The Carolina Farm Stewardship Association is at the heart of the local food and farming movement. Here are our top 5 issues in sustainable ag. today.
According to the 2007 USDA Census of Agriculture, the average age of farmers across the country is 57. The fastest growing group of farmers is 65 and older. We are quickly losing our farming population, so one of our priorities at the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (CFSA) is to help new and young farmers overcome the challenges of entering the field, literally and figuratively.
We desperately need new farmers, but it’s particularly hard to access land, capital and markets when you’re just starting. In response, CFSA offers world-class training at our annual Sustainable Agriculture Conference, hands-on farm tours and workshops for beginning farmers and high school students, an internship referral service, and networking opportunities for new farmers to connect with experienced growers.
Earlier this year, the FDA published proposed rules to implement the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), which as written now will be significant burdens on local food and organic farming.
The rules are bad news for local food systems, as evidenced by FDA’s own economic analysis, which shows that:
- The average annual cost to comply with FSMA’s produce safety rules for farms grossing less than $250,000 per year will be 6% of revenue. USDA data shows that net annual income for farms that size is 10% of revenue. How could anyone, especially beginning farmers, afford to grow vegetables under these crippling rules?
- Food hubs will not survive. Even though firms with 20 or fewer employees produce just 4% of the processed food sold in the US, these same firms will bear 73% of the cost of implementing FSMA’s preventive controls, which are the same controls as manufacturers with up to 499 employees.
As part of CFSA’s efforts to win changes to the rules, we are ramping up pressure from Congress with visits to Capitol Hill, working with allied groups across the country, and creating a grassroots effort to flood the FDA with comments on these burdensome rules.
In the spring of 2011, CFSA conducted an extensive survey of the wholesalers, retailers and value-added processors in the Carolinas that represent the most accessible marketing channels for local growers of organic produce. We found a supply gap of several million pounds of produce, equaling more than $7 million in potential revenue. Carolina farmers continue to face challenges in seizing a greater share of the states’ organic market. With concrete data on the scope and market potential for Carolina-grown organic produce, farmers have the potential to increase their access to financing, take advantage of government cost-share programs and develop realistic business and expansion plans.
Our goal is to help NC and SC farmers take advantage of this supply gap. Results from this important research will inform the development of Enterprise Budgets for relevant organic crop rotations, as well as workshops and guidance documents to assist farmers in developing enterprise budgets specific to their operations. Our Farm Services team offers organic transition programs to farmers in the Carolinas interested in accessing the organic produce market. This includes our Organic Certification Consulting Services and working with our on-staff Technical Service Provider to write a Conservation Activity Plan (CAP 138) and take advantage of federal grants to implement conservation projects at their farms.
Carolina farmers have consistently identified the limited supply of agricultural inputs for organic crop and livestock production as one of the most significant obstacles to increasing organic production in the Carolinas. Organic feed is more expensive and harder to procure than traditional feed varieties, and raises the cost. Many Carolina farmers have told us that it’s a challenge to produce food in an economically viable way that doesn’t involve genetically modified feeds and inputs.
CFSA’s Farm Services team is assessing the organic input supply chain to identify gaps and then develop local, cost-effective agricultural supply sources for organic farmers.
CFSA has created a new team, Food Systems, to focus intensive efforts on building infrastructure and improving market access for local, organic, and sustainable foods across the Carolinas.
The primary goal is to support small-scale food projects that expand and enhance storage, processing, distribution, and marketing of local, organic crops. Over the past five years, CFSA has incubated Eastern Carolina Organics, Carolina Ground, and Cobblestone Farmers Market. The success of these food businesses and impact for local growers and consumers has been huge. These past successes drove CFSA to focus on supporting innovative new projects and replicating successful projects throughout the Carolinas.
Grow Local & Organic!
CFSA is building a new food system where local farms grow delicious food and support themselves, the environment and their communities. With your help, we can make it grow!
Give to CFSA today! Your gift of more than $25 includes a membership to CFSA – and will send a clear message that you want to grow local and organic in the Carolinas.
Send in your check to: CFSA PO Box 448 Pittsboro, NC 27312, give us a call at 919-542-2402 or make your secure gift online.
Thanks for supporting local and organic farms,
Alice Alexander – Sustainability Director
It’s Time to Change the Food Safety Debate
by Roland McReynolds, CFSA Executive Director
On Jan. 4, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published proposed rules to govern the production of raw produce and the processing of most value-added foods. FDA issued these rules under authority of the Food Safety Modernization Act, or FSMA in government-speak. This act was billed at the time as the biggest update of our food safety laws since Upton Sinclair’s novel “The Jungle” exposed the horrors of the turn-of-the-Twentieth-Century meatpacking industry. FSMA explicitly gives FDA wide new authority to set rules for how farmers work many crops, and how food businesses run their operations day-to-day. With its proposed rules, FDA revealed what it intends to do with that newfound authority. Anyone who believes in the power of strong local food systems to improve our environment, communities and health should be extremely concerned.
The local, organic food community fought hard, and successfully, to ensure that Congress put protections in FSMA to prevent local foods from being strangled by industrial-scale food safety regulation. For the first time the federal government acknowledged that the scale and length of supply chains matters when it comes to food and farming, and that one-size-does-not-fit-all when it comes to regulating agriculture. By limiting FDA’s power to govern farms and food makers predominantly serving local markets, Congress intended that the local food sector should continue to thrive, create jobs, and offer consumers a healthy alternative to faceless, processed food.
Despite that astonishing legislative achievement, we are not out of the woods yet. FDA’s proposed FSMA rules expose just how fragile the so-called ‘exemptions’ for local food can be in the face of government arrogance. FDA is proposing loopholes that threaten to swallow completely the law’s local and organic food protections.
Notably, FSMA’s protections generally only apply to businesses with less than $500,000 in annual food sales. If we want local, healthy food systems to grow, and if we want market opportunities that encourage a new generation of sustainable farmers, we will need businesses – especially food hubs and other collaborative processing and distribution models – that grow beyond that benchmark. USDA research indicates that to be financially viable, a local food hub needs at least $1 million in annual revenue.
Regardless of whether FDA regulations apply to a particular local farm or food producer, the market will respond by adopting the federal rules as private standards. Insurance companies and retail outlets will require farms and food makers to comply with FSMA as a condition of market access—unless we take the initiative to create a safety protocol for local, organic food that is tailored to address the actual risks it presents.
On one hand, the bare minimum protections we won in Congress put a target on our backs. Many so-called consumer advocates are on the attack, charging that local food and small farms are risky and dangerous because they won’t be subject to FSMA. This PR blitz is a significant threat. On the other hand, FDA’s rules don’t go far enough to implement Congress’ intent to support local alternatives. To meet these twin challenges, the local, organic farming movement needs to change how our nation talks about food safety.
Every farmer and food maker is either a parent or a child, if not both, and can relate to the tragedy of a losing a loved one. As a parent, I dread the chance that food I prepare for my children with my own hands might cause them harm. No farmer or food maker wants to cause pain with the foods they create. Local food producers agree that they should take effective steps to prevent doing harm to their customers, and they realize that the impact of foodborne illness can be terrible. It’s not a subject of dispute. However, it is intellectually dishonest and manipulative when FDA officials and purported ‘consumer advocates’ attempt to cut-off debate about appropriate food safety regulation by evoking the sheer tragedy of a small number of foodborne illness incidents.
Once we move past that sanctimonious grandstanding, there are three premises that our society must accept in the discussion about food safety. The first is that we cannot achieve zero risk. Even if we irradiated, baked and boiled 100 percent of the food we eat, pathogens will get through somewhere on the journey from field to processing facility to retailer to kitchen to plate, and people will get sick. Microbes are everywhere and hoping to get ahead of Mother Nature through technology is to take the same dead-end approach to food safety that chemical agriculture has lead us in food production. Indeed, many of the interventions we can pursue to limit pathogens will have other negative health consequences because they reduce the nutritional value of food.
Second, we live in a world of finite resources. Governments, large corporations, small business and consumers all must make choices about how to allocate limited time and dollars to address problems. There is only so much money the government can raise to fund food safety enforcement, and small enterprises that want to stay in business cannot spend more to limit pathogens than what the market will pay them for food products. What’s more, given the fact that we cannot reach zero risk, we must recognize there are diminishing returns to additional public and private food safety investments. Beyond a certain point they are ineffective and counterproductive.
The third principle is that fresh, local, organic food has disproportionate positive impacts on our society. Better diets lead to less heart disease, less obesity, less chronic illness, and happier, healthier lives. Reducing diet-related illness reduces public health care costs. Money recirculated within our own communities makes our economies more resilient, and healthy economies support healthy people. We know that our diet in this country is killing us. Fifty-thousand Americans die every year from colon cancer, almost 250,000 from complications of diabetes, and 800,000 from heart disease. Our diet may be the gravest threat to human health in the US today, the effects of which we will be coping with for another generation or more. Local food systems will be huge in overcoming that threat, and from this perspective, we must evaluate the cost of further regulatory impositions on local food producers.
I say ‘further’ impositions, because one fact that is lost in the discussion of so-called food safety ‘exemptions’ for local food is that these folks are already heavily regulated. From county health departments’ oversight of farmers markets, to licensing and inspections for low-risk processed foods, to good manufacturing practices, and more, local food producers are already laboring under a patchwork of rules and regulations. FSMA’s protections for local food are really about recognizing that this existing legal framework is already working quite well, albeit at a significant cost of compliance to producers and relatively low cost of enforcement for government.
It makes no sense to apply rules designed for complex, national and international food supply chains to the inherently short supply chains that characterize local food distribution. By their nature, local, diffused supply chains impose limits on the potential for contamination and the extent of foodborne illness outbreaks. Safety rules must take that into account if they are to be efficient and effective.
When we proceed from these principles, we can actually start to have the conversation about how we allocate limited resources to reduce the risk of foodborne illnesses. There must be a cost-benefit analysis if we want food safety law to improve public health. And I say ‘improve public health’ deliberately. The local, organic movement is not about building a food system that merely avoids killing us unexpectedly. It is about building a food system that helps us live better.
This article was originally posted on http://rodaleinstitute.org/2013/time-to-change-the-food-safety-debate/
Piedmont Farm Tour 2013!
by Karen Kanakanui, CFSA member
Originally posted at Stories Taste Good
I had a great time last weekend during the 2013 Piedmont Farm Tour, co-sponsored by the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association and Weaver Street Market, a food co-op here in central NC. For those of you don’t know, the Farm Tour takes place over two afternoons in a weekend and – this year – 39 farms in the area opened up their gates to visitors. Realistically, you can only visit 3-4 farms per day in order to fully experience each farm.
My kids said, “Is that what the country looks like?” Now keep in mind that we lived in West Virginia up until a few years ago, so it’s not like we don’t know country!
We toured two farms on the second day and my children enjoyed the animals, saw a sheep sheared, newborn pigs, and rode a horse. My overall impression – and I think I probably already knew this – was that farmers work hard! At Coon Rock Farm, we saw a huge field that is waiting to be planted with various kinds of heirloom tomatoes. I looked at that field and thought about all the work involved in planting tomatoes to fill it up, then caring for them, and harvesting them. And that’s just one field!
Clearly, people are called to farm – the descriptions of each farm speak of a commitment to sustainability, preservation of seeds and animals that are in danger of disappearing, and all kinds of innovation for farming, irrigation, and even training the next generation. Here’s one of my favorite quotes from one farm: “Come see how we turn soil, sunlight, and grass into milk and our delicious farmhouse cheeses.”
My city-fied children loved the animals, except for one duck that chased them! Lots of chickens, pigs, goats, sheep, cattle – it was definitely a close up look at where some of our food comes from!
Sheep shearing at Minka Farm
From a marketing point of view, the Farm Tour does a great job of helping visitors pick out which farms to visit. Each farm has a one or two paragraph description of what they do and what a visitor can expect to see. And I think the individual farms wrote them because some of the descriptions showed really strong personalities that drew me in and made me put that farm on my “must see” list.
There were also icons beside each description indicating whether or not the farm had appeal for kids, if it offered restrooms, and if food was available for sale. So this year I chose kid friendly and food available, since I wanted to buy some grass-fed beef and I wanted to take my children! And again, this is a good job of differentiating the farms as it gives visitors another way of choosing.
This was our first year attending the Farm Tour, although it’s the 18th year the tour has been offered. I’ve already identified a couple of farms I hope to visit next year.
Day-old piglets at Coon Rock Farm
Read more from CFSA member Karen Kanakanui on her blog Stories Taste Good. Karen is a copywriter, marketer and business storyteller.
A Volunteer’s Reflection on an Unusual Farm Tour Experience
by CFSA member David Walbert
Photos by Ivy
Saturday afternoon my daughter and I volunteered on a local farm tour, at Windy Acres Farm where the two main attractions are goats and pickles. I’ve got a cabinetful of pickles at home, but no goats, and I figured even if a nine year-old girl got bored checking people in and welcoming them to a farm then surely baby goats would keep her entertained for hours. I was more right than I’d bargained for, as it turned out.
We arrived too early. We were supposed to arrive half an hour before the tour started, to set up and get the lay of the land, but I got us there half an hour before that. The farm was, I thought (and Google Maps confirmed) over half an hour away, and I had to stop off to buy chicken feed. But the map was conservative, the trip easy and the errand quick, and so I allowed far too much time. As I climbed out of the car and saw Mike, the farmer, walking towards me, I apologized and promised to stay out of the way.
“No problem,” he said, friendly but a little hurried. “In fact we’ve got a goat giving birth right at the moment, if your daughter wants to watch.”
I leaned back into the car. “Ivy, you want to watch a goat give birth?” A second passed while my words sunk in — it is not the sort of question she is used to being asked — and then she bounded out of the car.
Mike had come up to the house not to greet us but to call his wife, Katherine, to help him; the doe had been in labor for some time and seemed to be wearing out. When the four of us got down to the barn the poor girl was bleating miserably, having managed to produce a few bulging inches of amniotic sac and two hooves — the front ones, luckily, and the head was next, but she was clearly in distress. Katherine held her by the head while Mike tried to move the kid, but the doe was struggling and he had trouble holding onto the kid’s legs.
“Push, girl,” he said, but she didn’t.
“Sir? Would you mind giving us a hand?”
I climbed over the gate and wrapped my arms around the doe’s neck, steadying her while Mike and Katherine, doctor and midwife, both worked to free the baby.
“I want her to push,” said the doctor.
“She can’t push,” said the midwife. “She’s worn out.”
So they nudged and pulled and guided, and the doe thus encouraged gave a couple of halfhearted thrusts, and in half a minute the kid slithered out and began to kick and bleat. Mike showed the doe her baby, and we all got out of the way.
Only some hours later, watching other people’s reactions to this story, did any of it strike me as miraculous. No, let me rephrase that: only later did I remember that it was miraculous. Not because the baby should normally have died, or anything like that. Not because the birth required an act of heroism; it was all in a day’s work if you breed livestock. It was in the moment almost businesslike, calm in the way that really urgent matters must be. Purposeful calm is infectious, and walking back to the house my attitude was one of “yep, all in a day’s work,” when, in fact, I have never in my life attended a goat’s birth. There were dozens of kids running around outside, all born in the past several weeks, and now another had been born: a good thing, but perfectly ordinary.
It wasn’t a miracle because it was extraordinary. It was a miracle, I suppose, simply because life is a miracle. We forget that too easily — or, embarrassed by the language, we rationalize it away in favor of purely materialistic explanations. We forget or we refuse to be amazed and awed by what would, had we never seen it before, amaze and awe us. This is, I think, the main reason I like spending time on farms, and gardening and working with animals, and even simply tramping off through the woods: it puts me in a place where miracles are there for the taking. The leaves emerge from the buds of a poplar tree, day by day, perfect miniscules of their summer selves. The swallowtail will lay her eggs in my herb garden and her caterpillars will eat up all my parsley and become chrysalises and then butterflies. Seeds become food; babies grow; last year’s rubbish rots and births new life. They’re miracles if you want them.
One can’t, of course, spend one’s entire life standing around being awed and amazed. There’s rarely time in the present for miracles: you don’t want, for example, your obstetrician stopping to sermonize about the miracle of life while you’re lying on a table ten centimeters dilated, or while your wife is. (I can speak from personal experience only to the latter, but I’m pretty certain about the former as well. The goat certainly wouldn’t have been interested.) And you can easily take this sort of thing too far, into a mystical pantheism that has you fearing to cut down a tree to make a chair and daring not to step on an ant, too full of wonder ever to get any work done.
The harder thing to remember is that all of these things, seedling, tree, ant, goat, butterfly, you, me, are all perfectly ordinary — and they’re all miraculous. We need to recognize both, to hold both in our head simultaneously. We need the sensible farmer and the mystic poet; we need perhaps to be both. The best farmers, I think, respect the mystery that lies beyond and underneath what they can see and understand and control, and the best mystics have gardens. We need to be awed, far more often than we are, perhaps as often as possible, not to remind us that we are ordinary by comparison to the truly awesome, but to remind us that miracles themselves are ordinary, and no less miraculous for it.
They are miracles if, as I said, you want them. And if not? Well, then, as Wallace Stevens wrote,
Have it your way.
The world is ugly,
And the people are sad.
My daughter, anyway, didn’t need all this ponderous analysis. She watched the birth rapt, silent, wide-eyed. She made sure to tell everyone who visited the farm that afternoon, all hundred and sixty-odd of them, that a baby goat had been born just a few hours earlier, and they could go down to the barn and see it if they liked. She volunteered to lug food and fresh water down to the mother, and tramped off in search of a two week-old kid who wasn’t with his own mama. But she will not, I expect, have any qualms about a good bit of cabrito, any more than she spurned a sample of chorizo after cooing over how cute this year’s new piglet was. She knows how it works. That newborn kid is going to grow up one of these days, and when he does, he’ll be somebody’s dinner. And, I’m certain, a delicious one. He is a miracle, but — and — he is an ordinary one. So is all this glorious mess, and we had better get used to the idea.
Find this blog post and more from CFSA member David Walbert on his website The New Agrarian. David is a writer, historian, craftsman, and believer in small-scale, broad-based, participatory, part-time, and amateur farming.
Mike and Katherine Berezny own Windy Acres Farm. You can find them at Saturday market in Hillsborough with a variety of herbicide and pesticide-free fruits and vegetables, in addition to beef, pork, and goat meat.
Changing the One-Size-Fits-All Food Safety Approach to One that Helps Us Live Better
Editor’s Note: This is the full text of the keynote speech by Roland McReynolds, CFSA Executive Director, at the Feast Down East Conference on March 1, 2013.
When the conference organizers at Feast Down East approached me about this keynote last fall, they asked me to give an inspirational speech that addresses why having a strong local food system is important to our future as a region and a people. And I thought, ‘gee, that’s pretty wide open, where do I even begin.’ For a couple of months I batted around ideas, hoping for some inspiration myself. But that all changed on Jan. 4 of this year.
Jan. 4 is when the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published its proposed rules to govern the production of raw produce, and the processing of most value-added foods. And since that date, just about every single day, I have read or written something related to these proposed rules. FDA has issued these rules under authority of a law passed by Congress in 2010, the Food Safety Modernization Act, or FSMA in government-speak. This act was billed at the time as the biggest update of our food safety laws since the novel, “The Jungle,” exposed the horrors of the meatpacking industry over one hundred years ago. FSMA explicitly gives FDA wide new authority to set the rules for how farmers work many crops, and for how food businesses run their operations day-to-day. With its Jan. 4 proposed rules, FDA shows just what it intends to do with that newfound authority. Anyone who believes in the power of strong local food systems, who believes in their importance to us as a region and a people, needs to be extremely concerned about these FDA actions.
Now many of you know that Congress put certain protections in FSMA, protections intended to ensure that small farms and local foods are not strangled by industrial-scale food safety regulation. I am proud to say that Carolina Farm Stewardship Association and the local food movement in the Carolinas played a critical role in winning those protections. It was truly an against-the-odds victory. For the first time, the federal government acknowledged that scale matters when it comes to food and farming, and that one-size-does-not-fit-all when it comes to regulating agriculture. By limiting FDA’s power to govern small farms and food makers predominantly serving local markets, Congress intended that the local food sector should continue to thrive, continue to offer consumers a healthy alternative to faceless processed food, and continue to create jobs.
But I am here to tell you that, despite that astonishing legislative achievement, we are not out of the woods yet. Indeed, we now have a target on our backs. The giant corporations that sell most of the food in this country used to just ignore and dismiss local food. They focused on their business of gaming our food policies and squeezing more and more American farms of every size out of business. Now those corporations are on the attack, charging that local food and small farms are risky and dangerous because they won’t be subject to FSMA. And so far, many so-called consumer advocates have joined this corporate campaign, insisting that local, organic food should be subject to the equivalent of a full body cavity search from FDA. They demonize anyone who disagrees with the one-size-must-fit-all orthodoxy.
That’s where I want to start with my main points here this morning. How our nation talks about regulating food safety has got to change, and we in this room need to lead that change. Here’s what I mean.
Supporters of the one-size-fits-all approach punctuate virtually every argument about safety regulations with the tragic images of children in hospitals and families torn apart forever due to foodborne illness. They say that if you can’t accept the necessity for every farm and food maker to comply with uniform rules, then you are an enemy to children and families. I have witnessed corporate lobbyists, consumer advocates, and even FDA officials wave this bloody shirt when faced with well-reasoned suggestions for scale-appropriate safety rules. And we as a community need to call this tactic out for what it is—intimidation—and we need to demand that it stop.
Every single one of us can relate to the pain and tragedy of needlessly losing a loved one. Every farmer and food maker is either a parent or a child, or both. Any parent’s heart rends at the thought of a child suffering. I am a parent, and I dread the chance that food that I prepare for my children with my own hands might cause them serious harm. No farmer or food maker wants to cause pain with the foods they create. Local food producers agree that we should take effective steps to prevent doing harm to our customers, and they accept that the costs of foodborne illness can be terrible. It’s not a subject of dispute. And so the sheer tragedy of the worst incidents cannot be offered as the end of the debate about what our society does to prevent foodborne illness.
There are four premises that our society must accept in the discussion about food safety. The first is that no farmer wants to cause harm to their customers, and the second is that we cannot achieve zero risk. And FDA has repeatedly acknowledged that second point. Even if we irradiated, baked and boiled 100% of the food we eat, pathogens will get through the system somewhere on the journey from field to processing facility to retailer to kitchen to plate, and people will get sick. Microbes evolve at a startlingly fast rate, and we simply cannot hope to somehow get ahead of Mother Nature. Indeed, many of the interventions we can pursue to limit pathogens will have other negative health consequences for consumers. Raw leafy greens are really good for you, and people should eat them.
The third principle is that we live in a world of finite resources. Governments, large corporations, small business, and consumers all must make choices about how to allocate limited time and dollars to address problems. There is only so much money the government can raise to fund food safety enforcement, and small businesses that want to stay in business cannot spend more to limit pathogens than what the market will pay for food products. What’s more, given the second principle that we cannot reach zero risk, we have to recognize there are diminishing, marginal returns to additional public and private food safety investments such that beyond a certain point they become ineffective and counterproductive.
The fourth principle is that healthy, local, organic food, fresh food grown in our communities, artisanal food made by our neighbors, has disproportionate positive impacts on people’s lives, and on public health. We know that money recirculated within our own communities makes our economies stronger and more resilient, and that healthy economies support healthy people. We know that better diets lead to less heart disease, less obesity, less chronic illness, and happier, healthier lives. We know that reducing diet-related illness reduces public health care costs. We know that our diet in this country is killing us. Fifty-thousand people die every year in this country from colon cancer, almost a quarter million die from complications of diabetes, and 800,000 die from heart disease. Our diet may be the gravest threat to human health in the US today, one that we will be coping with for another generation or more. Local food systems will be huge in overcoming that threat.
When we proceed from these four principles, we can actually start to have the conversation about how we allocate limited resources to reducing the risk of foodborne illnesses. There must be a cost-benefit analysis if we want food safety law to improve public health. And I say that deliberately – improve public health. I am not interested in building a food system that merely avoids killing us unexpectedly. I am interested in a food system that helps us live better.
Federal agencies estimate that 9.4 million people get a foodborne stomach bug every year, and that 56,000 people are hospitalized from pathogen contaminated food. Those are significant numbers, and yet, with 310 million Americans eating on average 2 to 3 meals a day, 365 days a year, we are consuming about 300 billion meals per year. If those 300 billion meals result in 56,000 hospital trips, then 99.99 percent of the food we eat is not causing severe foodborne illness.
From this perspective, we can see that local food is contributing to food safety success. And from this perspective, we must evaluate the cost of further regulatory impositions on local food producers.
And I say ‘further’ impositions, because one of the facts that is lost in the discussion of so-called food safety ‘exemptions’ for small farms and businesses is that these folks are already heavily regulated. From local health department’s oversight of farmers markets, to the NC State pickle school that provides licenses for low risk processed food producers, to home kitchen inspections, to federal good manufacturing practices, and more, local food producers are already laboring under a patchwork of rules and regulations. FSMA’s protections for local food are really about recognizing that this existing legal framework is already working quite well, at a sometimes significant cost of compliance to producers, and at a relatively low cost of enforcement for government.
Make no mistake, government benefits from the current system. FDA cannot afford to police every one of the millions of American farms and food entrepreneurs that are contributing to our food supply, and it makes no sense to do so because so much of the food produced from American farms, family businesses and food hubs is a low risk for causing foodborne illness.
FDA released analyses along with the FSMA proposed rules that document hundreds of processed foods and produce items that are inherently unlikely to harbor pathogens. FDA also confirms that food processing businesses with less than $1million in revenue account for only 2 percent of the US food supply. It makes no sense to waste limited government dollars to impose further regulations on these low risk foods. And it makes no sense to apply new rules designed for complex, national and international food supply chains to the inherently short supply chains that characterize local food distribution. These local, diffused supply chains by their nature impose strict limits on the possible extent of foodborne illness outbreaks, and safety rules must take that into account if they are to be efficient and effective.
It’s instructive to compare the approach in FSMA to foreign food suppliers. Twenty percent of our food supply comes from foreign countries. Thirty-five percent of our produce is imported, which is three times the share of the produce market that small domestic fruit and vegetable farms supply. And the market share for imports increases every year.
Of course, the US Congress cannot grant FDA authority to conduct inspections in foreign countries, so FSMA creates a system that amounts to self-certification by foreign suppliers that they have adequate safety measures in place. Which leads to an obvious question: If it’s good enough for foreign food, why isn’t it good enough for local food? Why would we give foreign producers this competitive advantage if we are concerned in this nation about the loss of farmers and farmland and about our food security?
We need solutions that work to keep the public not only safe, but healthy and enriched, and that promote opportunities for new people to enter agriculture, start businesses, and create jobs, shared value and community-based economic growth. And despite the perils that the proposed FSMA rules present, they also offer the local food movement an opportunity to shape our own destiny when it comes to food safety. And that brings me to my second major point.
It is not enough for local food producers to take our chances on being exempt from FSMA, and to rely on assumptions that ‘my farm has never made anyone sick before’. We must recognize that just telling consumers to wash produce will not prevent illness, because the science clearly demonstrates that washing alone does not significantly reduce pathogen loads. Instead, we must create a comprehensive alternative structure for local food safety, one that takes advantage of our inherent strengths, that increases producers’ access to the best scientific information on protecting customers, and that enhances the ability of farms and businesses to compete in the marketplace. In short, we must always strive to improve our safety performance, and win recognition from regulators and buyers that we are doing the best we possibly can.
FDA’s proposed FSMA rules expose just how fragile the so-called ‘exemptions’ for local food can be in the face of government arrogance and corporate pressure. FDA is proposing loopholes in the law’s local food protections that threaten to swallow those protections completely.
Moreover, FSMA’s protections generally only apply to businesses with less than $500,000 in food sales. If we want local, healthy food systems to grow, if we want market opportunities that will encourage a new generation of sustainable farmers, we will need businesses that grow beyond $500,000, especially food hubs and other collaborative processing and distribution models.
And regardless of whether FSMA applies to an individual local food producer, the market will respond to the federal rules by adopting them as private standards. Insurance companies and retail outlets will require farms and food makers to comply with FSMA as a condition of market access—unless we take the initiative to create a safety system for local food that is tailored to the actual risks we create and tailored to the economic conditions on our farms.
And that is our opportunity at this moment. We can offer a solution to FDA’s impossible challenge of uniformly enforcing safety rules. The answer is establishing equivalency between what works in local food and what is necessary in complex corporate supply chains. The answer is to demand that government, markets and insurance companies treat local producers the same as foreign suppliers.
We need to band together, farmers and foodmakers alike, to establish our own standards and approaches to address our greatest risks while preserving the accessibility of local, organic markets for new food and farming entrepreneurs. In best tradition of agricultural community cooperation, we can establish effective, regional safety certification and training systems, run by us, by our community. These regional, scale- and market-based entities would set research priorities, distribute information to farmers and food makers on the latest applicable science, set our own certification requirements, and conduct safety certifications that government and insurance companies alike will accept. This is a vision for a food safety government of our community, by our community, and for our community, and for a better food supply for all.
So how do we get this done? First, we document the egregious problems with the FSMA rules. FDA’s proposals weigh in at over 1,500 pages, and are riddled with flawed assumptions, false conclusions, logical inconsistencies, circular definitions, and incomplete data.
People at CFSA and at our sister organizations across the country are combing through those pages now to identify as many of the potential pitfalls as possible, so we can have thorough, well-researched and detailed criticisms, as well as kudos where appropriate, to offer to FDA. Then it will be essential for you, the farmers and food makers and consumers of local organic food, to take those theoretical problems and bring them to life with examples from your own knowledge and experience. The national grassroots comment campaign from the local organic ag community will start in earnest at the end of this month, about six weeks before the comment period ends (EDITOR’S NOTE: The comment period of the FSMA has been extended. For more information, read the excellent NSAC blog post). I can’t stress enough how important it will be to have you participate in that campaign. We’re not talking about 100,000 auto-generated email comments, but specific real life illustrations of how these rules will jeopardize farmers’ rights to grow, small businesses’ rights to make, and families’ rights to eat healthy, local food. And if you are not already a CFSA member I am asking you right now to go to sign up for our action alerts so you can be ready when the grassroots campaign begins in earnest. Share this issue with your customers and neighbors, and encourage them to comment, too.
That’s the first step. But simultaneous with that immediate urgent issue, we also need to start work on creating our alternative vision, and we must all participate in creating it. CFSA has gotten started on this work already. We have spent the last two years working with a dozen diversified small farms to find out if we can get them through a USDA Good Agricultural Practices, or GAP, audit, and documenting exactly how much time and money it takes pass. The good news is that so far every farm that’s gotten audited has passed, and no one has had to eliminate manure fertilizers, kick livestock off the farm, or install stainless steel countertops to do it. The beauty of USDA GAPs is that it provides flexibility, unlike the proposed FSMA rules. Just because a GAP inspector faults one element of your food safety plan doesn’t mean you fail the audit. And this is a great foundation to build upon.
And there are similar programs being developed for local food systems across the country. The National Good Food Network has pioneered a ‘group GAP’ program that holds the promise of helping cooperatives and food hubs to earn certification without every single participating farm having to undergo inspection. These programs and others like them offer our movement a platform for building a food safety system that is safe for local organic food. And we need more of you involved to validate them. CFSA will be doing more trainings on our GAP program this year, and will offer cost shares to farmers applying for GAP certification. And in the fall, we will begin convening meetings of farmers and food makers and food buyers across the Carolinas to identify the next steps we have to take to create an equivalent alternative to the industrial food safety model. We need you to be a part of those conversations, but if we don’t know how to find you, we can’t involve you. So sign up for our action alerts from CFSA, even join us as a CFSA member. Each and every one of us has a responsibility to get involved in this discussion.
Making a scale-appropriate local food safety system will require talking with our customers about safety issues, frankly and forthrightly, explaining to them the realities of food production and the solutions that the local organic food movement can offer. Farms and food makers serving local and markets are committed to strengthening their communities and to protecting the soil, air and water upon which we all depend. An essential part of that commitment is providing customers the healthiest foods they can.
Sustainable farms, regardless of size, want to do the best job possible to protect public health, and are playing a vital role in reducing the epidemics of diet-related diseases ravaging this nation. Our food laws and regulations must ensure that local farms and food producers can prosper and continue to contribute to a healthier national diet. But that won’t magically happen by itself. We have to take responsibility for protecting ourselves and our communities.
From my years of working at CFSA, and travelling across this region visiting with farmers and farm-lovers, I know the caliber of people that you represent. I know how amazing you are and how committed you are to building a better food future. And because of that, because of the amazing people that you are, I am confident—indeed, I am certain—that working together, we can turn the threat of FSMA into the greatest opportunity we have yet had to create a vibrant, just, and nurturing agriculture in our communities and across this nation. I hope you are as excited about the possibilities as I am.
CFSA and Anson County Farmers Advocate for Policies That Will Help Sustainable Farms Thrive
by Jared Cates, CFSA’s Community Mobilizer
April 23, 2013
At the beginning of April, I was fortunate enough to visit Gary and Kelly Sikes’ farm, Bountiful Harvest, in Polkton, NC. When I was growing up, my family rode through this region of the state on our back-road trips for holiday visits. I fondly remember staring out the car windows at the rolling fertile farmland and all of the cows and farms; the beauty of this part of the state always mesmerized me.
As I entered Anson County, I was enveloped by the green freshness of spring that was just starting to take over from winter. I think the taste of the cool spring air felt especially uplifting because I had already had a long day. Earlier that morning I attended the 7th annual Carolina Farm Stewardship Association Legislative Breakfast at the General Assembly in Raleigh. It was an excellent event and a great opportunity to meet many freshman and seasoned state Senators and Representative who were eager to learn about organic agriculture and local foods in North Carolina. Sandi Kronick of Eastern Carolina Organics gave an impassioned speech highlighting the importance of local foods and organics and how this growing market is creating real jobs in her business and throughout the state.
As soon as the breakfast was over, I made my way to Bountiful Harvest Farm to meet with CFSA member farmers and U.S. Congressman Richard Hudson of the 8th District. Congressman Hudson is serving his first term in the U.S. House of Representatives and is on the House Agriculture Committee; he will be doing important work on the farm bill this year. The Carolina Farm Stewardship Association and Bountiful Harvest Farm invited Congressman Hudson to visit for a farm tour and to hear from our members about organic production.
Unfortunately, the wet weather cancelled the farm tour, but the Congressman was still excited to visit the Bountiful Harvest and meet CFSA member farmers to hear their concerns about agriculture. The Sikes generously welcomed us all into their home and Kelly Sikes shared some delicious dishes prepared with free-range poultry raised on the farm. The fried chicken biscuit was a big hit!
Carson Sikes, their 14-year-old son told us about his love for the farm and how he raised a flock of 1,000 birds nearly all on his own. Carson is destined to be a master poultry farmer. The Sikes homeschool their children, and their other daughters, Mekalay and Carrie, are happy to help with the farm as well. Mekalay even helped to design the farm’s website with Kelly.
Congressman Hudson listened with interest to the seven farmers who attended and heard about the challenges facing family grass-fed beef farmers, sustainable pork operations, concerns around GMO-free grain and the general trend of corporate control edging out family farming. The Congressman shared his concerns about the short comment period for the Food Safety Modernization Act, which has since been extended.
We were also happy that NC Senator Gene McLaurin (25th District) and NC Representative Mark Brody (55th District) were both able to attend the meeting. Both the Senator and the Representative had attended the CFSA Legislative Breakfast earlier that morning. We appreciated their passion and their eagerness to learn more about organics and the challenges to local food systems.
At the end of the meeting, I realized that something truly great had happened. I had just witnessed a homegrown meeting in a farmhouse full of honest, hardworking people who were voicing their concerns about the future of farming and the future of their families to our elected officials; officials who actually have the power to make the necessary policy changes to support these farms. It was a powerful feeling. Attendees appreciated that Congressman Hudson, NC Senator McLaurin and NC Representative Brody were all there to listen to their concerns and CFSA would like to thank them all for attending.
I pulled out of the driveway at Bountiful Harvest feeling encouraged. Encouraged by seeing folks come together, encouraged by elected officials honestly listening to the concerns of their constituents and hopeful that Congressman Hudson will remember these conversations and share these stories with his colleagues in Washington, D.C. when he’s working on the Farm Bill this coming year.
Many thanks to Congressman Hudson for meeting with us and many thanks to the Sikes family for inviting us into your home!
Meet Miss April 2013!
by Traci Nachtrab, Lucky 3 Farm
reposted with permission from http://www.lucky3farm.com/blog/
Editor’s Note: The USDA NASS found Lucky 3 Farm from one of Traci’s guest posts on The Sweet Potato! If you are interested in guest posting, please email Anna MacDonald Dobbs, firstname.lastname@example.org.
The calendar promotes the 2012 Census of Agriculture. Farmers, make sure you are counted! The response deadline is February 4, 2013.
Well you could have knocked me over with a feather a few months ago when the USDA National Agricultural Statistic Service emailed us and asked if they could use one of our farm photos for their calendar!
It took me about a nanosecond to respond YES! How cool is that? Little ole us featured in a national calendar!!
So…we are pleased to reveal Lucky 3 Farm’s Miss April 2013! (otherwise known as Rachel Nachtrab).
We’re thrilled! Rachel not so much. She said “Couldn’t they have picked a better photo of me?!” Sounds just like a woman.
Now we’re gonna picture you to death! (Cuz we’re about to bust with pride!)
So there you go. We have a calendar pinup girl in the family now.
And Rachel, here you go…a “good” photo of you for all of the world to see:
Lucky 3 Farm is a small family farm in Franklin County, owned by Calvin and Traci Nachtrab. They raise beef, chicken and pork for their CSA members. You can find out more about Lucky 3 and follow their blog on their website: http://www.lucky3farm.com/.
Thor Oechsner: Connecting Farmer to Baker
by Jennifer Lapidus, CFSA’s Infrastructure Research Coordinator
We, here at CFSA, are very excited to be bringing in Thor Oechsner of Oechsner Farms to keynote this year’s Organic Commodity and Livestock Conference, taking place in Rocky Mount on February 15th (with on-farm workshops Feb 14). Thor’s farming operation, located in Newfield, New York, encompasses close to 1,000 mostly leased, certified organic acres (more than twenty fields within a twenty mile radius ranging in size from 8-148 acres). He has a thriving grain and cover crop production with corn for feed and food grade; wheat for milling– both bread and pastry (hard and soft) — and distilling; oats for feed and seed; rye for flour and seed; buckwheat for flour and seed; red clover for soil building and seed; a handful of heritage grains for niche markets; plus grass hay and straw. Thor is also founding partner in both Farmer Ground Flour, LLC, and Wide Awake Bakery, closing the gap between farmer, miller, and baker (and inspiring us down here at Carolina Ground Flour Mill. And yes, Farmer Ground Mill inspired the name Carolina Ground).
I first met Thor on his farm. With funding from Organic Valley, which allowed me to visit farms within the Carolinas, as well as get outside our region to do-on-the-ground research and networking, I landed in Newfield, NY. It was the summer before last and instilled in my memory of that first meeting was that the apprehension I often feel when approaching a farmer on his farm–because I am asking a farmer for his time, and there’s never enough time in the day. My fear was immediately expelled by Thor’s warm welcome. This was once he emerged from under the immense Deutz-Fahr tractor he was repairing. Hands covered in grease, he re-surfaced with a bright smile and an offer to provide a tour of his operation.
We began with his newly acquired (used) Crippen S-54 four screen seed cleaner. The towering machine resembles a legless All Terrain Armored Transport, Star Wars, Circa: the Battle of Hoth. The Crippen was not yet fully set up, and he pointed to his Sidney 123 BE 3-screen cleaner, which is what they were currently using to clean grain and seed at two-tons an hour. The Crippen can clean six tons an hour.
He then guided the way to his grain bins– 11 bins lined up, ranging in size from 1,500 bushel capacity to 13,000. I wanted to know how he managed to acquire such a fleet. He said he bought the first couple bins used and cheap, but the energy and time spent setting them up convinced him of the value of low- interest loans and new bins, and so the other nine bins were purchased through FHA loans.
Next, we were on to the combines– a John Deer 9500 with a 15ft head, and a Gleaner S-3.
Having launched the North Carolina Organic Bread Flour Project with the simple, naive notion that the Carolina farmer and Carolina baker should be doing business together, only to be faced with the towering obstacle of rebuilding infrastructure, Thor’s set-up had me feeling like a kid in a candy store. The answer to my looming question, “How did you get here?” was simple: one step at a time and lots of resourcefulness. And not so simple– the ongoing challenge of working with diverse markets and diverse rotations. And then there’s infrastructural upkeep. Thor worked as farm equipment mechanic out of college, and later ran an Audi/VW repair shop. He also taught diesel mechanics at the local community college until he made enough money to take on farming full-time in 2003. And so he has the skills. And I suspect, most importantly, it all works because he loves to farm and he’s having fun doing it.
Winstead Farm has Successful First Year Farming
by Gwen Roach, New Farmer
photos provided by Winstead Farm
Editor’s Note: This is our third in a series of blog posts featuring current CFSA members during our Winter Membership Drive.
Food has always been a central and growing passion in our family. In 2008-09, while facing significant health challenges, we began to understand the huge connection between the quality of our food and our health. We read Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food, Adelle Davis’ Let’s Have Healthy Children, and watched the documentary Food, Inc. All of these thoroughly convinced us we needed change.
Gwen, Graham & Ephraim at the Cobblestone Market
We started to change our patterns of food consumption from buying and eating all commercially-produced supermarket food to sourcing larger portions of our diet from local farmers producing whole foods naturally. Gwen started to learn about and experiment with cooking truly wholesome, scratch-made, traditional foods without processed ingredients.
On New Years Day 2010, we looked forward to a new decade and found ourselves dreaming about a different life direction. The dream that was born in us that day was to raise our family close to Graham’s in NC, and to become producers of good, clean, high-quality food. We also wanted to share our passion for healthy living with our community. We spent the year researching small-scale sustainable farming. Reading Joel Salatin’s books, You Can Farm and Pastured Poultry Profits, got our wheels spinning and we were excited to get started. We felt like starting with pastured poultry and a bit of gardening before adding other ventures would be a good way to learn without taking on too much risk.
In early 2011, we purchased our farm and in June we packed up and left good work and friends in Houston, TX to become NC farmers. We spent summer and fall growing chicken and produce for ourselves and gearing up for business. We also shopped regularly at the CFSA’s Cobblestone Farmers Market open on Tuesdays in downtown Winston-Salem. We got to know other farmers and the local food scene that way.
We joined CFSA and attended their 2011 Sustainable Agriculture Conference in Durham. We made significant contacts there and gained a lot of encouragement and excitement about getting our farm business off-the-ground.
We found out at the perfect time that CFSA was helping to establish a Saturday Cobblestone Market at Old Salem for the 2011-12 season. This market would be producers-only, just like the Tuesday market downtown. We applied and were invited to participate as vendors. This was the best thing that happened to us. Being at this market just one day a week during our first season allowed us to build a solid customer base and maintain very good sales. We couldn’t have asked for a better outlet. The managers and other vendors have been marvelous. This new market was hugely supported by shoppers in the city and was amazingly recognized as the #11 Farmers Market in the nation by US News and World Report!
This season we sold pastured-meat chickens, eggs from pastured hens, and fresh-ground whole-grain treats baked at home. In the beginning, we struggled to meet demand for chicken. We were dealing with a learning curve and losing our birds to predators. On several early batches, we processed only 50% of the chickens we bought as chicks. After a good bit of research and some trial and error, we found a better way to secure our mobile coops from predators. With the last few batches of broilers, we were able to process almost the entire batch. We ended the season strongly with a great survival rate, a strong customer base, and excitement for the next year.
Winstead Farm chickens on pasture
This fall, we both attended the Sustainable Agriculture Conference again, and the value of the conference was magnified significantly after having a year of experience under our belt. We knew what questions to ask, and who to hear from and talk with. Graham went on the livestock tour, had significant discussions with experienced livestock farmers, and gained a wealth of great advice from the pastured poultry workshop. We were thankful to receive scholarships through CFSA and the Forsyth County Extension Office to attend.
CFSA has been a key resource in our first year farming by helping us make significant connections, get our product to market, and learn new skills to help us be successful. We’re thankful for those who support CFSA, and in turn, support farmers like us working to produce high-quality food for our local community.
Ephraim and his chicks
Gwen, Graham, Ephraim believe that humanely and naturally raised food is the tastiest and healthiest food. They are also excited to be welcoming a baby girl, due in March. Find out more about their story and farm-fresh products, visit their website: http://winsteadfarm.com/.
Deep in the Hundred Acre Wood…Farm
by Jim Dykes, Hundred Acre Wood and Sanctuary Steward
photos provided by Hundred Acre Wood
Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of posts by current CFSA members during our Winter Membership Drive.
I am a retired physician, now farming. I have been a part of CFSA for more than 35 years. I was at the first organizational meeting of CFSA. I’d love to share a story about that meeting.
But first I need to tell you just how I happened to be there. In my second year of Duke Medical School a grateful patient gave me a book of poetry: “Farming, A Handbook,” by Wendell Berry. The book changed the course of my life.
I would read his poems whenever my work on the wards would let me catch a moment of rest. I’d put on some fresh scrubs, find an empty stretcher in a quiet room, and read. “A Man Born to Farming,” is the first poem in the collection. I began to wonder if I too might be such a man.
Though I was doing well in school, I started to believe I was called to be a farmer, not a doctor. To the consternation of parents and medical school faculty, I dropped out.
Back in those days, Graham Center in Anson County, NC, was the mecca for those interested in sustainable agriculture. It was a joint project of the Rural Advancement Fund and the National Sharecropper’s Association. I went to learn to farm organically and connect with others who had similar dreams. While I was there, what would become the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association had its first organizational meeting.
Rosie the dog, Cathy, daughter Lia, Jim and goats
The room was packed with farmers and would-be farmers. There was a general consensus that the name of the organization should be Carolina Organic Growers. But at some point in the discussion, a farmer from Virginia stood up and gave an impassioned, impromptu speech about the necessity of stewardship.
As farmers, our relationship to the land is vitally important. A good steward manages things in a way that
fosters the long term growth of the good, that improves circumstances rather than exploits them. Good farming is
more than our choice of fertilizer, it requires compassion for the land and the creatures on it. It requires stewardship.
So Carolina Farm Stewardship Association was proposed as a name and was adopted unanimously by all present. I was proud to be there.
Although I eventually returned to Duke Medical School and practiced medicine for almost 30 years, I have remained a staunch supporter of CFSA. Now, like I did 35 years ago, I retired from medicine to farm. My farm, the Hundred Acre Wood Farm and Sanctuary, is on the CFSA fall farm tour. I hope those who visit can see signs of good stewardship. Nothing could make me more proud.
Farm-fresh dinner overlooking the garden