Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Farm Bill Musing, Part 2

Wickham's Fruit Farm
Holy pajamas, it's already a week later! Sorry, folks. Weeks just fly by on farms with their constant chores and treasured trips into town. So, food stamps. How did they come get wound up into the Farm Bill? Well, the short answer is they are a forced way for urban and rural politicians to come together. The long answer is not so simple.

When President Kennedy came into office in 1961, the urbanized North was going bananas, economically wise. Suburbs with their cookie cutter houses, factories, cars and highways as far as the eye can see. But that wasn't the case in the South. To many, it was the land that time forgot and Michael Harrington's book "The Other America" brought it to national attention. President Kennedy, and later President Johnson, made poverty alleviation part of their policy agendas including such things as food stamps. From the very beginning, people have been fighting about what the poor should be able to buy with their stamps and there have been constant attempts to encourage the buying of fresh produce and healthful foods. That, in return, would give regional farmers a new market to tap. To this day, $1 from SNAP ends up bringing $1.73 into the economy. You see what they did there?

Snug Harbor Farm
It wasn't until 1974 that the food stamp program went nationwide. 40 years ago, if you were struggling and starving, you could only hope you lived in the right area to receive some support from the federal government and even then receiving that help was a complex process involving paperwork and office visits. In 1977, the Democratic President Carter suggested reforming the program and signing it into legislation which became the Food Stamp Act of 1977. It was spearheaded by two Democrats (from South Dakota and Minnesota) and two Republicans (from New York and Kansas), so yes it was bi-partisan--as any big legislation should be--but not fully rural meets urban halfway. Plus, at this time, the USDA and agriculture industry was hellbent on farming "fencerow to fencerow" and those subsidies were increasing in size. This gave the country a supposed outlet for surplus crops. So it joined the motley crew of nutrition programs in the 1977 Farm Bill. It's not a true law, the program to this day has to pass through Congress as an act/bill.

Now what I personally find hilarious is that food stamps are labeled urban, while farming is labeled rural. Anyone else heard about urban farming lately? How successful farms are located close to urban centers? Or had anyone bothered to look at this NY Times infographic from 2009? Food stamps actually don't primarily go to the urban poor. Put this in your pipe and smoke it, Frank Lucas of Oklahoma.

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