U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack spoke to the food and nutrition committee of the U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting in Washington Thursday. He urged the nation’s mayors to encourage Congress to pass a new five-year farm bill. He said there has not been enough support from mayors - and noted that USDA will have fewer resources and less flexibility for the programs the mayors use to help their constituents without a five-year bill in place. Madison, Wisconsin mayor Paul Soglin said mayors know who to mobilize in Congress on some issues - but not on agriculture. Vilsack said his staff would help them learn more about the key members of Congress on agriculture.
The Secretary and Massachusetts Representative Jim McGovern focused a lot on the nutrition title - especially the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. McGovern told the mayors he’s afraid snap will become a target for cuts again. He said SNAP has become the ATM machine to fund everything else. McGovern added that if no action is taken - SNAP benefits that were increased by the Recovery Act will go down next November. Representative McGovern also urged the mayors to support his goal of a White House conference on nutrition and hunger - and a comprehensive policy to fight hunger.
The mayors had a request for Vilsack as well. They asked for more help from USDA to provide locally-produced, healthy food to their constituents. The mayor of Minneapolis told Vilsack that connecting cities to farms is hard to do. Normal, Illinois is surrounded by some of the most productive farmland in the country - but the city’s mayor says much of the corn grown nearby is used for ethanol and the soybeans for biodiesel. Mayor Chris Koos is trying to help the farmers who want to produce for local consumption - but they tell him they aren’t producing to capacity because they don’t have a market for their production. In response - Vilsack said he has directed people involved in the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative at USDA to work on market development this year.