July 19, 2012

Science Group Sponsors Annual Farmers Market at State Capitol

Advocates Federal Investments in Healthy Food and Farms

LANSING, Mich. (July 19, 2012) – The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) returned to the annual Farmers Market at the Capitol today to call for a federal farm bill that will benefit the diversity of Michigan’s farmers and boost the state’s economy.

This event, which is hosted by the Michigan Farmers Market Association, Michigan Food and Farming Systems, and the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, and co-sponsored by UCS, showcases the crop diversity in Michigan. More than 70 farmers and vendors from across the state will sell foods from around the state at the market, located on the Capitol lawn.

The state grows a wider variety of fruits, vegetables and farm products than any other state, with the exception of California. Accordingly, agriculture is the second largest economic sector in state, making the debates in Washington about the farm bill especially important in Michigan.

“Farmers markets – like the one we’re at today – are job creators, and in some rural communities, they are the backbone of their economies,” said Jeffrey O’Hara, agricultural economist with the Food and Environment Program at UCS. “Nationwide, local food sales now total $5 billion per year and growing, and Congress can accelerate that growth with modest investments in the farm bill.”

Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow, chair of the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee and a champion of local foods, was instrumental last month in passing a Senate farm bill that provides incentives for “healthy-food farms”—small-to-medium-sized farms growing fruits and vegetables or raising livestock sustainably.

Specifically, the Senate bill would provide funding to increase the production and availability of healthy and local foods, make it easier for organic farmers to get crop insurance, and require recipients of crop and revenue insurance to take measures to protect soil and water resources.

Unfortunately, many of these provisions were not included in the version of the farm bill passed by the House Agriculture Committee earlier this month, making it all the more important for congressional champions like Stabenow to fight for the strongest bill possible.

“A progressive Farm Bill is imperative to bridging the gap between healthy food, healthy farms and a healthy economy,” said O’Hara. “The House bill puts healthy-food farmers at a significant disadvantage.”

O’Hara recently authored a report, “Ensuring the Harvest,” which found that crop insurance and credit programs run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) are hindering the growth of healthy food farms. Weather and other factors make farming a risky business, and these programs serve as a safety net if crops are destroyed or prices plummet. Insurance also makes it easier to obtain loans early in the year to cover the cost of seeds, fertilizer and equipment for planting.

But currently, the USDA’s crop insurance program primarily serves large farms growing corn, soy and other commodity crops, while many healthy-food farms are ineligible.

O’Hara’s report found that if Congress required USDA – through the Farm Bill – to expand crop insurance and credit programs to cover small fruit and vegetable farmers, sales of local foods could nearly triple, generating as many as 189,000 new jobs and increasing American consumers’ access to healthy food options.

“Despite setbacks in the House, we urge Senator Stabenow to continue fighting for healthy-food farmers as the Farm Bill process continues,” said O’Hara. “Congress must put health and economic well-being for many over the corporate profits of a few.”

The Union of Concerned Scientists puts rigorous, independent science to work to solve our planet's most pressing problems. Joining with people across the country, we combine technical analysis and effective advocacy to create innovative, practical solutions for a healthy, safe, and sustainable future.