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UI students attempt to raise farm bill awareness

BY MICHELLE MCCONNAUGHEY | APRIL 08, 2011 7:20 AM

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Five years ago, the University of Iowa Environmental Coalition started gardening a small plot of land near North Hall. Two years later, the members expanded their garden into a larger area on the West Campus. And today, they’re teaming up with a national nonprofit organization to raise awareness about a long-debated farming bill.

UI student gardeners will meet with members of the national consumer advocacy organization Food and Water Watch today to dedicate a workday in their garden to spread the word on the importance of the Fair Farm Bill.

“We thought it would be a good idea to team up with [UI Environmental Coalition] gardens to highlight what they’ve been doing,” said Matt Ohloff, the Iowa representative of Food and Water Watch.

The federal Fair Farm Bill is the primary legislation that funds the programs and writes the rules for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said Daniel Imhoff, a researcher, author, and publisher who concentrates on farming and the environment.

“This bill goes all they way back to the Great Depression,” he said. “The government stepped into the food system, and since then, it has never gotten out.”

The national group contacted the UI Environmental Coalition to organize today’s event. The student group donates crops grown at the Student Garden to be used by IMU dining, and today, speakers from the two groups will discuss the work they’re doing to promote healthy, local, sustainable food on campus.

“Our purpose of the garden is to educate students on where their food comes from and educate students on food-related issues,” said Jacob Snyder, a UI senior and Environmental Coalition member.

Ohloff said this event is one of dozens happening around the country. The movement is known as “Sowing the Seeds for a Fair Farm Bill” — a nationwide push to reform the national food policy through the Fair Farm Bill in 2012.

Imhoff said 70 percent of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s funding is used for food stamps, and 20 percent is used for commodity groups, such as corn and bean farms. This leaves only 10 percent of funds for farm habitat planting, helping farmers maintain farms, research, marketing, food safety, and projects.

The bill is re-evaluated and reauthorized every five to seven years, and funds can shift from around $300 billion to $450 billion, Imhoff said. Because the bill can affect the environment, farmers, and rural communities, groups such as Food and Water Watch are gearing up for the next discussion.

Though the 2012 bill discussion is months away, organizers said they hope the event will educate members of the community on the issue.

UI senior Caitlin Digman, an Environmental Coalition member, said the organization focuses on social and health issues, which is why the members started it in the first place.

“We want to get our name out so people know about our farm,” she said. “And we want to show everyone that young people care about fair farming too.”


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