Climate Change,  Conservation,  Farm Bill,  Marketplace Equity,  Organic,  Soil Health

Holistic Needs to Address in the 2023 Farm Bill

This post was written by OEFFA Grassroots Policy Organizer, Nicole Wolcott, and originally appeared on the Marbleseed blog.

A sustainable and resilient agriculture system is built from the ground up: from the grassroots. Our food system has a foundation in the soil, the very base of the earth. Keeping with this theme, our support building, education, and advocacy must be centralized in our communities. The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA) has done deep work to cultivate a narrative that is centered in this thinking.

We believe that all living things have intrinsic value, and it is up to us to make good, healthy, nutrient-rich, and sustaining food a right. Your voice and your opinions have power. As we continue to push for building a diverse and just food system in the 2023 Farm Bill, we need you to share your stories and truths. No matter your background or understanding of agriculture, you have a stake in our food system. You are a steward of the land; you eat and thrive off the land. Therefore, this groundswell of rich work is crucial to formulate an equitable living world for all.

There are so many facets to the farm bill that contribute to this connection between us and the earth. We are a cohesive system that must take care of one another. That’s why in the 2023 Farm Bill we are approaching our work with this lens. Starting with healthy soil, if we don’t have it, we won’t have food. The Agriculture Resilience Act (S. 1016, H.R. 1840) has set a net-zero goal for agriculture by 2040. This will include investments in research, soil health, farmland preservation, pasture-based livestock, renewable energy, and food loss and waste.

Some of this foundational land care work is also supported through the Small Farm Conservation Act (S. 2180, H.R. 5354) which was recently introduced in the House. This streamlines access to federal conservation assistance for small farm businesses, establishes an Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) subprogram tailored to small farms and ranches, and creates a bonus payment for farms <50 acres employing soil health practices. These are all voluntary, but if a farmer wants to focus on the health of their land further, we should support them in doing that.

All this though is not possible if we don’t improve access and strengthen our local food systems. There have been many notable marker bills with hopes of being added to the final farm bill including the Local Farms and Food Act (S. 1205, H.R. 2723), Farmers’ Market and Food Bank Local Revitalization Act of 2023 (H.R. 2378), and the Strengthening Local Meat Processing Act (S. 354, H.R. 945). Recent introduction of the Food Supply Chain Capacity and Resiliency Act (H.R. 4873) shows that while there is clear interest in diversifying our food supply chains, there is much capacity to be built.

As I speak with a lot of our member leaders and farmers, the theme of “leveling the playing field” is a consistent phrase. Corporate consolidation and influence in our local food systems compromises our food security and local economies. Therefore, addressing consolidation in the farm bill must be a foundation for making local food systems resilient and sustainable for us all. The Farm Program Integrity Act of 2023 (S. 2610) closes loopholes in the farm payment system and ensures taxpayer support is targeted to those actively engaging in farming. Our local farmers who need support are the ones who should be benefiting from these programs, not farm operations that are the top 1% of the nation’s commodity farms taking full advantage.

Lastly, with a massive piece of legislation like the farm bill, there are a lot of opportunities to address historical discrimination in our economy and food systems. For instance, the Fair Credit for Farmers Act (S. 2668) improves access and accountability for farm loan services offered by the Farm Service Agency (FSA), waives loan fees for historically underserved borrowers, limits over-collateralization on farm loans, and protects farmers’ homes, and establishes eligibility term limits. While a lot of this may seem very “in the weeds,” intersectional and transparent thinking must be at the core of legislation supporting beginning and BIPOC farmers.

I encourage you to reach out to your members of Congress to advocate for your needs and interests in the 2023 Farm Bill. If you’d like to see more of the marker bills OEFFA is supporting, please visit our farm bill tracker here. Reoccurring activism will be critical to ensure a just and equitable agriculture system for the future. To the farmers who support us in ways beyond measure, we will work to steward a sustainable agricultural future. We must make investments in our local community food systems, address discrimination in the USDA, and combat consolidation to be resilient in not just our food access but economies.