WASHINGTON — Rep. Chellie Pingree of Maine and Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, reintroduced legislation Tuesday that aims to remove barriers to help both schools and food stamp recipients purchase more of their food from local farmers.
Pingree, D-District 1, and Brown said the Local Farms, Food and Jobs Act seeks to bring federal policy up to date with growing consumer demand for locally sourced food.
“Consumers want to know where their food comes from and care deeply about the quality of their food,” Pingree said during a news conference.
The bill proposes a pilot program to test the use of smartphone technology to electronically accept food stamps at farmers markets. It also would give schools credits to purchase more of their cafeteria food locally and would create crop insurance programs to better fit the needs of diversified organic farmers.
Pingree and Brown were joined on Capitol Hill by Sarah Smith, who with her husband operates Grassland Organic Farm in Skowhegan, as well as Tony Colicchio, head judge of the Bravo channel’s popular “Top Chef” program and multiple winner of the esteemed James Beard Award for chefs.
Smith said federal programs such as those allowing recipients of food stamps Ä or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits Ä to buy locally have helped her farm in recent years. Any steps to make it easier for food stamp recipients to use their benefits at farmers markets will only help farms and the local economy, she said.
“Millions of dollars are coming into Maine through SNAP every month and if farmers could capture just a small percentage of those dollars, it would (have) a huge amount of impact,” Smith said.
“This bill will go a long way in making not only … fresh food more accessible but (also) more and more affordable,” said Colicchio, who has been heavily involved in programs to help lower-income individuals access fresh, nutritional food.
Most of the provisions of the Local Farms, Foods and Jobs Act were successfully inserted into both the House and Senate versions of last year’s Farm Bill. However, the bill died in the House after Republican leaders refused to bring it up for a vote because of disagreement among some in the party about aspects of the bill dealing with food stamps and crop subsidies.
Pingree is married to S. Donald Sussman, the majority shareholder of MaineToday Media, which publishes the Portland Press Herald, the Kennebec Journal and the Waterville Morning Sentinel.
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