JAMESTOWN - U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand visited the Downtown Jamestown Farmers Market on Friday to show her support for the grow local, eat local movement.
Sen. Gillibrand traveled to Jamestown to discuss her push for passage of the Senate Farm Bill, which includes several provisions which she authored and has pledged to fight for.
"Agriculture and food services is one of the leading industries in New York," said Sen. Gillibrand. "It has a $38 billion impact on our state economic output, and generates 196,000 jobs statewide. Of that, $15.6 billion is value-added that stays in our communities. As New York's first senator to serve on the senate-agriculture committee in more than 40 years, I am committed to being a voice for our farmers and our producers across the state. As I've toured our farms and our markets, I've heard from folks about the challenges of connecting farmers while working to expand their markets with families who are eager to buy those products. In addition, so much of the farm bill is focused on commodity crops, instead of the specialty crops, which is what we grow here in (Western) New York. We need special crop policies that protect our fruits and vegetables from tough environmental challenges. Here in Chautauqua, there are over 1,600 farms with an average size of just 142 acres. These are small, family farms that have been part of Western New York's landscape for generations. I'm proud to have several provisions that I authored and fought for in this year's farm bill. This legislation connects our farms to our families and communities, promotes good food and good health, and strengthens America's jobs and our economy."
According to Sen. Gillibrand, one of the most important things our farmers need is capital, and Gillibrand has authored provisions in the bill to expand credit for farmers at USDA who are struggling.
Sen. Gillibrand also is pushing for the improvement of crop insurance for fruit and vegetable farmers.
"This is largely because crop insurance policies in the past were only written for commodity farmers," said Sen. Gillibrand. "The policies only worked if you planted in the same cycles as commodity farmers."
She also discussed the unnecessary hoops apple farmers must jump through to ship their crop into Canada.
"Eliminating duplicative inspection fees for apple farmers on their bulk bin apples exported to Canada will save New York apple producers time and money," said Sen. Gillibrand. "It's kind of crazy that you had to pay additional on both sides of the border to have those inspections. It wasted time and it wasted money."
Sen. Gillibrand concluded by talking about how important it is that farmers markets get the equipment they need to accept SNAP benefits.
"If you are on food assistance, and you get your monthly allotment through the SNAP program, you can come to farmers markets like this and get amazing fruits and vegetables with that credit," said Sen. Gillibrand.
When asked about the House's version of a five-year farm bill, and how the SNAP benefit portion has been left unmodified, Sen. Gillibrand gave an optimistic response.
"I'm hopeful that we bring the bill to conference, and in that conference we can advocate strongly for the SNAP portion of the bill," said Sen. Gillibrand. "I think it is essential that hungry children, veterans, active duty service members and seniors have the food they need. Those are the people who will be negatively affected by these cuts to food stamps. All of us should stand by our vets, our active duty service members, our seniors and particularly, hungry children. I think it is a moral issue, and I'm going to fight very hard to make sure money is preserved, because we want our families to be eating well."
When asked what the contingency plan is if the Senate cannot get a farm bill with modified SNAP benefits to pass, she gave a poignant response.
"President Obama will veto the bill, and we will start over again," said Sen. Gillibrand. "That means everything would be funded at the current level. It's not great, because that means the reforms I just talked about will not be included. If we fail to reach a compromise in conference, the President will veto the bill if it has no food stamps, and we will start from scratch again."
Sen. Gillibrand was introduced by Pete Lombardi, Jamestown Renaissance Corporation president.
"This market is demonstrating the power that farmers markets can have in helping to revitalize our communities," said Lombardi. "Obviously they support local agriculture, and Chautauqua County has over 1,600 farms, more farms than any other county in the state. ... These markets improve access to healthy food options, and they can serve as a cornerstone to provide efforts to improve urban food systems, such as initiatives here in Jamestown to improve community gardening."
Lombardi cited a recent change in the Jamestown zoning code, which is now more gardening friendly.
"All of this can be tied together by farmers markets: vibrant downtowns, healthy neighborhoods, healthy communities and strong urban-rural connections," said Lombardi. "The JRC is very grateful this year to have a grant from the USDA to support our work, and we're very honored this morning to welcome Sen. Gillibrand."