North Carolinians need a Farm Bill that makes safe, affordable food available for all

For many of us, the holidays are a time to gather with friends and family, share a good meal and celebrate all that we have to be grateful for. Unfortunately, millions of Americans will experience hunger this holiday season, as they do year round.

No family should have to choose between putting food on the table and keeping the heat on, but that’s a choice facing thousands of our neighbors, families and friends here in North Carolina. Nearly 1 in 7 North Carolinians worry where their next meal will come from, and 1 in 5 children regularly experience hunger statewide.

My fellow chefs and the farmers we work with in North Carolina have dedicated our lives to providing our communities with delicious meals and high-quality, nutritious food. These farmers also supply fresh vegetables, fruit, meat and dairy to grocery stores and farmers markets around the state where they are available to everyone, including those who are most in need of high quality nutrition — families who depend on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). This federally funded program allows low-income individuals and families to purchase eligible foods and put food on the table for their loved ones.

Even if we are among those who don’t have to worry about our next meal, we all rely on good federal policy to ensure that our food is safe, our land and water are clean and that our local food economies continue to grow.

The Farm Bill, America’s primary food and agriculture legislation that supports our food system and the tens of thousands of farm families in our state, comes up for renewal every five years in Congress.

In North Carolina, where we have endured three 100-year floods in the last two years, we have vivid firsthand experience how critical these programs are to strengthening our food security.

In September, when Hurricane Florence left many communities cut off from food distribution for weeks, local dairy from pasture-based farms was often the only milk available in stores. This local production was made possible not only by the greater resiliency of the pasture dairy operations themselves, but also Farm Bill grants that have allowed them to add processing infrastructure to become economically self-sufficient and thrive.

Fortunately, after months of negotiations and tough compromises, Congress recently passed a bipartisan Farm Bill, which preserved overall funding for conservation programs and funding, benefits, and eligibility for anti-hunger programs like SNAP. The bill also provides permanent funding for healthy food incentives and local, organic, and beginning farmer programs for the first time.

Thankfully, it rejected anti-environmental riders and harmful barriers to anti-hunger programs proposed in earlier versions. However, no farm bill is perfect. Far more funding is needed to reward good stewardship on working lands and to provide a strong safety net for families struggling against hunger. The bill also expanded subsidy loopholes which will further tilt the playing field against the family farmers that our farm safety net should serve.

Together, as we celebrate all that we have to be grateful for this season, let us continue building a food system that works well for our friends, families and farmers.

Andrea Reusing is an award-winning chef, a leader in the sustainable agriculture movement, and a working mother. She is the owner of Lantern in Chapel Hill, NC.