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Florida Organic Growers receives Farmers Market SNAP Support Grant

Florida Organic Growers (FOG) has been awarded a Farmers Market SNAP Support Grant (FMSSG) to increase the capacity of their Fresh Access Bucks farmers markets to accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, formerly known as food stamps.

Fresh Access Bucks (FAB) makes fresh, local produce more affordable and accessible to low income families while supporting Florida’s farmers and enhancing our local economies. It does so by increasing the purchasing power of SNAP participants by providing a one-to-one match for Florida grown fruits and vegetables. A SNAP cardholder who spends $10 of their SNAP benefits at a participating market receives an additional $10 to purchase fresh, local produce.

The grant funding will increase the capacity of 20 Fresh Access Bucks partners managing the participation of SNAP at 29 farmers markets.

It does so by providing each partner with funding to hire part-time staff to manage SNAP activities for the markets. By providing the partners with funding for part-time staff over two years, Florida Organic Growers anticipates greater SNAP redemption rates at these 29 markets through increased outreach and visibility of the program.

In addition to supporting the establishment, management and promotion of SNAP/Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) services at those markets, FMSS grant funds will also expand Florida Organics Growers’  technical support to farmers and farmers markets wishing to accept SNAP.

“We are thrilled to be able to utilize this grant at 29 of our Fresh Access Bucks markets across the state,” said Fresh Access Bucks Manager Carmen Franz. “To increase the use of SNAP benefits at farmers markets for the purchase of fresh, local, healthy produce is a win-win for both SNAP recipients and our state’s farmers.”

FAB Program

This project benefits more than 5,000 SNAP recipients throughout Florida and is expected to increase farmer revenue by $580,000 over two years by expanding the ability of these partners to implement SNAP activities, hiring a part-time Fresh Access Bucks assistant to expand technical support to farmers and farmers markets wishing to accept SNAP and increase Florida Organics Growers’ capacity to manage the Fresh Access Bucks incentive network statewide.

For more information on Fresh Access Bucks and the participating markets around the state, please visit the Florida Organic Growers website.

FOG kicks off growing season by providing Fresh Access Bucks to communities around Florida

Program expands access to healthy food for low-income families

Florida Organic Growers is kicking off the growing season by partnering with farmers markets around the state to provide Fresh Access Bucks, a program that expands access to healthy food for low-income families.

Currently, there are 23 farmers markets participating in the program.

Fresh Access Bucks makes fresh, local produce more affordable and accessible to low income families while supporting Florida’s farmers and enhancing our local economies. It does so by increasing the purchasing power of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participants by providing a one-to-one match for Florida grown fruits and vegetables. A SNAP cardholder who spends $10 of their SNAP benefits at a participating market receives an additional $10 to purchase fresh, local produce.

FAB Program

This past April, FOG, the organization that created that program, was awarded the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) Grant to continue providing FAB to communities in Florida. Through the grant, FAB will serve 50 markets over a 3-year period located in at least 21 counties throughout Florida. FOG works in partnership with markets in low-income communities, supportive community organizations, private businesses, and state and local government agencies to implement this program.

Since the program’s inception in 2013, more than $200,000 was generated in revenue for Florida grown fruits and vegetables, more than 150 Florida farmers participated and expanded to more than 3,000 new market shoppers. This project will benefit more than 18,000 SNAP recipients throughout Florida and will increase farmer revenue by $2.1 million.

“Families eat more fruits and vegetables when they’re accessible and affordable, and simply taste better than food shipped long distances,” said Fresh Access Bucks Manager Carmen Franz. “Shopping at farmers markets also strengthens the local economy as it keeps more money circulating in the community, making it more resilient in economic downturns.”

For more information about the program and participating markets, please visit the Fresh Access Bucks website.

Taste the Fairness in North Central Florida’s Watermelons

It is as hot as it gets in North Central Florida.

While most farmers are done with their season, their fields planted with cover crops, and most farmworkers have gone north for the summer farm season, Jordan Brown is picking watermelon alongside his workers.

It is no easy task getting them to the cooler and ready for grocery store shelves and CSA boxes, each watermelon ranging from 15 to 17 pounds. But at the end of the picking row, refreshing watermelon awaits and everyone can enjoy the fruits of their labor together – farmer and farmworker side-by-side.

FJC_Farm_1footby1foot (2)What is more meaningful to Farmer Brown is knowing that everyone working in the field is treated with respect and paid a living wage. Something that is rare in most American fields where deplorable working conditions continue and family farmers, trying to uphold principles of stewardship for land and people, are experiencing the increasing consolidation of power and market share in the hands of a few corporate food businesses. To Brown, the purpose of farming sustainably was not only to ensure that environmental stewardship is met, but that human decency is upheld to the highest degree.

Jordan Brown has been farming for eight years on his 25-acre farmland in Bell. His farm, The Family Garden, has staked their commitment to social justice by meeting the gold standards for domestic fair trade through Food Justice Certification (FJC).

Jordan’s produce is 100% Organic and 100% Food Justice Certified through third party verification programs.

When purchasing FJC products you can support a healthy food system that includes:

  • Rigorous standards for respectful treatment of farm employees
  • Fair pricing for farmers
  • Fair and equitable contracts for farmers and buyers
  • Clear conflict resolution policies for all throughout the food chain
  • A ban on full-time child labor together with full protection for children on farms
  • Living wages for employees
  • Safe working conditions
  • Commitment to continual improvement
  • Environmental stewardship through organic certification

Visit Ward’s Supermarket or Citizens Co-op in Gainesville to buy The Family Garden watermelons this season!

The Family Garden also sells to Global Organics who distribute fresh produce to the greater southeast region, Fresh 24 Market in Orlando, Homegrown Organics serving Gainesville and Ocala areas and Local Fare Farm Bag North serving the greater Jacksonville area.

You can also support fairness in the food system by visiting your local restaurants and requesting dishes made with Food Justice Certified ingredients! In Gainesville, that includes: The Top and Civilization restaurants.

The Agricultural Justice Project aims to bridge the gap between environmental stewardship of the land to include stewardship of the people who work the land and bring the food to our tables.

Food Justice Certified is unique as it is the only third party verification program to cover U.S. farmworkers and farmers, as well as other food system workers working in distribution centers, grocers, manufacturing – all links of the supply chain from farm to table. Standards and the verification process for the Food Justice Certified label were stakeholder developed and included farmers and farmworker representatives in a consensus-style governance structure. It is also uniquely a collaborative program that recognizes that improving conditions for farmworkers in the U.S. needs to include improving the terms farmers receive in selling goods.

For further information about the Agricultural Justice Project or Food Justice Certification, visit www.agriculturaljusticeproject.org.

Farmer Cooperation Growing in North Central Florida

By: Mary Hathaway, Farmer Education Coordinator

The first thing anyone will tell you about cooperatives is that forming a cooperative is different from forming any other business entity.

To start up, a group of potential members must agree on a common need and a strategy on how to meet that need. Growers face unique challenges in every state, and while Florida’s farmers boast fresh produce production second only to California, the “Fresh from Florida” label is better recognized nationally and internationally than on the Florida dinner table.

Responding to interest and demand from local farmers to increase the local consumption of Florida produce, Florida Organic Growers (FOG) engaged local partners in applying for the USDA AMS – Local Food Promotion Program (LFPP) planning grant. This grant would allow FOG to help facilitate the conversation and assist with any technical planning in concert with state and regional partners, including SSAWG, RAFI, FDACS, Healthy Jacksonville, SBDC, Local Roots Distribution and farmers in the North Central Florida area.

In October, the LFPP grant was awarded and, in January 2015, three North Central Florida farmers interested in the Cooperative attended the Southern SAWG conference and were able to meet with managers of cooperatives and food networks: Robin Robbins of Virginia and Frank Taylor of Mississippi, respectively. In addition to the informative workshops at the conference, these meetings brought out the different logistic, labor and infrastructure issues that the leaders of the cooperative will need to organize, as well as what capacities should be understood before formulating a business structure.

In the following months, FOG has worked with growers to organize meetings in Jacksonville, Live Oak, and Gainesville to focus on the strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities for farmers and Jacksonville co-op meetingarea food system. As the meetings progressed, participants tried to figure out what the most efficient way to organize area farmers, and the main ways that a cooperative could benefit all involved. Growers agreed that marketing and sales, including increasing the communication between farmers, buyers, and resource providers, collective purchasing, equipment sharing, education, and training, were some of the great possibilities that, by working together, may be able to increase the capacity of participating growers, while also benefiting their community.

While the focus is on the farmer, we know that we can’t operate in a vacuum, so information and feedback was also solicited from area purchasers and distributors. Overall, buyers want local food, but face many obstacles in consistently ordering from their local growers. Some of their issues were the lack of variety, inconsistency in availability, lack of certifications or insurance, price points and communication. Cognizant of all these issues, the meeting groups moved forward with what would help them increase their sales and resources, with the reality of their markets.

Work has continued throughout the region with the help of many partners, and much thought from farmers and local distributors. While the formation of the cooperative is still nascent, communication amongst producers has increased through face to face meetings, the formulation of the North Central Florida Farmer Cooperative group and the North East Florida Farmer Cooperative group on Facebook has allowed for quick and easy updates and communication on prices, collective buying needs, and event postings.

In May, growers met together with RAFI, FOG and Matson consulting to discuss the relative health of their own operations before delving into a collective business. Additionally the group discussed the resources that may currently be available to them both federally and within the state of Florida. Together, they wanted to make sure there was a possibility of sharing market prices, creating a local logo for their clean, local produce, and eventually building their capacity to sell to their community. The group decided they would research what it would take to become a 501c5 (Agricultural Organization), and what local universities or design centers would be interested in helping them create a logo. Plans for a following meeting left the attendees excited about the possibilities and motivated that they had action items to complete for upcoming meetings. While the business plan is yet to be written, the movement towards a more robust local food system starts in small steps like these!

To learn more and get connected, please contact Mary@foginfo.org.

Join our Facebook groups:

North East Florida Farmer Cooperative or North Central Florida Farmer Cooperative!

Celebrating Earth Day … one local farmer at at time.

This Earth Day, Wednesday April 22, we are celebrating and honoring local organic farmers!

Buying from your local farmer or farmers market supports local economies by keeping money in the community. Since your food doesn’t travel many miles to reach your plate, it has better flavor, more nutrients and a longer shelf life, while saving on gas emissions that reduce your carbon footprint.

Local farms are also are more readily able to adopt environmentally friendly practices including water conservation efforts, enriching the soil with cover crops, organic pest management and creating border areas for wildlife.

Worden Farm in Punta Gorda planted native species and are continuing to remove invasive species from the farm. They also planted numerous trees to provide wind breaks in order to prevent crop damage.

Worden Farm

 

We Challenge YOU! 

This Earth Day, April 22, we are challenging YOU to show your local farmer appreciation and show us how you eat your
Florida grown fruits and vegetables!

Tag us or tweet us and use the hashtags #Celebratethebounty and #Earthday!

Let’s show our support!

 

Join FOG as a member and help us further

the organic food and farm movement!

Join us in planning the formation of a North Central Florida Farmer’s Cooperative!

Florida Organic Growers is working with the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (SSAWG) and Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI) to help support the formation of Agricultural Cooperatives in the North Central Florida!

SSAWG+logo+3-color-smallThree meetings were held in the past weeks in Live Oak, Jacksonville, and Gainesville. We appreciate the input and insights of all those who were able to attend. For any of you who missed it, we have put together a summary of the discussions and action items for our coming meetings. RAFI

As you probably know, cooperatives can take many forms, and there is a rich history of farmer’s cooperatives; farmers working together to solve production, marketing, material or sales needs. The basic concept of these planning meetings is to create a common goal, mission, and structure with a core group of growers that are able and willing to come together and create an organization. In order to do this, these first series of meetings focused on the collective needs of area farmers. The top functions desired for a cooperative were:

  • Marketing and Sales, including increasing the communication between farmer and buyer, farmer and resource providers, and farmer to farmer.
  • Collective Purchasing
  • Equipment Sharing and/or Labor Sharing
  • Education, Training, and Capacity Building

In addition to basic services the cooperative may provide, there was consensus given that cooperatives should function within their locality.

For example, Gainesville would organize a cooperative, as would Jacksonville, with the potential for networking and communication between the two groups.  As well, the meetings did focus on beginning the cooperative with fresh produce, before moving on to distributing animal products or value added products.

In the next series of meetings we will focus on creating a mission statement and selecting folks that will be willing to continue this project as a planning committee. We will be sharing feedback from buyer surveys distributed and other grant initiatives that may help continue with the funding of this project. Any additional input is always welcome, and we hope to keep the planning meetings and process as transparent as possible.

Please join us at one of our upcoming meetings if you would like to participate!

Gainesville:

Alachua County Public Library Headquarters

401 East University Avenue

Monday, April 20th 6:30 – 7:45 p.m.


Live Oak:

Small Business Development Center of North Central Florida

212 N Ohio Ave. 32064

Tuesday, April 21st 6 – 7:15 p.m.


Jacksonville:

Duval County Extension Office

1010 N McDuff Ave, 32254

Tuesday, April 28th 6 -7:15 p.m.

We hope to see you there! If you have any questions please contact Mary Hathaway at Mary@foginfo.org or at 904-419-3609 for more information.

Composting Goes Pedal-Powered in Florida and Beyond

Guest Column by Chris Cano, Gainesville Compost 

grentzer01_cropIn Gainesville, Chris Cano and Steven Kanner of Gainesville Compost have pioneered a model of community-based composting that uses bicycles and trailers to divert food waste from local restaurants and residents toward a distributed network of urban farms, restaurants and organizational partners which provide space for composting.

A portion of the soil amendments produced are shared with community partners such as FOG’s own Porters Community Farm and Downtown Farmers Garden, and the rest is sold as a product, called Soil Food, to local gardeners via retail outlets, at restaurants, and online. steel-compost-cages

The venture, begun in 2011, is a model of social entrepreneurship that has inspired people across the country to begin similar programs that divert waste and build urban soils. Cano and Kanner manufacture their own bicycle trailers, known as Kanner Karts, and have shipped them to other cities including Orlando, Savannah, Traverse City (MI), New York City, and Los Angeles for use in similar urban composting and agriculture initiatives.

You can learn more about bicycle-powered community composting on their website, at www.bikecompost.com as well as follow on Facebook!

Thank you for your commitment

Letter from Florida Organic Growers Executive Director Marty Mesh

As 2014 comes to a close, I want to reflect on this year’s accomplishments while looking forward to our exciting new plans for 2015.

First, we want to thank our members for their support as they have been vital to the success of our programs and services throughout the state.

If you aren’t already, we would love to have you join us as a member.

A few highlights from 2014 include:

  • Our Fresh Access Bucks program is active at 20 farmers markets across the state enabling SNAP participants to purchase double their food dollars for Florida grown fruits and vegetables. Learn more about the participating farmers markets!
  • Since its inception, Porters Community Farm in Gainesville harvested 2,018 pounds of fresh produce for charity and logged more than 2,500 volunteer hours.
  • Our GIFT Gardens program built raised bed vegetable gardens at 21 sites for low-income families and the institutions that support them in the last six months.
  • Our EBT program continues to increase access to healthy foods for by accepting food stamps at two local farmers markets in Alachua County.  SNAP transaction
  • We hosted four of farmer workshops around the state that were attended by more than 40 people. The goals of the workshops were to increase knowledge of sustainable growing practices and to train beginning farmers.
  • We have worked to ensure the voices of small farmers were heard as new federal food safety regulations were developed with the passing of the 2014 Farm Bill and the reauthorization of the Food Safety Modernization Act.
  • We partnered with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to facilitate the Organic Certification Cost Share program.
  • We worked with national and state agencies and organizations such as the Department of Health’s Healthiest Weight Initiative, Florida’s Chronic Disease Prevention Coalition, the Department of Agriculture’s Food, Nutrition and Wellness Division, the Farmers Market Coalition, Wholesome Wave and the University of Florida IFAS Extension offices to further organic farming and increase access to local food within the state.
  • We teamed up with Georgia Organics to host the 17th Annual Georgia Organics Conference Green Acres: Saving the Planet One Bite at a Time, one of the largest sustainable agriculture expos in the South in February on Jekyll Island, Georgia. Nearly 1,000 attended the event.

IMG_4876

  • In partnership with Discover You Can: Learn, Make, ShareTM, we held six food preservation demonstrations at two farmers markets in Alachua County in June – the Union Street Farmers Market and the Alachua County Farmers Market.
  • We partnered with three other organizations to host the First Annual Florida Local Food Summit at the East End Market in Orlando in October. More than 150 of our state’s farmers, foodpreneurs, consumers and policy makers attended the event.

A few exciting plans for 2015:

  • FOG, along with other peer organizations, will host the Florida Local Food Summit. Date, time and location to be determined. Stay tuned!
  • Porters Community Farm is excited to launch a weekly after school program in coordination with the Porters Community Center. Porters will be an outdoor, living laboratory for students to learn about science through gardening and urban farming.1375049_468220446624739_143371675_n
  • Thanks to support from the City of Gainesville’s Community Development Block Grant, Porters will also launch a youth crew program and hire three neighborhood youth to work at the farm as paid interns in the spring.
  • We will be hosting on-farm workshops throughout the state that will cover sustainable crop production methods such as soil fertility, disease and weed management, irrigation, cover cropping, transitioning from conventional to organic practices, marketing, agricultural policy issues, and organic certification.
  • We will continue the Downtown Farmers Garden workshops and community work days. Spring workshops will be officially posted by February 2015 on our website, through the Organic Beet and on the Downtown Farmers Garden Facebook page.
  • Our Fresh Access Bucks program will expand to at least 30 farmers markets in 2015 improving food access for Florida’s underserved communities and providing added revenue to our state’s farmers.

We will continue to strengthen our relationships with state agencies and allied nonprofits to work collaboratively to provide access to healthy, local food for all.

We need you to join us in this good food movement.

Join today or give a gift membership!

Happy Holidays to you and yours.

For our future,

Marty Mesh
Executive Director

Farmer Friday: Alachua County Farmers Market EBT Program

We are excited to highlight the Alachua County Farmers Market EBT Program for today’s Farmer Friday!

Each Friday in November and December, we are excited to bring you stories of what Florida Organic Growers (FOG) has accomplished in the organic and farming industry and how its impacted farmers, consumers and the community while spotlighting farmers in Florida who have benefitted from our work.

We encourage you to join us as a member to allow us to continue this invaluable work.

Alachua County Farmers Market EBT Program

Since 2011, Florida Organic Growers has operated the Alachua County Farmers Market EBT program, which enables and encourages SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly food stamps) recipients to shop at two of our local farmers markets – the Alachua County Farmers Market and the Union Street Farmers Market.

Our EBT program has made fresh, healthy, local produce available to Alachua County residents in need and for many who have not had access otherwise.

Between 2011 and today, the program has:

  • Completed 5,885 federal nutrition benefit transactions
  • $132,963 in revenue generated by Fresh Access Bucks and federal benefits on Florida-grown fruits and vegetables
  • 2 farmers markets participating with SNAP
  • More than 70 participating farmers

John Bitter
John Bitter and Amy Van Scoik, founders and owners of Frog Song Organics, a 28-acre certified organic production farm located in Hawthorne, have benefited greatly from the EBT program.

“The EBT program is a huge benefit to our business and to other local growers,” said Amy.

“We believe that healthy food should be accessible to anyone who wants to eat it. FOG’s EBT program has truly worked to help build a successful farmers market and to support local growers by widening the base of potential shoppers. The EBT program purchases represent a significant part of our business in Alachua County, with over $12,706 in tokens (of all types) accepted in 2014.”

To find out more about our EBT program, please check out this great video.

Part of FOG’s mission is to advocate for the expansion of local food access and increase business for family scale farmers.

Please join us as we continue our fight to provide healthy food access for all and for this next generation of family scale farmers and become a FOG member today!

Farmer Friday: Conservation

We are excited for Farmer Friday today!

Each Friday in November and December, we are excited to bring you stories of what Florida Organic Growers (FOG) has accomplished in the organic and farming industry and how its impacted farmers, consumers and the community while spotlighting farmers in Florida who have benefitted from our work.

We encourage you to join us as a member to allow us to continue this invaluable work.

Conservation and Organic Farming

FOG has played an active role in preserving Florida through conservation efforts.

Since 2008, FOG has been involved with Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), both nationally and statewide, and was instrumental in helping them recognize organic farming in regard to conservation. Organic production systems exemplify agricultural conservation practices and this is a natural partnership.

The NRCS is a branch of the USDA that was established in 1935 to help insure that water and soil was adequately conserved on farm, grazing and forest lands. It is FOG’s belief there are no better stewards of the land then organic farmers but because of years of tailoring of programs for conventional farms many organic farms weren’t able to access many of the resources and programs of NRCS. FOG worked with National Center for Appropriate Technology to help insure that organic farms would be recognized and eligible for NRCS programs.

Conservation is the heart of Worden Farm, an 85-acre Certified Organic family vegetable farm located in Punta Gorda.

Worden Farm6

The farm is part of the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), a voluntary program that provides financial and technical assistance to agricultural producers to help plan and implement conservation practices that address natural resource concerns and for opportunities to improve soil, water, plant, animal, air and related resources on agricultural land and non-industrial private forestland.

Chris and Eva WordenIn 2005, Chris and Eva Worden, owners of Worden Farm, installed a state-of-the-art micro irrigation system to help with water conservation. The irrigation system prevents evaporation and provides a slow drip to crops. The farm also uses retention ponds surrounding the perimeter as well as water gates and drainage ditches.

The Wordens planted native species and are continuing to remove invasive species from the farm. They also planted numerous trees to provide wind breaks in order to prevent crop damage.

The Wordens also bought a neighboring property full of pine woods and plan to leave it untouched.

Part of FOG’s mission is to advocate for conservation and promote the sustainability of beautiful Florida for the next generation of family scale farmers.

Please join us as we continue our fight for this next generation of family scale farmers and become a FOG member today!