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FOG supports the formation of agricultural cooperatives

 

As 2015 comes to a close, we want to reflect on our amazing accomplishments this year through our Moving Monday campaign, a weekly email sent Mondays throughout the month of December that spotlights how we are changing the food landscape throughout Florida.

Our work has impacted farmers, consumers and the community so we want to thank our Friends of FOG members and donors for their support as they have been vital to our success.

We encourage you to join with us as we continue this invaluable work.

KYV Farm WorkshopThis past spring, we worked with the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group and Rural Advancement Foundation International with the support of the USDA AMS – Local Food Promotion Program to help support the formation of agricultural cooperatives in the North Central Florida.

Farmers throughout the state have been taking great strides to join forces for greater efficiency, economy and camaraderie. FOG’s work on this project gathered over 60 farmers throughout the North Central region of the state to discuss and plan potential avenues for cooperation.

Farmer-owned, farmer-controlled organization could potentially aid in the distribution, sales and marketing for many farmers. By working together, local communities could receive greater access to sustainably-raised local goods, as well as increasing the income and resources of our Florida farmers.

In order to continue growing the momentum for our local and regional food systems through cooperatives and beyond, we need your support!

Please join with us as we continue this program and create a sustainable, local, just, organic food and farm system that is environmentally and ethically sound.

Let’s change the Florida food landscape together!

 

What moves you to foster change?

As 2015 comes to a close, we want to reflect on our amazing accomplishments this year through our Moving Monday campaign that spotlights how we are changing the food landscape throughout Florida.

Our work has impacted farmers, consumers and the community so we want to thank our Friends of FOG members and donors for their support as they have been vital to our success.

We encourage you to join with us as we continue this invaluable work.

 This past April was an amazing month for FOG as we received a Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) grant, which supports projects to increase the purchase of fruits and vegetables among low-income consumers participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by providing incentives at the point of purchase.

Our proposal, “Fresh Access Bucks: Increasing Food Access And Florida Farmer Sales At Markets Statewide” will serve 50 markets over a 3-year period located in at least 21 counties throughout Florida!

Fresh Access Bucks (FAB) increases the consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables by enabling farmers markets to accept EBT and allows SNAP users to purchase double-their-food dollars for
fresh, Florida-grown produce at farmers markets. Englewood FM manager Lee and SNAP Manager Amy

Eight months into our project, we have already partnered with 28 markets in low-income communities and work with various community organizations, private businesses, and state and local government agencies to implement this program.

Ultimately, this project will benefit more than 18,000 SNAP recipients throughout Florida and will increase farmer revenue by $2.1 million.

Since the program’s inception in 2013, more than $200,000 was generated in revenue for Florida grown produce, more than 150 Florida farmers participated and expanded to more than 3,000 new market shoppers.

In order to continue to serve communities throughout Florida with various workshops and programs associated with this grant, we need your support!

Join with us as we continue this program and create a sustainable, local, just, organic food and farm system that is environmentally and ethically sound.

 Let’s change the Florida food landscape together!

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.

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.

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!

The #1 reason to buy local

Buy local. Support a farmer. 

Do you believe in the importance of buying local?

When you do, you are directly supporting your local farmer, who could very well be your neighbor or the farm you drive by regularly.

Local farmers play a vital role in our communities.

FOG works with local farmers in a myriad of ways, one being through the development of agricultural cooperatives. Through these cooperatives, farmers share best practices, resources and connect through the growth of the food and farm movement.

In addition, we provide programs at farmers markets around the state that encourage consumers to buy directly from their local farmer and support the local economy.

FOG works hard every day to strengthen the local food system.

We want you to join us as we continue our efforts by becoming a Friends of FOG member.

Join today and let’s change Florida’s food landscape together!

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!

Slow Food Gulf Coast serves low-income families in Northwest Florida

By: Lindsay Rae Myers, Slow Food Gulf Coast

Slow Food Gulf Coast is a chapter of Slow Food USA, an international organization that promotes good, clean, fair, and humane food for all.Group photo

We are in our third year of matching low income families with incentives to help stretch their dollars to buy fresh fruits and vegetables at our local farmer’s market. In that time we have helped
these families purchase thousands of dollars worth of fresh produce- money that goes directly back to our local farmers and local economy. We set up a booth weekly at the Palafox Market to share our love of locally produced food as well as accept SNAP benefits on behalf of the farmers at the market. It has been wonderful to build relationships with the farmers over the past few years and learn more about their needs as well as the needs of those using SNAP benefits.

We have two exciting events coming up in June!

We are partnering with FOG to host an on-farm workshop on June 11 at Coldwater Gardens in Milton for farmers to learn to improve their their branding and diversify their crops with mushrooms.

A Community CooksWe also are gearing up for our annual “A Community Cooks” event on June 14 which pairs local chefs with local farmers to showcase the talent of our local food producers as well as those who prepare the food. Last year we had a fantastic demonstration about catching, preparing, and cooking the invasive Lionfish and this year each chef/farmer partnership will have the opportunity to share their knowledge with participants. The goal of this event is to raise awareness of locally produced and prepared foods as well as to raise funds to supplement our FOG grant to continue working towards food security in our community.

We are proud to offer these services to northwest Florida and grateful FOG has given us the opportunity to serve our community in this way.

To learn more about Slow Food Gulf Coast, please visit our Facebook page!