Yes. It has. It does, including money that’s for “community-supported agriculture,” known as CSAs—which are essentially free agronomists who, instead of having to work as farmers, serve in community settings like schools, hospitals, and other facilities. The biggest single federal grant is called the Rural Advancement, Opportunity, and Self-Employment Program (RAISE). It’s up for renewal every five years, and it’s supposed to make the CSAs work for Americans more.
The idea behind the RAISE program: that it would bring in skilled workers and make rural America more productive, especially small farms. The program has come under fire for years, primarily because it’s largely funded by taxpayer dollars. In 2000, it covered less than 2 percent of total USDA food stamp funding across the country. Since 2007, it’s covered about 35 percent of that money. But even that doesn’t include payments the USDA makes to the CSAs that do use it to provide for their own needs.
This may sound like a problem, but, in reality, the program mostly helps CSAs to meet those needs for free, and it’s done so with very little state interference. The program was designed in the 1990s to create a rural economy, which is a bit disingenuous, considering how much the government has always tried to make rural America’s primary sector. It’s not really the government’s job to help rural America work better, but the idea is that it’s doing so by giving CSAs more incentive to use their land in ways that will boost output and productivity.
One of the most common ways CSAs used to work was through community gardens. The USDA used to provide a cash benefit for any farmers who enrolled in community gardens as a way to bring in new customers. By giving the CSAs money for their own purchases, the state would help them make money for doing the work they didn’t get the money for anyway. Then the USDA would take a small percentage of the money from each family garden for training and other programs, and that money is used to help CSAs create more of their own.
But since the 2000s, the RAISE program has been a disaster from the start. The USDA didn’t just give CSAs these “loosened” restrictions on the money for the gardens, it gave them these “loosened” restrictions on the cash benefits for the same amount they gave to small farmers under the old system. The changes that made community gardens less of
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