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Tomato pie chart graphic: American Farmland Trust
Tomato pie chart graphic: American Farmland Trust

Farm Bill workshop leads into town hall forum with Congressman

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The Farm Bill is up for reauthorization this year in Congress, and North Country residents can have their say about it this weekend. Congressman Bill Owens will be in Potsdam Saturday for a town hall forum on the Farm Bill. It's hosted by the League of Women Voters.

Aviva Gold is director of a non-profit organization called GardenShare. She says agriculture is a big part of the north country economy, but the Farm Bill is such a huge, multifaceted proposal, it can be overwhelming to try to understand it.

That's why GardenShare is hosting an informational workshop on the Farm Bill BEFORE the forum with Representative Owens.

Correction: The audio of this story reports the beginning of the workshop as 9:30 am. The correct start time is 9:00 am. We regret the error. NCPR

Gold spoke with Julie Grant.

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Julie Grant
Reporter and Producer

Patty Lovera of the group Food and Water Watch will speak via teleconference during the workshop, and the Food Bank of Central New York will be there to talk about support for food assistance in the farm bill. 

"The workshop is meant to sort of give a broad view of what the Farm Bill is, whats in it, how it can affect us up here in the North Country, and also a little bit about the government process, like how does a big omnibus bill become to be what it is, and what are the stages it gets there, and what are the parts of that that we can have an affect on."

Aviva Gold says it makes sense for GardenShare to help people in the north country learn about these issues.

Aviva:  "GardenShare is a non-profit organization working to end hunger and strengthen the local food system here in the North Country. So both parts of that are in the Farm Bill: strengthening the local food part, the bill has the potential to really help small, local farms. And the ending hunger part, a lot of people don't understand this, but a really big part of farm bill, the biggest part of the money in the Farm Bill is for food assistance programs, specifically snap or food stamps."

The current Farm Bill cost around 300-billion dollars.  Of that, nearly 75-percent went to food assistance.

Gold says about 12-percent went to commodity subsidies, that encourage farmers to grow things like corn and soybeans. 

She says those subsidies have a big effect on everybody:

"This bill actually determines what we eat. It's determined what's grown a lot. It determines what shows up on grocery store shelves. A lot of the food in the grocery store is, as we know, corn based and soy based, has corn sweeteners and soy oils and so when you go to the grocery store with your food stamps or with just your regular money, you're purchasing commodity crops very often."

Gold says GardenShare supports a proposal co-sponsored by Congressman Bill Owens called the Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act.  The act would reroute some federal subsidies from large scale, industrial producers to small, local farms.

But, she says, GardenShare wants people in the north country to learn about the bill, and then help them share their own opinions and questions at town hall forum: 

"We’re going to have a little bit of time for everyone who wants to put together a question or a statement for representative Owens."

The informational workshop will start at 9:00 Saturday morning on the Clarkson University campus. The town hall forum begins directly afterward, at 11, in the same location.

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