By Amanda Hixson
Farm Institute Director
Every five years, Congress reauthorizes the farm bill – an enormous spending package that pays for food and agriculture-related programs. The 2018 farm bill cost an estimated $428 billion and expires in September 2023. The new round of legislation, which is currently being drafted, will have big impacts on agriculture and land management in Nevada County. Here are three reasons local farmers and residents should track the progress of the farm bill. Each of these themes will be discussed at Sierra Harvest’s upcoming Sustainable Food & Farm Conference on April 22 in Grass Valley.
In 2018, more than 75 percent of Farm Bill funds went toward nutrition programs, like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). SNAP benefits, formerly known as food stamps, are delivered by a program called CalFresh in California. More than 6,400 Nevada County households were enrolled in CalFresh in December 2022. The farm bill’s nutrition assistance also helps pay for the Market Match program, which gives CalFresh participants extra dollars to buy fruits and vegetables at farmers’ markets. Around $22,000 in Market Match funds were spent at Nevada County farmers’ markets last year, although $40,000 was available. Local farmers can learn more about how farmers’ market sales fit into a diversified marketing strategy with Javier Zamora of JSM Organics, who will present a keynote titled, “The Essentials of a Successful Farm Business” at 4 p.m. on Saturday, April 22.
You might be familiar with the Nevada County Resource Conservation District (RCD), which helps landowners fight invasive species, reduce fuel loads, control erosion, improve habitats, and more. The RCD is an independent special district, but it works closely with the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) – an agency that’s funded by the Farm Bill. Through NRCS, the Farm Bill also funds EQIP, a cost-share program that covers 50 to 75 percent of the bill for carrying out conservation practices; Nevada County landowners have been paid $4.6 million by the agency since 2017. Learn more about NRCS and EQIP at the 2023 Sustainable Food & Farm Conference, where district conservationist Pamela Hertzler will lead a workshop called “Fund Your Farm with NRCS” at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 22.
The farm bill also helps fund USDA’s Rural Development work, which includes grant programs that help develop local food systems. Previous rounds of the farm bill have underwritten many projects related to small-scale meat processing facilities, including funding for feasibility studies, infrastructure, and software. Ranchers in Nevada County – and across many counties in California – have identified the need for expanded slaughter and processing facilities to support the economic viability of ranching. Ranchers can learn more about meat processing at the 2023 Sustainable Food & Farm Conference, where Laetitia Benador of California Certified Organic Farmers Foundation will lead a workshop called, “Solutions for Small Meat Producers in CA: How to get meat from ranch to table” at 10:20 a.m. on Saturday, April 22.
The Farm Bill has broad and wide impacts on nationwide agriculture, for both producers and consumers. The Sierra Harvest Food & Farm Conference is a local effort that can help connect regional farmers, ranchers, and their advocates to the benefits provided by the 2018 Farm Bill and will continue those efforts with the 2023 Farm Bill once authorized later this year. You can learn more at www.foodandfarmconference.com