I am a city girl, raised on Cleveland's west side. I still have a vivid memory of a cow and a farmer visiting the blacktop playground of my elementary school at the corner of West 130th and Lorain. Before this day, my closest encounter with a cow was the cartoon picture of Elmer on my glue bottle. I was 25 years old before I saw an actual broccoli plant. Farming and rural development were never part of my world view except in a theoretical, bucolic, Norman Rockwellian way.
Now I am bishop of the Northeastern Ohio Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and many of the people and parishes I serve are in small towns and rural settings. Farming and rural development are not theoretical for them. This is their way of life, their livelihood and their living out of a vocation to care for creation and to participate in answering the petition, "Give us this day our daily bread." The recent passage of the farm bill by the Senate is an encouraging sign.
But the farm bill, farming, and rural development are not just the concern of small town and rural folk - they concern us all. All of us eat. All of us depend on a safe and sustainable food supply. All of us benefit from a stronger economy - agriculture is Ohio's largest industry. The Senate has passed the farm bill, now it is time for the House to act.
As the House takes up consideration of the farm bill, I urge the members to consider the following:
Support the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Food Program (formerly food stamps.) SNAP actually operates with low rates of fraud and error, and many of those who use this assistance work full-time, low-wage jobs. The majority of those receiving assistance are young children, the elderly, people with disabilities and, increasingly, military families. Hunger is a problem in America. I know that the demand on emergency food aid provided by the food pantries of my parishes has seen a significant increase.
Support rural development. Programs such as Value Added Producer Grants and the Rural Microentrepeneur Assistance Program support the development of new food distribution and processing businesses in rural America, infrastructure necessary to growing local fresh food and helping small and mid-sized farms access markets. These actions create jobs and other economic opportunities in rural communities that have seen population declines and economic stagnation in recent decades.
Support beginning and disadvantaged farmers. We need to support the development of a new generation of farmers. Small farms operated by younger farmers, women and minority farmers are increasing in all parts of the country, due, in large part, to the success of programs including the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program and Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the average age of American farmers is 57; if we are to reverse this trend as these farmers retire, and bring a new generation of farmers and ranchers to care for and work the land, these programs need robust and mandatory funding. In its farm bill, the Senate adopted an amendment by Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio (who is a member of the ELCA) that supported programs that supported these farmers and encouraged rural development. The House must follow this example by including similar programs.
We are at a time of great possibility; we can support Ohio's largest industry, we can bring fresh fruits and vegetables to school lunches, reducing childhood obesity -Lunch ladies stand tall - we can keep hunger from the door of the most vulnerable. Members of my synod are represented by members of the House Agriculture Committee U.S. Reps. Bob Gibbs, R-Bay Village, and Marcia Fudge, D-Warrensville Heights, and Speaker of the House John Boehner is from our state. Their leadership is needed. Don't let this moment pass. Make this city girl proud.
(Eaton is bishop of the Northeastern Ohio Synod Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.)