We can already smell the food cooking and the flowers.
Thousands of Iowans will travel to their area farmers’ market this week to buy fresh produce directly from local farmers. Through their purchases, they stimulate local economies and help preserve rural livelihoods, while vendors increase access to fresh food and support healthy communities.
As we celebrate National Farmers’ Market Week, Aug. 6-12, it’s important to recognize the important role initiatives like the Farmers’ Market Promotion Program (FMPP) have played in helping to expand Americans’ access to local produce.
As chairman of the Senate Agriculture committee, I included the FMPP in the 2002 farm bill because research shows that even small financial investments can help create sustainable farmers’ markets that increase the availability of fresh produce to Americans and add to the cultural fabric of cities and neighborhoods. What’s more, a portion of FMPP grant support is committed to areas of concentrated poverty with limited access to supermarkets.
In Iowa, organizations have used FMPP grant dollars to train vendors on how to accept SNAP benefits from low-income families, establish a year-round market and create a tool kit to educate market managers, vendors and stakeholders.
The FMPP program has benefited customers and farmers in Fort Dodge, Postville, Dubuque, Oakland, Davenport and elsewhere.
Since the FMPP was established, the number of farmers’ markets in America has more than doubled from 3,137 a decade ago to more than 8,600 today. In 2015, farmers sold more than $3 billion in food directly to consumers.
Yet, the FMPP and other federal programs that promote improving Americans’ health by increasing access to fresh food are being targeted for cuts. The Trump administration has called for cutting funding to the FMPP in its 2018 budget proposal. Some lawmakers want to remove the “fresh” requirement from the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, which I championed to passage 15 years ago.
Promoting wellness and nutrition has been a top priority throughout my career and it remains a key area of research and promotion at The Harkin Institute for Public Policy & Citizen Engagement. Farmers’ markets play a key role in the effort to increase access to fruits and vegetables and are critical to the livelihood of many producers.
Visit your local farmers’ market this week to show your support for these community institutions and the role they play in our local economies and the health and wellbeing of Americans.
TOM HARKIN is a from U.S. Senator from Cumming, Ia. He helped establish and fund the Farmers Market Promotion Program and the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program. He retired in 2015 and now works to further policy research and civic engagement through The Harkin Institute for Public Policy & Citizen Engagement at Drake University.
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