local and regional food systems, Farm Bill, food regulaton, food policy

Document Type



More diverse and value-driven public engagement has transformed the American food system. This engagement has changed the behavior of industries, consumers, policymakers, and communities. At the heart of this change is the drive among countless individuals and organizations to promote a wider variety of food choices and shape the food system in harmony with their values. Despite the local and sovereign nature of this engagement, federal food and agricultural policies have contributed substantially to this transformation of the American food system. In isolation, many of these policies support discrete programs and individuals. In the aggregate, these policies strengthen different facets of their local food systems. Underlying these changes, however, is the unifying opportunity for democracy. With federal support of local food systems now well identified, it is time to begin advancing policies more explicitly democratic. To do this, this Article encourages Congress to incorporate into future Farm Bills various programs and policies rooted in deliberative democracy. Drawing from the literature on federal agricultural policy and deliberative democracy, this Article provides decision-makers with an inclusive and adaptable rule-making process that incorporates the diverse perspectives continually informing the choices we make in our food system. Specifically, this Article demonstrates how such policies are both historically and normatively appropriate. Not only do democratic and participatory theories account for input from diverse stakeholders, but as understood in light of federal policies throughout the twentieth century providing greater, value-driven democratic choice in food systems, they add legitimacy, and thus trust and reliability, to the rulemaking process. To illustrate this argument, this Article advances concrete proposals that Congress and the USDA can adopt in future Farm Bills. These proposals will improve representation in the rule-making process by creating newly accessible pathways. These proposals include expanding efforts to attract traditionally underserved farmers and ranchers to the food and agriculture industries, improving representation on agency boards and appointments, strengthening connections among local, regional, and federal authorities, and increasing accountability in specific federal programs. Eschewing any a priori outcome preferences, these proposals can gain political acceptance through their reliance on individual empowerment, public participation, and more local and communicative food decision-making.