Opinion: Farm Bill great holiday gift for Detroit

Phil Jones

We work hard here in Detroit to feed our community during the holidays. The efforts are honest and herculean. Wonderful food pantries open their doors, such as Yad Ezra, which helps members of the Jewish faith meet their specific food needs, and more widely-recognized operations like Gleaners’ Community Food Bank and Forgotten Harvest. Businesses, churches, community groups, fraternities, sororities and simply those who care about others put their hands and their hearts into the work of feeding people.

MMCC volunteers worked with Gleaners Community Food Bank of Southeastern Michigan in Detroit packing peppers June 3 as part of the annual Ramadan Fight Against Hunger.

For those whose basic needs are met, there are many joyful gatherings and tearful reunions around tables filled with food and love. Beyond the bounty we enjoy during the holidays, the city puts in a great amount of work to meet the food needs of all its residents, despite limited resources and challenging circumstances.

Unfortunately, despite the progress we’ve made in ensuring that families have access to healthy meals, there are still millions of Americans who will struggle to put food on the table this holiday season.

According to Feeding America's Map the Meal Gap Study, one in five people in Wayne County will experience food insecurity this year, which translates to over 366,000 folks going to bed hungry, including 86,000 children.

No family should have to choose between putting wholesome, nutritious food on the table and keeping the lights on. But that’s the choice facing thousands of our neighbors, families and friends right here in our own backyard.

My fellow chefs and the farmers we work with have dedicated our lives and careers to providing our customers with high-quality ingredients and delicious meals. Many of the same farmers and producers that we work with in our restaurant supply produce, meat, dairy and other items to grocery stores and farmers markets around the state where they are available to everyone, including families who rely on the supplemental nutrition assistance program (SNAP).

We all rely on good food and farm policies to ensure that our food is safe, our land and water are clean and our local food economies continue to grow.

The Farm Bill, America’s preeminent piece of food and agriculture legislation, supports our food system and the tens of thousands of farm families in our state. 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.

The bill also provides permanent funding for healthy food incentives and local, organic, and beginning farmer programs for the first time. Thankfully, it also 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 holiday season, let us continue building a world-class food system that works well for our friends, families and farmers.

Phil Jones is Executive Director of City Food Community Concepts, a community building and workforce development project in Detroit.