New Legislation Would Strengthen Local Food Systems for Producers and Consumers

Local Farms and Food Act Must be Part of Next Food and Farm Bill, Science Group Says

Published Apr 19, 2023

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Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) introduced new legislation today that would make it easier for diverse small and midsize farmers to bring their products to new markets. If incorporated as part of the next Food and Farm Bill, the Local Farms and Food Act would improve consumers’ access to nutritious, locally produced foods.

The legislation would support the creation of regional food hubs that connect farmers with local customers by improving equitable access to the Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP). This program supports the establishment and growth of farmers markets and other local food hubs. The bill would also make locally grown produce more accessible and affordable for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients through the Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program (GusNIP).

“Our current system benefits massive corporations that produce heavily processed food, at the expense of local farmers, our health and our environment,” said Dr. Alice Řezníčková, interdisciplinary scientist in the Food and Environment Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). “The next Food and Farm Bill must have a local focus by investing in vibrant regional food systems. The Local Farms and Food Act would transform the U.S. food and farm system into one that is more resilient to shocks like the COVID-19 pandemic, the conflict in Ukraine and extreme, disruptive weather due to climate change.”

“A healthier, more sustainable and resilient food system starts with connecting local farmers to communities. That means supporting smaller and underrepresented farmers — who are often Black, Indigenous, or other farmers of color — in bringing their goods to market and supporting proven and innovative strategies to make fresh local food more accessible for the communities who need it. We look forward to working closely with Representative Pingree and Senator Brown to ensure the next Food and Farm Bill invests in local farms and food systems.”

While there are more than 106,000 grocery stores in the United States, an estimated 53.6 million people still live in neighborhoods without easy access to fresh groceries. The Local Farms and Food Act would support other creative and innovative ways for rural and urban shoppers to access local products, including at farm stands, farmers’ markets, mobile markets, wholesale and retail markets.

UCS research shows that a strong local food system can expand access to nutritious foods while supporting small and midsize farms and strengthening local economies. According to a Kansas State University report, every dollar invested in LAMP in 2014 produced roughly $2.67 in local spending. But programs that create new pathways for farmers to promote and bring their products to local markets have been chronically underfunded. As a result, programs like LAMP’s Local Food and Farmers Market Promotion Program turn away roughly three out of every four applicants a year.

Additionally, the Local Farms and Food Act would increase funding for GusNIP, which provides SNAP participants with matching dollars to spend on fresh, locally grown produce and have been shown to increase fruit and vegetable consumption. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, only one in 10 U.S. adults eat enough fruits and vegetables daily; those with low income are even less likely to meet daily recommendations. However, GusNIP participants ate more fruits and vegetables than the average U.S. adult, and the longer they participated, the more fruits and vegetables they consumed, according to a Nutrition Incentive Hub report that analyzed the effects of the program from September 1, 2020 through August 31, 2021.