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By Laura Stec

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About this blog: I've been attracted to food for good and bad reasons for many years. From eating disorder to east coast culinary school, food has been my passion, profession & nemesis. I've been a sugar addict, a 17-year vegetarian, a food and en...  (More)

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Farm Bill Passes Congress

Uploaded: Dec 16, 2018

The Farm Bill, the biggest piece of environmental and public health legislation this year, has passed the Congress. The vote was 386-to-47 in the House, and 87-to-13 in the Senate. It was business-as-usual for the most part, but surprisingly, some great news for sustainable/regenerative agriculture. Here to tell us more about that aspect and others, is a post from the nonprofit, Community Alliance of Family Farmers (CAFF) and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC).

Farm Bill Delivers Victories for Beginning Farmers, Organic/Local Food

If signed into law by the President, $867 billion dollars will be spent over the next 10 years on the new Farm Bill, which better connects beginning and socially disadvantaged producers with the tools and resources to start and sustain family farm businesses. The bill also helps both established and beginning farmers tap growing markets by providing permanent, mandatory funding for local and regional food production, and organic research.

“By providing key “tiny but mighty” farm bill programs with permanent funding, (past funding was only temporary; 5 years at a time) the 2018 Farm Bill makes a critical investment in the future of American agriculture,” said Juli Obudzinski, Policy Director at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC). “No longer will the family farmers who rely on these programs to start or grow their small businesses, or the food and farm organizations who provide direct training and outreach services, have to worry about the fate of these vital resources each farm bill cycle.”

The bill provides permanent, baseline funding and significant policy improvements to these tiny but mighty farm bill programs: the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP), Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program (“Section 2501”), Value-Added Producer Grant (VAPG) program, and Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program (FMLFPP). The final farm bill combines BFRDP and Section 2501 into the new Farming Opportunities Training and Outreach (FOTO) program, and merges VAPG and FMLFPP into the Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP).

“The final deal addresses a growing need to scale up our nation’s farm-to-fork initiatives, invest in healthy food, support the next generation of farmers and other underserved producers, and continue making strides in organic agriculture research,” said Obudzinski. “We thank the Chairs and Ranking Members of the Senate and House Agriculture Committees for providing much needed stability and reliability through these permanent investments.”

The final bill also rejects the House’s efforts to eliminate the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and preserves current funding across the conservation title. The conference report also makes important policy improvements to encourage cover cropping, resource-conserving crop rotation, and advanced grazing systems.

“We are glad to see that the conference report retains the Conservation Stewardship Program’s (CSP) structure as a unique and independent program, and believe these reforms send a strong message to USDA to focus funding on the most impactful conservation activities to address our most pressing environmental challenges,” said Obudzinski. “We also applaud conferees for boosting conservation easement funding and for ensuring that the Conservation Reserve Program includes the new Clean Lakes, Estuaries, and Rivers (CLEAR) initiative to support conservation buffers to benefit water quality.”

Despite these historic victories and investments, the final bill contains serious shortcomings. Overall, the bill fails to address some of most significant challenges facing American agriculture and rural communities – food and farm business consolidation, dwindling rural populations and resources, and climate change mitigation and adaptation. In some cases, the bill not only fails to move the needle forward, it actively takes steps backward by failing to restore funding cuts to conservation programs from the 2014 bill, or close widening loopholes in our commodity subsidy and crop insurance programs.

“The final bill will ultimately shortchange working lands conservation by stripping billions in conservation support to farmers through programs like CSP,” said Obudzinski. “We are disheartened to see that this farm bill further reduces CSP funding at a time when farmers are increasingly struggling to deal with extreme weather and other climate change-related challenges.”

NSAC is also deeply disappointed over the bill’s inaction on crop insurance and commodity subsidy reform and failure to address issues like low farm income or farm consolidation. Instead of making much-needed reforms to the nation’s farm safety net programs, the final 2018 Farm Bill expands existing loopholes – the result of which will be million dollar per year subsidies for the wealthiest mega-farms and payments for nieces, nephews, and cousins who may never have even seen a farm let alone actively work on one. (one of the controversial parts of the bill).

“It is a sad day when bipartisan reforms are ripped out of the final farm bill and replaced by giveaways for the one percent,” said Obudzinski. “Given that the Senate-passed farm bill contained broadly supported farm safety net reforms, it is beyond disappointing to see the hyper-partisan language and subsidy handouts of the House-passed bill win the day. We thank Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) for leading this effort in the Senate and are committed to continuing to pursue these reforms going forward.”


Back on our end of the pen...
In a surprise move, the 2018 Farm Bill also legalizes the industrial production of hemp, a form of cannabis with lower THC levels than marijuana. Analysts say hemp could be a $20 billion industry by 2022. You have to ask yourself “Why? Why this sudden, overwhelming interest from Congress about supporting hemp, a crop demonized for years?” Have I missed a social movement of citizens, endlessly calling their representatives to demand more hemp clothing or paper? It's so hard to get new programs/foods into the Farm Bill, hell, vegetables are still considered a specialty crop. Why hemp, why now? I think this is step #1 toward the legalization of growing marijuana on a federal level. And guess what?

Big Ag wants IN.

For more information, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) has published a multi-part blog series analyzing the final 2018 Farm Bill.

Here are the blogs listed by topic.

2018 Farm Bill Drilldown Analysis

Commodity Programs and Crop Insurance

Research and Plant Breeding


Organic Agriculture

Beginning and Socially Disadvantaged Farmers

Local/Regional Food Systems, Rural Development

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) is a grassroots alliance that advocates for federal policy reform supporting the long-term social, economic, and environmental sustainability of agriculture, natural resources, and rural communities.

What is it worth to you?


Posted by down home on the farm, a resident of Mayfield,
on Dec 17, 2018 at 11:15 am

Good post. An exceptional harvest of good info.


Posted by High Everyone, a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest,
on Dec 19, 2018 at 8:48 am

I just read an article about Big Pharma getting into the cannabis business. And I saw a cannabis conference advertised with ex-Speaker of the House John Boehner, who says he is "All in on pot."

Posted by Legalized Hemp, a resident of another community,
on Dec 20, 2018 at 1:17 pm

Multi-generational inbreeding is what separates hemp from cannabis as the psychotropic THC content drops dramatically. Anyone who seriously considers smoking hemp will get little more than a noteworthy headache.

Hemp is very useful as a raw fiber source for rope and's durable and cheap to cultivate.

It also comes as no big surprise that Big Pharma and Big Tobacco are getting into the cannabis business...with multi-state legalization, cannabis production/sales is a highly profitable enterprise.

Posted by Debbie Mytels, a resident of Midtown,
on Dec 20, 2018 at 9:11 pm

Thanks, Laura for sharing that post about what's happened with the latest Farm Bill. Considering the absolute essential nature of food and farming, it's surprising that so few people pay attention to what goes into this legislation. You are doing us all a service by posting this analysis, which points out the positive-- and negative--aspects of the bill. Thanks!

Posted by Laura Stec, a resident of Portola Valley,
on Dec 21, 2018 at 8:01 am

Yes Debbie Mytels, I think this review, a combination of work by CAFF and NSAC, offers a clear explanation of the good and bad of the bill. I'm amazed the conservation aspects got permanent funding, an enlightening sign in an era of White House attacks on the environment.

Posted by Farmers and Welfare, a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood,
on Dec 22, 2018 at 5:19 am

Farmers get lots and lots and lots of welfare.
I wish they could do it without all the gov't welfare they take.

Posted by Laura Stec, a resident of Portola Valley: Westridge,
on Dec 22, 2018 at 6:57 am

Big Ag gets lots and lots of welfare. Small farms, like those who fill our California farmers markets, most often receive nothing in subsidies. I too wish the Farm Bill restructured it's commodity & subsidy system, especially since what the Feds recommend we should eat (more vegetables, whole grains, and plant-forward meals), and what they subsidize (processed grain, meat and dairy) are two very different ways of eating. Unfortunately this new bill actually made those payouts to Big Ag easier, with payments for "nieces, nephews, and cousins who may never have even seen a farm let alone actively work on one."

Posted by Feast Or Famine, a resident of another community,
on Dec 22, 2018 at 2:18 pm

Big Ag with GMOs and growth hormones = lower food prices.

Small farm all-organic/natural products = cost more.

Poorer people buy Big Ag products at supermarkets.

Richer people buy organic/natural products at small fruit stands.

People with no money go hungry.

Better to eat food with GMO and additives than starve.

Easy for rich people to talk about healthy living and eating. They have no worries about money unless they are spendthrifts.

Posted by Lauralies, a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest,
on Dec 22, 2018 at 3:03 pm

I completely disagree Feast of Famine Scrooge, Poor people often have a one up on healthy eating over rich people, at least most know how to cook rice and beans. Plant-forward meals, in season, are often the best bargain...but you must just do it and cook. Is it time for more Food Party! cooking lessons? I think yes!

Posted by TexMex With No Beef Except..., a resident of another community,
on Dec 22, 2018 at 6:21 pm

"Poor people often have a one up on healthy eating over rich people, at least most know how to cook rice and beans."

Try eating rice and beans 7 days a week and we'll compare notes later.

Easy for the more affluent folks to advocate rice and beans while they're eating USDA Prime Rib over the holidays.

What's the point of eating healthier and possibly living longer when you have nothing to look forward to tomorrow except more rice and beans + a lousy boss ragging on you?

Posted by Lauralies, a resident of Portola Valley,
on Dec 22, 2018 at 7:46 pm

Prime rib? Who wants that? I DO eat beans, and rice, and vegetables, and emmer, and pulses, and hato mugi, and more vegetables, and dal, and, and, and, 7 days a week, and very happy to do it. So what notes shall we compare first?

Here's a cliff note for starters...If you find yourself complaining about the flavors and satisfaction of a plant-forward diet, blame the cook, not the plants. I suggest taking cooking classes from a chef that inspires you. Vegetables / plants offer many more creative food and flavor options than beef. You've got a whole new world to explore!

Posted by It Can Be Done!, a resident of Woodside,
on Dec 23, 2018 at 2:50 pm


Read 'Diet For a Small Planet' (1971) by Frances Moore Lappe.

Rice + beans = your basic meat protein.

Or try having some tofu with brown rice and add a vegetable side. Like the Japanese, I eat tofu cold/uncooked with a little soy sauce.

I haven't eaten beef for decades now and used to really enjoy it (hamburgers, steaks, pot name it). Tried eating beef after many years removed and actually felt kind of ill. Guess my system is no longer accustomed to processing it anymore.

Still eat chicken/fish in moderation and they seem easier on my innards.

BTW...the aforementioned book also illustrates the vast amounts of H2O and grain required just to produce 1 pound of beef. Incredible waste of resources.

If people want a more direct protein source without going full vegetarian, try eating insects. Haven't done it myself but in countless primitive cultures, insects provide a viable food source. I think they eat grubs plus other bugs that crawl around. Personally I'm gonna pass on the bugs unless I find myself on Survivor or a plane crash survivor somewhere out in the boonies.

Lastly, by going at least partially vegetarian you'll notice that your grocery bill has dropped noticeably. More $$ for other forms of mischief.

Posted by It Can Be Done!, a resident of Woodside,
on Dec 23, 2018 at 2:59 pm

Forgot to mention this and don't mean to sound gross but...

The regular consumption of meat = putrefying wastes in your lower tract and an odorous 'follow-through'.

Vegetarians usually don't smell-up a bathroom...unless they've overdone it with certain seasonings like cumin in their cooking.

Posted by Vegan 237 Days & Counting..., a resident of Los Altos,
on Dec 23, 2018 at 6:03 pm

"Vegetarians usually don't smell-up a bathroom...unless they've overdone it with certain seasonings like cumin in their cooking."

Yes! Since my family has gone vegetarian 5 days a week, the spray cans of Glade in our bathrooms have been used considerably less.

The natural roughage in a vegetarian diet also provides for a cleaner toilet bowl. Firmer BMs and no more messy stools to clean up after.

Posted by Laura Stec, a resident of Portola Valley: Westridge,
on Dec 23, 2018 at 6:15 pm

I have to agree with all this poopy talk, and body odor reduction solutions. Veggie diets have less stink, and vegan is even better. One way to check is pop a zit and... well.... take a whiff. Guess what it smells like?


Posted by Chemical Cover Up Cans, a resident of another community,
on Dec 23, 2018 at 9:11 pm

Vegans with "spray cans of Glade"?!?!?!

Something doesn't fit.

Posted by We Built An Outhouse For Carnivores, a resident of another community,
on Dec 24, 2018 at 12:56 pm

"Vegans with "spray cans of Glade"?!?!?!

Something doesn't fit."

Agreed. A true vegan would have all-natural potpourri bathroom deodorants...ideally comprised of fragrant wildflowers picked during the late spring.

At our home (in an unincorporated Sierra foothill county), all carnivores are required to use the outhouse if they have to go and only the vegans can use the indoor toilets.

That way our home always remains 'April Fresh'.

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