Kitchen Garden

Breaking the Back of Local Food Farmers

Woman Writing Letter

What could break the back of the local food system? Lack of affordable individual health insurance policies.

Finding and funding health insurance is a key pivot point for local food farmers when considering remaining in business. If they can’t afford health insurance, they may reconsider operations, take a job off the farm to get coverage, or even give up farming altogether. It’s that important.

Politicizing health care raised the level of uncertainty in a profession where uncertainty — about crops, weather, pests and customers — is de rigueur. Failure of our government to adequately address health care for everyone may be one too many burdens for small farm operators to bear.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act has done a lot of good. Created in a political environment hostile to change, Democrats held hundreds of hours of public hearings and adopted more than 160 amendments proposed by Republicans, according to Minnesota Senator Al Franken. They held meetings with stake holders from every aspect of the country’s health care system to gain perspectives and buy in. Despite the law’s flaws, millions more people gained health insurance coverage, including farmers. The farmers I know have either been covered by the ACA or considered it as an option.

The contrast between Democratic creation of the law and the Republican efforts to repeal and replace it couldn’t be more stark. Crafted in secrecy, Senate Republicans eschewed public discussion that was the hallmark of the Democratic process while writing their new law. From whom are they taking counsel? We suspect but simply don’t know.

What we do know is small farm operators require health care and if they can’t afford an individual health insurance policy it may break their will. The uncertainty created in Washington, D.C. about health care has not been good for them. It hasn’t been good for any of us who believe sustaining a strong local food system is important.