Whether you’re a working parent with three kids or a senior on Social Security, everyone deserves access to healthy, quality food that’s grown sustainably and fairly. But today, folks across Michigan are faced with hunger while independent farmers are struggling to get by because of corporate greed. It doesn’t have to be this way; the 2023 farm bill is an opportunity for everyone to weigh in and demand a food system that works for everyone. 

What is the farm bill? 

Every five years, Congress comes together to write a package of legislation known as the farm bill. It covers rural development, forestry, energy, farm credit, research, and more regarding our country’s agricultural system. Today, more than three quarters of farm bill funds cover nutrition programs (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or what used to be food stamps). 

The current farm bill process provides an unfair advantage to wealthy corporations, but it doesn’t have to be this way. We can ensure that independent farmers, ranchers, and eaters everywhere no longer get left behind.

Michiganders deserve a fair farm bill. Together we can work to preserve the health and success of rural farming communities and urban areas alike so that we all have the resources we need to thrive.

Combatting Consolidation

Corporate agriculture and their lobbyists have the upper hand when it comes to writing the farm bill, and it’s a power dynamic that’s gone on for far too long. It’s time for independent producers to get a fair shake. For folks like Dennis Kellogg, a sixth-generation farmer in mid-Michigan, his work is tough and unglamorous, but it’s meaningful and allows him to live a life of purpose. He faces numerous challenges when it comes to bringing his products to market and making sure his business can stay competitive. Kellogg, along with Michigan Farmers Union President Bob Thompson share their stories and outline policy actions that the federal government can take to ensure that independent farmers and ranchers can continue their livelihoods and have a voice to challenge the unfair marketplace. 

Combatting Consolidation

Consolidation of our food system poses a significant threat to our ability to put food on the table and to the livelihood of our independent farmers and ranchers. In the beef market, just four corporations control 80 percent of the market. Wealthy food corporations like Monsanto, JBS, Cargill, and Tyson are seeing record profits while independent farmers are struggling to make ends meet. Without local and independent farms, we’ll see more gaps in our supply chain like we did during the beginning of the pandemic, and our rural communities will suffer.  

Independent farmers and ranchers deserve the policy tools they need to be successful and thrive. That’s why in the upcoming farm bill, food and farming advocates are calling for: 

  • The Opportunities for Fairness in Farming Act to provide transparency over government checkoff programs. Farmers and ranchers are mandated to pay into checkoff programs that are often used to promote industry consolidation by wealthy corporations, thereby working against their own interests. It’s time farmers and ranchers know where they hard-earned money is going.

  • The Farm System Reform Act to protect farmers, ranchers, and eaters from unfair prices and deceptive practices. The act mandates country of origin labeling for beef, pork, and dairy products and places a ban on factory farms by the year 2040.  
  • The Protecting America’s Meatpacking Workers Act that ensures proper workplace conditions and safety requirements in meat and poultry facilities. 

Building Regional, Equitable, and Sustainable Food Systems

For many beginning farmers, starting their own operation is difficult. Without familial wealth or solid lines of credit, getting loans for land and infrastructure purchases can be an insurmountable barrier. John and Cindy Dutcher, who have farmed in the Eastern Upper Peninsula for four decades, know these challenges well and are concerned for the next generation of farmers because of what they’ve lived through. Alex Ball, the owner/operator of Old City Acres in Belleville, faced 11 years of challenges and roadblocks in his effort to find suitable land for farming. Despite these challenges he has a profitable business serving a primarily low-income, majority-minority community. Both Dutcher Farm and Old City Acres show that leveling the playing field for local, independent farmers benefits everyone who eats food.

Building Regional, Equitable, and Sustainable Food Systems

When you can access fresh, affordable, and local food, it feels good. You’re supporting local businesses, and also supporting independent farmers and ranchers who are more likely to operate sustainably and humanely.

One of the biggest challenges beginning farmers and ranchers face is acquiring land, and it’s near impossible to farm without land. This problem is exacerbated even more if you’re a farmer of color. The federal government needs to invest in future farmers and their success. 

The farm bill can help address these concerns by implementing: 

  • The Justice for Black Farmers Act, which is intended to eliminate discrimination at the USDA, provide new and current Black farmers with equitable farmland ownership, and ensure equitable access to technical assistance and research programs. 
  • More funding for the USDA Local Agriculture Market Program, which provides support for agricultural producers to sell more goods locally. 
  • More funding for the conservation and energy programs included in the Inflation Reduction Act and ensure these funds will help farmers and ranchers reduce risks to our climate. The EQIP Improvement Act of 2023 is one tool to direct these conservation funds towards small farmers and ranchers.  

The Next Generation of Rural Development

While a vast majority of the farm bill revolves around food and farming there’s also a good chunk of funding in the legislation that goes towards rural development, like rural electrification, support for small businesses, and broadband. Access to high-speed internet is an issue that affects many facets of rural life, including education, marketing agricultural products, and finding health care, yet many communities still don’t have equitable access. Jason Kronemeyer knows firsthand from working in schools in the Eastern Upper Peninsula how students, teachers, and parents lose out when they can’t access the internet from home. The farm bill provides an opportunity to build on the high speed internet investments from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and President Joe Biden, and get us closer to ensuring that all communities are set up for 21st century success. 

The Next Generation of Rural Development

The farm bill first originated during the Great Depression, and was designed to improve the success of rural farming communities amid financial hardship and environmental crises. The farm bill continues to facilitate programs under the U.S. Department of Agriculture to ensure the needs of rural communities like nutrition, housing, energy, small businesses –– and importantly, broadband, are met. Around 200,000 households in Michigan currently lack high-speed internet, and it’s an area that requires investment at the federal, state, and local levels. 

Access to high-speed internet is an issue that affects everyone regardless of where you live. It allows us to simply be part of the world today, whether for education, work, health care, or just connecting with your loved ones. The farm bill can help create more 21st century opportunities for rural America by passing: 

  • The Rebuilt Rural America Act that will revitalize rural development by funding $50 billion in block grants for rural communities and Tribal nations to improve their quality of life. The act also establishes a Rural Innovation and Partnership Administration to better serve rural communities when they access federal funding programs. 
  • More funding for the ReConnect Loan and Grant Program, which provides grants for broadband projects in underserved areas.

Fresh, Affordable, and Accessible Food

The farm bill doesn’t just impact farmers; it impacts everyone who eats. More than four out of five dollars of federal farm bill funding goes to nutrition programs. But recipients of food assistance programs need additional support amid efforts in Washington, D.C. to cut funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Kristen Corbiere, a social worker and food access expert, runs a mobile food pantry, and her experience ensuring access to food in rural communities allows her to see firsthand how people’s lives are changed for the better once they have access to healthy food. If families have the support they need to eat, rural and urban communities alike will benefit. 

Fresh, Affordable, and Accessible Food

The farm bill doesn’t just impact farmers; it impacts everyone who eats. More than four out of five farm bill dollars goes towards nutrition programs. Most of these funds are for SNAP benefits, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps. 

Millions of Americans’ meals are at stake if nutrition funding is taken away.  Instead of cutting these important nutrition assistance programs, programs in the farm bill that address these critical nutrition needs include: 

  • Greater funding for the Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program (GusNIP) that provides benefits for folks struggling with health issues to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables.  
  • The ability for nutrition assistance users to purchase a wider variety of nutritious foods, including the ability to purchase hot and prepared foods at grocery stores. 
  • Simplifying the application and reporting requirements for SNAP. 

More support for programs that help expand access to nutritious, local foods, including the Local Food Purchase Assistance Cooperative Agreement Program (LFPA), Local Foods for Schools Cooperative Agreement Program (LFS), and Food Supply Chain Guaranteed Loan Program, in addition to increased funding for Local Agricultural Marketing Program (LAMP).