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From the Townsend Letter
July 2007


Web Page Potpourri
by Marjorie Roswell

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A column devoted to informative integrative health resources on the Internet

The Farm Bill (It Matters)
In a previous column (Aug/Sept 2006), I shared resources on the US "Food System" and promised a future column on the national Farm Bill. My mailbox didn't bring hoards of letters expressing interest (okay, not even a one), but I'm hoping this column will activate your interest and involvement.
Perhaps you've never heard of the Farm Bill. Perhaps you have, and ask, "What does my work in health have to do with a Farm Bill?" My answer is this: a lot! Public health is impacted along every step of this massive federal legislation, from the choices to subsidize farms that use pesticides to availability of fresh produce, and more. The Farm Bill – we can think of it as our national Food Bill – gets reauthorized only once every five to seven years. If we pay attention, we can have a role in determining how billions of dollars are spent in the 2007 Farm Bill – billions that impact our health, obesity levels, food availability, antibiotic resistance, pollution levels, and more. I invite, even urge you, along with your organizations to get involved.

What Does the 2007 US Farm Bill Have to Do with Public Health?
(75 KB .pdf)
This two-pager features eleven ways the Farm Bill impacts public health, including its role in promoting unhealthy foods, environmental contamination, antibiotic resistance, and food safety concerns. This document was produced by the ever-amazing Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future.

Food Fight: The Citizen's Guide to a Food and Farm Bill

This is the single best book on the subject of the Farm Bill. It's graphically appealing, engaging, and informative. I landed a box of these books. If you think you might become a food or farm activist, I'll send you a copy. Just drop me a line.

One Thing to Do About Food: A Forum

Included in the preface to Food Fight is a terrific piece by Michael Pollan originally published by The Nation. In less than a page, he explains how "nothing could do more to reform America's food system – and by doing so improve the condition of America's environment and public health – than if the rest of us were suddenly to weigh in [on the Farm Bill]."

National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture – Program Primer

The Farm Bill is divided into sections, called "titles." This Primer briefly summarizes the ten titles of the 2002 Farm Bill (the last one) and highlights key subjects including conservation, nutrition, rural development, equity, and organics.

Food and Water: Farm Bill 101

(364 KB .pdf)
(364 KB .pdf)
Two different URLs give you access to the same colorful three-page primer on the Farm Bill.

Farm Bill Primer

I created this website when I received a document that provided details on federal funding for the CRP, CSP, WHIP, WRP, GRP, SARE, and EQIP programs. "What does all that mean?" I wondered. I knew it was important, and I set out to understand and then share what I learned along the way. I created interactive farm bill-spending maps (which you can view if you have Java installed on your computer). For instance, you can see how the Organic Transition Program compares to other funded programs, or view your congressional district's farm subsidies compared to all the others. I added a map of the House Agriculture Committee (and plan to add more maps). I also created 2.5-minute video about a critical sustainable agriculture information service whose budget was astonishingly slashed to zero earlier this year. The site includes links to many of the webpages featured in this column. I'm creating this site in my "spare time." I actively seek more partners in the effort to bring the Farm Bill – which is really our national food bill – to the people (or even better, bring the people to the Farm Bill)!

Seeking Balance in US Food and Farm Policy

US food and farm policy reminds me of the elephant of folklore. It's big, and it's easy for people to perceive only a part of it. (Some know only the elephant's trunk, others only the tail, etc.) Likewise, public health specialists, nutritionists, agribusinesses, ethnic farmers, conservationists, and advocates for justice and rural and community development tend to think of the Farm Bill only through the lens of their own work. The Farm and Food Policy Project enabled all these constituency groups to talk to each other in advance of the 2007 Farm Bill, and the outcome of their dialog is summarized in this 16-page statement. "Balance," the key word in the title of this report, wouldn't actually have been my personal approach – after all, I want 100% organic agriculture, but this is a good approach in a consensus document. I support this statement and encourage you, with your organizations, to consider signing on to it. Especially noteworthy for Townsend Letter readers will be the section called "Healthy People: Reducing Hunger and Improving Nutrition." Some of the initiatives seem so obvious that it might be hard to imagine that your support is needed to make them happen. For instance, one of the bullet points is to "provide funding to school and school nutrition programs to provide fruits and vegetables in schools..." The last Farm Bill had a small pilot program that distributed fresh fruits and vegetables to a small number of schools in a small number of states. Your involvement is needed to expand these kinds of programs. And the time is now!

Congressional Switchboard
(202) 224-3121

Since the time is now, I encourage you to pick something in this column that resonates, get to know the issue, ask questions if you have them, and then call your senators and congressional representatives to advocate for a public health approach to the Farm Bill. The Farm Bill won't come around again for at least another five to seven years. So mark a spot on your calendar THIS WEEK, or at the latest THIS MONTH, to talk with your elected officials. Urge them to expand fresh fruit and vegetable programs, to enable food "Farm to School" programs, to expand the Community Food Project, and to enable geographic preferences and country of origin labeling (COOL). Let them know that expanded funding for conservation also improves health. If you don't feel as though you can talk knowledgably about all these things, just pick your favorite, and get on the phone. Consider setting up a meeting with your legislators or their aides. As Townsend Letter readers, we care about health. Billions (and billions and billions) of dollars, and the health of our nation, rest on our action or inaction.

Alliance for Justice
(July 2007: Link no longer works Try: an 81 KB .pdf)
(July 2007: Links to invalid page. Try: a 58 KB .pdf)
You may worry that if you work for a non-profit organization, you are not allowed to lobby. But in fact, non-profit organizations are not prohibited from lobbying, and most are allowed to spend up to 20% of their expenditures on direct lobbying activities. This guide will help you to know the law and to effectively express your right to be an advocate. The Alliance also offers "Worry-Free Advocacy" workshops.

Federal Policy Advocacy Book
(574 KB .pdf)
This is a super guide to the basics of effective participation in the federal policy process. The document is put out by the Community Food Security Coalition (CFSC). The CFSC has achieved a number of policy successes in creating the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) and Senior Farmers' Market Nutrition Programs and a Community Food Projects grants program, but these programs are tiny relative to the total spending in the Farm Bill, so we can't rest on our laurels.

Talking Points for CFSC Core Issues

Be prepared for a lot of content on this part of the Community Food Security Coalition's website. It's chock-full, including a helpful Lobby Day toolkit.

Farm and Food Policy Diversity Initiative
(148 KB .pdf)
Key issues in the Farm Bill debate are fundamental fairness and inclusion. Why do some farms (already wealthy businesses) get more than a million dollars in annual federal subsidies, and most get nothing? What can we do to expand equity and transparency in existing USDA programs? Can we create new programs to benefit socially disadvantaged producers? Will farm workers get to have a say in our agriculture policy? What policies will expand access to healthy food in urban areas? The Farm and Food Policy Diversity Initiative is developing recommendations in these key challenging issue areas.

Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy

The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy produced one of the most informative documents at the intersection of the Farm Bill and public health, called "Food Without Thought: How the Farm Bill Contributes to Obesity." Additional great documents on this site include "A Fair Farm Bill for America," "A Fair Farm Bill for the World," and "US Farm Bill 2007."

The Ag Observatory library

Ag Observatory is a project of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP). The library includes a wealth of pithy documents, including "Previewing a 2007 Farm Bill" and "10 Ways to Get to Get Healthy, Local Foods into Low-Income Neighborhoods." "ID 459" in the URL above refers to Farm-Bill-specific documents. The third website in this listing provides a friendly interface to these documents. The Ag Observatory library includes documents produced by other organizations, as well as IATP.

American Farmland Trust

American Farmland Trust (AFT), with a number of other organizations, endorses the EAT Healthy America Act. This is just one of many bills that may be incorporated into the final Farm Bill. Others include the Kind Bill and the Northeast/Mid-Atlantic Marker Bill. On this website, you may find AFT's Agenda 2007: A New Framework and Direction for US Farm Policy.

National Council of Churches of Christ – Eco-Justice Programs
(951KB .pdf)
The National Council of Churches of Christ's (NCCC) Faithful Harvest Campaign engages the voices of the faithful, along with the principles of eco-justice in the 2007 Farm Bill debate. Note especially, "Our Daily Bread: Harvesters of Hope and Gardeners of Eden." You will likely need to register in order to access this document, but registration is free and easy. If you're part of a religious community, I recommend this document.

Take Action to Give Poor Farmers a Fighting Chance

Oxfam looks at the international impacts of our national agriculture policy. Some of our policies are devastating to poor people around the world.

Environmental Working Group

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) sheds light in dark places. Who gets what subsidy money through the Farm Bill? You can slice and dice the data by states, by congressional districts, by top recipients, etc.

Mulch Blog

The Environmental Working Group recently started commenting on agriculture, farm policy, and food safety in the Mulch Blog. The EWG director wrote a post, for instance, called, "Why Doesn't EWG Publish the Names of Food Stamp Recipients?" He writes, "It's a question I regularly hear in my numerous meetings with farmers – usually from a guy in the back of the room, his arms folded in pique, his tone defensive, not to say indignant." This piece offers a window into some of the competing interests in the bill, for, in addition to big agribusiness subsidies, conservation programs, and the energy issues you'll hear so much about this year, the Farm Bill also includes our national food stamp program.

Paying the Farm Bill
Columnist and Blogger Tom Philpott offers some big-picture thinking on the Farm Bill in a three-part series in Grist Magazine.

News Gleanings

The Northeast States Association for Agricultural Stewardship (NSAAS) puts together a terrific newsletter ("NSAAS News Gleanings") that you can receive by email. NSAAS is an affiliate of The Council of State Governments' Eastern Regional Conference.

Farm to School

This is a terrific new resource from Environmental Defense.

Sustainable Agriculture Working Groups
Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group

These regional groups (SAWGS) might be a good place to get involved or at least to find some expertise to help you to understand the issues. The Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (NESAWG) offers a terrific monthly newsletter, whose archives I'm highlighting here. You may subscribe via email. Let me know if you find other helpful resources for your region as you explore these issues.

USDA – America's Farm Bill 2007
2007 Farm Bill PowerPoint
(247 KB PowerPoint presentation may open in your Internet Explorer window)
The US Department of Agriculture's Farm Bill website features the result of "listening sessions" and other official documents.

Remarks by Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns

or use this link
I found the Agriculture Secretary's February remarks to be surprisingly progressive. Amidst a host of issues, he seems to really "get" the public health connection to the Farm Bill. (What impact that has on final legislation has yet to be determined.) An interesting note, for context: "Specialty crops" refer to fruits and vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, and flowers. Hard to think of tomatoes and broccoli as "specialty crops," but that's how they're termed in the language of the Farm Bill.

What Is Missing from USDA's 2007 Farm Bill Forums?

Food policy blogger Parke Wilde notes that the USDA forgot to include questions on food safety and nutrition when they asked for feedback on the 2007 Farm Bill. (Seriously, if we don't do this advocacy, we can't assume it'll get done.)

Guide to New and Existing Opportunities in the 2002 Farm Bill
(1 MB .pdf; large file)
This document, prepared around the last time the Farm Bill was passed, succinctly addresses an alphabet soup of a selection of programs including the National Organic Certification Cost Share Program and the Nutrition Information and Awareness Pilot.


Fleshing out the alphabet soup, you might find these acronym guides helpful as you make your way towards understanding the Farm Bill.

National Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production
(July 2007: Invalid link. Try )
This commission is looking at the impacts of food animal production systems known as Confined Animal Feeding Operations, or CAFOs. (Our Farm Bill actually offers direct funding to build CAFOs.) The commission's focal areas include public health, environmental, rural community viability, and animal welfare. There are still a few public hearings you can attend to learn more and to have an impact on truly disgusting practices.

Author Michael Pollan: The Omnivore's Dilemma

Ira Glass interviewed Michael Pollan for "Science Friday" after Pollan's new book The Omnivore's Dilemma was released. I recommend listening to all 40 minutes, but in a pinch, skip to 20-minutes in, where Pollan begins to focus directly on the Farm Bill. "We need a Farm Bill that thinks in terms of public health," he notes.

Media That Matters: Good Food

This is a wonderful collection of short videos on food and sustainability. Share these with your friends and in your meeting houses. Don't miss The Luckiest Nut in the World, and Asparagus: A Stalk-umentary. Also find a documentary on processed food created by children who live near me in Baltimore.

YouTube Videos

There is also a wonderful set of videos on YouTube taken at this year's grassroots conference, From Cafeterias to Capitol Hill. Learn from the people immersed in these issues.

The Food System, Food Security, and Food Justice

Here is a link to my previous Food System column, which may serve as a preface to this one.

Public Health Action

Let's form a group of Townsend Letter readers to make a statement on the Food and Farm Bill. Write me if you would like to take part. I'm busy, too, as I know you are, but we can have an impact if we take some time to try to make a difference.

Marjorie Roswell

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