Hobby farmers, take heed: Federal policy could dramatically affect small-scale farming operations—and the food that ends up on your plate.

When you’re harvesting the pumpkin patch, Capitol Hill probably feels light-years away. While many hobby and small-scale farmers chose a rural lifestyle because they wanted to simplify and return to the basics of raising their own food, U.S. agriculture policy is closer and more important to all of us than we often realize.

Granted, the Food, Conservation and Energy Act—better known as the Farm Bill—is complicated and controversial. This large federal-legislation package sets the general direction for the nation’s food and farming policy. Enacted about every five years, the current legislation (which passed in 2008 and totaled $289 billion) is set to expire in 2012. The next Farm Bill is quickly making its way through the House and Senate Agriculture Committees.