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A Radical Farm Bill is Born

Oregon Rep. Earl Blumenauer’s 'alternative farm bill' aims to spend more tax dollars on farms that produce food, and less on those growing animal feed and fuel.

Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) stands out in the drab halls of his Capitol Hill office building. When we meet, he’s wearing a neon green bicycle lapel pin, a nod to his longtime enthusiasm for biking and his membership in the Congressional Bike Caucus. His staffer sports a neon orange one. Blumenauer’s omnipresent bow tie and hip, clear-framed glasses are more signs that he is not your typical Beltway politician. Outside his office on Capitol Hill, a rainbow flag hangs beside the American flag.

The representative from Portland also stands out for his interest in agriculture policy, uncommon for a politician from an urban district. A longtime advocate for sustainable agriculture and an outspoken critic of the current administration’s environmental policies, Blumenauer has worked for years to move the needle on food and farm policy. In June of this year, along with Rep. John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI), he introduced legislation to protect pollinator bees and support diversity in the food supply. The legislation was supported by dozens of environmental groups.

Now, Blumenauer is taking on the policy that most shapes our nation’s food and agriculture landscapes: the farm bill. The next version of the trillion-dollar omnibus bill is due for reauthorization in 2018, and discussion is already well underway. The farm bill funds nutrition programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) (around 79 percent of the bill); as well as all major agricultural programs such as crop subsidies and insurance (around 14 percent); conservation programs (around 6 percent); and research.

The massive bill is also ripe for improvement, Blumenauer says. Today, he is introducing the Food and Farm Act, proposed legislation that would constitute a major departure from many of the bill’s core elements. If passed, the Act would implement many of the food-policy reforms that sustainable agriculture policy advocates have long supported.

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