Understanding the Farm Bill: A Citizen's Guide to a Better Food System

A couple of months ago, I was chatting with my friend Mark Muller, who runs the Food and Society Fellows program for the Institute For Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP). I'd just gotten back from one of several meetings about food policy I'd attended with a variety of local dignitaries, politicians, and other movers and shakers, and I was frustrated by what I'd heard. Mark, as always, was a terrific sounding board, offering the experience and perspective of a man who'd heard it all before without becoming jaded.

At the meeting I attended, a local council person asked one of the city's most prominent chefs where we should focus our attention in order to affect real change in our food system. "There are lots of great places to focus our energy," the chef replied, "school lunch, childhood obesity, food access -- they're all important." I agreed with the statement, of course, but I wanted more.

"What about the 2012 Farm Bill?" I asked the group. "The grassroots approach is important, for sure, but if we're really going to make change, we need to rally the troops and fight for the big stuff -- we need to take on the Farm Bill, head on." Crickets. Gigantic, silent crickets.

The 2012 Farm Bill, my new friend on the city council told me, was largely untouchable. Congressman Collin Peterson had already said that his first priority was to protect the subsidies. Our job was to figure out what small change we might be able to achieve.

As I recounted the story to Mark, blood boiling at the thought of settling for scraps this early in the game, he smiled the knowing smile of the sage that he is, shook his head in agreement, and asked what I wanted to do about it. Together, we hatched a plan. It's super big, but it's also super simple.

The plan is this:

  • To think big and to assume that our opinions about the Farm Bill matter.
  • To refuse to settle for scraps before we have the chance to argue for meaningful change.
  • To demystify the 2012 Farm Bill, and to eventually expand our communications to include other parts of the food system.
  • To create a platform that allows us to share information with other passionate people and to empower each other to make real change.

Our first, small step was to create a Facebook page where we can collaborate with each other and with the larger community. We call it Understanding the Farm Bill: A Citizen's Guide to a Better Food System, and we're using the page to post relevant articles, share our views, and encourage others to join us. We've created a library of our favorite links, and we're adding more each day. Please visit us there, let us know what you think, "Like" us, and tell your friends.

When I talk with food activists and policy people, I like to say that one of my greatest assets is being naive enough to think that real change is possible. Mark is less naive, but every bit as optimistic. Please join us!


Lee Zukor is the founder of Simple, Good, and Tasty. E-mail him at or follow him on Twitter.