U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, has introduced legislation based on a study co-authored by an Athens resident that would expand markets for area farming businesses and increase access to locally grown foods.
Brown announced the introduction of the Local Farms, Food and Jobs Act on Tuesday, stating that the legislation will boost Ohio's rural economy as well as improve consumer access to healthy, fresh and local foods.
The Athens County area is a notable hub for the local food movement, with the Athens Farmers Market having a reputation as one of the best open-air food bazaars in the Midwest, and the 30-mile meal movement incorporating more than 100 area restaurants, farmers, dairy producers and ranchers.
In a press release, Brown noted a recent study that was co-authored by Athens entrepreneur Leslie Schaller. Schaller is director of programs at the Appalachian Center for Economic Networks (ACEnet) here in Athens, where she works developing infrastructure and public policy that enables farmers and food producers to receive entrepreneurial support, resources and capital.
Brown cited the study as showing 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 study was co-authored by Brad Masi and Michael Shuman.
Schaller said Wednesday that the study focused on the positive economic impact as the transition is made toward more production and processing of local foods.
"(It) would hopefully create more job opportunities if Ohio consumers would even switch a little bit to more local purchasing," she said.
The proposed legislation was introduced in the U.S. House by Congressman Chellie Pingree, D-Maine. The goal of the bill is to support family farms, expand farming businesses, create rural jobs, and invest in local and regional food economies.
"Linking Ohio producers with Ohio consumers is common sense," Brown said in the release. "By increasing access to fresh, local foods, we can expand markets for Ohio's agricultural producers while creating jobs and strengthening our economy."
The Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act, the release said, is a comprehensive package of reforms that would help Ohio farmers and ranchers by "addressing production, aggregation, marketing and distribution needs."
The bill would also prioritize consumer access to healthy, fresh food with support for technology and direct sales, it stated.
"Making it easier for farmers to sell food locally and easier for consumers to buy it translates directly into a more healthy economy and more jobs in our communities," Pingree said in the release. "Consumers want to be able to buy fresh, healthy food that doesn't have to travel halfway around the world to get to them. We just need to create a farm policy in this country that makes it easier for them to do that."
Right now, for each dollar that consumers spend on food, less than 16 cents goes back to the farmer, the release said.
"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's invested in local jobs and supplies and helps the local economy," the release stated.
The Local Food, Farms, and Jobs Act includes provisions that would, according to the release:
• Improve crop insurance products available to small and diversified family farms;
• Eliminate existing penalties for production of fruits and vegetables on land previously dedicated to row-crops;
• Invest in critical infrastructure that would enable farmers and food businesses to aggregate, store and distribute their products;
• Increase food-safety training and technical assistance resources for small and mid-sized farming operations as well as to small slaughterhouses;
• Reduce barriers to institutional purchasing, better linking Ohio farms with Ohio schools, hospitals, and other institutions; and,
• Enable SNAP recipients to purchase fresh, Ohio-grown food by helping farmers and direct sales markets acquire the technology necessary to accept electronic benefits.