By Lotta Chan, CFJC Research Associate
Yesterday evening forty individuals from the community and from various organizations and academic institutions filled up the multipurpose room at the West Oakland Public Library for a workshop and discussion on the Farm Bill, which is set for reauthorization in 2012. The event was co-hosted and facilitated by CFJC, the HOPE Collaborative, and the Oakland Food Policy Council (OFPC), and included another co-facilitator from People’s Grocery. The workshop hoped to clarify some of the complex language of the 2008 Farm Bill, relate it to our daily lives, engage residents in discussion surrounding food access, quality, and nutrition, and bring people together to create solutions and positive changes in our food system.
After a round of introductions and an icebreaker, Jumoke from People’s Grocery engaged the group in a discussion on food access and food rights in order to frame the workshop. Right off the bat, people were fired up, speaking out about how food is critical for survival and for living a good, healthy life. For those reasons there was resounding consensus on healthy food as an unalienable, basic human right to life.
Sabrina (HOPE Collaborative) and I (CFJC) then facilitated a discussion on the history of the Farm Bill and an overview of its current structure. Attendees shared what knowledge they had on the structure of the Farm Bill, and Sabrina and I answered questions on specific titles, programs and funding. The group was asked to create their “dream Farm Bill funding allocations” to certain titles, and group members voiced their support for titles such as Conservation, Nutrition, Crop Insurance, Credit, and their own created title: Urban Farming. Currently, around 78% of Farm Bill funding goes to Nutrition, the largest program being SNAP (previously known as food stamps), 8% to Commodities (subsidies for a handful of crops), 7% to Crop Insurance, 6% to Conservation, and 1% to all other titles.
The overview of the Farm Bill’s structure then fed into a discussion, led by Jumoke, on how this behemoth legislation influences our health and the health of our communities. Participants guessed the prices of blueberry Poptarts (8 for $2) versus actual blueberries (6 oz of organic for $6) and discussed how policies in the Farm Bill create the environment for this incredible price difference between processed, grain- based foods and fresh produce. The group then talked about how these different foods affect our health, and spoke out about diabetes in their family and community, their concerns with genetically modified crops, and child malnutrition. From there, the health discussion flowed into a discussion on how the Farm Bill might impact the environment. I led the group through an illustrative history of how small family farms lost profitability to large factory farms over the past decades due to incentives in the Farm Bill to farm “fencerow to fencerow” and the overabundance of cheap corn, soy, and wheat animal feed promoting crammed livestock. Group members pointed out the problems with animal waste (E.coli), antibiotics, pesticides in our water, the vulnerability of monoculture farming to pests, and the loss of ecosystem services such as air and water purification previously provided by forests and other wild areas surrounding farms.
Sabrina transitioned the group into a “policy roadmap” exercise that helped highlight key players in reauthorization and clarify the drafting process for legislation, including how the public can give input. The group was passionate about having a stronger voice in the next Farm Bill, including wanting to “put it on the ballot” and vote directly, rather than the current system where our representatives draft the bill. Christina from CFJC then steered this passion into a discussion on the changes that they wanted to see and what they can do now, locally, to effect these changes. Participants wanted to see greater support for local and urban farming, job creation around food, increased popular education in communities and other community programs, especially focused on communities of color. Ideas for how to make these changes happen included increased participation and attention around local efforts to send the message of what works, a march on Washington D.C. to advocate for food justice, and youth messaging.
The workshop was a great start for opening the conversation in Oakland on the Farm Bill and food production, access, and justice among a diversity of people. It underscored the need for reform and fixing the systemic problems of our broken food system.
CFJC, HOPE, and OFPC will hold one more workshop in Oakland, at Tassafaronga Recreation Center in East Oakland on Wednesday August 31st from 5-7pm. Come join us if you’re interested in being part of the discussion! If you can’t make the East Oakland session, we still want to hear from you: What are your priorities for the Farm Bill? What changes do you want to see in our food system? What are your concerns with the Farm Bill, food quality, or food access?
CFJC will put on more of these Farm Bill workshops throughout the state, so if you would be interested in co-hosting one in the future, please contact us.
If you would like more information on this or future workshops, or to voice your concerns surrounding our food system, contact Lotta Chan at firstname.lastname@example.org.