Fresh Fields

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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