Why Seattle Cares About the Farm Bill
Seattle, along with other municipalities, faces multiple health, social, and environmental problems connected to food. In 2007, up to 11% of adults in Seattle ran out of food. In 2008, the incidence of obesity in King County adults was 21% and that of overweight adults was 54%. In 2006, the annual attributable cost of diabetes was estimated at $1.025 million. Overweight and obesity are significant risk factors for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and other chronic diseases. Supporting public health and protecting our environment are essential to the viability and livability of our city and hence our economy.
Improving nutrition and reducing hunger are not only moral concerns, but are critical for decreasing social vulnerability, for increasing the capacity of children to learn, and for improving economic opportunity. In Seattle 42% of public school students are enrolled to receive free or reduced meals. In the last two years many of our food banks reported an increase of clientele of 50% or more. The current quality of food is insufficient to meet health needs. We cannot be complacent about poor diet and lack of access to fresh, high quality, healthy food.
Agriculture represents an important part of both rural and urban economies. According to United States Department of Agriculture 2007 Census Data, farms in the 12 Puget Sound counties had sales of $1.1 billion. Yet, farmland, farms, and farmers are at risk because of policy barriers and inadequate infrastructure and the region is still losing farmland. There is a demonstrated need for regionally-appropriate technology and infrastructure that can address market barriers and create food industry jobs.
People increasingly understand that food is connected not only to health, but the environment, climate change, and the economy. Access to healthy food is increased when local and regional food production, processing, distribution and retail work together to build strong markets for healthy foods. There is a growing awareness that our urban and rural communities are mutually interdependent and that the regional food economy can create stable jobs within our communities.
Maintaining and improving the security of a diverse food supply is essential to local emergency preparedness and regional self-reliance. New coordination across city, county, state, and federal agencies, as well as between government, civil society, and businesses is needed to allow communities greater flexibility to plan and take action for strong and diverse food systems in every region.
The current food system has led to an unsustainable reliance on chemical inputs and cheap oil for production and distribution and the paradox of simultaneous increases in both obesity and chronic hunger. The current food system externalizes a host of environmental problems. Sustainable agricultural practices need to be more broadly supported and applied and reliance on oil must be reduced.
The policies, programs, and funding included in the 2012 Farm Bill will affect how successful Seattle can be in achieving our goal of improving our local food system and in doing so, advance the City's interrelated Comprehensive Plan goals of environmental sustainability, economic development, public health, race and social justice, and emergency preparedness. Local government has an important role to play in creating a healthy food system, but federal policies and actions significantly impact Seattle's ability to fully realize these goals.