Rep. Kathy Manning greets a group of students from the Dept. of Natural Resources and Environmental Design at the Student Farm, part of her first farm tour. The students shared topics that they consider priorities for the 2023 Farm Bill.

When U.S. Rep. Kathy Manning wanted a deeper understanding of the current issues surrounding agriculture and food access in her Piedmont, N.C. district, she knew where to come: the College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences.

During her visit this month, Manning took a tour of the University Farm; heard about the college’s research into soil science, climate-smart practices and agricultural technology; and spoke with students and community members about their needs and concerns.

“I came today because we have a Farm Bill coming up in Congress, and I wanted to meet with the center of agricultural research in my district and learn about the great work that’s being done,” Manning said. “I wanted to approach the Farm Bill with a lot of knowledge. I thought the best place to gain that knowledge was right here at North Carolina A&T.”

The Farm Bill of 2023 is a comprehensive, multi-year law that will govern an array of agricultural programs, from nutrition assistance to commodity crop production to trade regulations. The 2018 Farm Bill, for example, allowed researchers, including those at A&T, to study hemp’s viability as a niche crop for farmers.

Farm bills have traditionally focused on commodity support for a handful of staple crops, such as corn, soybeans, wheat, rice and dairy. The once-in-five-year bills have become more expansive since 1973, when national nutrition programs were first included. Prominent additions since then have included bioenergy, horticulture and conservation programs, research funding and rural development.

Key components of the Farm Bill of 2023 are projected to be nutrition assistance programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or food stamps; broadband internet access for rural areas; climate and climate change; and funding for agricultural research.

Hearings on the Farm Bill will continue throughout the early part of this year.

“The Farm Bill has so many things that will be important to this (sixth Congressional) district,” Manning said. “First, how will we create opportunities for better farming, and how will we make sure those opportunities are available to small-scale and limited-resource farmers? The Farm Bill also addresses SNAP benefits, and they are critically important to people across my district.”

“This bill is very important to ‘get right’ because it touches the lives of every American family more times a day than almost any other piece of legislation,” said Gregory Goins, Ph.D., interim associate dean for research. “We applaud Congresswoman Manning for coming to learn about the issues and the solutions we’re working to provide.”

Manning listened as Terrence Thomas, Ph.D. described his progress in developing an urban garden in the area around Phillips Avenue in Greensboro, and about the climate change-mitigating strategies that soil scientists Arnab Bhowmik, Ph.D. and Biswanath Dari, Ph.D. are working on as part of a $2.8 billion USDA grant. A large group of students greeted her at the Student Farm and shared what they saw as priorities for the Farm Bill that the congresswoman should consider.

“They offered to write all their ideas up for me,” Manning said. “I’m really looking forward to receiving that letter because they had a lot of great ideas.”

Up the hill at the Community Garden, David Jackson, a member of St. James’s Baptist Church in Greensboro, manages the church’s garden at the farm. He spoke with the congresswoman about the need for community gardens at the farm and on campus.

“They provide a safe place for people to grow food and learn about healthy food and gardening while giving back to their communities by donating the produce,” he said.

The farm visit was Manning’s first, but the congresswoman said that it will not be her last.

“What I learned today will help me enormously as we move forward with our work on the Farm Bill,” she said. “I learned about the incredible research that’s being done here at the university. I learned about the student garden, and I met with a group of students who are so enthusiastic to be involved with agriculture. I learned about the importance of developing new techniques to use in agriculture to make it sustainable, to address food insecurity, and to create new techniques that are better for the environment going forward.”