Fresh Fields

| April 19, 2002

Fresh Fields

Just when it seemed that things couldn't get worse for small farmers, there's a glimmer of hope in the form of the 2002 Farm Bill currently being debated in Congress. The bill offers money for farmers innovating new products and markets and limits the amount of taxpayer money used to subsidize the nation's largest farms. The bill still has to make it through Congress, however, and these important provisions are in jeopardy of being slashed. The conference committee has proposed cutting the funding for rural development in half and eliminating the cap on subsidies to large farms.

But consumers, farmers, and taxpayers are showing a strong interest in a different kind of agriculture policy, writes Patty Cantrell for the Elm Street Writers Group, and the conference committee members should listen. 'Rather than throw money into further overproduction of a few crops, Congress needs to support farm families as they switch from glutted markets to diverse production and profitable futures,' Cantrell writes, noting that small farms are necessary for the health and diversity of the nation's food supply.

The market has proven that there is a niche for small and organic farms. Farmers markets have grown by 63 percent nationwide from 1994 to 2000, and sales of organic products increased by 38 percent between 1999 and 2000. Despite these increases, farmers still need help to capitalize on these substantial new markets.

Cantrell hopes Congress will realize that the benefits of supporting small farms far outweigh the costs for society. There's a chain reaction of benefits: small and medium-sized farms strengthen rural community, strong rural communities are better able to resist sprawl and preserve open spaces, urban sprawl increases freeway congestion and pollution. Consumers are ready for changes to be made in the way we look at farming; the question is whether Congress will follow.
--Maria Opitz
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