Hackers Unite to Visualize a Healthy Farm Bill

Friday, December 16, 2011

Making sense of the complex farm bill is the first step in bringing much-needed change to America’s badly broken food and farm system.

Advocates for good food get fed a Washington, DC diet of constant government austerity excuses when it comes to reforming the nation’s broken food and farm system. Apparently, it doesn’t matter that better policies – such as providing better quality food in school lunches – would pay long-term dividends in the form of healthier kids and lower health care costs. When pressed to address healthy food priorities, both parties’ standard response is the predictable, “There simply is no money.”

At the Environmental Working Group, we know that’s nonsense.

We follow the money, and we dig deeply into misguided agriculture policies to expose the real story. There’s plenty of money; it’s just going to the wrong places for the wrong reasons – such as the lavish payments that go to highly profitable mega farms whether they need it or not.

Gross inequities like this are on prominent display in EWG’s farm subsidy database, but pictures and graphics often speak much louder than words. With debate on the 2012 farm bill looking to begin in as little as a month’s time, EWG participated last week in our first-ever “Farm Bill Hackathon.” The competition was organized by Food Tech Connect to develop tools and visualizations to help convey to the public the complexities and relevance of the farm bill and America’s food system. Beth Hoffman of Food Tech Connect described it this way:

Over the weekend the Farm Bill Hackathon brought together (in person and virtually) 120 designers, data scientists, developers, marketing professionals, food policy experts and USDA employees to “hack” one of the most important pieces of legislation in the U.S. – the farm bill. Over the course of 12 hours, five graphics and four tools were produced, addressing issues as diverse as support to new farmers, the effect of subsidies on global hunger and how to crowd source Meatless Mondays.

Taking first prize was a piece titled Farm Bill of Health, which is based on new EWG data showing how little federal spending supports fruit and vegetable consumption. We’d like to thank the designers, GRACE and the Center for a Livable Future for all their hard work on the Farm Bill of Health. Food Tech Connect’s “infographic of the week,” titled Cotton vs. Carrots, was also based on EWG data and analysis.

We hope these infographics will help illuminate the absurd trajectory of federal agriculture policy. With the 2012 farm bill close at hand, making sense of the complex $400 billion legislation is the first step in bringing much needed change to the badly broken food and farm system.


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