One of the most promising developments on the US food landscape is the rise of "good food" procurement policies at public institutions such as schools, hospitals, and universities. Through the standards they set for their food suppliers, these institutions are turning their food budgets into powerful tools to move our food system in a healthier, fairer, more sustainable direction.
As we found in our 2017 report Purchasing Power, good food procurement policies in cities such as Los Angeles are already producing positive results: healthier food for children, expanded markets for local farmers, better wages and working conditions for food workers, more environmentally friendly farming, and more humane treatment of animals. As producers shift their practices to comply with the new standards, these policies create ripple effects that extend far beyond the specific communities they serve. And their successes are sparking similar efforts elsewhere.
However, change is not easy. Food producers trying to meet good food program requirements face many challenges, which public policy can help overcome. Enter the farm bill—the legislation that shapes federal food and farm policy. The farm bill offers opportunities to invest in programs and infrastructure that can help community institutions deliver on the promise of "good food."
Our policy brief, A Farm Bill for Good Food, identifies key provisions from three bills that have been introduced to shape the 2018 farm bill debate: the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act (H.R. 4316), the Food and Farm Act (H.R. 4425), and the Local Food and Regional Market Supply (FARMS) Act (S. 1947/H.R. 3941). These provisions are critical to driving good food procurement forward and allowing communities across the country to reap the benefits. They fall into four broad categories:
Strengthening regional food systems and local economies
Lack of infrastructure and resources are among the challenges most commonly faced by institutions that source food from local farms. Three provisions from the Local FARMS Act offer promising solutions:
- Consolidating the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program (FMLFPP) with other regional food system programs into one Agricultural Market Development Program (AMDP) would streamline administration and secure higher overall funding levels. FMLFPP offers grants supporting marketing initiatives for farmers markets, food hubs, and other local and regional food distribution facilities.
- The Local and Regional Food Systems Value Chain Coordination Program would operate within the newly created AMDP to fund full-time regional "value chain coordinator" positions, which would drive local economic development by identifying unmet needs and market opportunities for regional food producers and buyers.
- The Food Safety Certification Cost-Share Program would reduce financial barriers for small and midsize farms seeking food safety certifications (which are often required under good food procurement policies) by providing partial reimbursements.
Supporting sustainable agriculture
Implementing farming practices that protect soil, air, water, and other natural resources can come at a cost to small and midsize farms. These provisions from the Food and Farm Act supporting conservation farming and ranching practices will help ensure that these farms can meet good food sustainability standards:
- The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) is a long-established farm bill program that provides cost-sharing and technical assistance for conservation practices. New policy proposals seek continued funding for EQIP, expanded funding opportunities for pasture-based livestock systems, and greater incentives for practices such as cover crops, buffer strips, or pollinator habitats.
- The Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) offers payments to farmers actively managing their operations using diverse conservation practices that work together to protect natural resources. In addition to continued funding, new proposals for CSD would ensure support for specific activities such as rotational grazing and organic transition, as well as increasing funds to protect water, conserve soil, and ecologically manage pests.
Advancing racial equity and fair labor practices
Farmers and ranchers of color have experienced systematic discrimination and exclusion from federal agricultural programs, while both farm workers and contract farmers are routinely exploited with little opportunity for recourse. Three farm bill provisions would address these injustices:
- The Farmer Fair Practices Rules (FFPR), commonly known as GIPSA rules, were released in 2016 to clarify prior legislation protecting farmers from abuses by major livestock and poultry corporations. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) withdrew the FFPR in late 2017; new proposals in the Food and Farm Act would reinstate and finalize them.
- The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP) awards competitive grants to train new farmers and ranchers across the country, with more than half of all projects between 2009 and 2015 focusing on socially disadvantaged beginning farmers and ranchers as a primary audience. The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act requests permanent funding for the BFRDP and triples reserved EQIP and CSP funding for socially disadvantaged farmers.
- The Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program was authorized in the 1990 farm bill to address historical discrimination by providing additional support for farmers and ranchers of color to participate in USDA programs and own or operate farmers. The 2014 farm bill expanded the program to include veterans, but provided only $10 million per year in funding. We are recommending that the program be reauthorized with increased mandatory funding levels.
Improving animal welfare
US consumers are expressing increasing concern about animal welfare in agriculture, and good food procurement policies incorporate these values. The farm bill should include policies to ensure ethical treatment of animals, such as this one:
- The Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices (OLPP) rule, published in 2017, sets clear and consistent standards for animal living conditions, transport, and slaughter in organic poultry production. Despite strong support from producers, distributors, retailers, and consumers, the USDA repeatedly delayed the rule's effective date before announcing its decision to withdraw it. New proposals in the Food and Farm Act would reinstate the OLPP rule.
A farm bill for good food
We've highlighted the provisions above in our policy brief because they're especially relevant for those working to create, implement, or become suppliers for an institutional good food procurement program. But you don't have to be directly involved in such a program to support science-based, forward-looking food and farm policies like these. They should win support from everyone who's committed to building a food system we can be proud of.