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Natural Awakenings

Good Food: New Bill Favors Organic Farming

For most of its 70-plus year history, the term ‘farm bill’ has conjured vast acreages of uniform rows of subsidized corn and soybeans stretching toward the horizon. Once the purview of a few farmers and fewer big agriculture lobbyists, today, everyday people have started to notice that federal farm legislation is also about the quality of our food and the environment. The attention of these conscientious eaters is making a difference.

Last May, the most recent farm bill—the $300 billion Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008—was signed into law. The good news is that this new bill gives greater support than ever before to sustainable farming and food systems.  

Yes, additional measures are still needed to make healthy food and sustainable farming practices a more central focus of legislation. But organic farming has received a big boost, thanks to grassroots efforts. Jim Crawford, who has owned and operated New Morning Farm, in south-central Pennsylvania, since 1972, sees the recent changes as a good thing.

“The cost of certifying organic can be prohibitive if you are a beginning farmer,” Crawford explains, “when, for three years, you are using organic methods, but still getting paid conventional prices.” He says that is the reason why many of his neighbors ultimately decide not to convert. Crawford considers helpful new farm bill programs as imperative in ensuring that U.S. producers can meet consumers’ rising demand for organic foods. 

Among other provisions, the current farm bill provides individual producers up to $750 to offset the average $1,000 cost of certifying organic. Another new program provides up to $20,000 a year in financial assistance to support conservation practices related to the transition from conventional to organic systems. This, according to Crawford and others, goes a long way toward making the conversion to organic tenable for farmers. It all means that more healthy, sustainably produced food will be available to the public.

To learn more, visit and check out the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition’s Grassroots Guide to the 2008 Farm Bill.

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