Policy Place: An Intro to the Farm Bill

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The Georgia Farmers Market Association is an organization dedicated to the promotion of healthy communities. We strive to do so by connecting people to local food systems and providing support for the agricultural community both here in Georgia and across the country.  Because of our mission, it is important for us to be mindful of the many policies that exist to support the promotion of healthy communities and individuals.  This may include policies on nutrition, sustainable practices, regulations for organic certifications, equitable farming, conservation, and funding that supports local organizations like ourselves. An example of such a policy that has sweeping implications for Georgia and its citizens is the 2014 U.S. Farm Bill. The Agricultural Act of 2014, also known as the 2014 U.S. Farm Bill, was signed into law in February of 2014.  The bill is a continuation of legislation that began in 1933 and is renewed about every five years, creating and reauthorizing federal programs in a number of different interests. As Congress drafts the next Farm Bill, it is important for all of us involved in or passionate about local food systems to stay aware and engaged.  The Farm Bill is a very robust piece of legislation and highlights how agricultural legislation has an impact across the national, state and local levels of the government.

Supporting nutritional programs, initiatives, and funding opportunities is essential to promoting healthy communities.  Many of these programs exist on the national level, however have direct impacts on us here in Georgia.  Namely, one of the biggest nutrition programs operating at the national level, that many of you may have already heard of is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as SNAP or Food Stamps.  SNAP is regulated by the United States Department of Agriculture and receives its funding from legislation written within the Farm Bill.  SNAP not only makes it possible for eligible citizens to have more equitable access to nutritious food through financial support, it also promotes a culture of creating healthy eating habits.  SNAP works with nutrition educators as well as neighborhood and faith-based organizations to ensure participants are making informed decision about their nutrition and works to create a more food-secure environment for all.  This national program has trickle-down effects that support policy such as school lunches, which are now, more than ever, ensuring our children are eating the most nutritious lunches that are available to them. Positive nutrition choices begin when you are young, making programs like these so important! To learn more about SNAP you can visit their website here.

At the state level, different policies have the potential to have an even greater impact on our day to day lives. Specifically, the Georgia Department of Agriculture is the state governmental office responsible for protecting and promoting agricultural and consumer interests, and ensuring safe food for all of Georgia. It is also the oldest state department of agriculture in the United States! The Georgia Department of Agriculture receives some of its funding from the Farm Bill, which it uses to help sustain numerous programs with the goal of maintaining the states farm industry and protecting the consumer. One of these programs is Georgia Grown, which is a marketing and economic development program with the goal of aiding our agricultural economies and helping new and established agribusiness grow and thrive! Georgia Grown also has deep roots in sustainability and its logo is a marker of agricultural products grown right here in the state of Georgia. Georgia Grown is also one of our very own platinum sponsors! To learn more about the Georgia Department of Agriculture, visit their website here, and visit with Georgia Grown here.

Locally, we have the potential to have the biggest impact! There are many organizations right here in the Atlanta metro area, existing throughout its various communities that are working to promote the sustainability of agriculture, farmers, producers, consumers, and healthy families, to name a few. The Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) is one of these organizations. ARC works to secure metro Atlanta's future by providing world-class infrastructure, building a competitive economy and fostering healthy, livable communities. An example of this effort is their Green Communities Program. The Green Communities Program is a voluntary certification program that helps local governments implement measures that will reduce their environmental impact to create a greener, healthier and more livable region. GFMA’s very own Norcross Community Market, which is a 2018 member market, is a Green Community honoree with a platinum status, which is the highest status that can be earned within this program. GFMA was able to help Norcross upgrade to their platinum status from a gold status in January of 2016. Norcross was able to promote smart growth through its Conservation Subdivision Ordinance and its Livable Centers Initiative plans! To learn more about ARC and the Green Communities Program, visit their website here.

Policy comes in many shapes and sizes and exists at all levels of the government, presenting many avenues for people like you and me to get involved.  They can exist in the form of governmental departments, programs, initiatives, and legislative funding.  All have the potential to greatly impact various agricultural practices and many different communities.  We encourage you to visit the websites of these organizations and the websites of many of our partner organizations who are engaging in similar work. It is important to us that our community is informed and is able to understand the implications of various policies!