On Monday, Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow, the ranking member on the Senate Agriculture Committee, announced a new federal urban farming bill that her office says will “create new economic opportunities in cities and towns across Michigan and the country.”
Imagine that! Exciting, right? People, especially in Stabenow’s home state, have been fighting for years for their right to grow food within the city limits, and now it seems urban growers will be getting federal support. Stabenow is being praised for her efforts to support urban agriculture all around the web.
Still, some Michigan small farmers are skeptical of where Stabenow’s bill will take the nation’s urban farming. Will it bring power to the people and food freedom, or will it merely invite Big Ag into one more area where citizens are beginning to win their battles against larger corporate interests?
— Kathleen Merrigan (@katmerrigan) September 26, 2016
Crains Detroit reported that Stabenow’s new legislation will address the “needs of urban farmers by offering them U.S. Department of Agriculture resources and programs.” The Urban Agriculture Act of 2016 will allegedly create new economic opportunities for urban farmers, invest 10-million dollars into research, create a new urban agriculture office at USDA, connect urban farmers with rural farmers for training and mentoring, and many other things that sound incredibly promising.
Stabenow asserts that it will indeed help small urban operations.
“Support and infrastructure has been there for traditional agriculture, but it’s not been there for smaller urban operations,” Stabenow said, according to The Detroit News. “We want to make sure that it is now.”
But seriously, don’t get your hopes up too high if you are an everyday citizen or small farmer living within a city’s limits. I hope that Stabenow is coming around, having seen the battles urban and small farmers in Michigan have gone through in recent years, but her loyalties repeatedly seem to be with industries, big business and the establishment.
Great event of rural supporters last night with the Ranking Member of the Senate Ag Committee, Sen, Debbie Stabenow pic.twitter.com/HhW81hVq5R
— Rural For Hillary (@RuralForHillary) September 15, 2016
That became abundantly clear when Michigan voters chose Hillary Clinton during their primary, but Debbie Stabenow used her superdelegate vote to help Hillary Clinton when she failed to earn enough pledged delegates to secure the nomination.
Debbie Stabenow has benefited from campaign contributions from ICE Group, which spent most of its lobbying money on agricultural issues, according to Open Secrets. Stabenow was also a major recipient of contributions from American Crystal Sugar, an agricultural co-op that produces and processes sugar and sugar beets. She also has received funding from Farm Credit Council. American Crystal Sugar spent between $300,000 and $600,000 each election cycle through its active political action committee to benefit one of the most abundant GMO crops in the nation. Crop Production & Basic Processing and Agricultural Services/Products are among the industries who donate the most in order to keep Stabenow in office.
Metro Times, a publication from the senator’s home state, featured scathing judgement of Stabenow just last week after it was announced that Stabenow would appear at D-Town Farm, Detroit’s largest urban farm, for a photo-op.
“What does it say that a U.S. senator can show up at a Detroit urban farm for a photo opportunity to introduce ‘comprehensive urban agriculture legislation’ after co-sponsoring a bill Monsanto, the world’s most evil corporation, loves? Insert your rationale here if you like. Sen. Stabenow is doing the best she can given her ruthless opponents. She is at least moving food labeling forward, er… all evidence in Vermont to the contrary. Say what you will. But this isn’t the first time Stabenow, a ranking member of the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, has opposed labeling. When she opposed the Sanders amendment to the 2012 farm bill, she said it would ‘interfere with the FDA’s science-based process to determine what food labeling is necessary for consumers.'”
So Senator Stabenow wants a photo op with Detroit urban farmers. Let’s say it like it is shall we? She is using a… https://t.co/Cxn38Hx5Mr
— MomsAcrossAmerica (@yesmaam74) September 23, 2016
The Metro Times journalist was referring to this past summer when Senator Debbie Stabenow crossed party lines to agree on language of legislation that would overrule the new Vermont GMO labeling law just as it was going into effect. That law also preempts GMO labeling laws in Connecticut, Maine and Alaska, according to GMO Free USA. Stabenow’s efforts moved forward the bill that was heavily criticized by former-Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, and now there is a federal law that mandates labeling that falls drastically short of anything Americans had been demanding on their food.
The Stabenow-Roberts anti-GMO bill contains huge loopholes in the labeling requirement. There’s not even a penalty for violating it.
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) July 2, 2016
— Scott Faber (@faberfamilyfarm) July 2, 2016
— Non-GMO Report (@nongmoreport) July 30, 2016
— The Duneach Farm (@TheDuneachFarm) July 7, 2016
Stabenow was even called out for receiving campaign contributions from Big Ag by Politico, which pointed out that she also has the support of some organic food companies. Of course, those organic food companies’ donations paled in comparison to Big Ag contributions and were still not representative of small or urban farms. The Politico article was published at a time when Stabenow was saying publicly that the 2016 federal labeling law was “nothing more than the status quo for consumers who want information about the food they are purchasing.” Of course, it wasn’t long before she changed her tune and fell in line with Big Ag and Big Food, just as her critics had anticipated she would.
Debbie Stabenow is rumored by Politico to be the only name that has been thrown around for Hillary Clinton’s Secretary of Agriculture during the chatter of top Democrats, Clinton’s senior aides, and others. Many small farmers from Michigan believe that Stabenow’s Urban Agriculture Act will create more regulation for residents of Anytown, U.S.A. as they try to produce food for their families and their small farm stands.
According to Stabenow, the legislation will support urban farmers, but individual communities will establish policies and zoning rules to dictate where urban farms will be allowed to operate. If that language is in the new federal legislation, it could cause problems for small urban farmers, just as Michigan small farmers have seen at a state level.
“This makes my heart flutter!!! Hopefully it doesn’t promptly sink after reading it,” one Facebook user wrote.
“Stabenow is quick to sell out her constituents and the American people. However, I’ll hang on to a hope that this is actually a good bill,” another wrote.
“I absolutely cannot trust that anything Stabenow or our current state officials do for small agriculture and urban farms doesn’t damage us all in the long run. I’d like to be optimistic, but there’s only so many times you can get kicked and stepped-on while saying please and thank-you hoping to get a different outcome,” another wrote. “They are the best friends of industrial agriculture, but not little guys like us.”
Small urban farmers across the nation should take note that Stabenow’s bill has the support of two major agricultural groups: the National Farmers Union and the American Farm Bureau Federation, according to Agri-Pulse.
Debbie Stabenow’s Urban Agriculture Act will undoubtedly benefit Big Ag, let’s just hope it also helps the rest of us.
[Image via Office of United States Senator Debbie Stabenow | Wikipedia]