The Colorado Independent occasionally runs guest posts from government officials, local experts and concerned citizens on a variety of topics. These posts are meant to provide diverse perspectives and do not represent the views of The Independent.
Now, more than ever, we are living in a political environment dominated by divergent beliefs regarding how we should treat each other as human beings, or in other words, who is “deserving” of support and who is not. You can see this political debate playing out in the food, nutrition, and agriculture arena, just as it is on many other fronts. More specifically, you can witness this battle of values in the evolution of the Farm Bill. The Farm Bill, a massive piece of federal legislation with 12 different titles (in the last bill) ranging from “Conservation” to “Crop Insurance” to “Nutrition” to “Forestry,” is renewed every five years and is the single most important policy tool for food and agriculture in the country. The current Farm Bill expires in September 2018, so Congress is currently engaged in numerous philosophical debates about the allocation of resources and who is deserving of assistance.
Just this week, the House Ag Committee passed their version of the Farm Bill. For organizations such as ours—that believe that policy should be directed at removing barriers and enhancing opportunities for those who have been historically left behind, dismissed, and oppressed—there was not much to celebrate. While we know much of what was proposed in this version will not survive next steps in Farm Bill proceedings, this process certainly does provide insight into the varying ways that conservatives and liberals approach food, nutrition, and farm policy. There are many concepts in the House Ag Committee version that concern us—for some of our go-to analyses please see the Food Research & Action Center and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.
Interestingly enough, one bright spot in the House version of the Farm Bill, especially for our work and that of our partners, was the provision of additional and permanent funding for the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) grant program that funds Double Up Food Bucks Colorado, an initiative that matches SNAP benefits with extra dollars that can be spent on fresh, Colorado-grown produce. Here is the catch—the Double Up Food Bucks program relies on two things: 1) a high-functioning SNAP program that reaches the most possible participants, and 2) high-functioning local and regional food systems that support Colorado farmers so they can access land, grow a good product, and get it to diverse markets. Unfortunately, the House Ag Committee version of the Farm Bill provides serious and damaging cuts to both of these things. On the SNAP side, it proposes tying SNAP benefits to complicated and highly restrictive work requirements that would essentially kick thousands of households in Colorado off their already limited benefits. The bill also proposes eliminating funding to some of our most essential regional food system grant programs that support local market development for farmers and support for farmers to create value-added products.
So, while we celebrate good news for the FINI grant program, we cannot ignore the deep hypocrisy—or just plain ignorance—that comes with gutting the food assistance programs and local food systems supports needed in order to run programs like FINI. Here is what we do want to see—and what we hope you will join us in advocating for: a Farm Bill that supports infrastructure for the entire seed-to-table food system, promotes the development of regional and local food systems, and prioritizes access to nutritious food with a focus on low-income communities and communities of color.
Because we at LiveWell Colorado believe that hunger cannot be solved through the perpetuation of an unjust or unsustainable food system, we are focusing our platform* on three priority areas:
1. Support the structural integrity of SNAP;
2. Support healthy food access in low-income communities and communities of color; and
3. Support infrastructure development for local and regional food systems and socially disadvantaged farmers.
The primary point we want to make is that opportunities exist to build health, equity, and justice into the entire food system through programs that help decrease food insecurity and stretch the already limited food dollars of low-income households, while bringing more dollars to Colorado farmers, and helping keep more dollars in our communities. Because we believe our food system should be equitable and health-promoting for all people, we will continue to advocate for Farm Bill programs that assume all people are deserving of access to healthy food. Join us!
*For your reading pleasure, you can find our entire Farm Bill platform here.