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November 17, 2011

Web App Helps Visualize Farm Bill Spending

The Center for a Livable Future at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health has launched the Farm Bill Budget Visualizer, an innovative web-based application that allows visual analysis of Farm Bill spending since the 2008 Farm Bill. As debate surrounding the 2012 Farm Bill becomes more urgent, the Budget Visualizer facilitates understanding of how the provisions and budgets within the farm bill tie into the nation’s public health, environmental sustainability, and other priority concerns.

Every four or five years, the federal Farm Bill specifies policies that have profound positive and negative impacts on public health from numerous angles—through food assistance and nutrition education, efforts to improve access to fruits and vegetables, commodity programs that indirectly impact environmental quality, and conservation programs that impact soil and water quality, for example.

The Budget Visualizer uses “treemap” technology, a method of displaying spending data as nested rectangles, which allows users to “see” the proportion of federal funding received by Farm Bill programs. The application, developed in partnership with the Hive Group, is intended as an educational aid for the general public, advocacy groups, and policymakers who wish to better understand the relationships among public health and other priorities, and federal spending in the Farm Bill.

With the application, users may filter by and view specific expenditure categories such as public health, fruit and vegetable access, sustainable agriculture, commodity grain production, or industrial food animal production. Users may also view data regarding actual and estimated spending in the years 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012. The Visualizer and accompanying materials are available at http://www.jhsph.edu/clf/programs/visualizer/.

Using data uncovered by researchers at the Center for a Livable Future, the Visualizer ties together budgetary information otherwise only available from scattered sources, enabling new analyses. Roni Neff, PhD, CLF’s research and policy director, says, “Transparency is a key theme and objective of our work; we’ve not only provided our audiences with access to details of the Farm Bill budget, but also provided a new way to understand this complex piece of legislation.”

The Visualizer was inspired by food system advocate, Marjorie Roswell, who created a prototype in the lead-up to the 2008 farm bill.

Media contact for Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future: Chris Stevens at 410-502-2317 or dstevens@jhsph.edu.

Media contact for Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health: Natalie Wood-Wright at 410-614-6029 or nwoodwri@jhsph.edu.