Earlier this month, I traveled to Washington, D.C. to meet with White House staff. This was the second time the White House reached out to Farm Aid (see our blog from April 2010) to talk with us about the rural economy, farm credit issues and how family farmers and food systems can fuel economic development nationwide. Music to our ears here at Farm Aid!
I was joined by Farm Aid partners National Family Farm Coalition (NFFC), the Rural Advancement Foundation International-USA (RAFI-USA) and Food & Water Watch. We shared the findings of our recent report, Don't Bank On It, a survey of farm credit counselors and advocates nationwide that found that farmers have had a harder time finding credit since 2009. Available, affordable credit is crucial for all farmers--to plant the seeds, to expand their herds, to purchase equipment and oftentimes, especially after bad years, to keep the farm afloat. When farmers can’t find credit, they risk losing their farms altogether, which in turn hurts the economies and communities that depend on them.
We also highlighted the barriers that organic and sustainable farmers and value-added producers face in accessing credit and risk management programs like crop insurance (we’ve heard countless stories on our 1-800-FARM-AID hotline of organic farmers practically getting laughed out of banks and other lending offices when looking for loans!).
Like us, the White House sees these farmers as the kinds of entrepreneurs and innovators that can spur wealth and job creation in the countryside. Yet, farmers could be set up for failure if the glossy language of programs like Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food isn’t supported by the USDA programs, private banks and service infrastructure that actually lend to and work with farmers. We need to properly invest in the farmers and food systems that are environmentally-sound, economically viable and provide Americans with the healthiest food possible.
We hope that this is one of many conversations with the Administration about the critical needs of America’s family farmers and how to work toward our vision for a family farm-centered system of agriculture in America.