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Seeds of a Much Smarter Farm Policy Dying in Gridlock

GRAPHIC Federal supports for farmers' markets can have a big impact at a tiny cost, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. Courtesy of the UCS.
GRAPHIC Federal supports for farmers' markets can have a big impact at a tiny cost, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. Courtesy of the UCS.
October 11, 2013

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Advocates for tiny federal programs for farmers' markets say they could grow big results for Arkansas farmers, communities, seniors and low-income families – if Congress would pass a farm bill.

Jeffrey O'Hara, an economist with the Union of Concerned Scientists who studied the markets, says they give a surprisingly big boost to rural economies, and to people's health.

O'Hara says studies have found people who go to them eat more fruits and vegetables, for many reasons.

"Consumers are able to talk to farmers,” he says. “Food at farmers' markets can taste a little bit better, the food might be a little bit fresher."

O'Hara says small incentives have boosted farmers' market produce for seniors and low-income mothers and children.

But he says those programs have expired, even though they cost less than a $100 million – pocket change in the farm bill, which he says has a lot of waste.

"Those are rounding errors,” O’Hara says, “especially when you see farm subsidies sent to people living in New York City high rises."

Gridlock in Congress has killed several attempts at a farm bill this year.

O'Hara says along with improving people's diets, farmers' markets have been proven to boost income for farmers and the rural communities that depend on them.

He says they cut out the middlemen, and that helps farmers keep more profit, and that money stays in the area.

"Farmers are going to be paying taxes locally,” he points out. “They might be advertising locally. They might be more likely to buy inputs locally, from local suppliers. And they might be more likely to hire labor locally."

Republicans in the House have objected to continuing SNAP – formerly food stamps – under the farm bill. They maintain the government should not pay for nutrition assistance for low-income families.

But O'Hara says with cardio-vascular disease running nearly twice the national average in parts of Arkansas, farmers' markets can have a big impact with tiny investments.

"Maybe at the order of $50,000,” he says. “Do advertising and promotion to make sure people are aware of the market. Maybe they need money to have an electronic benefits transfer machine so that SNAP and WIC benefits can redeemed at the farmers' market."

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - AR