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Food Deserts: Community Food Security for the 2012 Farm Bill

Jun 14, 2012 Written by  Ashley Edgette, Guest Contributor

G20 Issues in FocusMexico hosts the 2012 G20 Summit, beginning June 16th and 17th with the B20 (Business 20) Summit, then continuing into the leaders' summit on June 18th and 19th. This article is one of a series examining the issues on the G20's agenda.

According the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the 2012 Congressional Farm Bill contains most federal food and nutrition programs including SNAP, Supplemental Nutrition for Women Infants and Children (WIC), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and the School Lunch and Breakfast programs. The Farm Bill also includes agricultural commodity programs, crop insurance, international food aid and farm subsidies. It is the engine of all federal food policy in the United States.

A community-oriented approach to food security could shape the infrastructure of food systems in the U.S., increasing the accessibility and sustainability of healthy food to millions of Americans. While it is important to support extant federal food programs, these existing programs must collaborate with more innovative projects to create strong food infrastructure. For example, the USDA’s Community Food Projects (CFP) program funds two to three major community food security projects each year. Research conducted by the Community Food Security Coalition found that these projects support farmers’ markets, food security analyses, training programs, transportation infrastructure and urban agriculture projects. CFP’s current budget is $5 million.

A USDA examination of CFPs over the last decade found that if Congress increased funding for CFPs to $100 million (less than 1 percent the cost of SNAP) and extended funding until 2025 they could fund comprehensive community food security plans, training programs and implementation grants in all 50 states. In 2010, the federal government spent $68.3 billion on SNAP and only $5 million on CFPs. Community Food Projects are a good economic stimulator and less expensive than federal food programs. Extending funding until 2025 would allow these projects to make a significant economic impact. According to the National Farmers Union, annual sales from U.S. farmers markets are up to $1 billion. The USDA reports that Community Food Projects could increase these profitable markets while supporting marketing and purchases by local businesses for small-scale farms.

Community Food Projects can help farmers and scientists partner in development, extension and outreach processes for a changing American food system. By supporting farmers’ networks and farmer-to-farmer mentoring programs the U.S. can help implement knowledge gained from research to farmers’ local needs.

Community Food Projects can integrate within low-income communities through education and health partnerships. These projects can increase the availability of healthy foods for immigrant communities by collaborating with Title 1 elementary schools, health clinics and food program assistance centers. For example, bringing Community Food Projects into Title 1 schools brings greater food access, food production, community gardens, grocery stores and farmers’ markets into low-income neighborhoods. Community Food Projects can support farm to school programs at the urban schools while helping low-income communities receive skilled training in food production, marketing, entrepreneurship and healthy eating. These projects can help systematically integrate food security issues into community planning, promoting public health and economic vitality for food insecure communities.

According to the Federal Food and Nutrition Services, the savings incurred from increased food security far outweigh the costs. For example, if improved community food security decreased SNAP participation from $32 million (2009 level) to $18 million (2002 level) the federal government would save $30 billion. The improved public health and local economic prosperity of Community Food Projects are undeniable. Research from the Journal of Immigrant Health recently found that increasing food security in at-risk neighborhoods promotes lawfulness and health care savings and decreases the need for government. Promoting community food security by increasing federal support for Community Food Projects and other community-based food infrastructure is a worthy investment because the United States needs food security to build economic and community stability.

Food aid programs and the need for food security are not particular to the United States — legislative equivalents of the U.S. farm bill exist all over the world. Community-based food projects are applicable internationally. Examining food production and food access as two parts of the same picture can help nations create holistic food systems. Enabling communities to create projects that meet their food needs — whether that is more markets and groceries stores or farms and training programs — makes for strong food security and increased innovation.

Ashley Edgette is studying political science, environmental issues, and French at the University of Utah. She plans to study the intersection of community development, sustainable food systems and, social justice through city and metropolitan planning. She was recently named a 2012 Harry S. Truman Scholar.

The official G20 Mexico 2012 logo is courtesy of the G20 Mexico committee (cc).

This article was originally published in the special annual G20-B20 Summit 2012 edition. Published with permission.

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