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Building a Jewishly Informed Farm Bill

Fair Food Network’s Oran Hesterman and Kate Fitzgerald co-hosted Hazon’s first Farm Bill webinar on July 20th. Twenty attendees from Florida to California watched an informative presentation about Farm Bill history, implementation and impact and participated in a question and answer session touching on issues from kashrut to conservation.

Fitzgerald first discussed the early years of Farm Policy, beginning with the establishment of an independent Department of Agriculture in 1862 and moving into the Depression era and its long-term effects. She then discussed the farm bill’s evolution and its 15 varied and complex titles (or sections), revealing what the bill does and does not cover. We learned that the bill contains billions of dollars in funds for agricultural subsidies and farm relief programs, hunger relief and emergency food aid, environmental conservation programs and many other government programs.

Hesterman then took the mic to highlight opportunities in 2012 for a fair and just approach to the food system, specifically related to local and regional food systems and healthy food access. He explained the idea of planting flexibility (with subsidies/insurance), introduced rural development grant and loan programs, shared ideas for better credit tools and highlighted the advantages of food hubs. A rise in demand for healthy food, he said, relates to both accessibility and price. He asserted that snap incentives, EBT in all farmers’ markets, and an expansion of farm to school programs would result in increased access and decreased price. Supply, he added, is tied to specialty crops and financing retail in underserved communities.

A lively question and answer session rounded out the talk: Hazon’s Becky O’Brien inquired about the U.S. and international food aid; AJWS’ Timi Gerson followed, asking Oran about international farm bill reform issues like food aid and biofuels. Another attendee requested information about a youth-appropriate educational curriculum. In response, a fellow participant encouraged the audience to take the Food Stamp Challenge, a program which she described as “a great tool for youth, families, communities, etc.”

The conversation shifted to the language and challenges surrounding kashrut and the guidelines for determining what is fit to eat. We discussed some of the many complex intersections between Jewish law and food justice and look forward to continuing this talk over the coming months (at our Food Conference) and years (with the Shmita Project).

In the webinar’s final minutes we touched on conservation programming and its need for support. Fitzgerald shared a potential policy improvement: include conservation requirements when farmers buy crop insurance. One CA participant informed the audience that the Hecksher Tzedek program accounts for conditions of labor and animal welfare — good to know!

After an educational hour together, we offered ways to stay in touch: consider joining Fair Food Network to help food assistance policy grow into nutrition, health, and economic development policy and take their Double Up Food Bucks program nationwide. Oran will also be one of many exceptional presenters at Hazon’s Annual Food Conference from Aug. 18-21 at UC Davis. We highly encourage you to immerse yourself in these four days of food, inspiration and innovation.

Liz Kohn, originally from Evergreen, Colorado, is a Masters in Social Work 2012 candidate at the University of Michigan and is Hazon’s Social Work Intern. Her professional and volunteer work and travels have deepened her desire to develop skills in meeting both individual needs and communal challenges related to accessibility and affordability of fresh, healthy food.


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