C-PREP does policy work to transform grassroots, local knowledge into informed public policy that supports low income communities and people of color in their efforts to overcome poverty, improve educational outcomes, achieve economic development, increase home and business ownership, reduce social dependence and achieve self-reliance. To often the hard work of determining policy alternatives designed to serve marginalized communities leaves people from those communities out of the process. C-PREP engages people at the grass roots level to connect them with the policy process that impacts their lives and to give voice to their interest, desires and dreams.
For example, agriculture policy, at both state and federal levels, has a huge—and often negative—impact on food and agricultural systems. For this reason, agricultural policy is one of C-PREP’s main priorities through its work with NYSAWG. Current food and agriculture policy overwhelmingly supports the interests of industrial agribusiness and global supply chains. According to the FY 2007 Budget Summary and Performance Evaluation published by USDA, 81% of $85 billion in actual outlays in 2005 went to just three mandated programs (food stamps, 38%; child nutrition, 15%; and commodity support, 27%). Such expenditures should result in improved nutrition for the general population and especially for children. However, more people now recognize the opposite outcome—a myriad of health problems, including a childhood obesity epidemic, associated with industrial, manufactured edible substitute substances sold as food.
Thus it appears that federal policy, originally intended to ensure a healthy diet for all Americans and to support American farmers, has not achieved its objectives. In addition, industrial agriculture puts small family farmers and small scale food processors out of business, severely harms local businesses supplying the food and agriculture sector, disrupts the supply of local affordable food to local communities, and degrades the environment with chemical fertilizers, pesticides, the concentration of animal waste, etc.
C-PREP drives its policy work based on the experiences and lessons learned working with citizens at the grass roots level to build local food systems in their communities, food self-reliance and community food security. We call this approach practice-driven policy. Through this concrete activity, we will recruit more organizations that can work together to develop and promulgate agricultural and food system policies supporting local food systems. We will gain invaluable knowledge in the actual costs of building and operating local food systems that deliver local, fresh, nutritious affordable food to people who now lack access to affordable real food. C-PREP uses this grassroots, on-the-ground knowledge to refine its proposals for rebuilding local and regional food system infrastructure and for training new farmers.
Since September, 2003 The Center for Popular Research, Education and Policy and NYSAWG have worked together on policy. We developed two policy initiatives. The AgriCorps Act of 2005: A Policy Initiative for a Demonstration Project of National Significance for America’s Farms and Community-Based Food Systems recommends resource allocation for the purpose of recruiting new people into careers in sustainable agriculture and regional food production. We hope to pilot test this program, modeled after AmeriCorps, in New York State, with an emphasis on recruiting new immigrant farmers, migrant farmworkers who wish to transition to farm ownership, and young people engaged in the sustainable agriculture movement. The second initiative, entitled Rebuilding Regional Food System Infrastructure Act: Regional Food Systems Legislation—A Proposal, recommends the allocation of funds for rebuilding regional food system infrastructure to support the development of local food trading networks that bring locally produced food to local consumers.
In the run-up to the next farm bill, progressive policy initiatives situate themselves on the margin of federal policy. A small movement within the community security movement has started to advocate for substantial structural change in the 2007 Farm Bill while at the same time preserving vital social safety net programs like food stamps. Since 60% of eligible individuals actually participate in the food stamp program, it appears that policy makers could re-allocate a portion of food stamp funding without taking food stamps away from eligible people. For example, 10% of 2005 food stamp outlays amounts to $326 million dollars, a substantial resource for rebuilding local food system infrastructure. Currently the USDA Community Food Project Competitive Grant Program receives only $5 million, and the USDA Risk Management Agency Outreach and Education Program also receives only $5 million. C-PREP is taking the lead nationally to develop an alternative policy initiative outlined in Policy, Politics and Polity and The American Food for the American People Act of 2007.