By State Senator Julie Lassa
Two of my proudest accomplishments as a legislator are programs I passed into law that promote the farm-to-table economy in Wisconsin. Buy Local, Buy Wisconsin and the Farm to School program do more than help school children and all Wisconsinites have access to fresher and healthier food. They also create new markets for Wisconsin farmers and food producers.
Buy Local, Buy Wisconsin provides a number of initiatives that help Wisconsin’s agriculture and food industries build our state’s local food system. These initiatives include projects to increase the market for Wisconsin food products, help farmers find local distributors and customers, support the development of farmers markets and community shares agriculture programs, expand the product lines of food producers, extend the marketing season for crops, and much more.
Farm to School helps school districts partner with local food producers to provide fresh local produce and other food products for school lunch programs. Along with providing healthier food choices for our kids, the program has an educational component that helps students learn about where their food comes from and how it’s produced. Research shows that offering healthier food choices increases student participation in school lunch programs, which not only fights problems like childhood obesity, but also helps schools meet their bottom line.
Both of these programs have been remarkably effective. Since Buy Local, Buy Wisconsin started in 2008, the state’s investment of $1.2 million has helped 2,627 producers and 2,765 Wisconsin markets, generating more than $8.4 million in new food sales and nearly $4 million in investments by producers, manufacturers and distributors. The training and technical assistance provided by the Farm to School program supported $9.1 million in local food sales to more than 1,400 Wisconsin schools. For a very small investment, these programs have had a powerful impact on growing Wisconsin’s farm-to-table agricultural economy, helping us all eat better and creating new opportunities for farmers and our food industry.
That is why it was so disappointing to learn that, due to uncertainty about the next state budget, the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) has decided to shelve both programs, effective immediately. The programs’ remaining budget is likely to be lapsed to make up for the state’s projected shortfall in revenues.
Once again, highly effective programs that provide real benefits for farmers and consumers are being cannibalized to pay for the budget deficits created by this administration. This is just one more area in which sound policies that benefit small businesses and school kids must be sacrificed to pay for wasteful tax giveaways that benefit mainly millionaires and have done nothing to improve our state’s economy. It’s a shame that programs that are helping keep Wisconsin more competitive are being jettisoned to pay for failed tax and economic policies.
I hope the farmers, consumers, and schools that have benefited from Buy Local, Buy Wisconsin and Farm to School will give their legislators an earful over the demise of these two programs, and urge lawmakers to restore them in the 2017 state budget. They represent the kind of smart, effective public policy we need to move Wisconsin forward.