Digging into the Farm Bill

The Farm Bill—or more accurately the Food and Farm Bill--has a huge impact on what kind of food is available in your neighborhood, how that food is produced, and how much it costs.

The Farm Bill sets parameters and funding targets for many programs related to food stamps, food pantries, farmers markets, farm-to-institution purchasing and community food projects in our city. It determines crop subsidies and insurance and what kinds of farms get to benefit from them, influences pricing, land and soil conservation practices, whether food is organic or genetically-modified. It impacts how much support beginning and socially-disadvantaged farmers and ranchers have to start and maintain farms/small businesses (FYI, Just Food was able to launch Farm School NYC with a grant from the Beginning Farmer and Ranchers Program of the Farm Bill). And so much more!

Just Food has been working on the Farm Bill as part of the NYC Food and Farm Bill Working Group, a group of anti-hunger, public health, faith, farming and food justice groups and advocates working to make sure NYC has a strong voice in the federal Farm Bill process. Read more in the NYC Food & Farm Bill Working Groups "The Food & Farm Bill: Why New York City Cares."

So why is now such an important time to get engaged in the Farm Bill? Because right now is that once-every-five-year window that congress negotiates the Farm Bill. It may be finalized by the end of May, or, because its an election year, it may be pushed back until after the November elections.

How does the Farm Bill happen? Well, the oh-so-exciting legislative process is led by the Senate and House Agriculture Committees, which are in charge of writing the Farm Bill. For the 2012 Farm Bill, both congressional Agriculture Committees have held hearings and listening sessions on various areas of the Farm Bill since February. In late April, the Senate Agriculture Committee chair introduced a 900-page first draft of the Farm Bill, which the rest of the Committee then negotiated and agreed on a revised draft last week, which will likely be introduced to the full Senate sometime in early May.

So what happens then? Well, if the Senate passes their draft, then it’s the House of Representatives turn to take a crack at the bill. Their process mirrors what already happened in the Senate: the chair and ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee draft their version of the bill, whose members then propose amendments and vote. If this bill is agreed in committee, it will then go to the House floor for vote.

If passed by the House, then a Senate and House subcommittee will work on reconciling any differences between their two bills. A reconciled bill may emerge, and would be voted on by both bodies of congress. If they both pass it, the president can then sign it into law or veto. It's still not clear if all of this can happen quickly or not. Because of the election year, if all this isn’t completed by the end of May, it's likely the entire bill will be tabled until 2013, after the November elections.

May is a vital time to be engaged and ready to act on the Farm Bill, though it's also possible that the process will halt and be picked up again early next year. To keep you informed of what’s happening and actions you can take this month to advocate for a Food and Farm Bill that supports the health of New Yorkers and our regional farms, the NYC Food and Farm Bill Working Group will be updating our website  throughout May. Just Food will also send our newsletter subscribers alerts from the Working Group as your action is needed. Stay tuned!