Rally for a More Sustainable Food System

4 April 2011

Ben Hellerstein, a junior at Carleton and leader of our MPIRG (Minnesota Public Interest Research Group) chapter, is our guest blogger for the day:

This Tuesday, a group of Carleton students is hosting a rally on campus to raise awareness about the Farm Bill. Never heard of the Farm Bill before? Not sure if you need to come to our rally? Don’t worry, there’s an easy quiz to find out if the Farm Bill affects you:

1. Have you ever eaten food?

 a) Yes.

 b) No.

If your answer to question 1 was “yes,” then you should come to our rally to learn more! We’ll be in front of Sayles on Tuesday from 12:15-1:00 PM. (If your answer was “no,” then you probably have more important problems to deal with.)

The Farm Bill is a comprehensive piece of federal legislation that shapes every aspect of the food system in America, from seed to plate. Renewed every four to six years, the Farm Bill provides support for agricultural research and education, biofuel projects, rural development grants, and farm-based conservation projects. It also authorizes funding for key nutrition programs like food stamps and free school lunches. These nutrition programs account for over 60% of the total cost of the Farm Bill.

The Farm Bill also provides subsidy payments to farmers who grow commodities like corn, soybeans, and wheat, and it is these subsidies that have made the Farm Bill infamous in recent years. The subsidies included in the Farm Bill encourage overproduction, leading to severe social and environmental consequences. Unhealthy food is cheaper than healthy food. Farmers in developing countries can’t compete with subsidized U.S. grain. And because we grow more food than we need, we also use more of the pesticides and fertilizers that contribute to global climate change and pollute our waterways.

Although the subsidy system is far from ideal, it would be a bad idea to abolish it altogether. Commodity prices are too low for all but the biggest farmers to make a stable living. If we eliminated subsidies, we would risk driving medium-sized farms out of business, hastening the consolidation of farmland and the degradation of the natural environment.

Rather, a number of agricultural policy organizations advocate that the U.S. government establish a minimum price system to guarantee all farmers a fair price for their crops. A minimum price guarantee, combined with acreage controls and greater incentives for environmentally sound practices, would go a long way towards solving many of the problems with our food system today. We could make farming more sustainable, both ecologically and economically.

If you’re interested in learning more and signing our petition to urge Congress to consider Farm Bill reform, you should come by our rally! Tuesday, April 6, from 12:15-1:00 PM, in front of Sayles. There will be music and some great snacks. Hope to see you there!