2012 Farm Bill: What's Health Got to Do With It?

As summer approaches, farmer’s markets have begun to sprout up in neighborhoods and parks across much of Colorado. Do the tables heaped with fresh produce make you think about health? I certainly feel better about myself while filling my basket with peppers, tomatoes and peaches. There’s something about seeing still-dirty carrots and trays overflowing with leafy greens that aren’t wrapped together with a twist-tie or in plastic. It just seems healthy.

Enter the Farm Bill. This mammoth legislation, reauthorized about every five years and set to expire on September 30, 2012, directs some $300 billion into production of agricultural commodities, food programs (including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and a laundry list of other titles and programs including research, rural development conservation and crop insurance.

But there’s not much in the Farm Bill providing incentives for farmers to grow the health-inspiring bounty that can be found at most farmer’s markets, according to Jennifer Billig of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy during a recent trip to Denver.

The Farm Bill contains incentives in the form of crop insurance, access to credit and other programs that influence growers' decisions about the types of crops they grow, often impacting the availability, cost and accessibility of fresh fruits and vegetables as well as other types of food.

Health professionals understand the many factors can influence health and health outcomes. Billig encouraged health care providers to consider how U.S. agricultural policies—specifically the Farm Bill—shape the nation’s food systems and ultimately impact health. With obesity-related costs forecast as high as $147 billion annually (less than the total Farm Bill appropriation, but still in the billions), can we afford not to?  

Click here to read more about the 2012 Farm Bill on The Colorado Health Foundation’s website. 

Sara Schmitt is the director of community health policy at CHI.