Food safety bill coming to Senate floor

Today I received an action alert from the folks at WORC, who’ve been working to amend the Food Safety Modernization Act, S. 510. The bill may come to the Senate floor as early as Thursday, Sept. 16, so please take action now! Contact Senators Johnson and Thune, or whomever your home state senators are, and ask them to support Montana Senator Jon Tester’s amendment.

I have contacted both South Dakota senators about the bill and received mixed reactions from them; neither of them promised to support Tester’s amendment at the time, which was earlier this summer. Both senators expressed a desire to see our food system made safer, which is admirable; however, both also seemed to believe that small farmers were already exempted from the bill, which is incorrect. I have read S. 510, and as it stands, there are not clear exemptions for direct-sale farmers nor are there exemptions from HACCP for small processors. Tester’s amendment is necessary to prevent S. 510 from crippling our fledgling local food systems.

For more information on S. 510, and to contact your senators no matter where you live, contact our good friends at WORC. Their action page has all the information you need, and they make contacting your senators a snap. Do it now!

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Local foods story in RCJ

From today’s Rapid City Journal:

Could you eat only local foods for week?

Calla Eidem, 7, holds an onion she picked from the family garden on Thursday, August 26, 2010. (Ryan Soderlin/Journal staff)

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DeAnn Eidem likes to can, freeze and eat garden-fresh produce. So when her friends invited her to be part of a local foods contest, she thought, “Why not?”

 “I like a challenge,” she said.

It meant shopping at the Black Hills Farmers Markets at Founders Park, which is only open three times a week, sifting through recipes for using produce and keeping a diary about the experience.

 It wasn’t difficult, she said.

 Her family’s diets didn’t change that much with ample selections of vegetables, fruits, milk and eggs available at the market stands, she said.

Because of her children’s food sensitivities, Eidem had to buy flour products from Montana — more than the 200-mile radius of the contest — to make her own bread. Yet she was able to buy these ingredients as well as gluten-free cookies at a Rapid City food cooperative and the farmers market.

 She introduced her family to goat’s milk and learned to make cheese.

 “It was surprisingly fun and enlightening,” Eidem said.

Eidem participated in last month’s Eat Local Challenge initiated by Tanya Gomez of the Dakota Local Food Network. Gomez was inspired to organize the contest after reading “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” by Barbara Kingsolver.

“Food has always been something that I’m passionate about,” Gomez said.

Eidem and Barb Cromwell, both of Rapid City, tied for first in the challenge. Liz Field of Rapid City was influenced by her daughter, Lisa, to participate, too. Both Fields received honorable mentions in the one-week contest.

“We didn’t eat much different than we had before, and most of the time, the food tasted better,” Liz Field said.

 Beets, boiled new potatoes, broccoli and rhubarb pie made with homegrown, ground whole-wheat flour were mealtime favorites.

“We did eat more vegetables, and there were many more opportunities to eat local meats,” Field said.

 The Fields made and preserved pesto sauce for the food-storage portion of the challenge.

“We’ll use it over rice or pasta this coming winter,” she said.

 Eidem, who grows her own vegetable garden, will can and freeze produce for the oncoming winter months. She liked the idea of spending most of her grocery budget on produce supporting local farmers.

 “I didn’t know how well I would be able to do it,” she said.

 Eidem also made an interesting discovery.

 “We can make an almost local pizza,” she said.

All the toppings, sauces and even the cheese were either local or something she made.

The Eidem family invited friends over, had the ingredients ready and created a dinner and a pizza party at the same time.

Guests can make their own pizzas,  eating them as they are grilled. There is plenty of time to enjoy a glass of wine, relax and visit, she said.

Dollars, but mostly cents

Most of us have watched our grocery bills climb in the last couple of years; one might assume that farmers and ranchers are making more money. One would be mistaken.

Recently I received a flyer from Senator Tim Johnson’s office regarding the Farm Bill. A graph illustrating farmer’s share of the retail food dollar demonstrated how our current food system shafts the producers who actually grow the food we eat. I wish the graph’s intervals had been broken down into smaller amounts since the farmer’s share of most of those items was far less than a dollar.

For example, a five-pound bag of flour costs approximately $2.75, of which the farmer keeps less than 50 cents. A gallon of milk priced at just over $4 brings the farmer about $1. A loaf of Wonder bread costs nearly $3 at the store, but the farmer who grew the wheat only receives a few cents. Top sirloin steak, commanding over $7 per pound at the meat counter, leaves the rancher with about 80 cents. The statistics aren’t any better for ham, eggs, bacon, beer, carrots, or cola.

The fact is the food processors and retailers take most of every dollar we spend on food. The way we can fight that trend is to buy direct or through a farmer-owned co-op or CSA. The fewer middlemen there are, the more money producers get to keep. The upshot of this is not only that we keep farmers and ranchers on the land and our rural communities alive, but also that we tend to buy more whole ingredients. Yes folks, actual food.

We may not be able to find local sources for all of our food, but every effort we make is worthwhile. As demand increases, more sources will pop up as farmers see new opportunities to sell their products. That money will circulate here at home rather being siphoned away to the home office somewhere in Boston, Los Angeles or Houston.

Locations for Pukwana tomatoes

The Happy Hydros tomatoes grown in Pukwana by the Scholl family are available in most Lynn’s Dakotamart stores. Remember, these locally grown tomatoes are pesticide free and vine-ripened, no gassing to keep them fresh and no long-distance hauling.

Lynn’s Dakotamart stores selling the tomatoes are located in Custer, Lead, Sturgis, Belle Fourche, and Pierre. The Hot Springs store is not selling them at this time; when I called to double-check, I was told that the only hydroponic tomatoes they have are all from Canada.  The Scholl family also plans to attend the Black Hills Farmers Market in Rapid City, so watch for them there as well. The farmers’ market opens at 9:00 a.m. at Founders’ Park on West Omaha.

All the way from…Pukwana?

These hydroponically grown tomatoes hail from Pukwana, SD

Usually the tomatoes we find sitting docilely in our grocery store’s produce section hail from Southern California, Mexico and occasionally Canada (no, I don’t know why we import tomatoes from latitudes higher than our own). But these red orbs were grown just a couple hours east of here, in Pukwana, South Dakota. I stumbled across them yesterday in Lynn’s Dakotamart in Custer.

These pesticide-free, hydroponically grown tomatoes are the product of Happy Hydros LLC, owners Mark and Teal Scholl. Unlike tomaotes grown 1500+ miles away, which are usually picked green to help them withstand shipping, these are vine-ripened and picked three times per week. You can tell the difference in the flavor; they actually taste like tomatoes and lack that mealy grocery-store texture.

So the next time you’re shopping, check your produce section for Happy Hydros; these are tomatoes you can feel good about buying.

Local food impacts NH economy

Check out this article on the economic impact of New Hampshire’s local food movement in Bloomberg’s Businessweek.

http://www.businessweek.com/ap/financialnews/D9G2I2BG0.htm

The report states that 12 percent of the state’s farm food sales are from direct marketing, far outstripping the neighboring states of Vermont and Maine. However, in terms of feeding their population, New Hampshire could feed only about six percent of its people, whereas Maine could take care of an astounding 40 percent of its population! It’s interesting to see that in states we really don’t regard as “ag” states, agriculture is making a comeback.

CNN video from Miami farmers’ market

Check out this video clip from a Miami farmers’ market!

http://cnn.com/video/?/video/tech/2010/05/05/ac.zarrella.farmers.market.cnn

Senate Food Safety Bill

 As planting time draws near, and our thoughts turn to fresh veggies from the garden, we need to take a few minutes to help preserve our ability to buy and eat locally. S. 510, the Food Safety Modernization Act, while purporting to make our food safer, would stifle the local foods movement and put small producers out of business. At the risk of sounding alarmist, I must admit that I’m, well, alarmed. The U.S. is on the cusp of a nation-wide sea-change on the food front, and this bill easily could shut it down.

While the bill may  have been well-intentioned, the effects would be disastrous for local food systems. According to the Western Organization of Resource Councils (WORC), S. 510 attemps to address the problems of food-borne illnesses from pathogens, a worthwhile effort; however, it does so by burdening small, direct-sales producers with the same regulations it would impose upon large agribusiness companies. Remember that incidents of contamination  (spinach, green onions, hamburger, pork sausage, and peppers) have come from the industrialized food supply. These products were all processed in large facilities, were comingled from various sources and subjected to long-distance shipping. None of these conditions would apply to local food, but the bill would regulate it the same way.

For example, the bill directs the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to write rules governing small farms producing food for direct sales. So a small producer growing lettuce and sweet corn for their local farmers’ market or roadside stand would fall under these new rules. If you have ever driven through Woonsocket in September, those melon stands will be subject to the rules, even you can see the melon field out back. Same goes for those Vale sweet corn stands, which are more often than not, bushel baskets minded by 10-year olds.

S. 510 has a companion bill in the House of Representatives, H.R. 2749. Already passed by the House, it poses several onerous regulations for small producers. For a facility that does any processing, even just making jam or jelly, there will be the same regulations as those for Smuckers or Dole, including an yearly fee of $500. No sliding scale, no threshold for those selling a few dozen jars of jam per year, just one-size fits all. The bill does not differentiate between Dole processing fruit cocktail with fruit from three continents from a farmer making rhubarb jam from fruit growing in her own backyard.

The bill goes beyond processing and follows producers right out into the field. H.R. 2749, authorizes the FDA to establish federal standards for raising some produce, like lettuce and spinach. The Senate’s version will be problematic for farms raising both livestock and produce, which is the essence of traditional farming. Even raising a variety of crops may get more difficult with varying regulations for the growing of such market staples like tomatoes, greens and melons.

Furthermore, S. 510 applies Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP)  regulation to the smallest local processors regardless of their size, no definition of what a processor and no threshold to meet. HACCP effectively trumps all state regulations for processors. When HACCP entered the stage in the 1990s, it was supposed to help clean up the giant meatpackers, but it failed. It contributed to a reduction in small, independent processors and allowed the packers to self-regulate. There are now fewer independent inspections being done than before HACCP’s inception, and outbreaks of e. coli, salmonella, and listeria still occur. This means that small town meat processors may disappear, leaving producers with no one to process their cattle, hogs and sheep in order for them to sell to customers, friends or family. Those customers will not be able to buy meat by the half or quarter any more, leaving little choice but the grocery store.

Fortunately, Montana Senator John Tester will offer an amendment removing direct-market producers from FDA jurisdiction over harvesting of raw agricultural products and will set a threshhold of $500,000 adjusted gross income exempting small producers from HACCP traceback and record-keeping procedures. This amendment will ensure that local foods can flourish.

Please ask Senators Johnson and Thune to support Tester’s amendment to S. 510. If S. 510 passes as it’s written, it will cripple our local foods movement.

Update – Custer Farmers’ Market

Custer's the place to be on June 5

It’s official, folks. The Custer Farmers’ Market Grand Opening will be Saturday, June 5 at the corner of Crook and 7th Streets in downtown Custer.  There are five committed vendors and another six possible. Market founder Herb Ryan gave me the lowdown.

All the offerings will be local: no imported fruits, vegetables, meat or fish. Here are a few of the products on tap: organic bread, whole wheat honey bagels, free-range beef, lamb, pork, plants, nursery stock, vegan snacks, jam/jellies, and a whole lot of fresh, local produce.

Herb also mentioned strolling musicians and dancing girls (hmmm…) for the grand opening. It’s going to be a big time, folks.

If any of you are interested in being a vendor at the market, applications are available online at custerfarmersmarket.com.

Farm-to-School Update

A couple of weeks ago, I posted about S. 3123, which would amend the Child Nutrition Act in order to provide seed money to jump-start farm-to-school programs across the country. The Senate Agriculture Committee voted to up the funding to $40 million over the next 10 years, which is a significant improvement as the last Child Nutrition Act provided no mandatory funding for these programs. This bill will be offered as an amendment to the Child Nutrition Act once it reaches the full Senate. There is a companion bill in the House of Representatives, H.R. 4710, so that when both houses reconcil the larger bill, funding for farm-to-school will be addressed in both.

Stay tuned for updates as this issue moves foward.

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