President Obama signed the long-awaited and much-debated Agricultural Act of 2014 (otherwise known as the farm bill) here in our home state of Michigan, leading us to reflect on why the farm bill matters, on where we are now and on where we can go from here.
Throughout the long debate, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF) has not waivered in our mission to support vulnerable children, families and communities. We do this by partnering with communities to strengthen and create conditions that propel vulnerable children to achieve success as individuals and as contributors to the larger community and society.
We recognize the critical role of our food system in supporting health and well-being. We also recognize the role the farm bill plays in shaping our food system. Ideal legislation would support a sustainable and equitable food system that provides everyone with food that is healthy, green, fair and affordable. Such a farm bill would benefit the land and the people, including everyone along the food value chain, from farmworkers to consumers.
The 2014 farm bill does not achieve this ideal. We are especially disheartened by what will be a cut of $8 billion over 10 years from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps). Nearly 850,000 households across the country will face a benefit reduction of nearly $90 a month.
Cuts to SNAP will make it harder for our most vulnerable families to put food on the table and more challenging for vulnerable children to realize their full potential in life. Nearly 72 percent of SNAP participants are families with children. Malnutrition can alter children’s intellectual development by interfering with their health, energy level, motor development and growth.
We acknowledge those who pushed for genuine reform but were only able to achieve part of their vision. The new farm bill does take incremental steps toward sustainability, equity and good food for all, including:
- Funding for healthy incentives programs to extend the value of SNAP benefits when used at farmers markets. For example in Michigan, Double Up Food Bucks supports farmers and local economies, while enabling shoppers who use SNAP benefits at farmers markets to receive an equal amount in tokens to be redeemed for Michigan produce, up to $20 per visit.
- Healthy food financing that provides start-up grants and loan financing for retailers, production, distribution and food hubs, farmers markets and cooperatives to help bring healthy food to underserved communities, and increase local economic development.
- A competitive grant program that funds efforts to address food insecurity in low-income communities through urban gardening, school gardens, job training, nutrition education and other community-based food projects, through collaborations between nonprofit and for-profit entities.
Each of these provisions reflects a diligent commitment undertaken by WKKF grantees, their partners and others, who came together, outlined a path forward and worked tirelessly in support of their goals. As a result, they were able to produce evidence of these innovative community- driven models, which was critical to their inclusion in the farm bill.
While we will continue to support vulnerable children and their families, philanthropy alone cannot make up these significant losses. We look forward to working with community leaders and other partners to develop innovative approaches that will transform local and regional food systems so they are fair, healthy, sustainable and affordable. It’s imperative that we redesign our food system to better serve all children, families and communities.