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Why Health Care Reform = Ag Reform By Steph Larsen

Why Health Care Reform = Ag Reform

by Steph Larsen

posted by Sarah Long

When we talk about local food, it means more than just proximity to a farm. We associate supporting “local food” with supporting specific values, such as family ownership, local control, small scale, environmental stewardship, community, and ecological diversity. These values are what motivate people to buy their food directly from the farmer who grows it.

The sustainable local-food system we are trying to build relies on an abundance of small, diverse, sustainable family farmers scattered all across the United States. For this kind of farm to exist, sustainable must mean more than environmental sustainability: it must also include economic viability. Farming is a dangerous and risky business, and it becomes a whole lot less attractive when a farmer knows that he or she is one fall from the hay loft away from losing their land.

We hear frequently about the need for new and younger farmers, but there are many barriers to attracting

young people to farm in a way that will foster sustainable local food systems. One of them, however, looms bigger than the rest: access to affordable, dependable health care.

In order to attract more farmers to grow food for a sustainable food system, we need meaningful health care reform that addresses the needs of

farmers, rural communities, and small business owners. The stark reality of health care costs for farmers, who often must purchase insurance as individuals and pay more for it as a result, is enough to make anyone waver in their desire to start a farm.

Here are some statistics from a report by the Access Project:

• While 9 in 10 farm and ranch operators have health insurance, nearly one-quarter (23%) report that insurance premiums and other out-of-pocket health care costs are causing financial difficulties for them and their families.

Those respondents who reported financial problems were spending on

average 42% of their incomes on insurance premiums and out-of-pocket health care costs.

• In addition, 44% report spending at least a tenth of their annual income on health insurance premiums, prescriptions, and other out-of-pocket medical costs.

The health care dilemma farmers face is getting some attention. NPR has featured several very personal stories of farmers struggling to embrace small scale, sustainable practices while also making enough money to support themselves. One such episode features a family with insurance discussing how much health problems cost their family:

Paula Floriano, a 43-year-old dairy farmer, lives in the California Central Valley town of Atwater. She and her husband, Paul, have two teenage kids. The couple and son Nicholas work the farm seven days a week, starting at the crack of dawn to tend their 125 cows.

Right now, Floriano pays about $1,000 a month for her family’s health insurance – excluding dental or vision coverage. Her coverage pays for only a few doctor visits a year, she says. There’s also a $10,000 deductible for medical care before insurance kicks in. With all these costs, Floriano says sometimes other bills have to wait. Insurance costs eat into the family’s limited income, she says.

The problem has shown up in other regional papers across the nation too, such as the Bismarck Tribune, Columbia (MO) Missourian, Delta Farm Press. The Great Falls (MT) Tribune reports:

Montana wheat farmer Dan Works felt so strongly about the impact that health insurance costs have on his business operation and family that he spoke out at a rural health forum held by Montana Sen. Max Baucus.

Works, who has been farming for 27 years, pays $9,000 a year for a catastrophic health insurance plan with a steep $5,000 deductible and 50% co-pays after the deductible has been reached.

“Those payments are a lot of money in anybody’s realm,” he said, “and represent more than 10 percent of my income.”

During the presidential campaign, Barack Obama promised to reform the broken health care system, and legislators in Congress are starting to work on proposals. Coalitions like Health Care for America Now! are organizing, and they need you to show your support and push our elected officials to ignore the deep pockets of corporate insurance lobbyists and build a health care system that works for everyone.

Please get involved in the fight for health care reform. You can sign this Center for Rural Affairs petition calling for incoming Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Daschle to make reforms that work for all of America; join, support, or volunteer for a group in your area doing health care reform work such as these members of Health Care for America Now; and of course, call your legislators and demand that they reform the health care system.

If local and sustainable food is the goal, health care reform must be included

to get there. It’s not only the farmer at the market you buy your eggs from who needs you. It’s also the office assistant or factory worker who would love nothing better than to grow the food that feeds our movement.

With health-insurance reform, the tallest barrier between new farmers and their land crumbles.

Steph Larsen is a member of the advisory board of Women, Food and Agriculture Network. She is currently the Rural Policy Organizer for the Center for Rural Affairs in northeast Nebraska, before which she spent three years in Washington, D.C. working with Community Food Security Coalition. She holds an MS in geography from her home state of Wisconsin.

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Plant Spring Change: Two Ways Women Can Stimulate National Ag Policy Reform by Lisa Kivirist

Plant Spring Change: Two Ways Women Can Stimulate National Ag Policy Reform Written By: Lisa Kivirist Posted by Sarah Long Spring inspires an annual dose of hopeful change. From tilling the fields to celebrating that first pea tendril, this time of year ushers in a fresh breeze of energy and optimism for us women in agriculture. Remember to take some of that vernal enthusiasm and voice your opinion to your elected officials in Washington, D.C., to keep sustainable farming a top funding priority. “Individual phone calls and letters to your representatives take just minutes of your time, but they collectively add up to a very strong influence on Congressional priorities,” explains Aimee Witteman, Executive Director of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC). “The voice of women in agriculture needs to be heard in Washington, D.C., particularly this spring when key funding issues will be decided.” Two things we can each do this spring to plant seeds for national change: 1. Tell your representatives and senators to fund sustainable ag priorities in FY10 appropriations Over the next two months, members of the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee will be finalizing the list of programs they will champion for FY2010. “Congress needs to hear why sustainable agriculture programs that support innovation and economic prosperity are so important and must be adequately funded, especially during our current tough economic situation,” adds Witteman. Call or fax a letter to your senators and Congressional representative (enter your zip code at to find your representative) and express your support for two important yet potentially vulnerable sustainable agriculture programs: SARE (Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education) and the Value-Added Producer Grant Program. Specifically, we want to ensure: * $30 million for SARE ($25 million for research and education and $5 million for extension and outreach) * $30 million for the Value-Added Producer Grants Program SARE is a competitive grants program funding farmer-driven research, education, and extension initiatives on profitable, environmentally and socially sound practices. Its research and education grants help first-time farmers get started and succeed, help farmers find ways to be more profitable, and help new businesses get started. The Value-Added Producer Grant Program (VAPG) offers competitive grants to farmers and ranchers developing new farm and food-related businesses that boost farm income, create jobs, and increase rural eco- nomic opportunity. Despite growing demands for these grants, VAPG funding has been cut seven years in a row! When calling your senators’ and representative’s office, be specific and personal when leaving a message, as you will probably be talking to a staff member: “I am Lisa Kivirist, a farmer outside of Monroe, Wisconsin, in Green County. I am calling to express to Senator Kohl my strong support of funding sustainable agriculture during the appropriations process. Specifically, I want to see . .. “ Be polite yet personable. Sharing your farming story and experiences adds deeper meaning and authenticity to your message. Another way of expressing your opinion directly is to attend in-district or in-state “town hall” or other open public meetings sponsored by your representative or senator. As Congress will be on spring recess the first two weeks of April, many representatives will be in their home states and hosting such gatherings; keep an eye open for announcements in your local newspaper. 2. Promote and use new Farm Bill programs Some of these new Farm Bill programs will be starting the granting process in the next couple of months by issuing RFPs (requests for proposals) – that detail exactly what types of applications may qualify for funding and application deadlines. The NSAC website ( will have updated information as these RFPs go public. “Tell the organizations you are connected with about these new funding opportunities, particularly new Farm Bill programs such as the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP) and the Rural Microentreprise Assistance Program (RMAP),” sums up Witteman. “Now that these programs are part of the Farm Bill, we need to take advantage of these resources to support sustainable agriculture projects.” Lisa Kivirist is a Wisconsin farmer, author, and director of the Rural Women’s Project for Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES).