In Support of Local Farmers

In Support of Local Farmers
Written by Adelante Mujeres' Anne Morse and published by the Oregonian on Sunday, January 8.

I work for a community-based nonprofit in Forest Grove called Adelante Mujeres ("Move Forward Women"). Our mission is the holistic education and empowerment of low-income Latina women and their families. One key component of our services is Adelante Agricultura, a sustainable farming program. This program attempts to address the question of how to create an equitable food system that supports both farmers and consumers.

The Adelante Agricultura program offers a sustainable farming course and provides small-scale Latino farmers with the opportunity to grow produce at La Esperanza Farm, Adelante Mujeres' certified organic educational farm. We also work to support these farmers with access to markets for their produce. You may have seen our farmers at the Forest Grove, Cedar Mills, Lents International or the Hollywood Farmers Markets.

In December, Sen. Ron Wyden gave a substantial boost to our community of farmers through his Fresh Regional Eating for Schools and Health Act (FRESH), which he intends to have considered in the creation of the new Farm Bill. His bill would help all regional farmers in three important ways.

First, working with farmers, we have observed that one barrier for family farmers is access to smaller loans. The FRESH act proposes to provide a streamlined process for business loans to farmers of up to $5,000. With our farmers this would mean the ability to afford a pickup truck and install irrigation equipment – and make all the difference in their prospects for success.

Second, the FRESH will encourage states to seek better nutritional outcomes for recipients of food stamps (SNAP). Adelante Mujeres manages the Forest Grove Farmers Market. Not only is our Market accessible to low-income consumers using SNAP, but we offer additional nutrition incentives in the form of a match program. In the past season the market saw $10,000 in food stamp sales and $5,000 in nutrition incentive sales. This additional income went directly into the pockets of local farmers. I would like to see other programs that fairly incentivize healthy eating and that benefit our hardworking local farmers.

A third feature of the FRESH Act would allow schools to buy more fruits and vegetables from local farmers. Allowing school systems to buy more local produce versus the current status quo of highly processed commodity food products not only addresses our goal of expanding local markets for regional farmers, but it has the potential to vastly improve the quality of life and health of Oregon children.

Kudos to Wyden for this proposal. It is forward-thinking plans like The Fresh Regional Eating for Schools and Health Act (FRESH) that will support the family farmer, make sure that the Farm Bill serves the next generation, and help put local food systems on the right track.

Anne Morse is the Adelante Agricultura Outreach and Marketing Coordinator at Adelante Mujeres, at www.adelantemujeres.org.

The FRESH Act is being considered as part of changes to the Oregon Farm Bill, to be decided on in 2012.