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Farming advocacy group begins hosting listening sessions ahead of 2023 Farm Bill renewal

via Flickr Creative Commons

The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association held its first farm bill listening session Thursday. The meeting at the Yellow Springs community center was the first of four sessions where farmers can express what they want to see in the bill, which is up for renewal in 2023.

The farm bill is a massive bill package passed by Congress every five years. The bill funds programs in rural development, crop insurance, local food systems, food nutrition programs, commodity foods and even sustainable agriculture research.

Much of the bill funds the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — which makes up three-quarters of farm bill spending.

The bill impacts farmers in a number of ways, said Heather Dean, a policy organizer at OEFFA. But she added that it also impacts the rest of the population.

“A lot of people don't realize how much the farm bill affects every aspect of their lives,” Dean said “It affects what kind of food we eat. It affects who grows the food. It affects how those farmers treat the soil. It just affects everything.”

At the meeting, several local farmers brainstormed what they wanted to see in the renewed bill. Some ideas included more support for minority farmers, more incentives to implement regenerative farming practices and more agricultural education support in both urban and rural communities.

Alejandro Figueroa
Local farmers discussing their vision for the local food system and voicing what they want to see in the 2023 farm bill.

Dean said the most recent farm bill from 2018 has been positive for many farmers, but there’s still opportunities for improvement.

“There’s potential for support for local food systems, for different kinds of conservation programs that would promote soil health and also for looking at agriculture as a potential solution for climate change.” Dean said.

Sherry Chen, the farm manager at Melrose Acres in Springfield, said the bill heavily subsidizes commodity crop farming such as corn, soy, rice or wheat. But often, she said, small or urban farmers get left behind.

“Small farmers are working in a fragile state as they are dependent upon family, economic and social stability to stay in business,” Chen said. “These [local food] systems need support to grow and to remain stable through times of economic, social and environmental stressors.”

Chen said she advocates for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to level the playing field by also subsidizing small food systems.

Dean said OEFFA is in the early stages of its farm bill advocacy work. The association plans to keep collecting more farmer input, schedule farm tours, write letters to government leaders and then meet with members of Congress to discuss the priorities for the 2023 Farm Bill.

“[People] need to know how important the farm bill is in shaping the way that we eat and the way that our food is grown,” Dean said. “ Each of us can speak up and tell our story and become part of a movement to help shape this bill.”

The schedule for the next listening sessions is below. More information is at OEFFA.org:

  • Newark, March 10, 6:30-8:00 pm.
  • Online virtual discussion, March 17th 6:30-8:00 pm.
  • Wooster, March 24th, 2:30-4:00 pm.

Alejandro Figueroa is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. Support for WYSO's reporting on food and food insecurity in the Miami Valley comes from the CareSource Foundation.

Alejandro Figueroa covers food insecurity and the business of food for WYSO through Report for America — a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. Alejandro particularly covers the lack of access to healthy and affordable food in Southwest Ohio communities, and what local government and nonprofits are doing to address it. He also covers rural and urban farming

Email: afigueroa@wyso.org
Phone: 937-917-5943