Tell Washington: ‘Buy Food From Local Farmers’ Here As Well As Abroad

Our guest blogger is Steph Larsen, Policy Director of the Community Food Security Coalition.

Food securityWhen asked at a recent press conference what the United States can do to help make food more affordable around the world, President Bush replied:

One thing I think that would be — I know would be very creative policy is if we — is if we would buy food from local farmers as a way to help deal with scarcity, but also as a way to put in place an infrastructure so that nations can be self-sustaining and self-supporting. It’s a proposal I put forth that Congress hasn’t responded to yet, and I sincerely hope they do.

President Bush is suggesting that we put international food-aid money into local economies rather than the current policy of food aid, which must be purchased in the US and transported on US-flagged ships. This change would support local production and distribution abroad, rather than exporting US products that lower prices and hurt agriculture-based economies in other countries. Bush introduced this position in his State of the Union address, in which he asked Congress “to provide food assistance by purchasing crops directly from farmers in the developing world, so we can build up local agriculture and help break the cycle of famine.”

President Bush should support policies that encourage local and regional purchasing within our own borders as well.

Legislators can do something right now. Since the Farm Bill is still in flux, it is important to show your support for geographic preference language that will allow School Nutrition Programs to prefer locally grown foods during purchasing process.

The 2002 Farm Bill included language that encourages schools to purchase food from local producers. However, in a letter to school food service directors in 2007, the USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) states that “interpretation is incorrect and FNS disagrees with it as a result.” USDA’s misinterpretation necessitates a strong, clear statement from Congress that schools are allowed to use a geographic preference in their bid. The tentative agreement reached on the Farm Bill includes such language, although now President Bush is threatening a veto.

Call the Capitol Switchboard at 202.224.3121 and let your legislators know that they should keep language in the Farm Bill that allows schools flexibility to purchase from local farmers.