By: Ellen Stern Griswold, MFT's Policy & Research Director The new legislative session began this…
On October 4, 2017, Maine’s own Representative Chellie Pingree (D-ME), along with Representative Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) and Representative Sean Maloney (D-NY), introduced HR 3941, the Local Food And Regional Market Supply Act (The Local FARMS Act). Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) has also introduced a companion bill in the Senate. Maine Farmland Trust is proud to support this bill. As MFT President Amanda Beal stated at the time of the release, “Maine Farmland Trust is excited to endorse The Local Food and Regional Market Supply Act (The Local FARMS Act). This Act provides the financial support, infrastructure development, and technical assistance that farmers in Maine need to grow the local and regional food economies. At the same time, it increases access to fresh, healthy, and locally-grown food for low-income communities in Maine. Simply put, the tools in this bill will strengthen our economy and nourish our communities. We are grateful for the sponsors of this bill, and especially Representative Chellie Pingree, for working to include these important changes in the next Farm Bill.”
Although the U.S. agricultural economy has experienced an economic downturn in recent years, growing interest from consumers has enabled farmers in Maine and across the country to connect with expanding local and regional markets and find economic success. In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in 2015 over 167,000 U.S. farmers sold $8.7 billion worth of food to local consumers, retailers, institutions, and distributors. In addition, these local and regional food markets can have a significant impact on revitalizing rural communities and keeping families on the farm. However, despite this economic potential, there are barriers that prevent farmers and food entrepreneurs from fully participating in these markets. Such barriers include a lack of infrastructure (e.g. storage, aggregation, transportation, and processing capacity), as well as a lack of associated technical support (e.g. training, marketing, and business planning services).
The Local FARMS Act removes many of these barriers and helps to unleash the potential for greater growth of local and regional food economies in Maine and beyond by:
- Creating a more comprehensive and efficient program called the Agricultural Market Development Program that merges the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program and Value-Added Producer Grants Program. The new Program includes support for farmers’ markets, farm to retail marketing, local food enterprise development, value-chain coordination, food hubs, planning and feasibility studies, producer-owned value-added enterprises, and regional planning through public-private partnerships.
- Creating a new Food Safety Cost-Share Program to help family farmers comply with new food safety rules and regulations by upgrading on-farm food safety infrastructure and becoming food safety certified.
- Expanding the Food Safety Outreach Program, the food safety training program for small and medium sized family farmers, by increasing funding and prioritizing projects led by community-based organizations.
- Reauthorizing the Organic Cost-Share Program for farmers and handlers.
- Expanding the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program to include low-income military veterans and increased program funding.
- Piloting a new program called the Harvesting Health Program to demonstrate and evaluate the impact of fruit and vegetable prescription projects in addressing food insecurity, supporting local agriculture, and reducing health care costs.
- Making it easier for schools to procure locally and regionally produced food by allowing schools to use “locally grown,” “locally raised,” or “locally caught” as a product specification.
- Expanding the ability of Rural Development and Farm Service Agency grant and loan programs to be used to support livestock, dairy, and poultry regional supply chain infrastructure.
The text of the bill can be found HERE.
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