If Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand has her way, the sprawling, once-every-five-years farm bill being debated here this week will have a New York attitude.
Among her ideas: more fresh produce in places like the Bronx, a safety net for farms growing New York-centric products like apples and even a definition for a burgeoning Brooklyn backyard product, honey.
The efforts are part of a broader push by Ms. Gillibrand, a Democrat, to shift American food and agricultural policy using her position as the first New Yorker in four decades on the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry. The committee shapes the farm bill and has jurisdiction on issues ranging from futures markets to food stamps. Most of its members are from the Midwest and South, leading to a focus on protecting large farms that grow commodity crops such as corn, wheat, rice and soybeans.
“Most people don’t look at New York and realize that it’s an agricultural state,” Ms. Gillibrand said in an interview. “We have a fundamental interest in what does agricultural policy say and how is it shaped.”
Ms. Gillibrand’s agenda is more complex than that of many of her agriculture committee colleagues. She represents a state with lots of agriculture and a large dairy industry, but no dominant crop. Meanwhile, New York has more people relying on food stamps than every state except three.
Ms. Gillibrand got her start in agriculture issues when she served in the House of Representatives, where she represented a largely rural upstate district. She was appointed to fill Hillary Clinton’s seat in 2009 when the former first lady became secretary of state. She easily won the race to fill out the rest of Mrs. Clinton’s term in 2010 and is heavily favored in this year’s election, which would give her a full six-year term.
She also has a personal interest in food, which she often discusses in the context of taking care of her two young sons, Henry and Theo. During a recent interview in her Capitol Hill office, Ms. Gillibrand said she does her family’s grocery shopping and tries to get her boys to eat healthier by awarding them points for eating fruits and vegetables. “I’m a mom,” she said. “And I worry about my kids getting the kinds of foods that will help them grow.”