The U.S Farm Bill is a complex omnibus (meaning it contains many different elements) passed by the U.S. Congress every 5-10 years. The Bill contains billions of dollars in funds for agricultural subsidies and farm relief programs, hunger relief and emergency food aid, environmental conservation programs, and many other government programs. The Farm Bill is the major source of U.S. agricultural policy. Because of its diverse and lengthy agenda (the last Farm Bill was over 1400 pages), support and opposition to the Bill cannot be easily drawn along traditional political lines. Some have suggested that the Bill be called the Food Bill, because it has an impact of every single thing we eat.
The organized Jewish community was largely in favor of the 2008 Farm Bill, primarily because of its increased funding for hunger relief programs. For example, the Jewish Council on Public Affairs (JCPA) ran a “food stamp challenge” encouraging people to live for a week on the amount of money one receives in food stamps and try to achieve a balanced diet. Jewish groups such as the JCPA and the Reform Action Committee (RAC) hailed the passage of the Farm Bill as a victory for social justice.
The Jewish community did not address the larger issue of agricultural subsidies, which comprise the majority of agricultural subsidies associated with the Bill. In a November, 2007 editorial in the New York Times, Michael Pollan criticized the focus of many groups on the positive policies of the Farm Bill (such as the hunger title), while ignoring the crop subsidies that form a vast percentage of the Bill.
We now have about 5 years before the next Farm Bill.
It is time to ask: What would a Jewishly informed Farm Bill look like? Should we focus on strengthening some of the programs in the Bill? Or should we address the broader implications (both in the United States and internationally) of food subsidies and farm policy? Are they a Jewish issue as well?
We are suggesting looking at the U.S. Farm Bill through the lens of another agricultural cycle, the Shmita. What Jewish values can we learn from the Shmita and how can we apply them (as well as other mitzvot) to the various aspects of the Farm Bill? Let’s begin this conversation.