Sarah Goldman was an Emerson Hunger Fellow from 2017-2018 and researched the Farm Bill and its affects on Native Communities. Her research was used to compile a report that was used to help farmers in Native Communities and to support women and families in their nutritional needs. This article was adapted from her report.
The “Farm Bill” is one of the most important piece of legislation that impacts federal food and nutrition assistance, farming, ranching and rural infrastructure policies in the United States. The most recent Farm Bill was passed in 2014, and Congress is projected to reauthorize the next Farm Bill in 2018. Analysis from the Congressional Budget Office estimated that the 2014 Farm Bill will have $489 billion in spending over five-years . The Farm Bill is incredibly important, and funds many programs that support Americans from nutrition assistance to infrastructure projects such as fire stations and hospitals. Nearly 25 percent of tribal citizens participate in federal feeding programs (certain Native American communities see more than 50 percent of their citizens participating in federal feeding programs) , and Native Americans utilize more than 50 million acres of land in food and production agriculture . Native American involvement in the Farm Bill process is essential to build vibrant food systems, and support healthy communities, and is important not only due to Native Americans’ utilization of many Farm Bill programs, but also the fact that their involvement could expand inclusion and remedy funding disparities in the Bill. However, despite the importance of farm bill programs, Native American farmers and communities have often been excluded from these programs.
The Keepseagle v. Vilsack class action lawsuit which was settled in December of 2011 claimed the USDA discriminated against Native Americans by denying them equal access to credit in the USDA Farm Loan Program. The plaintiffs in this case proved that the USDA did not allow Native American farmers and ranchers the same access to farm loans and loan services as were allowed to other (white) farmers. In addition, the USDA did not provide Native Farmers with the same technical assistance or outreach for loan applications. The settlement of this lawsuit was a huge win for Native farmers and ranchers, and a $680 million compensation fund was created with an additional $80 million in debt relief for Native farmers and ranchers. However, there is still lots of work to do in creating parity for USDA programs for Native Producers.
Today, Native American producers receive less average government monetary support than what the average producer in the U.S. receives. In addition, Native American reservations are some of the most rural communities in the United States, and thus require increased investment to access widely utilized technology such as broadband. Native American Tribes across the United States are becoming increasingly involved in the Farm Bill, and in 2017 the Native Farm Bill Coalition was formed to advocate for Native American interests in the 2018 Farm Bill. As stated in the Indigenous Food and Agriculture’s Regaining Our Future report: “the Farm Bill provides resources and programs that will allow [Native People] to reach our goals more quickly than in the past” .
- Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative (IDAI), Regaining Our Future Report, June 2017, pg. 13, availble at: http://seesofnativehealth.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/Farm-Bill-Report_WED.pdf
- U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service, Addressing Child Hunger and Obesity in Indian Country: Report to Congress Summary, Jan. 2012, available at: http://fns-prod.aureedge.net/sites/default/files/IndianCountrySum.pdf
- U.S. Department of Agriculture National Agriculture Statistics Service, 2012 Census of Agriculture Highlights: American Indian Farmers, Sept. 2014, available at: http://www.agcensus.usda.gov/Publications/2012/Online_Resources/Highlights/American_Indian_Farmers/Highlights_American_Indian_Farmers.pdf
- IFAI, Regaining Our Future Report, June 2017, pg. 14