Written by Dan Imhoff, author of Food Fight: The Citizen’s Guide to the Next Food and Farm Bill and Michael Dimock, president of Roots of Change and chairman emeritus of Slow Food USA
This op-ed originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times
In 1933, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the very first farm bill, formally called the Agricultural Adjustment Act, he told the nation that “an unprecedented condition calls for the trial of new means to rescue agriculture.” That legislation, passed as the country struggled to emerge from the Depression, was visionary in the way it employed agricultural policy to address significant national issues, including rural poverty and hunger.
It may not seem obvious while standing in the aisles of a modern grocery store, but the country today faces another food and farming crisis. Forty-six million people — that is, 1 out of 7 Americans — signed up for food stamps in 2012. Despite some of the highest commodity prices in history, the nation’s rural regions are falling deeper into poverty. In 2010, according to theU.S. Department of Agriculture, 17.8% of those living in rural counties fell under the poverty line. Unemployment in Fresno County, the nation’s top agricultural producing county, stood at 17.4% in March of this year. Industrial agriculture has become a leading cause of soil and water pollution. In California, for example, fertilizer and manure pollution have so contaminated the Salinas and lower San Joaquin valleys that the groundwater will be undrinkable for the next 30 to 50 years.
After 80 years, the time has come to rescue agriculture from the farm bill — and to improve the health of Americans in the bargain.