RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—The lackluster national economy sure could use a boost. And one good way to do that, according to a new report, involves slashing subsidies for the chemical farming that makes people sick, and instead diverting a small portion of government assistance to more sustainable local and regional farmer's market systems to create tens of thousands of farmer's market jobs. The positive economic analysis comes as the country celebrates National Farmers Market Week, through August 13. "Farmer's markets are the ultimate green sector of the economy," says Stacy Miller, executive director of the Farmers Market Coalition. "They are stand-out successes in delivering triple bottom-line benefits while making entrepreneurship work in towns large and small."
THE DETAILS: The report, recently issued by an agriculture economist at Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), calculates that reauthorizing the Federal Farmers Market Promotion Program in the 2012 Farm Bill alone could create more than 13,000 jobs in the next five years, all while bringing healthier food options—including in-season, organic food—to communities, potentially lowering healthcare costs and bolstering local and regional economies. "At the moment, the majority of [Farm Bill subsidies] flow to genetically modified corn and soy, and these crops, for the most part, produce processed foods that aren't good for our health, and production is extremely harmful to our environment," explains health and wellness expert Jillian Michaels. "What we need to do is reverse the Farm Bill so that our tax dollars go towards subsidizing organic food. This way healthy, nutritious food would be significantly more affordable and accessible to the masses."
USDA data suggests that more than 136,000 farms are already selling their food directly to consumers. And Jeffrey O'Hara, PhD, UCS economist and author of the report, "Market Forces: Creating Jobs Through Public Investment in Local and Regional Food Systems," points out that family farmers are doing this with little government assistance. Shifting just a small portion of subsidies to farmer's market programs could create tens of thousands of jobs, the report concludes.
In addition, here are other ways that farmer's markets can continue to aid local economies:
1. Accepting WIC cash vouchers. As of late 2009, only 21 states allowed farmers to be vendors within the WIC cash value voucher program. To stimulate local food systems, states should make using vouchers for healthy food easier for low-income people.
2. Boosting bonus-incentive programs. Some government, foundation, and advocacy programs double Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits for buying food at farmer's market, giving an even bigger incentive to shop for healthy food that's locally produced.
3. Participating in farm-to-school programs. The recent Child Nutrition Reauthorization mandates $40 million in funding over an eight-year period to help schools and nonprofits arrange to purchase food from local farmers.