August 2010

August 13, 2010, 11:00 AM – 2:00 PM, MISSISSIPPI FARM BUREAU 6311 RIDGEWOOD ROAD JACKSON, MS 39211

MEETING CALLED BY       Roy Mitchell, Mississippi Health Advocacy Program, Emily Broad, Delta Directions Consortium

TYPE OF MEETING:          Mississippi Food Policy Council Meeting

FACILITATORS:                  Roy Mitchell and Emily Broad

NOTE TAKER:                     Alexis Chernak

ATTENDEES

  • Roy Mitchell, Mississippi Health Advocacy Program
  • Grace Butler, Mississippi Health Advocacy Program
  • Emily Broad, Delta Directions Consortium
  • Alexis Chernak, Delta Directions Consortium
  • Zach Davis, Millsaps College
  • Charles Houston, North Delta Produce Growers Association
  • Dita McCarthy, Real Food Gulf Coast
  • Diane Claughton, Real Food Gulf Coast
  • Samantha Cawthorn, Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation
  • Ricky Cole, Consultant (Cole Farms)
  • Judy Belue, Local Food Advocate
  • Rhonda Lampkin, The Partnership for  a Healthy Mississippi
  • Therese Hanna, Center for Mississippi Health Policy
  • Debbie Colby, Gulf Coast Health Educators
  • Ricky Boggan, Mississippi State Department of Health
  • Mary Currier, Mississippi State Department of Health
  • Karen Ott Mayer, Hernando Farmers Market
  • Annette Waya Ewing, Shoofly Farms and MGGSIM
  • Teri McCarter, MS Fruit and Vegetable Growers
  • Mark Leggett, MS Poultry Association

AGENDA TOPICS

INTRODUCTIONS             Roy Mitchell and Emily Broad

DISCUSSION       Individuals introduced themselves and organizational affiliations related to food policy.

RECAP OF LAST MEETING             Roy Mitchell and Emily Broad

DISCUSSION       We reviewed the main content of the last meeting. At the last meeting, we heard a presentation from Catherine Cannatella, who is with the Arkansas Food Policy Council. Catherine talked about their organizational structure, 501c3 status, and current policy agenda. We next discussed the governance structure for our own Council and determined that we would divide into three subcommittees: producers, nutrition and health, and advocacy. Individuals also volunteered to serve on a governance working group and report back with governance suggestions to the group. The Council then split into the subcommittees and each subcommittee came up with a list of 3-5 of the most pressing policy issues in that group’s view. We briefly discussed our relationship with the government and next steps, and individuals also volunteered to serve on a mission statement working group to report back at the next meeting.

PRESENTATION: MARK WINNE, COMMUNITY FOOD SECURITY COALITION EXPERT ON FOOD POLICY COUNCILS Mark Winne, Consultant

QUESTION          From your experience working with other food policy councils, what advice do you have for our newly formed council on operation, group organization and the kind of issues we should be addressing?

DISCUSSION       Background: The Community Food Security Coalition is a national nonprofit that provides training and technical assistance to communities on food security. Mark’s work focuses on the development of food policy councils, and he is interested in how these groups influence public policy on different levels of government.  He developed and ran the food policy council for the City of Hartford and Connecticut state, and now lives in New Mexico and works with the New Mexico Food and Agriculture Policy Council. More information about his work can be found online at: http://www.markwinne.com/bio/.

Purpose: Food Policy Councils bring together stakeholders in a food system including those focused on issues such as hunger, farming, and health. FPCs are also about empowering people and organizations to bring about change in the food system. FPCs should be focused on influencing policy by establishing an organized voice that can be used to bring about change and build partnerships with government, schools, etc.

Organization: There are FPCs created by the state government by act of legislation or executive order. Other FPCs have no formal sanction by the government but may have participation by the government.

For example, in New Mexico, there is no formal relationship between the food policy council and the government. This FPC brings together participants from social services, education, health, agriculture, food banks, small and big farmers, and other groups focused on economic development. The food policy council operates under a nonprofit, which helps support the council by calling meetings, sending out notices and minutes, and identifying sources of funding. However, their FPC has participation by the Department of Health, Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Human Services.

By contrast, in Connecticut, the FPC was established by state statute and operates under an administrative umbrella of the state Department of Agriculture. Mark noted that if the FPC is properly set up then it will not lose its independence, even if it is organized under a state agency. The agency only provides administrative support although can also provide funding. Most importantly, the agency should not have undue influence over the council.

Mark recommends state-sanctioned FPCs because they begin with authority from the government, which gives them a closer connection to government which may facilitate affecting change. In addition, state-sanctioned FPCs may get some funding from the state government.

Needs: A food policy council may need a part time staff to do research.  The organization needs governing guidelines addressing these and other issues: how many people can be on the council; whether there are different classes of membership; where members come from; when meetings take place; how the FPC identifies issues and selects issues. Membership should cover a broad spectrum of interests including small and large farmers, organic farmers, food banks, the food industry, supermarkets, anti-hunger organizations, health advocates, etc.

How to Select Your Issues: The process for selecting the issues should be transparent and inclusive of all ideas. When identifying which issues to pursue, the group should make sure that the issues chosen are fairly concrete and that they align with the basic vision and goals of the group. Then, the group should use defined criteria to select from those issues. When narrowing down the list, the groups should be realistic of their resources and the current climate. The group should pick issues that have consensus and that are non-controversial. Most importantly the process should be reasonable and members should take turns working on issues most important to different stakeholders on the FPC.

How to Pick the Low Hanging Fruit: The group should try and identify an issue with an “A-Ha moment,” which is where every member of the group gets the issue. If all stakeholders share this feeling about an issue, then the legislature is more likely to get it too.

For example in Connecticut, the state was losing farm land. The FPC used a conference to educate and inform people about the issue. It took time to address the problem, but Mark said you have to trust your gut that the general public will rally around some matters.  Another issue that could have consensus in the state could be use of state dollars to buy locally-grown food for schools, hospitals and prisons.

Creation/Promotion of Legitimacy for the New Organization: The issue is important, but Mark said that the group does not need to launch a big campaign. He suggested what you could do is launch a website, select a name that people understand, create a mission statement that resonates with people and does not have a lot of jargon, develop stories about your organization and the state food system, and generally get the name of the group out there. He recommended that the FPC take some time to formulate a communication strategy.

For example, in New Mexico, the FPC created a booklet that told stories about the food system, some successes, and some barriers. Then, people from around the state began to associate the FPC with these stories, while simultaneously learning about the pressing issues. However, they needed more than $15,000 to produce these booklets.

CONCLUSIONS  Mark Winne has worked with several different food policy councils across the country. He talked about his experiences with food policy councils and discussed a number of questions that our food policy council should be thinking about as we go forward. Mark has also said that he will be available to answer targeted questions or provide advice to our group as we move forward.

DISCUSSION: MISSION STATEMENT WORKING GROUP REPORT AND VOTE           Roy Mitchell and Dita McCarthy

QUESTION POSED            What characteristics are we looking for in a mission statement? What should our mission statement be?

DISCUSSION       The session opened by discussing what characteristics the group wanted in a mission statement. The group agreed that a mission statement should not include jargon, should resonate and could be coupled with a different and separate tagline. The mission statement should be one sentence so that members can memorize it, but should be broad enough to capture everything.

Roy and Dita circulated three potential mission statements.  During the discussion, the group identified several subjects and issues to emphasize in the mission statement including food security and sustainable local food systems, health and nutrition, agriculture, farming, environment, policy and advocacy.

The group agreed that the mission statement would be as follows:

The mission of the Mississippi Food Policy Council is to advocate for food and farm policies that build healthy communities and strengthen local food systems.

The group also discussed possible using a tagline in addition to a mission. One suggestion for a tagline was: Connecting Mississippi farmers and consumers.

CONCLUSIONS  The group agreed on a new mission statement! The mission statement will be: The mission of the Mississippi Food Policy Council is to advocate for food and farm policies that build healthy communities and strengthen local food systems.

DISCUSSION:  IDENTIFICATION OF PRIORITY ISSUES FOR THE YEAR           Roy Mitchell and Emily Broad

QUESTION POSED            What issues should the FPC focus on for this year?

DISCUSSION       The group began discussions about the group’s priority issues for the year. We discussed several issues in detail but agreed that we will continue this discussion at the next meeting.

Food Assessment: It was suggested that some FPCs have started by completing a food assessments of their area and that our FPC could benefit from this information. Therese described some resources by the USDA that already are available, including the Food Environment Atlas available at http://www.ers.usda.gov/foodatlas/atlas/. Emily recommended that the group think about food assessments and collection of information as a longer term project to be conducted alongside our advocacy work. A food assessment would cost money and would take months to complete. It was recommended that a subcommittee could be created to help with such an assessment if the group decided to explore this project.

Mark also recommended that it might be useful to put together a food chain showing all the products that are part of our diet, what players are involved in getting them to our table, and identifying where on the food chain the different barriers or blockages exist so that we know where to focus our energies. It was agreed that this would be helpful and might be something to work on as a group at our next in-person meeting.

Use of EBT Benefits at the Farmers Market: The group discussed that the Jackson Farmers Market is piloting the use of EBT benefits at its market this year and is attempting to work out the bugs. Also, according to the Department of Human Services, thirty EBT machines will be put into the state later this year but not in time for this market season. Emily mentioned that currently the machines are given to individual farmers and that another possibility would be for the machines to be given to farmers markets directly. There are multiple barriers to this happening, however. Emily mentioned to the group that she and a group of students created a detailed report on this issue which lays out the barriers and opportunities fully. She only has a long version of the report, but she hopes to develop a shorter version in the future. This report will be emailed out to the group along with the minutes.

Risk Management:  Questions were raised about this issue and whether it was too big to be addressed by the council, whether it was covered already by the farm bill, and whether it could be addressed on the state level. The group agreed that liability insurance is a problem for small and medium-sized farmers. The USDA is too focused on big farming, and there is not sufficient access for small producers to obtain liability insurance. There are examples of people buying local from small farmers, but these individuals are accepting the product liability.  The group asked whether small growers might be able to pool their risk together in order to get a better insurance rate. The topic of risk management covers not only crop insurance for the growers if their crops are not successful but also insurance against product liability if a consumer is injured by eating them.

Establishing more processing facilities: The group agreed that there are not enough local processing facilities for fruits/vegetables or meat products. The group discussed advocating for tax credits to promote facilities and working to provide more information to the USDA on the issue. The group believed that regulation was one of the biggest obstacles to improved access to processing, and agreed that it would be helpful to conduct some research regarding the state policies on this issue and comparing them to state policies in other states. Emily volunteered that she could recruit law students to research and prepare a report on this issue during the fall, so that the council could be more educated on the barriers and potential areas for change.

Promoting Farm to School: Farm to school programs are in place in many other states, and they include a set of laws, policies, and incentives so that schools can purchase foods from local food growers and producers. Currently, most if not all of the food purchasing for the school system is done through a centralized system, so this system favors large wholesalers. Thus, Mississippi schools mainly buy foods produced out of state. Some of the barriers to this issue that the group identified included vendors, politics, liability, school cafeteria managers and money. The group agreed that we would need to do a lot more research about this issue to find out how it has been addressed in other states and to find out how food is purchased in Mississippi so that we know how to advocate around this issue. It was suggested that the group could help organize a pilot program in Mississippi. We might also suggest a program whereby some schools would have some flexible spending money to use on purchasing local produce for their cafeterias. The council could look to other states such as Arkansas for examples of how to address this issue.

Development of Community and School Gardens: This may be a good issue to select because it relates to children, which the legislature would support. This issue also helps to target other priorities, such as the reduction of obesity. On the other hand, there is no prohibition on the creation of community and school gardens so there is no real legislative agenda that would need to be pushed, unless we were advocating for money to be available for these gardens. However, advocating for making money available may not be popular right now. Another idea suggested was to advocate for passing a law in the state to require every student in one particular year of school such as fourth grade have so many hours of education in food. The group agreed that this was a nice idea but perhaps something we would consider further down the line.

Research and Advocacy Agenda: After reviewing many of these issues, the council noted that there are some issues on which we feel more research is required before we set an advocacy course. However, we would like to start with some advocacy early on. It was discussed that the group could have both a research and advocacy agenda. The research agenda could examine federal and state laws and determine which state laws, regulation and administrative policy could be targeted by the group for future change. Researching the law may even demonstrate that the law is just being read and applied incorrectly in Mississippi.

CONCLUSIONS  The group identified issues for advocacy as well as research.

Advocacy Issues:

1. The use of WIC and EBT benefits at farmers markets

2. Risk management strategies including cover crop insurance and product liabiltiy

Research Issues:

1. Creation of more processing plants/de-regulation of processing for fruits, vegetables, meats, and value-added products

2. Farm to School – Is this being down in the state at all? How do schools purchase? What are the schools’ budgets? (This issue is separate from growing food on school property.)

3. Food Safety – Allowing individuals to sell some homemade products such as jams in farmers markets.

Emily explained that she will be working in the Health Law clinic at Harvard Law School next year, and her students could research some issues for the council.  She will plan to have them dive into the first issue, that of the regulations on food processing in Mississippi.

The group expressed a strong interest that in the future the group create a flow chart from the farmer to the consumer. This flow chart then can be used to identify holes in where the system is broken down.

REVIEW AND NEXT STEPS             Roy Mitchell and Emily Broad

QUESTION:         When will we hold our next meeting? What will we accomplish before our next meeting?

CONCLUSION:   Since there are many issues to finish up from this meeting, the next meeting will occur over the phone in September. The group then will meet again in person in October.

At the next meeting, the council will continue the discussion about what issues the council should focus on this year. The council will talk about ways to split up the work of addressing these issues. The council also will address governance, which we did not get to cover at this meeting.

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