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Hazon Perspective: Farm Bill Update

Our tradition teaches us to open up the corners of our harvest through pe’ah and to attune ourselves to the needs of land for rest and restoration through shmita. We at Hazon are therefore greatly relieved that the recently passed Farm Bill maintains food assistance access for those in need rather than imposing draconian work requirements and that it preserves programs that incentivize farmers to reduce erosion and increase soil carbon.

The shift to an incoming house of representatives that is more committed to preserving food assistance and conservation funding after the 2018 midterm elections pressured the current congress to pass a farm bill that is more of a status quo than the conservation-slashing, poverty-worsening revamp that many in the house pushed for this summer. Thanks to high voter turnout in November and a huge wave of phone calls to our representatives from farmers and eaters alike, small but crucial programs will be funded rather than eliminated including organic research, the local agriculture market program, and supports for beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers. Another huge win is that, despite a few concessions to the timber industry, the push toward legalizing expanded clear cutting was not included in the bill.

And yet the relief is tempered. The bill cuts long-term funding to the Conservation Stewardship Program and it expands loopholes in subsidy payments to the operators of the wealthiest mega-farms and their non-farming family members. Climate change denial is threaded throughout as the bill fails to restructure our food system in favor of mitigation and adaptation.

Hazon’s Jewish missions of sustainability, health for all, and climate justice yoke us to the enormous task of staying engaged with an ever changing and chaotic legislative scene. The 2018 Farm Bill is a vast improvement over what we could have ended up with this year with respect to our Jewish values of providing a hunger safety net in our communities and farming in tune with the needs of land and animals. We at Hazon are grateful to all of our constituents who called their legislators and who got out the vote in November.