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Small Farmers: Don't Balance Farm Bill Budget on Our Backs

April 16, 2012

ANN ARBOR, Mich. - With the national Farm Bill up for renewal by the end of September, Congressional leaders are looking for draft bills from key committees in both houses this month. They have already warned that funding will be cut, and small farmers are afraid that their voices will be drowned out by those who represent the corporate mega-farms.

Ryan Romeyn and his wife Andrea operate a small organic farm in Northern Michigan. Because the growing season is shorter than in other states, the farm bill helped them build hoop houses, which are sort of like greenhouses that lengthen the growing season.

"And it creates a warmer environment in the fall, so instead of being done in maybe November, I'll be selling salad by the end of December."

He says that little bit of help goes a long way to keeping him in business. And buying local keeps the money in Michigan. A study by the Institute for Local Self Reliance says that for every $100 spent at a local business, $45 stay in the community, compared with only about $14 of the same amount spent buying food from a big chain store.

Romeyn says he knows most of the people who buy food from him, and that's why he wants to provide them healthy fresh produce.

"When the fresh stuff comes in in Northern Michigan, people are shopping the stands and people are going to the markets and spending their dollars with us."

He says a Farm Bill that helps small farmers also creates jobs. Unlike some corporate farms that use a lot of machines, Romeyn's farm relies on some local young people to help with things like weeding by hand.

"Sometimes their first experiences are on local farms, picking stone, or pulling weeds or picking berries. My first job was picking blueberries in Ottawa County."

Small farmers like Romeyn say they're hoping for a level playing field from the new Farm Bill and support for agriculture that is healthy for the environment as well as healthy for the consumers.

A bipartisan Senate bill to be released in the next couple of weeks is expected to propose $23 billion in cuts. The House Republican budget proposes cutting $33 billion.

Ryan Romeyn is at csafarms.org.

Mary Anne Meyers, Public News Service - MI