Originally published at the Harvard Law School Center for Health Law & Policy, Food Law & Policy Blog.
As social distancing measures close schools and public gatherings nationwide, farmers markets closures reveal a difficult reality for a particularly vulnerable segment of the food system: local and regional farmers and ranchers. Estimates indicate that direct-to-consumer markets and institutional purchases, such as farmers markets and farm-to-school programs, account for upwards of $12 billion in income for small-scale producers. Farmers selling into these markets stand to lose much or all of their revenue due to the COVID-19 crisis, and tons of produce may go to waste, all while economic downturn and job losses lead to stretched food banks and increased food insecurity.
To help policymakers consider measures to respond to the crisis, the HLS Food Law & Policy Clinic (FLPC) and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition released this issue brief highlighting several legislative and administrative actions that Congress and USDA can take. These changes can unlock already-appropriated funding to ensure that the local and regional food system is supported amidst the public health response. These proposals redirect funds that will go underutilized, supplement funds to help farmers cover the gap, and allow existing programs greater latitude to adapt to the evolving situation, including:
- The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP):
- Retooling and augmenting the TEFAP Farm-to-Food-Bank program (FY2020 funding: $4 million) to divert product from small farmers into the emergency food system.
- Utilizing USDA budget authorities to target purchases for the emergency food system to support local producers.
- Local Agricultural Market Program (LAMP): removing matching requirements, relaxing program requirements, and speeding approvals to free up grant funds under the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program ($27 million) and Value Added Producer Grants ($37 million).
- Seniors and WIC Farmers Market Nutrition Programs (SFMNP and FMNP): using existing authority under SFMNP ($21 million) to encourage states to directly purchase and deliver locally produced foods to vulnerable seniors and extending the same authority to WIC FMNP ($18.5 million)
- Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentives Program (GusNIP): removing match requirements and augmenting delivery services to allow local producers to serve SNAP recipients unable to purchase at farmers markets ($41.5 million)
Visit our issue brief to learn more about each of these actions. These measures are by no means comprehensive. FLPC remains committed to working with advocates and policymakers to find innovative solutions to support our local and regional food producers and address rising food insecurity during this unprecedented crisis, and welcomes feedback on these proposals.
For consumers, we also recommend contacting your local farmers market, CSA, or farmers to see if alternative options are available to purchase their products and support their businesses in the wake of market closures. Eating healthy, delicious local foods is a great way to support local agriculture and avoid shortages at retail outlets!