Getting Smart About The Farm Bill

Photo: PinkMoose/Flickr

If you keep up on “foodie” events around Boston, the Farm Bill Teach-In slated for this Sunday will not come as news to you.

However, we at PRK wanted to learn more, and we figured you did, too. So we reached out to organizer Louisa Kasdon of Let’s Talk About Food to get a better handle on the ‘what for’ of the event. Meaning, why this topic and why now? Why a Teach-In? What can the public expect to gain by participating and learn in the meantime?

Here are Louisa’s important answers to these questions.

Why did you organize an event centered on this topic, of all the pressing food-related topics ripe for public discussion in this moment?

Here’s the news peg for The Farm Bill: the Farm Bill impacts the price, quality and marketing of almost all the food we eat or produce in America. And it only comes up for re-authorization every five years. So the 2012 Farm Bill will carry us all the way to 2017.

What do you mean by a “teach-in”? Why this format for this event?

I grew up in the age of the Teach-In. They were huge, come-in-on-the-ground-floor opportunities for experts and interested non-experts to come together and get smart on an important topic – and the knowledge people carried away changed the world. We had big Teach-Ins at MIT about the Vietnam War, the environment, poverty.

The core of a Teach-In is that many people who have solid expertise are willing to share it, and there is a space for the rest of us to ask questions, work on solutions and connect with some of the people and organizations that can effect change in our community.

Tell us more about the keynote speakers and why they were chosen.

Marion Nestle is one of the most important and articulate voices in food in America. It’s not only that she pretty much invented the national focus on looking at the marketing of food to children––likening it to the marketing of cigarettes––but she’s also an expert on food safety, nutrition and food policy, and the leading consumer watchdog on how the government and our food system interweave. [Marion’s] a terrific and entertaining speaker. I was thrilled that when I wrote her a fan letter asking her to come, she agreed!

Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (D-ME) sits on the House Committee on Agriculture in D.C. A farmer herself in Maine and the former President of Common Cause, she is the leading voice in Congress for small-scale farmers and sustainability. It’s a coup that New England has her as a ranking member of the Committee, which is typically dominated by representatives of the “Big Ag” states.

What are some of the important misperceptions you feel the public holds about the Farm Bill?

Here’s something I didn’t know: that 85% of all the money in The Farm Bill supports hunger and feeding programs such as the School Lunch program, and only 15% of the funding goes directly to farmers (and of course most of that goes to very large agricultural enterprises). I thought it was the other way around. But that 15% is still a very big number [in terms of dollars] and its effects are complex and far-reaching.

What should New Englanders, in particular, know about the bill?

Our region and our farmers get very little from the farm bill. And that’s not fair. The grants go to farms that produce commodities like wheat, corn and soy – and not to farmers who produce “specialty crops” like fruits and vegetables. We should know if there’s anything we can do to include our local farming folks in the 2012 Farm Bill.

Will there be legislators present, and will they have the chance to speak and respond to questions?

Legislators and representatives of elected officials are invited and, yes, the whole format will allow lots of question and answers, [plus] space for one-on-one buttonholing. The point of Let’s Talk About Food events is to get the conversation started.

What do you hope will be the take-away message(s) of this Teach-In?

Get engaged in the food conversation. You can do something about how and what we eat. We all have a stake in food – and we vote three times a day with our forks!

I hope that everyone signs up for our email letter at Let’s Talk About Food so we can all keep the conversation flowing.

There is currently a waiting list for this Sunday’s Teach-In. Are you working to accommodate a larger crowd? Should interested members of the public continue to add their name(s) to the list?

Yes! It still makes sense to sign up for the waiting list. We are adding more spaces to the list, and confirming registration later this week — we expect spaces to open up. In addition, if you register at, we will have details about real time webcasts of the event — plus the program, the biographies of the speakers and links to the organizations involved.

Read Jaime Lutz’s Understanding the Farm Bill: a Primer, posted previously on PRK.

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