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Opinion | Farm bill imagines a sustainable, equitable, healthy food system

The Eastern Market has been an important part of Detroit since 1891. Providing a place for Michigan farmers to access customers directly, it played an important role in the food industry before big-box stores and remains an important way to access fresh foods at lower prices for Detroiters.

Since 2009, participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) can shop at the Eastern Market for fresh produce and utilize the “Double Up Food Bucks” program, allowing families to have twice the purchasing power with their SNAP allowance when purchasing fresh fruits and vegetables at the market. This program began in Detroit and has since been replicated in 30 states.

Melanie Stewart and Elizabeth Del Buono headshots
Melanie Stewart is a medical student at the University of Michigan. Elizabeth Del Buono is a retired diagnostic pathologist and president of Michigan Clinicians for Climate Action.

The farm bill, negotiated every five years, is a package of congressional legislation addressing a wide range of policies, including regulations and incentives for farming practices across the country as well as defining eligibility for SNAP and providing the resources for programs like Double Up Food Bucks. 

The farm bill, formally known as the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, is also important for health care, specifically preventative health. Yet, since 2023, it has been in the process of contentious renegotiation with threats to two important programs that support a healthy climate and community: low income supplemental funds like SNAP and conservation funds that ensure an affordable, nutritious food system. As stated in a recent letter signed by 80 health organizations, including the American Medical Association, both provisions are essential to protecting human health.

On its surface, SNAP provides the most obvious example of this connection, by feeding about 13% of Michigan’s population, many of whom would otherwise struggle to access adequate nutrition to support their well-being. Further, programs like Double Up Food Bucks incentivize affordable healthy choices. Evidence shows that families that participate in SNAP eat 26% more fruits and vegetables compared to those who don’t.

Less obvious is the connection of the farm bill to health through the environment. As health-care providers, we have seen and will continue to see patients affected by the changing climate. The farm bill makes available federal funds to create a more sustainable and healthier food system by mitigating the devastating effects of climate change and promoting more regenerative agricultural practices that protect soil health. Healthy soils, in turn, produce more nutritious food.

In addition, healthy land and soil also yield a healthier water cycle and more robust farmland for feeding future generations. These programs increase climate resiliency, reinforce habitat for native species, mitigate flooding risk, and protect against toxic nitrogen- and phosphorus- containing runoff which can contaminate groundwater sources used for drinking water in many rural communities. Without continued investment, these programs cannot exist.

As lifelong Michigan residents, water quality is always front of mind. Being ambassadors of the largest freshwater supply in the country means that we must continue to safeguard our communities from further damage like that made possible from climate change. Addressing threats to our clean water, air, and soil is and will continue to be a vital component of preventative community health. 

The farm bill marries efforts to protect the climate with access to affordable nutritious foods for all people. Both of these line items have the power to strengthen our most under-resourced communities, and specifically promote their health and well-being. Contact your member of Congress today to express your support for both provisions in the final version of the farm bill in order to protect the health of all Michigan residents now and into the future. 

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