November 2010

November 12, 2010, 10:30 AM – 1:30 PM, EUDORA WELTY LIBRARY 300 NORTH STATE ST. JACKSON, MS 39201

MEETING CALLED BY       Emily Broad, Harvard Law School

TYPE OF MEETING           Mississippi Food Policy Council Meeting

FACILITATORS                   Emily Broad

NOTE TAKERS                    Katherine Kraschel, Cary Bassin

ATTENDEES

  • Emily Broad, Harvard Law School
  • Donna Speed, Mississippi State Health Department
  • Peggy Linton, Community Foundation of Northwest Mississippi
  • Robert Bell, Tougaloo College Health & Wellness Center
  • Kim Morgan, Mississippi State University Extension
  • Mengmeng Gu, Mississippi State University Extension
  • Teri McCarter, Mississippi Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association
  • Sandra Shelson, Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi
  • Rhonda Lampkin Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi
  • Alexis Chernak, Delta Directions Consortium
  • Jacquelyn Agho, Mississippi Health Advocacy Program
  • Grace Butler, Mississippi Health Advocacy Program
  • Cary Bassin, Harvard Law School
  • Katie Kraschel, Harvard Law School
  • Dita McCarthy, Real Food Gulf Coast
  • Charles Houston, North Delta Produce Growers Association
  • Mark Leggett, Mississippi Poultry Association
  • Beneta Burt, Jackson Roadmap to Health Equity
  • Jesse Strausburg,
  • Rickey Cole, Consultant (Cole Farms)
  • Dr. Alfio Rausa, Mississippi State Department of Health
  • Dee Winokur, Delta Directions Consortium

AGENDA TOPICS

INTRODUCTIONS             Emily Broad

DISCUSSION       Individuals introduced themselves and explained their organizational affiliations.

RECAP OF LAST MEETING             Emily Broad

DISCUSSION       We reviewed the main content of the last meeting. At the last meeting, we heard from Mark Winne at the Community Food Security Coalition about his background working with food policy councils around the country. We then heard from the working group on a mission statement and, and agreed on a mission statement for our FPC. Subsequently, we had an open discussion about all the potential issues of interest to the Council, which had been identified at the previous meeting. Discussion focused on use of food stamps and WIC FMNP vouchers at markets; barriers to entry for small producers of vegetables, meat, and poultry and potential ways to encourage these entities; farm-to-school programs; risk management for small growers; and promotion of school and community gardens.

REPORTING BACK: GOVERNANCE WORKING GROUP      Dita McCarthy, Jesse Strassburg

QUESTION          How should we structure the Food Policy Council? What bylaws and committee structure will best enable the Food Policy Council to achieve its goals in an efficient and orderly manner?

DISCUSSION       Background: Two meetings ago we created a working group to make suggestions on the Council’s governance structure. This working group included Dita McCarthy, Jesse Strassburg, Rickey Cole, and Emily Broad. The working group presented recommendations and sample by-laws to the FPC, and presented their findings at this meeting.

Presentation: Dita introduced the draft bylaws. The working group suggested that instead of the Council becoming a 501(c)(3), we should instead use another existing 501(c)(3) to serve as our fiscal agent if we are interested in fundraising. They suggested using MHAP as such an organization because MHAP was one of the founders of the Council. The working group also reiterated our group decision that we should not attempt to make the FPC a formal entity created by the legislature or governor. They also suggested developing a steering committee, as per Article IV in the proposed bylaws. The steering committee would consist of around eight people, to be elected by the general membership. They also proposed a membership structure, whereby individuals and organizations could join the Council as members, which would also help to raise some money for ongoing meetings of the Council.

Discussion: The group discussed the different types of membership, namely organizational and individual memberships. Governmental organizations could have membership, but would not have a vote. It was also noted that the mission statement should be added to the top of the by-laws.

Regarding the steering committee, there was a concern raised to ensure that farmers markets were consistently represented on the steering committee, rather than just being represented through the existing categories of “consumer,” “producer,” “manufacturer,” and “retailer.”  There was also discussion regarding the appropriate size of the steering committee.  General consensus was to limit the steering committee to 8 or 9 people in the interest of efficiency, while noting that other voices would be represented via general membership.

CONCLUSIONS  It was agreed that the working group will make relevant edits to the bylaws in light of discussion (ie, add “farmers markets” to the steering committee; add the mission statement to the by-laws). Emily will solicit a vote via e-mail for final approval of the bylaws. We will then move forward with nominations for the steering committee and will discuss these positions at the next meeting and likely vote on those by email after the next meeting. Regarding the other recommendations of the governance working group, it was determined that we would not form a 501(c)(3) at this time, but will use MHAP as a fiscal agent for any fundraising.

If anyone has any comments or edits to make to the by-laws, contact Dita at dita.mccarthy@gmail.com.

PRESENTATION: BARRIERS TO ENTRY FOR LOCAL MEAT & POULTRY PRODUCTION             Cary Bassin

QUESTION POSED            What are the barriers to entry for small producers seeking to sell meat and poultry at the local level?

DISCUSSION       Background: At the last FPC meeting, the group identified a series of issues affecting access to healthy, locally grown foods in Mississippi. Several of these items were flagged as areas requiring further research in order for the FPC to identify possible policy priorities for future change. Through her position at Harvard Law School, Emily was able to recruit students to research the issues identified by the FPC, and this research was reported to the group at this meeting.

Presentation/Discussion: Cary Bassin first presented his research regarding what laws or policies create barriers to market entry for local poultry and meat production. He shared handouts on both of these issues with the group.

POULTRY: No major legal barriers to entry exist for local poultry producers in Mississippi. While federal and state laws heavily regulate the various aspects of poultry production, they also contain a number of exemptions for small-scale producers (most notably, an exemption for producers who process less than 1000 birds per year). These exemptions allow such producers to process and slaughter poultry without submitting to inspection, so long as they comply with a few of requirements, namely the upkeep of sanitary conditions, and proper record keeping and labeling.

The group discussed potential non-legal barriers to entry for poultry, such as the unwillingness of restaurants or other institutions to buy non-inspected birds.

MEAT: Significant legal barriers do exist for local meat producers in Mississippi. Federal and state laws heavily regulate various aspects of meat production, and do not contain exemptions for small-scale producers. Nevertheless, there are strategies that local producers and consumers can use to get around, or at least mitigate, the costs of these regulations. These include community supported agriculture, mobile slaughtering units, and legislative and regulatory action.

Many individuals had questions concerning the differences in regulation for various types of meat, such as rabbits, geese, ducks and deer. There was some discussion on a state-inspected slaughtering facility that was supposed to open in Jackson, as well as potential other facilities.

CONCLUSIONS  The group agreed that further research should be done on non-legal barriers to entry for locally produced poultry, whether or not any of inspected meat processing facilities currently exist in the state, and on the feasibility of any efforts to increase local meat production.

PRESENTATION:  BARRIERS TO THIRD-PARTY SALE OF PRODUCE & THE FOOD MODERNIZATION ACT         Katherine Kraschel

QUESTION POSED            What are the barriers to third-party sales for small farmers seeking to sell non-processed, raw produce?  And what effect may pending federal legislation have on those barriers to entry?

DISCUSSION       Presentation/Discussion:  Katherine Kraschel presented her research regarding what laws or policies create barriers to market entry for small farmers selling produce through third-party distributors (ie, not direct marketing). She shared handouts on both of these issues with the group.

THIRD-PARTY PRODUCE SALES: Katherine emphasized that unlike meat and poultry, the barriers to entry for small famers selling through third-parties are not legal, but rather based on industry practices, namely Good Agriculture Practices and Good Handling Practices (GAP/GHP) verification done by USDA.   In order to ensure the quality and safety of the food that businesses and organizations purchase from farmers, they usually require producers from whom they purchase to be GAP/GHP verified by USDA.

Katherine discussed the various components of GAP/GHP verification, in particular some of the record-keeping requirements, which can delay a prospective farmer’s ability to get verified if incomplete. Charles contributed to discussion, highlighting the rigidity of verification and offering that Alcorn University offers some training and resources to farmers seeking verification, including doing a pre-certification spot check. There was discussion regarding cost and how many farmers were verified in Mississippi, and Charles reported that there were 11 farms verified in Mississippi as of last year but the number is growing.

There was also discussion regarding freezing and processing of vegetables, and there is a desire by the group to learn more about those regulations.  Dita also brought up interest in learning whether/what liability insurance may be required of growers to get verification or sell to larger establishments such as Wal-Mart or the school system.

In response to a question regarding salad greens, Emily noted that one of the major changes to the FDA Food Code in the new 2009 Food Code is that there is greater regulation of cut lettuce and greens – they are now considered a potentially hazardous food. Mississippi’s laws update to the newest version of the FDA Food Code automatically, so this is now law in Mississippi. [NOTE: At the meeting, we were unsure whether this law had been implemented in Mississippi yet, so these minutes are an update to let the FPC know that this law does apply.]

FOOD SAFETY AND MODERNIZATION ACT: Katherine also discussed the Food Safety and Modernization Act.  This act is pending at the federal government level, and if passed it will have more teeth than the Food Code has over food safety rules at the state level. She emphasized that this is pending legislation, so it is subject to change and it may or may not become law.  The information was shared in order to alert the FPC that the research team is aware of this pending legislation and to encourage them to contact their federal legislators to ask them to maintain the portions of the bill that allow for exceptions/accommodations for small farmers in the event the bill moves forward.

CONCLUSIONS  The group determined that they would like to pursue further research regarding the number of farmers who are verified in Mississippi.  They would also like more information pertaining to legislation and regulation governing freezing and other processing of produce prior to sale.  The group is also interested in what Mississippi grocery stores and school districts require of producers prior to purchase and whether/what liability insurance may be required for verification or sale to third parties.

PRESENTATION: PROCESSING FOODS IN HOME KITCHENS & FOOD ASSISTANCE BENEFITS             Emily Broad

QUESTION POSED:          What are the barriers to entry for individuals seeking to sell foods processed in their home ¬¬¬¬kitchens? What are the barriers to using Mississippi food assistance benefits in farmers markets?

DISCUSSION

IN-HOME FOOD PROCESSING: At the last FPC meeting the group indicated interest in learning more about laws and regulations pertaining to in-home production and processing of non-potentially hazardous foods such as jams and baked goods. Emily previously presented some preliminary findings to the group, and proposed to return to the group with an abbreviated summary of research findings regarding relevant food safety laws.

Emily distributed legislative recommendations pertaining to food safety laws and Mississippi farmers markets.  Emily highlighted that under current Mississippi law, which is an unaltered adoption of the FDA Food Code, any processed food for sale (non-potentially hazardous or potentially hazardous) must be made in a certified kitchen.  Emily also mentioned that current Mississippi law, again following the FDA Food Code, includes an exception that allows for non-potentially hazardous food made in a home kitchen to be sold at non-profit events such as church bake sales. Many other states have extended this exception to allow for non-potentially hazardous foods created in a home kitchen to be sold at farmers markets or in small-scale retail operations.  It is likely that we could persuade legislators or the MS Dept of Health to provide such an exception for small producers under Mississippi law as well.

There was some discussion as to whether pickling or dehydration constitute processing such that a certified kitchen is required, and there was interest in clarifying requirements around these types of minimal processing.

Emily reported that she has students currently finalizing research on this topic, and they will have completed a state-by-state analysis of the issue. Once completed, Emily will send the full research to the FPC.

FOOD ASSISTANCE BENEFITS IN FARMERS MARKETS: Emily distributed an executive summary of the longer report she shared with the group after the last FPC meeting. The report discusses the barriers to using SNAP (food stamps) and WIC Farmers Market Nutrition Program (FMNP) vouchers at farmers markets in Mississippi.

Regarding SNAP, markets in Mississippi still do not have access to the EBT machines necessary to swipe SNAP cards for purchase. The Dept of Human Services has some machines available, and piloted the use of them at markets this year by giving individual machines to three farmers at the Mississippi Farmers Market in Jackson. They plan to make machines available to at least 30 individual farmers next year.

DHS’s proposed course of action is contrary to most states, where machines are given to farmers markets instead of individual farmers. In Mississippi, many farmers markets are interested in obtaining machines, and the machines would get more use if they could be used by the whole market. It would be less awkward for customers if they knew they could come use their food stamps at the whole market, and also the markets are the ones who advertise, so they would be better equipped to let consumers know if this new services was available at markets. In addition, limiting access to the machines to individual farmers would leave out part-time or small farmers who might not sell enough alone to meet the requirements for a free machine. If machines go to markets, they would use a token system where the consumer could get tokens once they swipe their card, then they would spend these tokens at each vendor and the vendor would redeem the tokens with the market manager for cash.

Charles noted that he has an EBT machine that can be used by the farmers that work with him through the North Delta Produce Growers Association. Dita noted that her market on the coast uses a token program for redemption of food benefits for out-of-work commercial fishermen, so we can use this as an example of a token program that is working in Mississippi.

Regarding WIC FMNP, this program is currently operating in Mississippi but at a very small scale. The current funding for the program is frozen, so Mississippi is not likely to get more money in the near future. Emily suggested that Mississippi could, like other states, over-distribute vouchers for this program since around 50% of vouchers are not used each year, and this money is just sent back to the federal government. There are also other tactics that could be taken to increase use of the vouchers.

CONCLUSION    The group agreed that the suggestions proposed in the legislative recommendations for in-home processing are a good start to addressing this issue and believed that framing the issue in terms of economic growth and encouraging entrepreneurship may create a compelling argument to present to legislators.  The group would like to see more research regarding pickling, dehydrating, etc.

Regarding the use of food assistance benefits at farmers markets, discussion focused on SNAP/food stamps. Rickey suggested that even though this is not a legislative issue, we might be able to get DHS to change course and offer machines to both individual farmers and to farmers markets if we speak to legislators who can call DHS and voice these concerns.

DISCUSSION: WHAT SHOULD BE OUR ACTION AGENDA FOR THE NEXT FEW MONTHS?    Emily Broad

QUESTION POSED:          Which issues should be our focus for advocacy going forward?

DISCUSSION:     Background: Emily sought a consensus on one or two issues the group wanted to prioritize for action in the next few months.

First, the group decided that use of food stamps at farmers markets would be a priority going forward, as it was a good time to pressure legislators. As the group is going to do outreach, it was decided that a handout would be needed to lay out the major arguments in favor of giving the EBT machines to farmers’ markets, rather than individuals (or at least making them available to both farmers and markets). A committee of six was formed to work on the issue going forward: Ricky Cole, Beneta Burt, Rhonda Lampkin, Roy Mitchell, Jesse Strassburg. Emily said she would provide a shorter “talking points” memo to the group. The group will meet to plan for how to move this issue forward, both as a small group and also with larger FPC involvement. Those present helped identify a list of items to include on the talking points document.

Second, the group decided to focus on getting a legislative or regulatory change to allow non-potentially hazardous foods to be produced in home kitchens. A committee was formed to work on the issue going forward: Teri McCarter, Alexis Chernak, and Karen Mayer (volunteered by Peggy Linton). Emily will share research and talking points about this topic with this group, and the group will identify a way to advocate for change in this area, using the larger FPC as well.

CONCLUSION    Two committees were formed to work on our top two policy priorities. For “food stamps at farmers markets,” the committee consists of: Ricky Cole, Beneta Burt, Rhonda Lampkin, Roy Mitchell, Jesse Strassburg.

For “in-home production of foods,” the committee consists of: Alexis Chernak, Teri McCarter, Karen Mayer and Judy Belue.

DISCUSSION: POTENTIAL FUNDING SOURCES     Emily Broad

QUESTION POSED:          How can we continue the Food Policy Council into the future? What kind of funding would we need? What are the possible sources of this funding?

DISCUSSION:     The group reiterated the suggestion from earlier that we host a membership drive both to raise awareness about the FPC and also to raise some funds for meetings and other operational expenses. More discussion is needed on how much membership will cost, as well as pricing for different types of membership. Dita and Jesse will look into this as part of the follow up for the governance working group. Jesse also suggested some other contacts that we might speak to about potential funding sources, including Mark Winne from Community Food Security Coalition (he spoke to us by phone at the last meeting), Keesha Harris, and the National Good Food Network.

Volunteers were solicited to work with Roy and Grace on identifying funding sources. Dita and Mark volunteered to help serving on this working group for funding.

CONCLUSION    A working group was formed to identify potential funding sources for the FPC. This group includes: Roy Mitchell, Grace Butler, Dita McCarthy, and Mark Leggett.

REVIEW AND NEXT STEPS             Emily Broad

DISCUSSION:     The group agreed that due to the upcoming holidays we should plan to meet next as a group in January. However, the subcommittees and working groups will meet in the interim and will report back to the FPC on their plans and follow up. These subcommittees are: the governance working group, the funding working group, the food stamps at farmers markets committee, and the in-home food production committee.

Emily also noted that she would send the group information on the meeting being hosted on November 17 in Jackson, MS by the Food Trust, a nonprofit organization from Philadelphia that is working to help finance grocery stores and convenience stores selling fresh produce in low-income food deserts in Mississippi.