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New legislation would expand markets for farmers

Norwalk Reflector Staff • Apr 20, 2013 at 10:07 PM

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) announced new legislation that would expand markets for farmers and increase the availability of nutritious locally-grown food for consumers, particularly seniors and low-income families receiving SNAP benefits.

During a news conference call, Brown highlighted how his "Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act" legislation would help Ohio farmers by addressing production, aggregation, marketing, and distribution needs while helping consumers access and afford fresh, nutritious food.

"Linking Ohio producers with Ohio consumers is common sense," Brown said. "By increasing access to fresh, local foods, we can expand markets for Ohio's agricultural producers while improving health, creating jobs, and strengthening our economy."

Brown was joined by Jeff Eschmeyer, a Shelby County farmer who sells his produce through Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) and has sold at area farmers' markets, and Tom Freitas, dining services supervisor for Sandusky City Schools, which purchases local-grown foods for cafeteria meals served to students.

Brown released county-by-county information on the number of farmers' markets and farm-to-school operations throughout Ohio.

Twelve farm markets are listed in Huron County and 14 in Erie County.

Aimed at helping more farmers sell their products directly to consumers, the legislation would create jobs by assisting farmers engaged in local and regional agriculture by addressing production, aggregation, processing, marketing, and distribution needs. It would also ensure that consumers -- particularly low-income families and seniors -- have better access to nutritious, locally-grown food. There are now nearly 8,000 farmers markets in the U.S., an increase of more than 150 percent since 2000. Direct-to-consumer agriculture sales produce $1.2 billion in annual revenues.

One of the provisions would expand the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program which serves more than 30,000 low-income seniors in 45 Ohio Counties. The Local Food, Farms, and Jobs Act also includes provisions that would:

· Provide funding to help farmers build the infrastructure--like community kitchens--to process and sell their food locally.

· Break down barriers so that schools can purchase local food more easily. Provide schools with a local school credit to purchase local foods.

· Make it easier for food stamp recipients to spend their money at farmers markets by giving the farmers access to technology necessary to accept electronic benefits--that money goes right back into the local economy. The bill includes a pilot program to test smart phone technology to accept food stamp benefits at farmers market.

· Incentivizes SNAP participation to ensure that beneficiaries can participate in community supported agriculture programs (CSAs).

· Create a new crop insurance program tailored to the needs of diversified and organic farmers who grow a wide variety of crops and can't easily access traditional crop insurance.

Brown, the first Ohioan to serve on Senate Agriculture Committee in more than four decades, first introduced the bill in 2011 and successfully fought to have key provisions included in the Senate-passed 2012 farm bill.

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