Our VALOR trip to Washington, DC in May has had me thinking a lot about distances. Of course the obvious one – how relatively close DC is to my home, but how long and awful driving into and out of there can be. But also how fortunate we on the East Coast are to have our beautiful National Capitol so close and really (fairly) accessible.
Also in that great city, there’s the obvious physical proximity of a great diversity of people with their various lifestyles and customs, causes and opinions, but the often vast distances between those habits and ideas. (Ok, yes, Congress)
Our visit began in oh-so affluent Loudon County with visits to local agribusinesses and companies that are able to thrive because of the abundant disposable incomes in that area. The combination of stately homes and small farms makes for a beautiful landscape. Our visit included two of these small farms, Endless Summer Harvest and Zephaniah Farm Vineyard, plus Whole Foods in Vienna, Va. that are successfully supplying the demand by local residents for high quality local foods.
Contrasting the first day with the last day of our trip and you begin to see another distance. While geographically close, the neighborhoods served by the Arcadia Mobile Farmers Market are economically so very far from Loudon County. But those residents are seeking the same thing – high quality local food.
Hopefully all of us are interested in feeding our families healthy, great tasting meals. For each household, how that happens is another giant distance. For those with wealth, choosing between “good”, “better” and “best” products at Whole Foods is the choice – how much are you willing to pay to get the “best” for your family? For those without wealth, just getting everyone fed may be the only goal for the day. Will there be enough money to get anything, let alone the “best”?
So that brings me to what we did between day one and day five. Our travels took us to the alphabet soup of some of the Federal agencies that effect Agriculture – USDA and EPA specifically.
At USDA we learned about some of the many programs administered by that agency, including ag statistics, economics and foreign service. (We also got to meet Deputy Secretary of Agriculture, Krysta Harden – some us have different heroes!) And we heard a presentation on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as SNAP, formerly known as food stamps. There’s a lot of debate about the fact that the SNAP program is part (actually 80%) of the Farm Bill. Sounds like a discussion with potentially more distance, but it makes good sense to me that those of us that are producing the food are linked to the people who need the food.
In her presentation, Jennifer McNabb answered a lot of questions about SNAP, who it benefits, how it’s administered, and the big concern, fraud. Our courageous presenter shared the interesting statistic that the percentage of fraud in the SNAP program is actually lower that in programs that benefit farmers. Hmmm. She also noted that SNAP funds are being accepted more frequently, and often with incentives, at Farmer’s Markets. (including Arcadia) This is positive news for anyone trying to feed their family healthier, great tasting meals.
Because feeding (and clothing) people in this country is what Agriculture does, those of us seeking to be leaders in U.S. and Virginia Agriculture need to remember it’s farmers that need to go the extra mile to feed and clothe everyone. It’s up to us to help shorten the distance between high quality, nutritious products and all the consumers that demand and deserve them.