Standing up for a Farm Bill That Invests in Farmers' Market Innovations
Every five years the US Congress debates the Farm Bill – an enormous piece of legislation that sets federal policy for a vast array of agriculture-related issues: nutrition benefits for low income families through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP) program and the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program (FMNP), environmental protections through forestry and agricultural resource conservation, and international trade of agricultural exports and imports. Since 2002, the Farm Bill has included federal policy to support local food systems through the USDA Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP). For the first five years after this program was written into law, it existed on paper only with no federal funding for implementation. It was not until 2007 that the first projects were funded and not until the 2008 Farm Bill that FMPP funding was mandated and not subject to annual appropriations.
PCFMA was among the farmers’ markets funded during FMPP’s first round of funding. We used the funds to test various marketing and advertising strategies, assess their impacts, and develop recommendations that we shared with other farmers’ markets across the nation. Last year PCFMA was again among the farmers’ markets to be awarded FMPP grant support. Our current project builds upon the lessons of our 2007 FMPP project, this time focusing on testing email, social media and text messaging strategies to determine how those tools can best be used to support farmers’ markets. Like our previous effort, the current project includes the commitment of PCFMA to share the lessons of this work with other farmers’ markets.
This project would not be possible without the FMPP grant support. Over the past 10 years farmers’ markets across the country have used FMPP grants to launch new farmers’ markets, build permanent structures for existing markets, increase food access for low income consumers, launch innovative food hubs and mobile farmers’ markets, and build a body of knowledge about what works to make farmers’ markets successful.
All of that progress is threatened in the version of the Farm Bill that passed the Agriculture Committee of the US House of Representatives last month. That bill strips all of the funding for FMPP and its companion grant program, the Local Food Promotion Program. While the programs would still exist, we would essentially be turning the clock back to 2002 when the program existed only on paper with no funding and no impacts. While there are many competing priorities for federal support, we believe that building strong local foods systems that sustain farmers, feed consumers, and build community is an important national priority that deserves ongoing federal support.
I recently traveled to Washington DC and joined with the Farmers Market Coalition in an effort to take this message directly to our elected officials. I’m pleased that when I met with the legislative staff from my member of Congress and Senator, they acknowledged the important roles that farmers’ markets play in communities nationwide. While no one could promise an outcome that includes ongoing funding for FMPP, I remain optimistic that as the legislation winds its way through the process the proven benefits of FMPP will convince our legislators to sustain this essential funding and the innovations it makes possible.