27th Annual Sustainable Agriculture Conference: The Local Foods Feast
by Jacqueline Venner Senske, conference blogger
The task was to create a meal for 500 people from local food, something that many chefs may not believe feasible. But it happened, and it was a feast indeed.
Kale and Winter Squash Stew
Collards with Fatback
Sea Island Red Pea Risotto
So let’s start with the stats.
1858 pounds of produce
1829 pounds of meat and cheese
325 pounds of flour
120 pounds of grain
100 pounds of cornmeal
100 pounds of butter
25 gallons of milk
20 gallons of ice cream
8 gallons of cream
All of this came from 38 farmers and purveyors in the Carolinas by way of 3 local distributors and 1 really good, if freezing cold, friend (more on that later).
Well, okay, let’s be totally clear: these figures represent the total amount of local food acquired for all 2300 meals during the 3-day conference. But Friday evening’s Local Foods Feast was the highlight, to be sure. It’s the most formal and biggest single meal, and expectations are high as it takes place the first night of the conference and sets the tone for the weekend.
Luckily, the woman leading the effort is a pro. Literally. Not only is Chef Kris Reid leading this effort for the third year in a row, but she is also the Executive Chef at Charlotte’s Southminster Retirement Community, where her work in bringing local food into her institution – and amazing the residents there with incredible food – is exemplary.
Because Chef Reid has done this before, she has a good sense of how it needs to work. At least 6 months ahead, she froze local produce, like peaches, and combined them with things in season now. Because she brings local to her kitchen at Southminster every day, she knows how and where to source food and how to get the most from it.
But, because of all the moving parts, sometimes things don’t go as planned. For instance, a couple of days out, the arugula still hadn’t arrived. Chef Reid arranged an emergency, by-any-means-necessary delivery. A friend was en route to Greenville from Charlotte and met a produce truck at an abandoned gas station off I-85 to pick up several pounds of arugula. To keep the greens in good shape, Pam cranked the AC to chill the car. It worked – the arugula arrived in fine shape – but Pam was freezing. (Thanks for taking one for the team, Pam!)
The other part that made this work was a great collaboration between Chef Reid and Chef Brandon Lemiux of Greenville’s Hyatt Regency. It takes months, with multiple menu drafts, some education, and creative planning for where to store all that extra food. And it would have been impossible without the hard work of Chef Lemiux’s crew at the Hyatt, including 12 sous chefs, kitchen staff, and over 30 servers.
In the end, this meal was outstanding. Eaters raved, and there was just enough, which was a relief. With such work in not just growing the food but planning, sourcing, and preparing it, margins for this meal are tight. The goal is to have nothing left, so it’s a huge success that the amounts were almost spot-on for each service. Plus, the expenses were under budget. It cost $9 per plate, but would hit around $50 per plate in a restaurant.
Talking with Chef Reid at the end of the night, she was exhausted, but proud. She said she kept thinking of the prayer they say at every family meal in her house: “Thank you, farmers, for this food.”
Do you eat local whenever you can? Are you restaurateur or chef who sources products from local farms? Then you should care about the Tobacco Trust Fund Commission. Here’s why: the Tobacco Trust Fund Commission has funneled over $83 million into over 600 small farms and food businesses in 98 North Carolina counties since 2001 and the General Assembly is considering eliminating it even though it doesn’t depend on taxpayer dollars. Farmers and food business owners have been speaking out loudly in support of the program, and they need all of our help to convince the General Assembly not to eliminate it.
Have you ever wondered why our urban areas—the Triangle, Triad, greater Asheville and the metro Charlotte area—have such booming local food scenes? Why does North Carolina have such an outstanding national reputation as a leader in supporting local food producers? Well, part of the reason is North Carolina’s strong heritage of small family farms, another factor is the creativity and business acumen of farmers and chefs and retailers forming new alliances to serve their customers’ desires, but the rest of the story is the funding support from the Tobacco Trust Fund Commission. The Tobacco Trust Fund Commission has strategically invested in innovative farm enterprises throughout the state. The vast majority of these investments have come in grants of $10,000 or less!
Have you heard of these businesses? Each of them can credit the Tobacco Trust Fund Commission as an essential part of their success. Where would our local food scene be without them?
• Eastern Carolina Organics
• Farmhand Foods (don’t forget their Sausage Wagon)
• The Harvest Moon Grille (both the food cart and the restaurant at the Dunhill)
• New River Organic Growers
• Piedmont Food and Agricultural Processing Center
Check out this handy spreadsheet that shows over 600 projects. You can search it to see if any of the farmers you know are on the list. If they aren’t yet, let’s make sure this program is around so they can take advantage of it in the future.
So, if you’re a locavore—an eater, a chef or a restaurant owner, or food retailer—and you want to continue to have more local food options available, you need to contact your Senator today and add your voice to the voices of the farmers who are fighting for this vital program. If we want our farmers to continue growing the food we love, we owe it to them to make sure they have the best tools available to innovate and grow their farms.
See CFSA’s action alert or the Rural Advancement Foundation’s action alert for more information about contacting your legislators.
If you have questions about this important issue and would like to discuss how to show your support, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
After months of work behind the scenes and strong grassroots pressure, we are seeing a light at the end of the tunnel in the fight for sensible protections for local food systems in new federal food safety law. And it’s not a train. CFSA has been out front on this issue for more than a year, and that work is bearing fruit.
The Status of the Legislation
Negotiations are still ongoing, but so far sustainable agriculture has won agreements from the bill managers that:
1. FDA will be able to exempt low-risk farms and food businesses from the onerous paperwork burdens and compliance costs imposed on high-risk operations. In other words, FDA will have to prove that local food producers are a food safety risk before dictating food safety practices for them.
2. FDA will have to actively minimize compliance burdens for small farms and businesses. In other words, it will not be able to impose regulations that local food producers cannot afford.
3. Any FDA safety standards for growing produce must be compatible with the National Organic Program and USDA resource conservation programs. In other words, FDA will not be able to prohibit organic practices such as manure-based fertilizers and vegetative buffers around production fields.
4. FDA will have to prove the actual risk of pathogen transfer from wild animals and livestock to produce crops before regulating animal controls on farms. In other words, diversified farms will be protected, working dogs will be protected, and no farm will have to put walls and ceilings around their fields to keep out wildlife.
5. FDA and USDA will establish and fund a food safety training program for small farms and businesses. In other words, producers will have access to the latest scientific evidence on best management practices to take care of their customers.
Additionally, we are pushing for a provision on food traceability that would exclude products directly marketed by farms and products where the identity of the farm that grew a food product is preserved all the way to the end consumer (farm-identity preserved products). This issue is still being negotiated as I write.
Together We’ve Made a Difference
These are important victories, and Carolina farmers have helped us get this far. NC Senator Richard Burr’s staff has been actively involved in re-writing the bill, and I met with those staffers last week, along with NC farmers John Vollmer and Chris Hardin. We shared information about how healthy local food systems are providing jobs, increasing farm incomes, saving farms, and providing nutritious, safe food for Carolina consumers. CFSA’s Campaign for Truly Safe Food has organized grassroots action on S.510 at more than 20 farmers markets across the state. Thousands of citizens have contacted Senators Burr and Hagan to demand they protect local organic food from bad regulations.
All this information has helped convince Sen. Burr to fight for the improvements listed above. We are grateful for this support, and encourage you to thank Sen. Burr’s staff for working on behalf of sustainable agriculture. We’re also grateful for the efforts of Senators Bernie Sanders (VT), Michael Bennet (CO), Debbie Stabenow (MI) and Barbara Boxer (CA) to champion these changes.
Call’s to Sen. Hagan’s office are still needed to encourage her support for these changes. Her staff have not fully understood the potential negative impacts on small farms and local food from the original version of S.510.
CFSA also supports Sen. John Tester’s Amendment to S.510, which would exclude farms and food businesses with revenues below $500,000 from the new produce standards and preventive controls in the bill. These entities would continue to be regulated under existing local, state and federal law. We are hopeful the amendment will succeed in a floor vote, as it will provide insurance against one-size-fits-all rules.
What’s Next in Washington
It now looks like the bill might come up for a vote as early as next week, or it may be pushed back another week or two—the Senate has decided to fight over Wall Street reform next week, which may delay them from moving to the bipartisan issue of food safety. Any delay gives an opening to those who oppose our commonsense reforms:
- Rep. Rosa DeLauro yesterday complained at an Organic Trade Association meeting that the Senate is “watering down” the bill, even though she has not apparently read the new language.
- Consumer groups, who have intransigently opposed accommodations for small food producers in their push for tough regulation, have made a big ad buy in the Charlotte area promoting S.510. I’ll be posting to this blog later on the top mistakes, misstatements and misdirections in the consumer group campaign to prevent pro-local food amendments to S.510.
- Big agribusiness lobbyists like David Acheson, who, while head of FDA under the Bush Administration called for “zero tolerance” of pathogens in all foods, and the Grocery Manufacturers Association, are insisting that all producers meet the same standards, regardless of size, market, or risk. http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2010/04/farmers-make-gains-in-senate-battle/
So this campaign is not over, and we all must stay engaged.
Heroes in the Fight
I want to single out Chris Hardin, John Vollmer, Harry Hamil and Debbie Hamrick for thanks for their work on this issue.
· Chris wrote an excellent opinion documenting the compliance costs of S.510 for a small producer (it’s in Appendix II of CFSA’s report “Hurting NC’s Local Food Harvest: The Unintended Consequences of Federal Food Safety Legislation on North Carolina’s Small Agricultural Enterprises”, on our website here).
· John’s voice as a past-President-of-the-NC-Tobacco-Growers-Association-turned-organic-farmer carried tremendous weight with Senate staff.
· Harry’s research and advocacy have exposed the dangers of S.510 to thousands of influence-makers across the country.
· Debbie’s tireless criss-crossing of North Carolina to solicit small farmers’ views on reasonable food safety practices has provided crucial data for regulators.
Work Left to Do
Here’s what still needs to be done:
1. Keep up the pressure on the Senate. Call NC Senators Burr and Hagan, and SC Senators DeMint and Graham to tell them you support the Sanders, Bennet, Boxer, Stabenow and Tester amendments to S.510. Thank Sen. Burr for supporting the Sanders, Bennet, Boxer and Stabenow amendments and for supporting local food producers on the traceability issue. Here are the phone numbers:
Sen. Burr (NC): (202) 224-3154 Sen. Hagan (NC): (202)-224-6342
Sen. DeMint (SC): (202) 224-6121 Sen. Graham (SC): (202) 224-5972
2. Call your U.S. House Representative to tell them that S.510 is far superior to HR.2749, the food safety bill the House passed last year. Ask them to support the Senate Bill in negotiations between the two chambers. Call the U.S. Capitol Switchboard, (202) 224-3121, to be connected with your Representative’s office.
3. If you see articles and statements claiming that “special interests” are watering down the bill with “exemptions for small farms,” set the record straight. Make comments, blog, tweet, Facebook (is that a verb?)… whatever channels you use to connect with your community, help us get the healthy food story out there.
4. Share CFSA’s report, Hurting NC’s Local Food Harvest, with media and decision makers in your community, to let them know how much is at stake in the fight for commonsense food safety rules.
As with the 2008 Farm Bill, the sustainable agriculture movement is elbowing its way to the table to protect and promote healthy food and farming for all. Your support is what makes these successes possible. Thank you.
4/30/10 UPDATE: Sen. Hagan has now endorsed the Tester proposals! Thanks to Sen. Hagan for stepping up on this important issue, despite the complaints of Big Ag.