New Farm Bill, please

More <i>moo</i>la, please.

More moola, please.

(Come friend Aunt Ruthie on Facebook and let’s hang out.)

There’s the “fiscal cliff,” and then there’s the “farmer’s well.” It’s a little $10 trillion hole in the ground that opens up every five years; it’s a place where America goes to fall in and down and out of sight. There are rumors of water down there—watch your step and oopsie doodle and fare-thee-well.

Better known as the 2012 Farm Bill, its roots go back to FDR in 1933, when Congress sought subsidies for Depression-era farmers. These days, the legislation will cost more than the Affordable Care Act over 10 years. Where the money goes is no mystery: 76 percent of the subsidy dollars distributed between 1995 and 2010 went to 10 percent of the nation's farms (according to The New York Times). While the Senate has passed its version—it's no great shakes, cutting conservation and food stamps—as of this writing, the House has yet to bring its bill to the floor for discussion. It's much worse than the Senate's version, tied up as it is in tea party machinations. If it's not passed by December 31, federal support reverts to 1949 levels. That's right—agricultural policy from before the heyday of television. Sort of doing to winter wheat what Mitt Romney would have done to the country.

Auntie Ruth would like to see it go a little differently. Organic farms could use them some subsidy. Eating locally—it’s a good idea; how might we improve upon it? Farmers markets are growing like weeds, up from 1,744 total in 1994 to 7,864 in 2012, with a 9.6 percent increase since 2011. The most common request from farmers market managers is they need help getting the word out more broadly, meaning they think there’s more growth where that came from. What might a little subsidy do for them? Crumbs from the table is the apt metaphor, crumbs for what might loosely be called the food movement in America. Is any of this too much to ask?

Congress members aren't all deaf. Democratic Rep. Chellie Pingree and Sen. Sherrod Brown introduced in 2011 the Local Farms, Food and Jobs Act, which would give small and new farmers greater access to loans, small grants and insurance. The act is meant to be included in the Farm Bill; as of this writing, some elements are—including something called the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program. Pick up the phone and holler at Congress; operators most certainly are standing by.