Last week, students gathered in the Library’s Athenaeum to learn about the Farm Bill from a representative from MN’s Land Stewardship Program, a local farmer, and students representing MPIRG and Food Truth. The night aimed to give the gathered students a “Farm Bill 101” from four different perspectives. Food Truth, MPIRG, and SOPE co-sponsored the event with funding from the CSA and the Environmental Advisory Committee.
First to present was Anna Cioffi, a representative from the Land Stewardship Program. As a member-based organization with members from farms, rural, or urban areas, the program promotes beginning local farmers, regional food systems, and conservation, stewardship, and sustainable agriculture.
The Farm Bill, Cioffi explained, is the “most central piece of legislation that sets our nation’s food and agricultural policy.” It encompasses food stamps, international trade, environmental preservation, food safety, subsidies for different farm programs, and more. “The Farm Bill is more than just farm policy” Cioffi said In fact, it concerns all the food in the country. About half of the funding in the bill is mandated to go to the food stamp program, which often helps those in urban communities.
Due to large budget cuts this year, many of the small programs that the LSP supports are on the chopping block. Currently, the farming population is rapidly aging, with most over the age of 65, and with very few young people becoming farmers. This is due in large part to corporations’ control over farmland in the U.S.
One program the bill funds trains young farmers how to start their farm, gives them credit, and access to land. This is a drop in the bucket of spending in the bill, but it is one of the first programs that will get cut to save the large commodity programs, which help corporate farming.
The second speaker of the evening was Rae Rusnak, a local farmer. Rusnak has a degree in Biology and worked at the University before becoming a farmer. She explained how she has used the Farm Bill to help her start her farm and shared her view in how farming can become more sustainable, organic, and local.
When Rusnak bought her land, part of it was highly erodible, so she was able to use one of the bill’s programs to get funding to plant trees on it. This returned the land to its original state, which stopped the run-off that had been causing problems for the town’s sewers. These trees will also, in time, become a source of income for her family when they can harvest maple syrup from them. This program from the bill saved the town money, helped save the environment, and helped Rusnak’s farm grow.
Rusnak has used many of the Farm Bill’s programs for small farmers, like the Farm to School program, which brings locally grown fruits and vegetables to schools in our community. She told the group that this opens up a huge market for small farmers, and allows them to have an assured income from the district. It also cuts down on gas emissions from the transportation of food over a longer distance. Rusnak left the group with the message “it is what you do, what you eat. If you want people like me and farms like mine [organic and sustainable], you have to buy our products.” You can help support local sustainable farmers by buying from them at Farmer’s Markets or the Co-Op.
Ben Hellerstein ‘12, President of MPIRG was next to speak. MPIRG gives students a voice that can be used to urge the county government to pass bills that support local farmers and local sustainability. Rice County has historically been a farming community, and it can remain this way through purchasing local produce. MPIRG is currently working with the county to pass an organic conversion policy that will help farms transition into being organic without losing their money and farm in the three years it takes to transition. You can help our local farmers as well as help the environment through organic farming by supporting or joining MPIRG.
The last speaker of the night was Rose Cherneff ‘13, representing the Food Truth club on campus. They were behind the recently successful campaign to get fair trade bananas in our dining halls. The club tries to find gaps in the dining hall where foods that are locally or organically grown can be substituted in. The group is working closely with Bon Appetit to help make the dining halls more locally supplied, with sustainable and organic foods. Rose made it clear to the gathered students that we can use our food dollars on campus to help impact farming issues on the national level. Food Truth meets Mondays at 8 in Sayles.
The Food Bill is an enormous bill that encompasses a plethora of programs. The four speakers shed light on different important aspects of the bill, and what is being done nationwide and on-campus to support better farming practices.