Leslie Randall: House Farm Bill spells trouble, but there is one promising part
By: Leslie Randall | Sept. 24, 2018
The deadline to pass the 2018 Farm Bill is quickly approaching. With a Sept. 30th deadline, the omnibus bill affects the lives of many, including small farmers like me. There has been a lot of conversation around both farm bill drafts proposed by the House and Senate, which seem to have different priorities. The House version would cut many long-standing and effective small-farm programs, SNAP dollars and other measures, while leaving the large corporate commodity program intact. The Senate version is a bipartisan approach, continuing funding for programs that struggling families and small farmers rely on. To see a side-by-side comparison, you can read the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition’s Guide to the 2018 Farm Bill. During the conference committee meeting that is set to take place soon, the Senate and House versions will be combined into a final bill that will be voted on by our legislative representatives. The majority of the House bill is detrimental to small farmers but, if you look hard, you can find the few beneficial aspects in the draft. One of those is a proposal to increase funding for the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive program. FINI is a federal incentive program that offers SNAP recipients the chance to double their dollars when spent on locally grown produce. It has been in use by several farmers markets in the state, creating economic opportunity and encouraging healthy options for many West Virginia residents.
According to Wholesome Wave, a nonprofit organization that has implemented the FINI program on a national scale by assisting farmers markets with needed inputs and organizational tools, FINI has been hugely successful:
Healthy eating. In a study of the first year of funding granted through the FINI program, purchases and consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables increased by 16 to 32 million additional servings. These additional servings of fresh fruits and vegetables support SNAP recipient households and put money into the pockets of farmers. The study also indicated that between 74 percent and 94 percent of participants say they increased their consumption of fruits and vegetables as a result of the program.
Farmer take-home pay. According to the Ecology Center, who partners with Wholesome Wave, 73.9 percent of participating farmers reported making more money, 82.6 percent reported having more customers and 38.6 percent reported “increasing the scope of their operations by planting more acres, buying equipment, building greenhouses or hoop houses, or hiring more workers.”
Economic activity. According to Wholesome Wave, in the first year of the program, $8 million was captured locally in 27 states. Using the “economic multiplier” tool, it is estimated that these dollars generated $14.3 million in economic activity for the participating communities.
In 2018, the West Virginia Food & Farm Coalition, a statewide nonprofit organization, was awarded funding for doubling and tripling SNAP dollars at West Virginia farmers markets through the Farm Bill program, FINI. This West Virginia iteration of the program will be known as SNAP Stretch and will be piloted at 19 farmers markets across the state beginning in late summer. The small-farm economy has seen growth in the past few years, and programs like FINI work to make fresh, local foods accessible to all residents and offer increased incomes and economic support for farmers. Please consider taking a few moments to let your congressional delegation know that a robust Farm Bill that supports growth for West Virginia’s small farmers also protects vulnerable populations of West Virginians through nutrition. Leslie Randall is an owner/operator of Green Gate Farm, in Shepherdstown. Green Gate Farm is a vendor at the Charles Town and Shepherdstown farmers markets and operates a Community Supported Agriculture project.