Notes from the Field


Congressional District 1 Candidates responses to RIFPC’s Questionairre

Candidates running for Rhode Island’s open Congressional District 1 seat were invited to answer our short questionnaire to share their thoughts about important issues that will impact Rhode Island’s food system. 

Candidates responses:

  1. Are you aware that the latest Farm Bill omnibus is up for renewal, revision and reauthorization in 2023?

    Terri Flynn: Yes
    Stephen Casey: Yes
    Walter Berbrick: Yes

  2. Have you had the opportunity to review any of the marker bills regarding agriculture that have been submitted for this year’s Farm Bill? If so, which do you think would be best for Rhode Island and why?

    Terri Flynn: I have looked at the marker bills in the 2023 Farm Bill renewal, focusing on which ones are likely to have the biggest impact on the people of Rhode Island, and two bipartisan Acts stand out: (1) The‘Strengthening Local Processing Act’, which works to “increase the federal cost share for state facility inspections from 50 to 65% and for Cooperative Interstate Shipment (CIS) facilities from 60 to 80%, thus encouraging more states to operate state inspection programs and participate in CIS;” and, (2) The good-government ‘Farm Program Integrity Act,’ which would institute a more restrictive cap of $250,000 for a single farm subsidy and tighten requirements around being “actively engaged in farming” in order to qualify for payments. This Act is likely to save hundreds of millions of dollars in payments to absentee farm managers and prevent million-dollar payments to each of the country’s 50 largest farms. In both examples, their passage would seem to create resources and save overhead costs to smaller local farmers, like those in Rhode Island, which would provide them greater opportunity and environmental sustainability going forward.”

    Stephen Casey: According to Feeding America, more than 100,000 Rhode Islanders face hunger daily – and 26,860 are children. As a 17-year EMT/Firefighter and 10-year State Representative, I find those numbers staggering and repulsive. Congress has a responsibility to provide funding and create legislation that provides a pathway to ending hunger. We do not have to choose between being climate-responsible, supporting the economy, or feeding people – they go hand in hand. The partisan bickering over Food Stamps (Supplemental Assistance Nutrition Program) must end. The United States is still reeling from the effects of COVID, and we have a mental health crisis that is not being addressed. Congress’s own assessment of SNAP shows the majority of participants comprise “low-income working families with children, elderly and disabled people, and very low-income individuals with substantial barriers to employment.” Therefore, I support any agriculture marker bill that addresses SNAP funding.

    Walter Berbrick: Yes, I have been able to review the marker bills. I’m in favor of the Agriculture Resilience Act (ARA). The ARA’s goal of achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in U.S. agriculture by 2040 is not only ambitious but aligns well with the needs of Rhode Island. By focusing on research, soil health, farmland preservation, livestock systems, energy initiatives, and food waste reduction, the ARA addresses a range of challenges our state faces. Rhode Island’s agricultural landscape and coastal communities are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. The ARA’s emphasis on improving soil health and supporting farm viability directly benefits our local farmers. Additionally, its focus on reducing food waste and enhancing on-farm energy initiatives resonates with our state’s commitment to sustainability.

  3. While the Farm Bill covers some food and agriculture, in the past as much as 75% of the spending is dedicated to nutrition spending. Have you had the opportunity to review any of those marker bills? If so, which do you think would be best for Rhode Island and why?

    Terri Flynn: After reviewing some of the current marker bills, it seems the one that may have the most specific and direct impact on nutrition spending for the people of Rhode Island is the bipartisan ‘GusNIP Expansion Act.’ This Act appears to strengthen the popular Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program (GusNIP) in a number of ways and gives SNAP users access to more fresh fruits and vegetables through farmers’ market matching and produce prescription programs. This specifically should help the people of Rhode Island because unlike SNAP, this nutrition-based marker bill (and those like it) focus on access to healthy food and directs more dollars directly to farmers. Additionally, it is my understanding that since more than 600 farms, nutrition, and public health organizations support expanding the program, its passage will be a new positive for the people of Rhode Island, as most recent numbers show the state poverty rate sits at 11.4%.

    Stephen Casey: As I said above, food insecurity is unacceptable and partisan bickering should draw the line at anyone in the United States – a global superpower – going to bed hungry at night. I support any of the already introduced – and yet to be introduced – marker bills aimed at eliminating hunger. Also, having spent time with Open Space proponents and Rhode Island farmers to discuss the challenges of what looks to be a delayed Farm Bill, efforts that focus on building a resilient food and farm system are key to Rhode Island – and our economy and support science and climate-centric research and programs that protect land conservation. Among the bills (or marker bills) I would also support in Congress include Senator Cory Booker’s Climate Stewardship Act of 2021 which increases funding for agricultural conservation programs to incentivize increasing their output by focusing on environmentally sustainable initiatives. I lend my full support to the existing proposed bills that aim to tackle this problem head-on; I am equally supportive of any forthcoming initiatives that demonstrate a genuine dedication to eradicating hunger from our society. The United States’ position as a global superpower should be mirrored by our unwavering commitment to ensuring that every person in the United States has access to adequate and nutritious food. As an Eagle Scout and Freemason, I will work tirelessly to help us rise above political divisions and make the eradication of hunger a shared achievement that reflects our core values of compassion, empathy, and unity.

    Walter Berbrick: A greater focus on Conservation will help farmers implement natural resource conservation efforts on working lands and Title 7 “Research, Extension, and Related Matters” provides an incredible opportunity to bolster food research, education, and extension programs designed to support innovation, from federal labs and state university-affiliated research to vital training for the next generation of farmers and ranchers here in Rhode Island. 

  4. Rhode Island’s state food strategy — Relish Rhody — represents a roadmap for how our state can achieve a more vibrant, environmentally sustainable and equitable food system. How familiar are you with the strategy, and how do you plan to integrate plans to improve our food system into your platform?

    Terri Flynn: Rhode Island’s food strategy ‘Relish Rhody’, was introduced in 2017, and incorporates the following five core areas: “preserve and strengthen Rhode Island’s agriculture and fisheries industries; enhance the climate for food and beverage businesses within the state; create and sustain new market opportunities for Rhode Island food products; minimize and divert food waste; and ensure access to healthy and culturally relevant foods for all. Our food system could potentially be improved with specific marker bills such as the ‘Food Supply Chain Capacity and Resiliency Act,’ which works, “to increase the capacity of the food supply chain in the United States, and create a more resilient, diverse, and secure United States food supply chain, by codifying and expanding the Food Supply Chain Guaranteed Loan Program.  Another way to potentially improve our food system would be to support funding to promote urban farming. A recent study by Johns Hopkins University underscores benefits from urban farming, as it offers market opportunities for many in traditionally urban areas, as well as solutions to issues ranging from food security to environmental sustainability. This could provide dramatic and positive change for the people of Congressional District 1, especially in the cities of Providence, Newport, and Central Falls.

    Stephen Casey: As a State Representative, I Chaired the Health and Human Services Committee during the Covid-19 pandemic and recently served as Chairman of the Municipal Government and Housing Committee to navigate Rhode Island through one of the crises of our time- housing and homelessness, which passed an unprecedented legislative package that begins to address some of the root causes. But as a 17-year EMT/Firefighter, I see how people live and the struggles they face – most living paycheck to paycheck; some on the verge of homelessness; many going hungry. I applaud efforts like Hope & Main that provide incubator space and support to entrepreneurs in the food industry and as someone who works closely with the RI Manufacturers Association, would love to see more participation by all state agencies like the ones Relish Rhody has brought together. Recently I participated in a Fountainhead RI panel that addressed food insecurity, equity in our communities and the climate crisis. I am very proud of my track record in the General Assembly with bringing stakeholder groups together to find consensus and common ground. We need this approach in Congress where I will advocate for policy for policies that incentivize sustainable farming practices, reduce food waste, and promote equitable access to healthy food. I work with stakeholders across all sectors to collaborate with governmental and non-governmental organizations to drive systemic change -each state is driving its own discussions. The U.S. should have a more cohesive approach to food policy and raise awareness about the environmental and social impacts of food choices (much of which for me has been learned through family members dealing with health issues). It is my belief that creating a more sustainable and equitable food system requires collective effort and a long-term perspective. By taking action at various levels, from individual choices to policy changes; when elected I will work toward creating a food system that nourishes both people and the planet.

    Walter Berbrick: Relish Rhody, developed in collaboration with community partners, aims to create a better food system that benefits public health, the economy, culture, and the environment. I’ve seen firsthand the impact of community-driven initiatives, having delivered COVID-19 vaccines to Providence and Pawtucket residents and provided food and shelter to Newport residents during the 2019 gas leak crisis. I’m committed to integrating the principles of Relish Rhody into my platform. I recognize the importance of supporting local agriculture, improving food accessibility, and addressing environmental concerns related to our food system. If elected, I’ll work to ensure that Rhode Island’s food system becomes more vibrant, equitable, and sustainable for all its residents.