 7,000 farmers markets in the U.S., an increase of 150 percent since 2000. Direct-to-consumer agriculture sales produce $1.2 billion in annual revenues.
Colicchio discussed the growing use of locally-sourced food in the food service industry, as well as the importance of aligning food, agriculture, and economic policy. Brown and Pingree were also joined by Sarah Smith, a farmer from Skowhegan, Maine who discussed how this legislation will provide additional sales opportunities and can create new agriculture jobs.
"Demand for locally grown food is growing in every corner of the country: thousands of farmers and farmers markets are serving millions of consumers and more than 2,000 schools have farm to school programs," Colicchio said. "But, you wouldn’t know a food revolution was sweeping our country if you read the Farm Bill."
Right now, for each dollar that consumers spend on food, less than $0.16 goes back to the farmer. Supporting opportunities for farmers to sell their products directly to consumers or through shorter local supply chains means that more of a consumers’ dollar stays on the farm, where it is invested in local jobs and supplies and helps the local economy.
A recent study shows that if northeast Ohio’s residents and businesses spent 25 percent of their food dollars on local farms and businesses, 27,500 new jobs could be created while increasing economic output by $4.2 billion and generating $126 million in local and state taxes.
The Local Food, Farms, and Jobs Act includes provisions that would:
- Provide funding to help farmers build the infrastructure—like community kitchens—to process and sell their food locally.
- Require USDA to keep doing traditional seed research, not just on genetically modified seeds.
- Create a new crop insurance program tailored to the needs of diversified and organic farmers who grow a wide variety of crops and can’t easily access traditional crop insurance.
- Break down barriers for schools to purchase local food more easily. Provide schools with a local school credit to purchase local foods.
- Make it easier for food stamp recipients to spend their money at farmers markets by giving the farmers access to technology necessary to accept electronic benefits—that money goes right back into the local economy. The bill includes a pilot program to test smart phone technology to accept food stamp benefits at farmers market.
A summary of the bill can be found HERE.