Asheville students respond to North Carolina Farm Bill

by: Camille Wick – Staff Writer – clwick@unca.edu

Legislation proposed in the Farm Bill could have significant impact on Western North Carolina residents if the bill is passed in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The Food for Thought cluster hosted the “Why Should Western North Carolina Care about the Farm Bill?” event to raise awareness about the legislation. Speakers included Josh Stack from MANNA Food Bank, local farmer Tom Elmore and Gordon Smith of the Asheville City Council and Asheville-Buncombe Food Policy Council.

Senior Hilary Arthur and senior Alicia Ellis serve beet sorbet during Food Day on Wednesday, Oct. 24, in UNCA’s Sherrill Center.

“I think the Farm Bill’s size and scope is, in and of itself, intimidating to most people,” said Leah Mathews, one of the faculty organizers for the event and the Breman professor of economics at UNC Asheville. “I think it is important for people to learn more about the Farm Bill because there are many ways that it impacts those of us who live in Western North Carolina.”

The legislation would cut funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, previously referred to as Food Stamps, and The Emergency Food Assistance Program, which provides federally funded food commodities.

Organizations like MANNA Food Bank provide food assistance to those in need and receive funding from the federal government. These organizations would lose some of their current funding if the Farm Bill is passed.

MANNA Food Bank represents 16 counties of Western North Carolina and has more than 250 partner agencies including soup kitchens, shelters and group homes, Stack said.

MANNA distributed more than 10 million pounds of food in 2011 and 2012, which is enough food for 22,000 meals every day of the year, Stack said.

“It’s tough to contextualize what 10 million pounds of food is like,” Stack said in his address. “Almost one in six of the people in Western North Carolina are seeking food assistance at least one time during the year.”

Federally funded food commodities literally save lives, Stack said.

“MANNA, nor any other food bank, can afford to lose the food commodities that are funded by the (government),” Stack said. “It’s not just us that will suffer.”

Elmore discussed the effects of the Farm Bill from a farmer’s perspective.

“Speaking as a farm owner and farmer, it’s an exciting time to be in agriculture,” Elmore said. “One of the most exciting things is the resurgent interest in local food. In the early 1900s, there was a lot of interest in local food because that’s all there was. I’m glad to see that that is coming back.”

Elmore said the interest in local food is hindered by the availability and location of farmland.

“Looking a little closer to home, we have problems here in Western North Carolina,” Elmore said. “Nationwide, we’re losing farmland near urban areas, and that runs exactly counter to the interest in local food.”

Smith discussed the effects the Farm Bill would have on children.

“Based on the current estimates, we’re looking at about 280,000 school children who are going to lose the ability to get free and reduced lunch at our schools,” Smith said.

The food assistance programs seek to help feed children both in schools and at home.

“Here we are as a nation seriously considering starving our children in schools where we’re supposed to be teaching them,” Smith said. “It’s an option that’s on the table at this point. It’s appalling.”

The legislation already passed in the U.S. Senate, which cut $4.5 billion from food assistance, Smith said. The most severe proposal currently in the House seeks to cut $16.5 billion from these programs.

Sophmore Nathan Egan and sophmore Kemper Watson present their findings on calcium and iron concentrations in beef and kale during Food Day on Wednesday, Oct. 24, in UNCA’s Sherrill Center.

“The election has halted progress on the Farm Bill,” Elmore said. “There were a lot of negotiations going on leading up to the decision to put it on the shelf until after the election. We’re becoming a more urban society, and as we become more urban, there are more urban votes, and what that means for farmers is that there are less rural votes in Congress.”

Budget cuts are inevitable, Mathews said. It’s more of a question of how much funding will be cut.

“This is a wake-up call for anyone concerned about hunger in Western North Carolina since our communities will need to find ways to bridge the gap that the reduction in SNAP dollars and TEFAP commodities will create for households in our region,” Mathews said.

Each of the speakers said it is important for WNC residents to contact their local representatives to weigh their opinions of the Farm Bill.

“People are literally going to lose access to the food assistance they’ve been getting without any other option, so we need to revitalize and strengthen the local food network to compensate,” Stack said.

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