Farmers from Jefferson County recently argued that financial assistance from the federal government should not be viewed as a “handout.”

They provide an essential good for all of us — food — and need to maintain their operations. They also produce a trickle-down effect to local businesses.

“The discussion has begun as farmers across the country begin applying for a second round of assistance from the U.S. Department of Agriculture as part of its Coronavirus Food Assistance Program. The first round, which paid farmers for their production of food in the months of January, February and March, went smoothly and helped make up for dwindling monthly paychecks. For example, if a 70-cow dairy farm produced 150,000 pounds of milk in January, it would be paid $1.20 for every 100 pounds, resulting in a $1,800 payment for that month,” according to a story published Sept. 23 in the Watertown Daily Times. “The second round of payments from the USDA, which has $14 billion to spend on them, will be based on production from April through August, then a projected production for the months of September, October, November and December — that way payments are issued sooner. They will likely begin in early October.”

We agree with the farmers that they are a vital part of our communities. The food they provide sustains us all, and we don’t know where we’d be with them.

The novel coronavirus pandemic has certainly hurt farmers just as it has thwarted the work of many other enterprises. It’s good that the federal government has been able to help farmers keep their operations going.

It’s incumbent upon all of us to do what we can to help improve food markets so that farmers can enhance their financial situation. This could reduce the need farmers have on money assistance from the federal government, which would benefit everyone.

“Aside from our national admiration of small family farmers, there are solid environmental and economic reasons for supporting them. They have a vested interest in the community and the environmental health of their family and neighbors, not to mention the fact that they put their income back into the local economy,” according to an Oct. 12, 2018, article on the website for Sustainable America. “But big farm or small farm, the more we can buy from the farmer next door rather than the farmer across the country, the less shipping is done in the process. The more we limit shipping, the less fuel we use, and the less our country is dependent on limited oil resources. In a world of rising fuel and food costs, not to mention food waste, it makes sense to focus our attention and buying power on the farmers in or near our own communities.”

The organization recommends six measures people can take to help local farmers: Shop at a farmers market or purchase a community-supported agriculture share; volunteer at a farmers market; eat seasonal foods; get to know local farmers and thank then when buying food at the farm stand, farmers market or CSA; ask grocery store managers to supply foods from local farms; and help establish relationships between local farmers and schools.

Farmers markets are just about finished for the season, so this idea will need to wait until next year. But the others are ripe for picking and could be implemented now to benefit farmers and our communities.

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