Tell Your Congress Members: Organic Food & Farming = Rural Prosperity

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fresh produce in crates and buckets on a farm

Most consumers think of organic food as being better for their health, and organic farming being better for the environment.

But there’s another good reason to support organic food and farming: It’s better for rural economies and communities, where poverty rates and farmer suicide rates run high.

TAKE ACTION: Ask your member of Congress to help regenerate rural economies by co-sponsoring H.R. 4671, the Organic Farmers Access Act. 

The economic benefits of organic food and farming have spurred U.S. Representatives Sean Duffy (R-Wis.) and Peter Welch (D-Vt.) to introduce the Organic Farmers Access Act.  

The bill is a small but important step toward providing assistance and incentives, including rural business development grants, for organic farmers and producers.

Organic agriculture creates jobs and raises incomes. That’s according to a recent report, “Harvesting Opportunity: The Power of Regional Food System Investments to Transform Communities,” published by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis and the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. “ 

One of the best ways for a rural county to jump-start its economy is to become an “organic hotspot.” An organic hotspot is a county within a cluster of counties that all have statistically high numbers of organic farms and businesses. 

Organic hotspots tend to form in places where government-sponsored organic certifiers provide outreach services to farmers. The economic impact comes when the organic community hits critical mass, multiplying opportunities to network, share expertise and launch business ventures. 

In an organic hotspot, the local food system branches out in every direction connecting farms, restaurants, community gardens, farmers markets, food banks, schools, artisans, processors, entrepreneurs and investors.  

When counties become organic hotspots their poverty rates go down and their median annual household incomes go up. On average, the unemployment rate lowers by 0.22 percentage points and the per capita income goes up by $899. 

In agricultural hotspots that are not organic, the trend reverses. The unemployment rate rises by 0.06 percentage points and the per capita income falls by $1,076.

Organic hotspots reduce poverty levels even more than some major anti-poverty programs. When a county is part of an organic hotspot its poverty rate drops an average of 1.3 percentage points. By comparison, the presence of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistant Program (SNAP) is responsible for a 1.5 percentage point reduction in the overall poverty rate, while the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children decreases the poverty rate by only 0.1 percentage points. 

Considering how effective organic agriculture is as an economic development tool, it’s surprising that the Farm Bill’s rural develop programs have never specifically mentioned it. 

That’s what the Organic Farmers Access Act aims to change. The bill would “assist and incentivize organic agriculture” by listing organic producers among the intended recipients of rural business development grants, locally and regionally produced agricultural food products loans, and value-added agricultural product market development grants.

Of the $956 billion allocated by Congress for 10 years of Farm Bill programs, organic’s share isn’t even visible in a pie chart. At just over $160 million, the sliver is just too small. 

It will take a lot more than the Organic Farmers Access Act to make sure organic gets its fair share of Farm Bill programs. But it’s a start. 

TAKE ACTION: Ask your member of Congress to help regenerate rural economies by co-sponsoring H.R. 4671, the Organic Farmers Access Act.


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