As renewal of the Farm Bill approaches in 2012—renewed every five years or so, it was last updated in 2008—we decided to take a look at the positive food policies Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has passed and proposed since taking her seat last year on the Senate Agriculture Committee. New York is “home to the hardest working farm families and the finest locally-grown produce in the world,” she said in a June press release announcing her “listening tour” across the state to discuss the Farm Bill with state farmers.
Gillibrand is the first New Yorker to serve on the committee in nearly 40 years, and she planned from the beginning to make the state’s $4.5 billion industry even more profitable.
This included a number of proposals this past March to aid the much-maligned US dairy policy, which Gillibrand said she felt couldn’t wait for the renewal of the Farm Bill. She cited a lack of transparency in milk pricing, and suggested the USDA research other business models. (We feel obliged to give a nod to Organic Valley, an actual farmer-owned dairy co-op that represents both big business and small-town accountability, with an annual meeting that allows farmers to discuss a stable month-to-month price point.)
Gillibrand is also mindful of the many young startup farms in the state, which would benefit from an improved Business and Industry Guaranteed Loan Program to assist with value-added product development. Meaning, if you raise pigs, we’ll help you sell bacon; if you grow berries, why not sell jam? Similarly, she’d like to see more support for CSAs. (There are now more than 350 in the state.) So she’s proposed a competitive grant program that would award federal funds to groups and agencies that support farmers—by way of marketing or new crop development, for instance.
This June, she met with farmers on Long Island, a place that, she told Newsday, “is the forefront of the specialty crop market for New York State … a very important part of not just New York’s economy, but the American economy.” Among the efforts discussed at that meeting: Increase access to locally grown foods, allow for food stamp payment at farmers markets, and connect local farms with local schools.
There’s also the matter of hydrofracking (now being considered across upwards of 80 percent of state land). Gillibrand is a supporter of clean, renewable energy—wind, solar, hydropower, geothermal, biomass—for which, she believes, New York is just the ag tech-savvy leader the rest of the country needs.
She’d like to see a move away from commodity subsidies to instead support a system that is more natural for our ecosystem and more beneficial for our stressed economy. “I would like to stop the subsidies of oil companies,” she told PBS this February. “We give them $8 billion a year in subsidies for oil production, when it’s one of the most profitable companies and industries in the world. […] We want to make sure we’re rewarding small farms, family farms, and really focusing on conservation.”
We completely agree.