As discussions begin in the U.S. Congress on the renewal of the Farm Bill, one has to wonder about that title. Is the farm bill designed primarily to help farmers? If so, how? What exactly does the farm bill fund? Click here to learn more about the farm bill.

Rural agriculture has changed greatly within our lifetimes. Smaller family farms are fewer in number and large, often corporate, farms cover the landscape. Farm Bill funding has directed more funds to large farms which has, in turn, led people to leave rural areas for other employment opportunities. Farm Bill funding for rural development is less than 1% of the total.

You may be surprised to learn that the largest source of farm bill funding for rural areas is not financial support for farms, but for SNAP. Recent information from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Bread for the World reminds us that three-fourths of the bill’s funding goes to nutrition programs, primarily the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). More than 40 million people benefited from SNAP in 2021.

Rural areas in our country have higher participation rates in SNAP than our urban areas. USDA reports show that SNAP benefits on local employment had a greater impact that other government payments combined. SNAP contributed more to reducing rural unemployment than any other federal poverty program.

While many of us living in our mostly urban/suburban synod think of the Farm Bill as helping our rural neighbors and the SNAP program helping our more urban neighbors, we need to think carefully. We need to learn the importance of seeing the renewal of the Farm Bill as including both much needed nutrition funding and rural development funds for our smaller, family and locally-owned farms. Be watching as the Farm Bill moves through Congress and be an advocate for our rural neighbors.

Vernita Kennen
Incarnation, Shoeview