Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Call Your Senators Now: Safe Food PLUS Family Farms

As a consumer, I would prefer that E. coli tainted beef not make it into the market. However, I would also like small family farmers -- and urban micro-farms, like Heirloom Gardens -- to be able to sell directly to customers.

If you read any food blogs or receive food-related emails, it's likely you've heard at least a little (and probably a lot) about S.510, The Food Modernization Act.  This bill has inspired quite a lot of dialog, some of which is pretty hard to believe. Folks have been saying that all small farms will be instantly put out of business, that it would make organic food illegal, and that you would be prevented from even planting a garden in your yard. It's been difficult (for me, at least) to sort the truth from the hysteria.

Enter Michael Pollan. I've read pretty much everything he's ever written, and listen to several of his speeches and interview. I trust him, and I know he does his homework. Mr. Pollan wants S.510 to pass, but it needs to also include something called the Tester amendment. In the words of Michael Pollan and Fast Food Nation author Eric Schlosser:

"S.510 is the most important food safety bill in a generation. The Tester amendment will make it even more effective, helping to ensure food safety while protecting small farmers and producers.  We both think this is the right thing to do."

If S.510 passed without the Tester amendment, it could severely limit or restrict the ability of small farmers to sell at Farmers' Markets and to restaurants. Food Democracy Now is also advocating for the Manager's amendment, which would give additional protections to small farmers. For additional information about the Tester and Manager's amendments, scroll to the bottom of this post to read text from Food Democracy Now.

(If you don't live in Colorado, click here to get the phone numbers for your senators.)

If you live in Colorado, your senators are:
Senator Mark Udall: 202-224-5941
Senator Michael Bennett: 202-224-5852

If you'd like a suggestion for what to say when you call, try this (courtesy of Food Democracy Now):

"I am a constituent of Senator___________ and I am calling to ask him/her to vote for the Tester–Hagan Amendment and the Manager’s Amendment to the Food Safety Modernization Bill (S.510). We need a food safety bill that cracks down on corporate bad actors without harming vibrant new local and regional food providers. I believe "one size fits all" farm legislation is harmful to the family farm economy, especially beginning farmers, and think that we need size and practice appropriate food safety regulations for small and mid-sized farms and processors, which are vital to our economic recovery, public health, and nutritional wellbeing. Thank you."

What’s in the Tester-Hagan Amendment? [1]

The Tester-Hagan amendment would improve food safety outcomes by creating size-appropriate requirements and less costly compliance alternatives.  The amendment will:

(1)  Clarify existing law which says that farmers who direct market more than 50% of their product to the consumer at the farm or at a retail location off the farm such as a farm stand or farmer’s market need not register with FDA.  This clarification is especially important for off-farm retail locations such as farmers markets. 

(2)  Provides a size appropriate and less costly alternative to Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Plans (HACCP) for farmers who:
  • Direct market more than 50% of their products directly to consumers, stores or restaurants, and
  • Have gross sales (direct and non-direct combined) of less than $500,000, and
  • Sell to consumers, stores, or restaurants that are in-state or within 400 miles.  
Farmers who qualify must provide documentation that the farm is in compliance with state regulations.   Documentation may include licenses, inspection reports, or other evidence that the farm is in compliance with State, local, county, or other applicable non-Federal food safety law.  The farm must also prominently and conspicuously display the name and address of farm/facility on its label.  For foods without a label then by poster, sign, or placard, at the point of purchase or, in the case of Internet sales, in an electronic notice, or in the case of sales to stores and restaurants, on the invoice.

If there are no state regulations or if the farmer prefers a different option, the farmer must provide FDA with documentation that potential hazards have been identified and that preventive controls have been implemented and are being monitored for effectiveness.

(3)  Provides alternatives to the produce standards for farms that:
  • Direct market more than 50% of their products directly to consumers, stores or restaurants, and
  • Have gross sales (direct and non-direct combined) of less than $500,000, and
  • Sell to consumers, stores, or restaurants that are in-state or within 400 miles.  
The farm must prominently and conspicuously display the name and address of farm/facility on its label.  For foods without a label then by poster, sign, or placard, at the point of purchase or, in the case of Internet sales, in an electronic notice, or in the case of sales to stores and restaurants, on the invoice.

What’s in the Manager’s Amendment? 

The Manager’s Amendment incorporates a wide variety of changes to the bill that have been added since the measure was approved by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee late last year.  All of these changes have been approved by both the Democratic and Republican sponsors of the bill.  Among the changes are a number of very important items for farmers, including:

(1) An amendment sponsored by Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) to provide for a USDA-delivered competitive grants program for food safety training for farmers, small processors and wholesalers.  The training projects will prioritize small and mid-scale farms, beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers, and small food processors and wholesalers. The grant program will be administered by USDA’s National Institute for Food and Agriculture.
(2) An amendment sponsored by Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) to reduce unnecessary paperwork and excess regulation required under the preventative control plan and the produce standards sections of the bill.  FDA is instructed to provide flexibility for small processors including on-farm processing, to minimize the burden of compliance with regulations, and to minimize the number of different standards that apply to separate foods.  FDA will also be prohibited from requiring farms and other food facilities to hire consultants to write food safety plans. The Bennet amendment applies to all small farms and processors, not just those who direct market within 400 miles of their farms.

(3) An amendment sponsored by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) for farms that engage in value-added processing or that co-mingle product from several farms gives the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the authority to either exempt farms engaged in low or no risk processing or co-mingling activities from new regulatory requirements or to modify particular regulatory requirements for such farming operations.

(4) An amendment championed by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) to strip the bill of wildlife-threatening enforcement against “animal encroachment” of farms is also in the manager’s package.  It will require FDA to apply sound science to any requirements that might impact wildlife and wildlife habitat on farms.

(5) An amendment proposed by Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) will not require small farmers to meet extensive traceability and recordkeeping if they sell food directly to consumers or to grocery stores and allows labeling that preserves the identity of the farm to satisfy traceability requirements. The amendment also prevents FDA from requiring any farm from needing to keep records beyond the first point of sale when the product leaves the farm, except in the case of farms that co-mingle product from multiple farms, in which case they must also keep records one step back as well as one step forward.

1. From our friends at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, November 10, 2010.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Heirloom Gardens Selected for Mayor's Design Award

We are excited to announce that Heirloom Gardens is a recipient of a 2010 Mayor's Design Award. The awards ceremony will take place this evening at 6 p.m. at the Mercury Cafe (a former MDA recipient).

The Mayor's Design Awards were established to celebrate neighborhood businesses and developers who have made design excellence a priority in their communities. As reported by Westword, Mayor and Governor-Elect John Hickenlooper said "Great cities are just as enriched by many small and beautiful design interventions as they are by large and bold civic gestures."

The recognition of Heirloom Gardens is somewhat unique, because the MDA is usually granted to actual structures like unique residences, innovative commercial buildings, and restaurants. However, Heirloom Gardens was chosen not just for the physical transformations of yards and empty lots into organic gardens, but for mobilizing community members as participants in a cooperative local food system.

We at Heirloom Gardens are honored by this award, and grateful to the city for their support of sustainable food. Several of the Heirloom Gardens urban farmers will be present at the awards ceremony tonight. We look forward to continuing to work with our elected officials, community leaders, and neighbors to create new models for healthy, local, sustainable food production within our city!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Invitation: The Urban Conversion Launch Party!

Sunday, November 21st
5:00 - 8:00pm
The Tivoli Theater
900 Auraria Parkway in Denver
(free parking)
$15 -- portions of the proceeds go to benefit Feed Denver and Urban Farming

Click here to purchase tickets. Reserve yours now, because there is limited space available!

Come celebrate the completion of the pilot episode of The Urban Conversion and take part in an event highlighting local and national sustainable living groups.

5:00 - 5:45 --- Roll out the red (or in this case, green) carpet! If you'd like, you can have your photo taken. Also, talk with The Urban Conversion videographer about your thoughts and ideas about the urban homesteading movement.

5:45 - 6:15 --- Take a seat in the theater and hear from local and national advocates about how they are making an environmental difference in the urban homesteading movement.

6:15 - 6:40 --- Kick back and enjoy Episode 1 of The Urban Conversion. This will be the full episode of the program, where Rodman (our urban dummy) visits the home of Sundari Kraft of Heirloom Gardens, and tries his best to learn about gardening, milking goats and tending chickens.

6:40 - 7:00 --- A question & answer period with Rodman, Sundari, and Gina (Rodman's wife). You can ask questions about the program and the filming process. Tim Nyman (executive producer) and Colin Hartin (video/editing) will also be on hand to field questions.
7:00 - 8:00 --- Enjoy a social hour, and spend time mingling with the people who are making a positive impact on the environment. In addition, event sponsors will be on hand to answer questions about what they do and how they do it. There will be a cash bar.

We hope you can join us!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Live Interview on "The Everyday Show"

Thursday, November 11th
10:00 am
Channel 2 in Denver

The folks from the "Everyday" show will be bringing a camera crew to film an interview in our backyard (i.e. the home of Heirloom Gardens). Natalie Tysdal be interviewing Rodman about his new show, The Urban Conversion, and I'll be there to chime in as well. Expect lots of shots of the chickens and goats!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Where Country Meets Yuppie

We wandered up to our local Sunflower Market this afternoon and noticed that they have straw bales for sale. Meant to be decorative, surely, as we're in that pumpkin-y, scarecrow-y time of year. Nice idea, right? Get a straw bale to dress up the front yard...

Ok, I'm sorry. $20 for a bale of straw?!? The same thing costs $6.50 at feed stores (one of which is located about a mile away), and even that price causes veteran farmers to guffaw.

Of course, Sunflower is free to sell their straw bales for whatever they'd like. If customers perceive the price to be too high, they won't buy them. However, I do worry about what the prospect of someone paying $20 for a bale of straw says about how out of touch we've become with our agricultural roots.

What do you think?