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House Farm Bill Draft Falls Short

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After the House Agriculture Committee’s farm bill draft was released on Thursday April 12th, food and farming justice advocates immediately began speaking out in intense opposition for the majority of the bill’s components. Soon after, on Wednesday April 18th, the House Agriculture Committee met during markup, a process in which the bill is discussed, debated, and amended by the members of the committee. Unsurprisingly, there was nearly unanimous opposition expressed in response to the heavily partisan nature of the bill. This house draft of the bill, to be titled the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018, undermines the wellbeing of so many Americans who rely on the ability of the committee to create a favorable bill for all.

Collin Peterson, Minnesota’s ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee, began the full committee hearing on Wednesday at the hill with his opposition for the bill, setting the stage for many others to comfortably express their frustrations soon after. “A safety net for those who produce our food, and those who need help purchasing it, remains the most important work of this committee. I’m afraid that this bill poisons that”, he declared to the members as he commenced his speech. Major concerns of Peterson that he reflected to the committee include the changes to SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). He also admonished the lack of baseline funding for the Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Development Program, the lack of funding for citrus greening research, and the consolidation of Title 2 (The Conservation Title).

Proposed changes to SNAP funding would affect millions of the most vulnerable individuals who depend on the program, such as the disadvantaged, senior, and veteran Americans. Under the newly proposed provisions, nearly all individuals from the ages of 18 to 59 would be mandated to either participate in a weekly 20 hour workforce training or work part time in order to receive SNAP benefits. This provision would allocate an estimated $1 billion of farm bill spending annually to the workforce program alone. Currently, the farm bill allocates approximately 80% of it’s spending to the Nutrition Title, $70 billion in the last fiscal year alone, and serves 42 million Americans in need of food assistance. After a total of 23 hearings on SNAP, many are left disappointed by the result and believe that these changes would transition SNAP from a welfare program into a workforce program, straying from the underlying goal of nutrition assistance.

Another major change purported as beneficial comes from within title 2, Conservation. The House Agriculture Committee farm bill draft seeks to combine two of the most comprehensive conservation programs, by folding the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) into the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), but not without eradicating essential funding and necessary program components. This consolidation would provide a ‘ceiling’ on funding for CSP rather than a floor, allowing 25% or more of funding to be cut over a five year time span, decreasing the current $8.8 billion received under the 2014 farm bill. The consolidation of these programs fails to account for the different goals of the programs. EQIP is more of an on ramp for conservation efforts, while CSP helps foster advanced conservation efforts. These changes also fail to include some of the best components of the current Conservation Stewardship Program, such as payments for advanced conservation efforts and supplemental payments for diversification. Additionally, concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOS) would become eligible for these stewardship contracts. Although they carry very different weights within the farm bill, both the Nutrition and Conservation titles are indispensable components that should not be changed in such a way that infringes upon their past successes.

The draft completely eliminates funding for the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program, Value-Added Producer Grants Program, Organic Certification Cost Share Program, Rural Micro-entrepreneur Assistance Program, and more.  Many of these smaller pieces of the larger puzzle that make up the farm bill play significant roles within the bill, namely for rural farmers, local food security, and organic producers. The bill also fails to make any favorable changes that would expand opportunities for organic farmers within the Crop Insurance Title or the EQIP Organic Initiative. Despite reauthorizing the Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Development Program, which provides resources and technical training to new producers, the draft does not permanently reauthorize the program, nor does it allocate more funding for the program.  The sustainability of American agriculture depends upon the ability of policy makers to create a farm bill that reflects both the goals that the farm bill was originally built upon as well as the values of current and future farmers.

The first Farm Bill was created in 1993 under Roosevelt’s New Deal Legislation, with three overarching goals in mind: Fair food prices, adequate food for all, and to protect and sustain our country’s natural resources. Disappointingly, this draft in its current state is far from reflecting these once-envisioned values. Though the path to the 2018 Farm Bill has become more uncertain due to preceding events, the steadfast sentiments of the House Agriculture Committee members and Americans who have a great stake in the bill are being heard. The path thus far has been less than smooth, and the future of the Agricultural Act of 2018 depends on committee members to not only hear out the concerns of each other, but those who this bill will impact the most.

Please note: this post was written as the House Ag Committee was voting on the bill. Please visit the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition for breaking news on the 2018 Farm Bill.  

Rylee Daddio is a fourth year Sustainability Studies student with a keen interest in organic and sustainable agriculture. She is currently working as a policy intern with Florida Organic Growers to create endorsement for better agricultural legislature in the 2018 Farm Bill

FOG’s statement to U.S. House Agriculture Committee Farm Bill Listening Session

Below is FOG’s statement to the U.S. House Agriculture Committee in Gainesville, FL on June 24, 2017.   

I’m Marty Mesh, ED of Florida Organic Growers, a non-profit that we established in 1987. I personally started growing organically in 1973. FOG provides outreach and education to farmers and consumers as well as operates an accredited certification program.  We collaborate in organic research projects and in other educational project work.  As the largest certifier on the eastern seaboard, we certify operations nationally and internationally in all scopes. FOG also operates a Statewide FINI funded project potentially benefiting all Florida direct market growers and SNAP users and has long been a leader in widely recognized food system improvement projects.

You should have heard the figures, the 75 billion dollar global marketplace, the fastest growing sector of ag since 1990, etc. The organic industry has provided a viable economic opportunity for many farmers who otherwise may have gone out of business amongst declining commodity prices and farm consolidations. Organic has also provided an entryway for many young and beginning farmers. For the State of Florida this has resulted in over 450 organic businesses. With real Federal investment that number could be a lot higher and the ROI on that investment would be impressive. The National Organic Certification Cost Share program is a vital program for many of those new entries and family scale operators to be able to participate in the organic marketplace.

Organic is a voluntary regulatory program that provides uniform, consistent standards in order to meet consumer expectations. We need adequate authority, accountability, and resources for the National Organic Program. This is necessary to keep pace with industry growth, to continue to set standards, and to carry out compliance and enforcement actions in the U.S. and abroad.

Increased funding for research on organic production methods is CRITICAL to the survival of organic farms and growth of the sector. Support for the flagship Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) program will ensure that organic farmers can continue to meet the unique challenges they face and farmers interested have good research to base decisions on.  UF has received over $4 million in funding to conduct organic research, including several grants funded through OREI that have been critical to the success of Florida organic farmers. This at a University who told me years ago that growing organic blueberries in Florida was just not possible.  Now a few miles from here, there are over 200 acres of organic blueberries. UF offers an organic degree program originating from a small SSARE grant that FOG wrote and implemented.

We also have an opportunity in this farm bill to facilitate transition to organic by improving access to land and capital; and investment in infrastructure, and targeted technical assistance. Existing USDA conservation, rural development, and other potential programs such as transitional certification can help encourage growers to check out a sector which presents an economic opportunity to deal with supply side shortages.  It is way past time to adequately invest resources in the fastest growing segment of agriculture providing multiple benefits.

Thank you for the opportunity to provide remarks today. The organic industry looks forward to working with the committee in developing the next farm bill.

Early Bird Registration open for Organic Food and Farming Summit!

For the past 30 years, Florida Organic Growers has been hard at work fighting for farmers in the name of organic agriculture and just food systems. To celebrate this momentous milestone, FOG is holding the inaugural Organic Food & Farming Summit September 17-19 in Gainesville.

This inaugural Summit is an opportunity for beginning and seasoned organic farmers and producers to learn and share with others growing in tropical and sub-tropical conditions and seasons.

The Summit will provide venues to interact and engage with leaders and peers in organic agriculture. Workshop sessions, farm tours, day-long trainings and a special keynote speaker are just a few of some the ways knowledge can be gained at this one-of-a-kind event.

There are multiple ways to partner with us to ensure a successful Summit including sponsorship, participating in the two day tradeshow or submitting a proposal to be a speaker. Visit the website to learn more!

The Summit will inspire, educate, and inform the diverse work of farmers, professionals, advocates, consumers, and others involved in Florida’s sustainable farm and food systems movement.

Early bird registration is now open, register today!

For more information, please contact Summit Coordinator Andi Emrich at andi@foginfo.org or 352-377-6345.

Conservation Stewardship Program accepting applications

A major farmer and rancher funding opportunity is now available!

USDA is currently accepting initial applications for Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) – a national program that rewards farmers for protecting and enhancing natural resources on their working lands. CSP funding includes expanded options for conservation activities and an increased minimum payment to help smaller-scale producers. Contracts may include cover crops and rotational grazing to ecologically-based pest management.

Interested farmers should visit their local NRCS office and fill out a short form by February 3, 2017 to take advantage of this opportunity.

Learn more here!

 

Scholarships Available for 2017 Organic Agriculture Research Symposium

The Organic Farming Research Foundation is pleased to announce the availability of a limited number of scholarships to help with the cost of attending the 2017 Organic Agriculture Research Symposium (OARS), taking place on January 25-26, 2017 in Lexington, Kentucky, immediately preceding the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group Conference (SAWG).

Scholarships up to $350 will be awarded based on the need and merit of the applicant. The scholarship funds may be used for symposium registration ($90-$120), travel and one night of lodging.

Learn more here.

 

 

Organic Farming Research Foundation accepting abstracts for symposium

The Organic Farming Research Foundation is seeking submission of research abstracts for presentation at the 2017 Organic Agriculture Research Symposium (OARS), taking place on January 25-26, 2017 in Lexington, Kentucky, immediately preceding the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group Conference (SAWG).

The symposium will feature researchers from all disciplines related to organic farming and food systems, and other systems of sustainable agriculture that employ techniques compatible with organic standards.The intent of the symposium is to provide current information to farmers, ranchers, extensionists, educators, agricultural professionals and others interested in organic agriculture.

The deadline is October 1!

Learn more here!

Florida Organic Growers partners in launch of video series to help demystify organic certification

Florida Organic Growers (FOG) and Little Bean Productions have cooperated with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Organic Program to launch a video series called Organic Certification Made Simple: Bite by Bite as part of the USDA Sound and Sensible Initiative, a campaign that aims to make organic certification more accessible, affordable and attainable.

The multi-part series provides a step-by-step overview of organic production requirements and the process of organic certification—by farmers, for farmers. Featuring both farm footage and animation, the videos aim to be easily digestible and succinct; each video covers a different topic so viewers can pick and choose to watch the videos that correspond directly with their interests or questions. Viewers can watch the whole series to get a holistic overview of the entire certification process.

“Our series is meant to help direct-market growers who are using sustainable practices understand that getting certified organic may not be a huge stretch for them,” said FOG Executive Director Marty Mesh, “and many consumers and wholesalers are looking for certified organic products, so getting certified could open up markets for them and make their businesses more viable.”

Throughout the 26 videos, farmers discuss their firsthand experiences with obtaining organic certification and why they decided to pursue it. One segment follows a direct market farmer on his journey through the organic certification process to show viewers how the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) organic regulations translate to practices on the ground.

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“Many see organic certification as a daunting process, but Bite by Bite is full of visually engaging practical information while highlighting peer-to-peer communication with all the organic farmers we feature,” said Shelley Rogers of Little Bean Productions, director/producer of the series.

FOG was one of 14 organizations awarded a project contract with a goal to advance the USDA National Organic Program’s (NOP) Sound and Sensible Initiative by identifying and removing barriers to certification and streamlining the certification process.

To view the video series, please click here.

Welcome from Pam Smith, President of FOG Board of Directors

Hello! My name is Pam Smith. Nowadays, I am a consumer of organic foods. But, in the 1970s, I was a farmer of organic watermelons.

Before I became a farmer, I was a counselor at a women’s health center and a graduate student in anthropology. One day, two of my fellow counselors came to me and said that they could tell I was miserable as a graduate student and that they would like to have me quit school and join them in farming. They were among the first in a new wave of organic growing. There were five of them, I made six.

Our first year we grew three acres and our second year, we grew 30 acres! I was a city girl—I had absolutely no experience in nature. I grew up in Los Angeles in an apartment surrounded by asphalt.  Farming was my introduction to the natural world.

I had two favorite jobs – I loved tilling and I loved harvesting. Tilling is started in the winter time here in Florida so it was cool in the fields. It was peaceful. I walked along slowly, figuring out which little seedlings looked the very strongest and then I tilled out the competitors close by in order to give the strong ones the best chance of survival and health. It was very satisfying and now when I look back at it, I see that it was also very meditative – just me, the birds and the little bitty new plants.

As the season progressed, so did tilling efforts. The plants became larger but they still needed those weeds cut out because weeds are by nature very fast growing and strong as heck. So now there was the challenge of finding the weeds under the now-vines of the watermelon plants. But it was still relatively cool out and it was still very satisfying to find those weeds and eliminate them, knowing that this is how we would have big, healthy watermelons come harvest time.

I had to learn to love being covered in dirt and I had to learn to be flexible with weather patterns.

I am thrilled to be part of the FOG Board of Directors and leading the organic food and farming movement in Florida.

We would love for you to join us as a Friend of FOG member. You can join at any level and know you are supporting an organization that works diligently to change the landscape of organic food and farming in Florida!

Join today!

Gratitude is the greatest form of love.

Sarasota Market 2

As we all know, February is love month and there’s no better way to show your love and care other than to support your local farmers.

Visit your local farmers market and purchase directly from the farmers or buy into a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program.

We support local farmers in a myriad of ways.

Join FOG as a member and grow with us as we further the organic food and farming movement!

 

Farmer Friday: Food safety and Big Bear Farms

It’s our last Farmer Friday! Today we are chatting about food safety!

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.

The Food Safety Modernization Act and Big Bear Farms

The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) is the first major overhaul of our nation’s food safety regulations since 1938 and it includes new requirements for produce farms and for facilities that process produce and many other types of food for people to eat.

FSMA was signed into law in January 2011. It gives the FDA broad new powers to prevent food safety problems, detect and respond to food safety issues, and improve the safety of imported foods. Specifically, FSMA requires FDA to establish new regulations for standards for produce production (the Produce Rule) and food safety measure for facilities that process food for human consumption (Preventative Controls Rule).

After receiving tens of thousands of comments last year, FDA announced that they would re-propose parts of two main rules. FDA just ended their comment period two weeks ago for the re-proposed rules.

FOG has been at the forefront in advocating for revising of the FSMA rules and our partnership with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) has allowed us to reach the masses about food safety and its costly burden on family farmers.

It was vital for farmers, consumers, and food advocates to comment as there is a real risk these rules will put farmers and food entrepreneurs out of business and make sustainable and organic agriculture, local food, and conservation efforts collateral damage.

Big Bear Farms, a Certified Organic blueberry and vegetable farm in Plant City, will be greatly affected by these new rules. blueberry_bushes1_250x166

“FDA took the strictest regulations and applied it to all farms. Many rules they are proposing do not apply to smaller farms,” said Ken Der, owner of Big Bear Farms.

“The cost to the smaller farms has to be minimal otherwise it will put us out of business.”

The farm is also certified for Produce GAPs Harmonized Food Safety Standard for Field Operations and Harvesting. Both certifications are with Quality Certification Services, a certification program under FOG.

If FMSA doesn’t work for ALL farmers, then it doesn’t work for safe food, and it doesn’t work for us.

Please join us as we continue to advocate for family farms and become a FOG member today!