CAPE ELIZABETH, Maine — U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree was joined by nearly 80 supporters at Jordan’s Farm in Cape Elizabeth on Monday to announce her introduction of a bill that would reroute some federal subsidies from large-scale industrial producers to small, local farms.
The announcement of the proposed Local Farms, Food and Jobs Act took place on a hay trailer at Jordan’s Farm in Cape Elizabeth and was Pingree’s latest stop in a campaign to shift federal dollars from what she called “big agribusiness” to small, often family-owned farms.
In mid-August, Pingree joined the watchdog group U.S. PIRG in Portland for a news conference denouncing the expenditure of subsidies on crops that she said contributed to troubling obesity rates in America, such as mass-produced corn and soy. In late September, Pingree, a Democrat who represents Maine’s 1st Congressional District, discussed her initiatives with Michelle Obama during the first lady’s visit to Maine.
Pingree, who owns Turner Farm on North Haven, said she plans to officially introduce the legislation on Wednesday and is seeking co-sponsors. The larger omnibus U.S. Farm Bill is renewed approximately every five years and is due to be taken up again in the 2012 fiscal year. Pingree said her bill or provisions therein ultimately could be passed as a part of that larger, all-encompassing agriculture bill.
Warren Knight, head of Smiling Hill Farm in Westbrook, told those in attendance Wednesday his farm was pulled from the brink of death by the local food movement but many other small farm businesses were unable to survive in a culture where “factory farms” and global food distributors dominate the landscape.
Knight said Pingree’s bill is coming as the trends are changing. He said consumers are more interested in buying organic, locally grown food, and promoting small farm operations reduces the environmental impacts of increased processing, transportation and packaging used to get many industrially produced food on grocery store shelves.
Pingree cited Walmart’s push toward carrying more organic food options as a sign the market is truly behind her cause.
“When stores like that want to sell organic food, they’ll want to buy it locally,” she said. “They’re not going to set up 10,000 farms in China.”
Among the highlights of the Local Farms, Foods and Jobs Act are provisions to:
• Improve credit and grant access to farmers producing for local markets.
• Eliminate the organic premium surcharge from the Risk Management Agency.
• Fund the Local Marketing Promotion Program at $30 million annually and the Specialty Crop Block Grant program at $90 million per year.
• Increase Community Food Projects funding from around $1 million to $2.5 million per year to $10 million annually, and increase the grant terms from three to five years.
• Expand federal agriculture research to include more local and regional data.
• Provide additional federal support for agricultural infrastructure such as slaughterhouses and local distribution systems.
Pingree said the bill does not yet have a financial note but some of the funding she seeks to increase support for small, local farms likely will come from reductions in subsidies for commodity crops. She said she anticipates a battle in Congress from the industrial producers who benefit from those subsidies.
“This will be a difficult fight,” she told reporters. “We are taking on big industrial agriculture with some of this. There are going to be some people who are comfortable with the way things are and don’t want to see anything change.”