In January, U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow, (D) Michigan, became Chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry. She’s only the second woman on this job in history. She’ll wield considerable power when the next farm bill is hammered out next year. The farm bill is the national budget for agriculture. It includes everything related to ag– from land conservation to the kind of foods the government wants children to eat.
Michigan has the second most crop diversity in the country after California. Asparagus, peaches, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, pumpkins, cucumbers and a couple dozen more. Kalamazoo was once the celery capital of the country. Imlay City is still bursting with carrots.
For the 2007 farm bill, Senator Stabenow got incentives passed for producers of fruits and vegetables. This appealed to the local food movement. They want closer-knit communities of people that shop at farm markets and know their farmers. They don’t want to depend on fossil fuels for transport of people and food.
Stabenow’s incentives also appealed to national children’s health advocates trying to fight obesity and diabetes. Both are considered epidemic.
The Center For Disease Control in Atlanta says childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years. The prevalence of obesity among children aged 6 to 11 years increased from 6.5% in 1980 to 19.6% in 2008. The prevalence of obesity among adolescents aged 12 to 19 years increased from 5.0% to 18.1%.
But the senator’s fellow committee members come from big commodity states. Corn, soybeans and wheat, all of which Michigan grows too, is often the only thing those states have. Therefore, Stabenow will meet resistance if she wants to alter the federal food regime that’s been in place since the 1950’s.
Chris McCarus spoke with her at the annual Detroit Regional Chamber Policy Conference on Mackinac Island, 2011. The Island is a close knit community where petroleum powered vehicles, except snowmobiles in winter, are banned. The background sound you might hear are hooves clopping along from horse driven carriages.