December policy update

>> Supercommittee fails to reach deal

A deal on achieving a deficit reduction of $1.2 trillion through the Super Committee process has failed. The committee was unable to come to agreement on tax cuts, causing automatic sequestration to kick in — cutting $1.2 trillion over 10 years, beginning in January 2013. These automatic cuts would be shared equally between defense and non-defense programs, excluding tax expenditures, some major entitlement programs, and most programs targeted at low-income families and individuals. Click here for a full list of protected programs. Congress still has the opportunity to produce an alternative plan for deficit reduction before sequestration takes effect. A few members of Congress have expressed discontent at the possibility of automatic cuts to defense, but President Obama has openly stated that he “will not accept any measure that attempts to turn off the automatic cut trigger.”

>> Farm Bill update

The good news is that the Farm Bill, a key opportunity to develop policies that deliver affordable regional food to schools, isn’t dead yet. As reported last month, leaders of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees met to develop recommendations for a Farm Bill using the Supercommittee’s bill as the vehicle. While some early drafts were leaked, indicating program cuts of $23 billion over 10 years, no official document was released. It is unclear whether the Farm Bill they were preparing for the Supercommittee will be carried over into upcoming Farm Bill plans. It’s also unclear when those debates will resume, although there are some reports that the bill could be finished by late spring.

Our friends at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition issued an excellent analysis of the “Farm Bill that Wasn’t.” The Agriculture Committee leaders’ proposal included policy changes that would create incentives to purchase fruits and vegetables, maintain funding for nutrition education, support regional markets for healthy food, and strengthen community food systems. Several key elements of the Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act (S. 1773, H.R. 3286) seem to have been incorporated. Provisions in the Bill related to improved infrastructure for local and regional agriculture supported by School Food FOCUS were included; other language to extend flexibility in the operation of USDA Foods were not, but may be in the future.

Another marker bill intended to influence the Farm Bill was introduced in the Senate. The Growing Opportunities for Agriculture and Responding to Markets (GO FARM) Act of 2011 (S. 1888) proposes a revolving loan fund program to support local farm businesses and market gardens. A summary of the bill is here.

We look forward to continuing work with allies in DC to incorporate the perspective of FOCUS stakeholders into Farm Bill conversations, and are happy to report that the list of potential partners continues to grow. Last month, the National League of Cities passed a far-reaching resolution [PDF], “Supporting Healthy Food, Public Health, and Sustainability Practices in the 2012 Farm Bill,” which calls for a new Farm Bill that emphasizes supporting regional food systems, healthy food, sustainable agriculture, and social justice for farmers and farm workers. This was modeled on Seattle City Council’s Farm Bill resolution, adopted earlier this year.

>> CNR updates: the silver lining

As reported last month, the final version of a spending bill made a serious dent in new school meal standards being developed by USDA, including the now-infamous “pizza as a vegetable” ruling. The good news is that USDA has completed an evaluation of studies on sodium reduction requirements and has defined whole grains, as requested in the spending bill. Additionally, the standards can still double the servings of fruits and vegetables, increase whole grains and low-fat dairy, and set limits on calories, sodium, and unhealthy fats. We expect the interim rule to be released within a month in order to keep to the original implementation timeline [PDF]. We also expect that USDA will release their proposed nutrition standards for vending, a la carte and other competitive foods early next year.

>> Winning “Hackathon” entry illustrates lack of Farm Bill funds for fruits and vegetables

On December 3, the Farm Bill Hackathon brought together 120 designers, data scientists, developers, marketing professionals, food policy experts, and USDA employees to create infographics and tools to highlight issues that could be addressed by the Farm Bill. Over the course of 12 hours, five infographics and four tools were produced, addressing issues as diverse as financial support to new farmers, the effect of subsidies on global hunger, and how to crowdsource Meatless Mondays. First prize went to Jamie Leo, Henry Lau, Illya Bomash, Peter Krohmer, and Trey Shelton for “A Clean FARM BILL of Health,” a series of clean, simple visualizations about the difference in support for fruit and vegetable crops versus commodity crops in the bill. The presentation compares the USDA MyPlate recommendations with government support to farms.

Thanks to our friends at the Community Food Security Coalition for the following updates:

>> Secretary Vilsack and First Lady Michelle Obama congratulate HealthierUS School Challenge winners

Secretary Tom Vilsack and First Lady Michelle Obama are honoring schools participating in USDA’s HealthierUS School Challenge (HUSSC), a component of the Let’s Move! Initiative that encourages schools to create healthier school environments. The First Lady invited to the White House representatives from 1,273 schools that met her goal to double the number of participants in the Challenge within a year. Secretary Vilsack said, “Achieving the HealthierUS School Challenge recognition demonstrates a school’s deep commitment to create and maintain a healthy school environment. The schools we are recognizing today have already made great progress towards meeting the school meals improvement set forth in the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act.” Visit the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) website to read the full press release.

FOCUS note: Congratulations to the following FOCUS districts for meeting the challenge: Chicago, Jefferson County, KY, New York City, Charlotte-Mecklenburg, NC, Nashville, Dallas, Prince William County, VA and Washington DC.

>> USDA releases report on marketing of local foods

A new report from the USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) provides valuable evidence about the growing market for local food and its job-creating impact. Read Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan’s blog post on the topic.

>> Agricultural Marketing Service issues Request for Proposals (RFP) for Fresh Produce Pilot Program

The USDA Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) for the new Fresh Produce Pilot Program [PDF], which will allow schools to explore new avenues for purchasing fresh produce. The pilot will be conducted in Michigan and Florida with deliveries from January to December 2012. Click here [PDF] to access to the RFP form.

>> Webinar: serving weekend and holiday meals

Learn ways to incorporate meals into your weekend program and how you can serve children during school holidays. Watch the Food Research and Action Center’s recent webinar on operating the After School Meal Program on weekends and during school holidays.

>> Whole Kids Foundation School Garden Grant Program: due December 31, 2011

School gardens are an important educational tool for cultivating healthy eating habits. Learning about growing food helps children develop a deep understanding of the connection between healthy eating and a healthy body. The Whole Kids Foundation has raised over $312,000 for a school garden grant program.  School garden grant applications will be accepted through 5pm CST, December 31, 2011. Click here to learn more about the application process and apply for a school garden grant.


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