Thursday, December 12, 2013
BY JONATHAN RISKIND, MaineToday Media Washington Bureau Chief
WASHINGTON -- U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree said her bill to revamp national agricultural policies marries the desire for healthy food to the need to boost the economy.
The Local Farms, Food and Jobs Act includes provisions that address a range of issues, such as building slaughterhouses to process food locally and developing crop insurance programs to enable organic farmers to better reach consumers.
The Democrat who represents Maine's 1st Congressional District, an organic farmer herself and a member of the House Agriculture Committee, unveiled the bill Monday at a press event at Jordan's Farm in Cape Elizabeth attended by dozens of local farmers and other supporters.
Pingree returns to Washington today to begin the process of trying to sell her proposal to key lawmakers who will be crafting a new national farm policy bill. That bill is an already complex piece of legislation that now may be wrapped up in the work being done this fall by the congressional "super committee," charged with carving $1.2 trillion in savings from the federal budget.
There is little chance that Pingree's legislation will pass as a stand-alone bill. Rather, she hopes to persuade the lawmakers who eventually craft the farm bill to include some of her provisions.
"We've seen explosive growth in sales of local food here in Maine and all across the country," Pingree said in a statement. "This bill breaks down barriers the federal government has put up for local food producers and really just makes it easier for people to do what they've already been doing,"
Included in what Pingree proposes: federal aid to help farmers build more of what they need - such as slaughterhouses -- to better process and sell their products locally. There's also a requirement for a new crop insurance program specifically designed for organic farmers and "diversified" farmers who grow a wide variety of crops and lack easy access to traditional crop insurance.
And there is language making it easier for local schools to serve locally produced food in their cafeterias and for food stamp recipients to use their electronic benefit cards at farmers markets.
Pingree's proposal would cost about $1.2 billion over ten years, but proponents say that represents a good value for legislation that makes relatively small changes to national farm policy but produces a huge benefit for tens of thousands of local and regional farmers nationwide.
Russell Libby, executive director of the 6,500-member Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, said Pingree's "ideas are going to resonate across a pretty broad political spectrum. This is not an issue that is about liberal-conservative as much as about people that have a passion for supporting their local farmers wherever they may be."
Libby, who attended Pingree's event at Jordan's Farm, also noted that a companion to the bill will soon be introduced in the Senate. That will lend more clout to attempts to negotiate its provisions into the overall farm bill.
Pingree plans to hold a news conference later this week on Capitol Hill to discuss prospects for her legislation. On Nov. 2 and 3, up to 40 farmers and consumer advocates from around the country, organized by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, are coming to Washington to lobby lawmakers on behalf of Pingree's proposals.
Jonathan Riskind -- 791-6280