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Legislation could help farmers feed communities and customers buy local food

Bipartisan and bicameral legislation has been introduced to update some farm bill programs and make it easier for farmers to sell products locally.

U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown, a Democrat from Ohio, is co-sponsor of the Local Farms and Food Act. He says the bill is especially critical because of recent supply chain challenges.

“Our bill will expand and improve USDA local and regional food system grant programs to keep money where it belongs, in our local communities,” he says. “When folks buy local food, we create jobs and opportunity in all the places that are too often overlooked.”

He says the legislation would improve and build on the success of the Local Farms and Food Act that was included in the 2018 Farm Bill.

“We fought to include the Local Farms and Food Act in the 2018 Farm Bill to make it easier for farmers to feed their communities and for customers to buy local food and farm products,” he says. “We also created the Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP), which provides permanent funding to help farmers sell their products direct to consumers to create rural jobs and invest in rural and local food economies.”

The legislation would increase funding for the Local Agriculture Market Program; simplify applications for certain Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program projects; reauthorize the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program; reduce barriers to the Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program; and more.

Northern Ohio Farmer Kristy Buskirk joined the senator on a call with reporters Wednesday. She discussed how some of the programs benefit her farm.

“When looking over this bill I noticed a lot of the programs on there are things that I recognize, either through organizations I’ve been part of or adjacent to. I sell directly to consumers through farmers markets. A lot of community members can come out and afford our stuff, but that doesn’t mean everybody in our community can. Feeding my local community has been a big focus of my mission on our farm. So, food assistance programs have been very important to us. I’m signed up for all of them. One of my favorites is the senior coupons and funding for it is included in this bill. This is a population that might not normally be able to come out to the farmers markets and then, as the senator mentioned, that puts dollars directly into my hands,” she says. “…I also sit on the board for my local farmers market. We’ve applied for the Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP) grant. We did not get it last year, but we’re hoping we can this year. That has funding in it to help promote our market. One of the programs we’re very excited about is we went through the process of being able to accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits. Individual farms cannot accept SNAP, but farmers markets can apply. That was a big step for us because the process is involved and you need equipment and support and we were able to get funding to support having that at a farmers market, which allows us to get more of our community members out. This legislation changes some of the ways money gets accessed, so hopefully this year we’ll be able to secure that grant.”

Buskirk owns Clay Hill Produce and Flowers in Tiffin, Ohio.

U.S. Senators Tina Smith of Minnesota, Peter Welch of Vermont and John Fetterman of Pennsylvania introduced the legislation with Brown. U.S. Representatives Chellie Pingree of Maine and Dan Newhouse of Washington introduced companion legislation in the House.

The legislation is endorsed by the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, Ohio Farmers Union, the Appalachian Center for Economic Networks, Ohio Food Policy Network, BIPOC Farming Network, Green Umbrella, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, Farmers Market Coalition, Fair Food Network, Union of Concerned Scientists, Wholesome Wave, American Farmland Trust, Agricultural Viability Alliance, American Sustainable Business Network, Kiss the Ground, Regenerate America, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Farm Action Fund and Greater Cincinnati Regional Food Policy Council.

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