January 2012

JANUARY 20, 2012, 10:30 AM -2:00 PM,  EUDORA WELTY LIBRARY 300 North State Street Jackson, MS 

MEETING CALLED BY      Roy  Mitchell, Mississippi Health Advocacy Program

TYPE OF MEETING        Mississippi Food Policy Council Meeting

FACILITATORS           Judy Belue, Emily Broad Leib

NOTE TAKERS            Ona Balkus, Nathan Rosenberg

ATTENDEES

  • Deja Abdul-Haqq, My Brothers’ Keeper
  • Nicole Abell, Alcorn State University
  • Bonnie Allen, Mississippi Center for Justice
  • Priscilla Ammerman, Mississippi Department of Education
  • Ona Balkus, Harvard Law School
  • Judy Belue, Delta Fresh Foods Initiative
  • Kathryn Bryant, American Heart Association
  • Ben Burkett, Mississippi Association of Cooperatives
  • Darnella Burkett Winston, Mississippi Association of Cooperatives
  • Emily Broad Leib, Harvard Law School
  • Mike Cashion, Mississippi Hospitality and Restaurant Association
  • Courtney Choi, Mississippi Center for Justice
  • Christine Coker, Mississippi State University
  • Jammie Collins, My Brothers’ Keeper
  • Maya Crooks, Mississippi Association of Cooperatives
  • Frank Farmer, Mississippi Center for Justice
  • Purvie Green, Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce
  • Shelly Johnstone, City of Hernando
  • Hope Ladner, Mississippi Department of Health
  • Rhonda Lampkin Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi
  • Mark Leggett, Mississippi Poultry Association
  • Velma Oliver, Alcorn State University
  • Beth Orlansky, Mississippi Center for Justice
  • Dr. Alfio Rausa, Mississippi Department of Health
  • Kiana Robinson, Ramisi’s River
  • Nathan Rosenberg, Mississippi State University/Harvard Law School
  • Sandra Shelson, Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi
  • Dantrell Simmons, My Brothers’ Keeper
  • Debbie Smith, Mississippi Health Advocacy Program
  • Donna Speed, Mississippi Department of Health
  • Lydia West, Mississippi Department of Education
  • Tonitrice Wicks, University of Mississippi Medical Center
  • Nancy Woodruff, Gaining Ground Sustainability Institute of Mississippi and Winston County Self-Help Cooperative

AGENDA TOPICS

INTRODUCTIONS    Judy Belue

DISCUSSION       Individuals introduced themselves and explained their organizational affiliations.

RECAP OF LAST MEETING    Emily Broad Leib

DISCUSSION      Emily reported back from the main points from the last MFPC meeting, including the candidate forum with the candidates for the Commissioner of Agriculture and Commerce (only candidate Joel Gill was able to attend). She noted that while Cindy Hyde Smith, the winner of the election and current MDAC Commissioner, was not able to attend the meeting, she said that she would be willing to come talk to the MFPC at a later date about our areas of interest. After the candidate discussion, representatives from WHY Hunger and the Delta Fresh Foods Initiative discussed their work in the Delta region and the potential to bring a “Double Up” farmers market program to the state – such a program would provide incentives in the form of vouchers to individuals who spent their SNAP benefits at farmers markets. Nate Rosenberg presented the results of a survey that he conducted on behalf of MFPC with food service directors to gauge interest for Farm to School programs in the state. We also heard brief reports from our various subcommittees.

FARM TO SCHOOL:  BACKGROUND AND CURRENT STATUS IN MISSISSIPPI    Priscilla Ammerman, Mississippi Dept of Education, and Nate Rosenberg

Farm to School is an issue that the Mississippi Food Policy Council has been researching and working on for the past year and a half. This fall, the Legislative Task Force working on Access to Healthy Foods (resulting from 2011’s HB1170) also identified Farm to School as one of their policy priorities.

First, Priscilla Ammerman, Director of Purchasing and Food Distribution for the Mississippi Department of Education’s Office of Child Nutrition, spoke to the MFPC about the role that she and her office play and also how the Department of Education is getting involved with Farm to School. Priscilla described the statewide purchasing cooperative that she coordinates for Mississippi schools, which uses economies of scale to substantially lower the cost of food going into schools. This is especially great for small school districts where it would otherwise be very expensive for them to have a distributor deliver them food as an individual district. The USDA also provides $15 million worth of commodity foods that can be given to schools at no cost or at a much lower cost than other foods being sold to schools.

Since 2002, the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Education have partnered together to bring locally grown Mississippi products to schools through the Department of Defense Fresh Fruit and Vegetables Program. Through this program, farms that have a suitable volume and the right type of products are able to sell to the statewide program. This food is distributed along with other products bought from the state purchasing cooperative. This program allows schools to use USDA entitlement dollars to bring in local products instead of using their reimbursement funding, which can be used for other food, labor, and equipment. Last year through this program, $1.3 million was spent on Mississippi grown products such as blueberries, cucumbers, southern peas, watermelons, sweet potatoes, cabbages, bell peppers and other products. This program has been successful, but it is only open to large farms that are USDA-certified through GAP/GHP and can deliver large quantities of food to the state inspection facility in Jackson.

The Department of Agriculture also coordinates some frozen products to be sold at schools because these products, like blueberries and peas, are harvested in the summer. Usually the grower freezes and stores the product until they sell it to the school.

Next, Nate Rosenberg gave an overview of Farm to School, the Mississippi Food Policy Council’s involvement in the program, and efforts to increase Farm to School’s presence in Mississippi. He explained why interest in Farm to School is growing and mentioned that there are a large number of funding sources for Farm to School initiatives. He discussed the benefits of Farm to School programs, including

  • increasing fruit and vegetable consumption among students in schools,
  • bolstering nutrition education and health literacy, and
  • creating a new source of revenue for Mississippi farmers.

Nate also described some of the main barriers to Farm to School’s success in Mississippi. Despite interest in Farm to School, there are no current Farm to School programs operating public schools in Mississippi. There is only one pilot Farm to School program operating right now at Emerson pre-school in Starkville, and it was started by individuals from Gaining Ground Sustainability Institute of Mississippi, an organizational member of MFPC, who spoke about their pilot at our last meeting.

Some of the barriers to Farm to School in Mississippi are as follows:

  • One of the most imposing hurdles to Farm to School in Mississippi is the misperception that directly purchasing from local farmers is illegal or creates an intolerable liability risk. Although there is significant interest in the program among food service directors in Mississippi, some food service directors inaccurately believe that they can only purchase food from the small number of large farmers who qualify for the statewide purchasing system.
  • Food service directors also lack experience in purchasing directly from farmers and may be unfamiliar with the bidding process.
  • Many food service directors, educators, farmers and other stakeholders have a misperception that Farm to School programs require extensive or long-term purchasing commitments. Interest in Farm to School grows considerably when people learn that effective Farm to School programs do not necessarily involve purchasing large amounts of local food.
  • Many stakeholders also believe that Mississippi’s growing season is too short for Farm to School and are surprised to learn that several products commonly used by schools are available throughout the year.
  • One of the biggest barriers, according to the survey of food service directors conducted by the MFPC, is concern about food safety.

Since food safety is one of the biggest areas of concern, Nate spoke about the legal framework and some of the misperceptions. There are no legal requirements regarding food safety for schools that want to purchase from farmers. However, many food service directors are nervous about not having any food safety checks on the farmers. Priscilla noted that to help address food safety concerns, the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce (MDAC) and the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) are hoping to create food safety guidelines for schools that wish to participate in Farm in School. While this is still in development, the current plan is to provide schools with three alternative ways to ensure that farmers are using good food safety practices. First, schools could purchase local food from farmers that have completed the USDA Good Agriculture Practices (GAP) and Good Handling Practices (GHP) verification program. Due to the high cost of receiving GAP/GHP certification and the very small number of farmers who are GAP/GHP certified in Mississippi, MDAC and Mississippi State University Extension hope to offer a less expensive state-level food safety certification or education program for farmers, that would also be acceptable. Lastly, schools could ask farmers to complete a food safety checklist developed by Iowa State University Extension that is commonly used in other states. It is important to note that there is not and will not be any legal requirement for farmer food safety that schools must follow, but these will be options that they can choose.

Some of those present had a brief discussion about the difficulty in the GAP/GHP certification. Shelly Johnstone noted that farmers need help with the cost and need better teachers. She also noted that it would be helpful to have information available more readily such as online. Shelly spoke about the in-home processing and canning trainings that were held last year and the confusion they created for many small growers and producers. Dr. Rausa wondered if some of these classes, such as the proposed new food safety class, could be offered through videoconference, at schools or Extension offices.

Nate noted that in addition to the barriers above, the survey also found that Farm to School advocates need to build relationships between food service directors, school administrators, and farmers if Farm to School is to grow significantly within the state. School staff must develop close relationships with farmers in order for Farm to School programs to thrive and there is currently no organization in Mississippi connecting schools to farmers. Nate noted that contrary to expectations, the survey found that the overwhelming majority of food service directors did not think that labor and equipment barriers would impede Farm to School efforts. Only 16% of the survey respondents said that they did not have the proper equipment, staff, and facilities to prepare raw fresh food. However, many of the food service directors did express interest in additional educational and training materials to help them prepare and serve more fresh foods.

Following on this discussion, Sandra Shelson asked about whether schools were allowed to prepare and serve foods grown in school gardens. Priscilla said that they were allowed to serve these foods because there are no legal requirements for schools, but that the schools should have some food safety best practices that they follow; however, it is up to individual schools.

FARM TO SCHOOL: LEGISLATION AND LOCAL ACTION    Ona Balkus, Harvard Law School

Ona Balkus, a student at Harvard Law School studying food policy with Emily, next described the project that she and a team of Harvard Law students will be working on this spring. The MFPC requested this project as a result of the need for technical assistance identified in the survey of food service directors. The project will be a step-by-step purchasing manual for food service directors who want to start purchasing locally grown produce to be served in school meals. Ona has spent the last three weeks interviewing food service directors and farmers on what information should be included in the manual. However the manual is still very much in its formative stages and any input and comments on what should be included in the manual would be extremely helpful over the next few weeks. To get in touch with Ona and the other students working on this guide, please e-mail Ona at obalkus@jd13.law.harvard.edu or Emily at emilybroad@gmail.com. Ona noted that if needed, we could also do a similar guide for farmers after we complete the one targeted at schools.

Ona then discussed the legislative recommendations that the Legislative Task Force on Healthy Foods developed this fall and the two Farm to School bills that will likely be introduced by Rep. Toby Barker in the 2012 legislative session as a result of the Task Force recommendations. As noted by Nate, Farm to School is legal in Mississippi, so legislation is not needed to start Farm to School programs; however, these bills would help to support and promote Farm to School in the state. The two bills are as follows:

  1. A Farm to School resolution that establishes an official Mississippi Farm to School Week. This would be a statewide week where schools are encouraged to incorporate locally grown food into at least one meal during the week. It would clarify that not only is Farm to School legal in Mississippi, but that it is something the Legislature encourages local communities to initiate. Farm to School Week can include creative elements such as politicians eating lunch at schools, field trips to farms, and other activities. It could be as small as a one-time purchase, but would help start building relationships between farmers and food service directors.
  2. A bill proposing the creation of an Inter-Agency Farm to School Council. The Council would bring together representatives from government agencies such as the Dept of Ed, MDAC, MSDH, as well as other stakeholders like schools, farmers, consumer advocates, and parents. The Council would figure out best practices for starting Farm to School programs in the state and also be a resource for farmers and schools looking to start such programs. The focus of their efforts would largely be up to the expertise of members of the Council, but some tasks could include assisting schools and farmers in using an online database such as Mississippi Market Maker (http://ms.marketmaker.uiuc.edu/), identifying and helping with financial grants, and helping schools to amend school food ordering and preparation to make it easier to use locally grown products in school meals.

Purvie Green noted that the MFPC should encourage farmers to sign up on Market Maker because the site can be accessed by schools so it is a great way to get information out about what farms are able to grow and sell. Donna Speed noted that one way to have interagency discussion on Farm to School if the bill doesn’t pass is to fold it into another existing Council, such as the Obesity Council. Donna noted that we should included the Dept of Corrections as well.

Members of the MFPC can and should advocate for the Farm to School bills by (1) contacting your legislators and supporting the bills, using talking points from the Farm to School fact sheet, (2) reaching out to parents, teachers, and school administrators and encouraging them to contact legislators or state agency employers to show their support of Farm to School programs, and (3) using the MFPC “policy action” page once it is launched and disseminating it to people who would be interested and supporting of Farm to School programs (the MFPC website is available at www.mississippifoodpolicycouncil.com).

Lastly, we discussed what the MFPC members can do to bring Farm to School to their local communities. Some action steps include (1) telling school administrators that you want to see Farm to School efforts at your school, (2) helping schools and farmers to meet and develop a commercial relationship, (3) helping to build a school garden, and (4) reaching out to local Extension agents to help find farmers, build gardens, and start other Farm to School efforts.

ACTION STEPS:  In order to support Farm to School legislation in Mississippi, MFPC members should:

  1. contact legislators to support Farm to School legislation
  2. reach out to your networks, including parents, teachers, and school administrators and encourage them to contact legislators as well

visit the new MFPC “Take Action!” page on the website (www.mississippifoodpolicycouncil.com) to follow updates on the legislation.

FARM TO SCHOOL:  MISSISSIPPI ASS’N OF COOPERATIVES SUCCESS STORY IN LOUISIANA    Darnella Burkett-Winston

Darnella Burkett-Winston is the Cooperative Field Specialist for the Mississippi Association of Cooperatives and presented on the successful Farm to School efforts she coordinated in Louisiana and how she hopes to bring that experience to Mississippi.

Darnella worked with a charter school in Louisiana where they brought local watermelons grown by the Indian Springs Co-op in Mississippi to the Edible Schoolyard program in New Orleans. Students asked questions about how watermelons grow and got to taste the watermelons. In one year, they were able to sell 500 watermelons to 3 schools. The program expanded into a school garden where the students grew their own small watermelons to bring home. Then other schools started their own programs. Universities, including Southeastern Louisiana University, then also requested a Farm to School program and they hosted a farmers market on campus where students could learn how to cook fresh fruits and vegetables in the dorm kitchens. Louisiana State University has now approached them to do this as well.

Darnella and Mississippi Association of Cooperatives love doing this in Louisiana, but they are from Mississippi and they want to bring this program to Mississippi. However, schools in Mississippi haven’t shown interest. Darnella noted that Farm to School programs are exciting for farmers, as they give farmers a reason to grow a little bit more and different foods. The Department of Corrections in Mississippi is now expressing interest in getting farm-fresh foods. This is great, but if we can get fresh foods to prisoners, why can’t we get them to our school children?

Darnella noted that another barrier is the liability insurance (between $2-4 million) that farmers might want to get to enter the system. Insurance agents are very hesitant to write policies for small farmers. There is a local insurance agent (Nat Thomas at Statewide) in Jackson that wants to help them write a plan that would avoid this expensive insurance but they haven’t been able to do it yet. She said there is also a recent example from Alabama.

To learn more about Darnella’s work in Louisiana and Mississippi, please contact her at darnellaburkett@earthlink.net.

PRESENTATION ON FARMERS MARKET BILL     Emily Broad Leib

Through the Legislative Task Force on Healthy Food Access, the MFPC also helped to propose a bill that would help farmers markets. The bill, which is also going to be introduced by Rep. Toby Barker, would give counties and municipalities the legal authority to fund farmers markets. Under law, counties and municipalities in Mississippi need state statutes to authorize them to fund different types of programs and entities.

While it is currently legal for county governments to fund farmers markets, the language is not very clear and some county government might not know it is allowed. The bill would clarify the language. However, municipalities are not currently allowed to fund farmers markets, so this bill would authorize such funding. The bill wouldn’t require any funding, but would just make it possible for cities and counties to fund farmers markets, since they are great sources of healthy food access, economic development, and community building.

Please support this bill as we send out weekly emails about updates on all of the legislation supported by the MFPC. We will have a “Take Action!” page on the MFPC website available where you can contact your representatives and see the most recent updates on these bills. Also please let us know if there is a bill that we should be following by contacting obalkus@jd13.law.harvard.edu.

ACTION STEPS: In order to support Farmers Market legislation in Mississippi, MFPC members should:

  1. contact legislators to support the farmers market legislation
  2. reach out to your networks, and encourage them to contact legislators as well

visit the new MFPC “Take Action!” page on the website (www.mississippifoodpolicycouncil.com) to follow updates on the legislation.

PRESENTATION ON SHARED USE BILL    Katherine Bryant

Katherine Bryant is the Government Relations Director for the Mississippi Chapter of the American Heart Association. Katherine was also involved in the Legislative Task Force on Healthy Food Access and helped to write the shared use bill that will be introduced during this legislative session. The bill addresses liability issues between schools and organizations that want to use the school space after hours but currently cannot because the school would be liable for any injuries or damages during that time. This bill will help people who want to use school facilities after hours, such as after school programs, physical education programs, and garden programs.

MFPC SUBCOMMITTEES “REPORTING BACK”    All

The following subcommittees then reported on their activities:

Farmers Markets Subcommittee (Judy Belue): The Farmers Market Subcommittee is about to embark on creating a survey for farmers markets around the state to see what barriers and obstacles they face and find policies and trainings that the MFPC can advocate for to help them be more successful. The subcommittee is interested in soliciting more members who are interested in helping to prepare the survey. If you’re interested in joining the subcommittee, email Judy Belue at jwbelue1@gmail.com.

In-home Processing Subcommittee (Dita McCarthy was not present so Emily Broad Leib presented): In response to the work of the MFPC last year, MDAC and MSDH are now allowing people to sell non-potentially hazardous foods produced in a home kitchen as long as the vendors take and pass a class on how to safely produce low risk foods in their homes. There are two separate classes: one on low-risk food items and one on canned food items. While we are excited about these classes, many people are leaving the classes confused. We are working to collect information and feedback from class participants to suggest improvements for the classes. MDAC and MSDH have noted that they are willing to work with us to improve the classes.

If anyone has been to one of these classes, specifically the Jackson class since we have not talked to anyone from that class yet, please contact us with your feedback by e-mailing Dita at dita.mccarthy@gmail.com or Emily at emilybroad@gmail.com.

Legislative Task Force Liaison Subcommittee (Mark Leggett): This committee had no additional updates other than those mentioned above.

Farm to School Subcommittee (Nate Rosenberg, Beneta Burt): This committee had no additional updates other than those mentioned above.

OPPORTUNITY TO POSE LEGAL QUESTIONS TO MDAC    Emily Broad Leib

At the last MFPC meeting in October, we hosted a candidate forum for candidates running for Commisssioner of Agriculture. At the forum, many of those present raised several legal questions about producing foods, processing meat and poultry, dairy, etc. MDAC has offered to answer any of our legal questions on farming, food production, and food safety. If MFPC can put these questions together, MDAC will both submit written response to us and also have someone present at our next MFPC meeting to present to the group on these topics and answer any questions.

If you have any questions that you want to add to the list, contact Emily at emilybroad@gmail.com.

PRESENTATION ON EAT HEALTHY MS PROGRAM    Mike Cashion, Mississippi Hospitality & Restaurant Ass’n

Mike Cashion is the Executive Director of the Mississippi Hospitality & Restaurant Association. He described the MHRA’s new program, “Eat Healthy Mississippi,” which is a joint project with MDAC and encourages Mississippi restaurants to buy products from Mississippi farmers. They have a substantial grant from the USDA ($80,000) and are recruiting local farmers to register on the Mississippi Marker Maker Web site (http://ms.marketmaker.uiuc.edu/). They are also recruiting restaurants to create menu ideas that incorporate locally grown products and to submit these recipes to the restaurant association, who will decide if the Mississippi product is adequately represented in the dish to give the restaurant credit. The restaurants are then encouraged to register with healthydiningfinder.com, where if their recipes meet certain nutrition requirements they can market their dishes as part of that program. Lastly they are targeting consumers and encouraging them to use healthydiningfinder.com when considering where to eat.

How can you support this program? First, help bridge connection between farmers growers and restaurants. Also if you know farmers, encourage them and help them register on Market Maker so that restaurants and other organizations can access their products. If you have more questions or would like copies of the brochure for Eat Healthy Mississippi, please contact Mike at mikecasion@msra.org or 610-420-4210.

Please attend an Eat Healthy Mississippi Kickoff event and learn more about the program:

  • Starkville- February 13th- 3:00 – 4:00 P.M., The Veranda, 208 Lincoln Green
  • Oxford- February 15th- 3:00 – 4:00 P.M., Boure’, 110 Courthouse Square
  • Tupelo- February 16th- 3:00 – 4:00 P.M., Tupelo CVB, 399 East Main St.
  • Gulfport- February 20th- 3:00 – 4:00 P.M., Knight Non-Profit Center, 11975 Seaway Rd.
  • Hattiesburg- February 21st- 3:00 – 4:00 P.M., Hattiesburg Lake Terrace Convention Center, 1 Convention Center Plaza

UPCOMING EVENTS AND PROGRAMS    All

The group discussed upcoming events that might be of interest to Food Policy Council members. These are some upcoming events that were mentioned at this meeting and the last meeting:

Upcoming Events:

Christine Coker also talked about a new program “Food for Thought” that is hosting quarterly meetings on the coast. Christine is presenting at the June meeting. For more information, email Christine at christineecoker@gmail.com.

***The next MFPC meeting will be in April.

In the future, let us know about upcoming events so that we can help get the word out to the rest of the MFPC and put them up on the MFPC website.

For information about upcoming events, grants, etc. visit the website of the Mississippi Food Policy Council at www.mississippifoodpolicycouncil.com.