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Articles by Steph Larsen

Steph Larsen lives in Lyons, Nebraska, where she and her partner are "part-time farmers," growing food for themselves and their community. Steph holds a master's degree in geography from her home state of Wisconsin and serves on the board of the Women, Food and Agriculture Network.

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  • Why I ditched D.C. and moved to rural Nebraska

    “You’re moving where?! Why?!” Steph Larsen on the road in North and South Dakota Photo: ruralaffairs. This response was by far the most common among acquaintances when I told them excitedly that I was leaving my Washington, D.C. job directing the policy program at Community Food Security Coalition to be an organizer in rural Nebraska […]

  • Community food projects empowering low-income residents

    Food is turning up everywhere, and I don't mean on your plate. For the past year, journalists and authors have stuck on the topic like peanut butter to the roof of your mouth, and what's especially notable is the focus on policy solutions and the Farm Bill. Articles are so numerous that as I started to compile them, I realized that I could spend a whole post just linking to them (find a few here).

    As I contemplate the impact of our farm and food policy on the environment, how to reduce food miles, and the impact of our diet on global warming, I am also aware that local food is often perceived as elitist. Healthy and local food is often more expensive because farmers are taking care of their workers and the land, but it still needs to be accessible to everyone, both in regards to price and where consumers can buy healthy local food. One way that the Farm Bill can impact the ability of all people to eat locally is to fund programs that help connect low-income consumers to farmers, or in some cases to the land itself.

  • How legislators can help the rural

    farmers are aging

    In a recent trip through the small town of Walthill, Nebraska, the phrase "rural revitalization" took on a whole new meaning. In this case, it was the lack of any kind of prosperity that made it obvious to me why rural communities are in need of revitalization. Main Street looked painfully deserted, with two recent arsons adding fresh scars to the once-active storefronts. As we drove around the residential area, most houses looked to be in some state of disrepair -- so much so that it was difficult to really tell which were homes and which had already been abandoned. If ever there was a town that needed some life breathed back into it, this was it.

  • Threatening local control in our food system

    When the Democrats took control of Congress, a colleague of mine looked at me with a sigh of relief and said, "Isn't it great that we won't have to be playing defense against bad policy anymore?" If only that first impression were the case.

    In a democracy, we shouldn't have to be constantly vigilant for bad legislative ideas that could hurt the public good. Our legislators are supposed to be the filter that guards against schemes that would strip rights and take choices away from people. Unfortunately, it seems to be the same politics, with the same money trails.

    JMG's post yesterday touches on a topic I have been thinking a lot about, and I want to address it in more detail.

    On the House Agriculture Committee website, summaries of all of the parts of the legislation being offered are posted. Under the Subcommittee on Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry there is a Title I Section-by-Section analysis. Section 123 is particularly problematic:

    * Prevents a State or locality from prohibiting an article the Secretary of Agriculture has inspected and passed, or an article the Secretary has determined to be of nonregulated status.

    What does this mean? Also known as "preemption language," this broad statement basically says that if the USDA says something is safe, a state or local government is not allowed to regulate it. For example, there have been a number of counties around the country that have banned genetically modified organisms from being produced within their borders. This preemption-style language, if it's passed in the Farm Bill, would void those local laws.