- Benefits are federally funded
- Eligibility rules and benefits are determined at the federal level even though the program itself is administered at state and local levels
- SNAP is the largest most universal nutrition program that is broadly available to most low-income households
- Eligibility being based on income and assets
- Eligible households generally must have a gross monthly income between 130 percent of the official poverty guideline for their family size and income that fall below the poverty line
- SNAP’s framework helps to maintain a minimum level of food consumption for low-income households
It’s the most wonderful time of the year! It is also one of the busiest. As the year comes to a close, projects are wrapping up, assignments are due, the cheer is spread, and the Advent season begins. In the midst of the season’s “busy”, there is an incredibly important gathering occurring in Paris. More than 750 global leaders of all disciplines and fields hailing from all over the world are gathering together for the UN Climate Change Conference (COP21). There are also hundreds of thousands around the world standing up in solidarity for our shared future – for our shared earth. The conference discussions have spotlighted several premiere issues in the fight against climate change, underscoring global agricultural production as a severe and pervasive issue that we can no longer push aside.
- Over the coming 25 or 30 years, scientists say that climate is likely to resemble that of today
- We will experience a gradual warming (already happening)
- Rainfall will be heavier in many parts of the world, but the periods between rains will likely grow hotter and therefore drier
- The number of hurricanes and typhoons may actually fall, but the ones that do occur will draw energy from a hotter ocean surface (aka more intense on average than those in the past)
- Coastal flooding will grow more frequent and damaging
- Destabilize governments
- Produce waves of refugees (already happening)
- Precipitate the sixth mass extinction of plants and animals in Earth’s history
- Melt the polar ice caps, causing seas to rise high enough to flood most of the world’s coastal cities
- Limit global warming to a global average increase of 2°C
- Get a commitment to reduce Greenhouse gases by at least 60% by 2050 compared to 2010
- Decarbonization of the world economy by the end of the century
“You don’t have that much control over what you are passionate about.”
– Alyssa Belter of Plenty Wild Farms
“In the summer of 2015, Eva Verbeeck asked me to join her on a trip throughout the Pacific Northwest to produce a short film on young farmers, that would accompany her photo story for a variety of publications. Having spent much time WWOOFing on organic farms, I knew the importance of providing a voice for this underrepresented population. So we loaded our iPods with old bluegrass music and set off in a 1990 Nissan truck, heading from Portland to British Columbia. We offered our labor in exchange for room and board at the farms that we made it to.
This film is an attempt to express some of the thoughts and feelings of the young farmers that we stayed with. Hopefully a little bit of justice was done for all the young farmers out there.” – Spencer MacDonald
One of the most beautiful, sensory depictions of the philosophy, connection, and value of the agrarian life. If you can spare a few minutes, watch this. You’ll be nothing short of inspired.
Last week, Agriculture Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden announced a USDA commitment to prioritize $5.6 billion over the next two years within already operative USDA programs and services to service new and beginning farmers and ranchers. To compliment these efforts the USDA launched the New Farmer website, a new tailored web tool for connecting farm entrepreneurs with programs and resources to assist with the start-up process. These resources span support and resources connected to not only new farmers, but also women, youth, and veterans in agriculture.
The National Young Farmer Coalition excitedly (and rightfully so) elaborates on the following features of the New Farmer online toolkit (from their website):
- “Four Steps to Start Farming
USDA first conceived of the New Farmers website as a place to pull together information about all the programs and resources they offer for new farmers. Originally, they met this goal by offering a laundry list of everything USDA offers. On the new website, information is organized and much easier to find. They identify four steps to start farming, then they group information and resources in relation to each step.
- The Discovery Tool
There’s a new tool on the website to help users find resources specific to their farm. With the Discovery Tool, you can select the type of farm you want to run, how you intend to market your goods, and other specifics. The tool then matches this description against programs that might be relevant to you. USDA offers a lot of different programs to assist farmers, and we’re excited that this tool will help new farmers wade through them all.
- A Focus on Farms in Transition
Land access is a critical challenge for young farmers. We are excited to see a section of the website that focuses specifically on resources for transitioning farms. Some of these resources, like the Conservation Reserve Program’s Transition Incentives Program (CRP TIP), reward landowners who transition their farms directly to beginning farmers.
- Women in Ag
Comprising nearly a third of all farmers, women are critical to agriculture. Unfortunately, their role and leadership has not always been recognized. USDA is trying to change this with the new Women in Agriculture Mentoring Network. You can find more resources and join the network on the New Farmers website.
- OUTER SPACE
Did you know that USDA has a partnership with NASA? It’s true! USDA is helping NASA grow food in space, and NASA is conducting research relevant to back-on-Earth agricultural production. The new website dedicates a page to this partnership, and—paired with other pages dedicated to innovation in agriculture—it is clear that USDA is making the case that ag is a relevant and fascinating career choice. I’m sold.”
Though ever preoccupied with underlying assumptions and implications, I too am excited for this federal commitment for its obvious provisions, but also, and especially, its associated effects. This commitment and the New Farmer toolkit bring attention to a side of farming that is often pushed aside for romanticized and idealized depictions – think small sustainable farms incubating simple yet fulfilling lifestyles that are beautifully portrayed through Instagram and other social media. And the converse – large commercial farming operations denigrating the environment and causing social schisms by capitalizing on bucolic imagery through skewed marketing. Between the poles of agrarianism and industrialization exists the plain, honest, and practical fact that a farm is a business. And it’s the best kind of business. Not in terms of profit, acclaim, honor, or standing, but in terms of the scope of its reach.
“A farm includes the passion of the farmer’s heart, the interest of the farm’s customers, the biological activity in the soil, the pleasantness of the air about the farm — it’s everything touching, emanating from, and supplying that piece of landscape.”
– Joel Salatin
I visited Hurricane Flats Organic Farm a few weeks ago for my food and ag law class. Owner and farmer Geo Hongiford explained his savvy navigation of EPA conservation easement provisions for soil erosion management; balancing wholesale and direct-to-consumer supply; juggling seasonal workers; providing incentives for a productive season; and a host of other considerations any successful business must take into account. “A farm is a business, just like any other. I have to make sure I’m doing what’s smart not only for the physical farm, but also for the books. We’ve managed to do pretty well with what we have.”
If a person can pursue a passion for Creation through stewardship and hard work to feed themselves and their community, while also breaking even at the end of the quarter – what a blessing! This federal commitment to support and train farm entrepreneurs who want to be successful while also creating businesses that are socially, environmentally, and fiscally lucrative is compelling and gives me much hope for the future of community-scale and local food systems.
Last week the USDA posted a call for applications to its Community Food Project (CFP) Competitive Grants Program. If you are thinking of starting a community food project, such as a community garden, food pantry, nutrition and food education program, or other community-focused projects addressing needs of access, security, awareness, and support of local agriculture, there is funding available.
The CFP funds three types of grants: (1) Community Food Projects (CFP), (2) Planning Projects (PP) and (3) Training and Technical Assistance (T & TA) Projects. The program’s primary goals are to:
- Meet the food needs of low-income individuals through food distribution, community outreach to assist in participation in Federally assisted nutrition programs, or improving access to food as part of a comprehensive service
- Increase the self-reliance of communities in providing for the food needs of the communities
- Promote comprehensive responses to local food access, farm, and nutrition issues
- Meet specific state, local or neighborhood food and agricultural needs including needs relating to: Equipment necessary for the efficient operation of a project
- Planning for long-term solutions
- Support the creation of innovative marketing activities that mutually benefit agricultural producers and low-income consumers
Applications are due by Monday November 20th, 2015. For assistance in crafting a proposal specific to the CFP, the New Entry Sustainable Farming Project has put together this comprehensive grant writing guide.
Grant funding is one of the most significant ways the USDA supports local food systems, connecting the federal to the local, and these resources should be pursued by all those inspired to serve their local food communities. By utilizing and showing interest in these federally funded resources, it shows the legislature and the agency that these funding allocations are vital to food systems needs and should be kept for future use. Every dollar is a vote, and every vote can be put towards critical fiscal support for important work in our local communities going forward.
“When it comes to eating well, should we consider the health of both our bodies and the planet?
Earlier this year, as we reported, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee concluded that a diet rich in plant-based foods promotes good health — and is also more environmentally sustainable. And, for the first time, the panel recommended that food system sustainability be incorporated into the federal government’s dietary advice.
But, it turns out, the idea of marrying sustainability guidance with nutrition advice proved to be very controversial. And now, President Obama’s two Cabinet secretaries who will oversee the writing of the guidelines say they will not include the goal of sustainability.”
On Tuesday October 6th, Secretary Vilsack posted on the USDA’s blog about the 2015 Dietary Guidelines which has spurred national controversy over its exclusion of environmental sustainability from the guidelines’ goals.
Secretary Vilsack wrote –
“There has been some discussion this year about whether we would include the goal of sustainability as a factor in developing dietary guidelines. (Sustainability in this context means evaluating the environmental impact of a food source. Some of the things we eat, for example, require more resources to raise than others.) Issues of the environment and sustainability are critically important and they are addressed in a number of initiatives within the Administration. USDA, for instance, invests billions of dollars each year across all 50 states in sustainable food production, sustainable and renewable energy, sustainable water systems, preserving and protecting our natural resources and lands, and research into sustainable practices. And we are committed to continuing this investment.
In terms of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs), we will remain within the scope of our mandate in the 1990 National Nutrition Monitoring and Related Research Act (NNMRRA), which is to provide “nutritional and dietary information and guidelines”… “based on the preponderance of the scientific and medical knowledge.” The final 2015 Guidelines are still being drafted, but because this is a matter of scope, we do not believe that the 2015 DGAs are the appropriate vehicle for this important policy conversation about sustainability.”
He stresses the importance of making educated decisions about our food based on the best “scientific and medical knowledge”, but this lack of accountability for environmentally sustainable food consumption, production, and education about these matters supports the enormous systemic gaps of our food system.
Though the USDA spends hundreds of millions each year on grants, programming, research, and sustainable agricultural endeavors, these do not have as critical a daily and direct impact as the DGAs on each U.S. citizen’s dietary needs and resulting choices. With something that has an incredible scope of influence and power, it is very concerning that environmental sustainability is consciously being left out of consideration.
When I first read of this news, I wondered how those in power could choose to make such a decision and also how that decision came to be. Are their perspectives so far removed from the land and its intrinsic value? Or, do they think that these matters are being taken care of adequately through other provisions?
The most plausible reasoning, I think, is the weight of those hundreds of millions of government dollars spent on environmental efforts and sustainable agriculture – but, there is still much more to the picture that brings into question the role of industry and political power. I have always been one to assume the best, but when this news follows Congress announcing the defunding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), one of the U.S.’ premier conservation programs for the past 50 years, I wonder – who will take the initiative to protect our shared world? Our environment?
In reflecting on these perturbing matters, I find hope in words from a prayer shared last Sunday on the Feast of St. Francis:
Most high, omnipotent, good Lord: Grant your people grace to renounce gladly the vanities of this world; that, following the way of blessed Francis, we may for love of you delight in your whole creation with perfect joy
For more on the DGAs, check out the USDA Advisory Committee Report 2015.