October 2011

October 14, 2011, 9:30 AM -1:00 PM,  MSU SOCIAL SCIENCE RESEARCH CENTER/MSU CAVS BUILDING, 153 MISSISSIPPI PARKWAY, CANTON, MS

MEETING CALLED BY      Roy  Mitchell, Mississippi Health Advocacy Program

TYPE OF MEETING           Mississippi Food Policy Council Meeting

FACILITATORS                  Emily Broad Leib, Debbie Smith

NOTE TAKERS                    Nathan Rosenberg

LUNCH PROVIDED BY    Mark Leggett

ATTENDEES

  • Toby Barker, MS House of Representatives
  • Judy Belue, Delta Fresh Foods Initiative
  • Ruby Brady, Homes Community College
  • Alison Buehler, Gaining Ground Sustainability Institute of Mississippi
  • Emily Broad Leib, Harvard Law School
  • Courtney Choi, Mississippi Center for Justice
  • Lauren Cioffi, Mississippi Roadmap to Health Equity/FoodCorps
  • McKenzie Crabtree, Mississippi State University
  • Rochelle Culp, Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi
  • Desiree Dillon, MS Food Network
  • Graham Downey, Partnership for Healthy Mississippi/FoodCorps
  • Therese Hanna, Center for Mississippi Health Policy
  • Charles Houston, North Delta Produce Growers Association
  • Rhonda Lampkin Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi
  • Mark Leggett, Mississippi Poultry Association
  • Josh Maples, Mississippi State University
  • Karen Ott Mayer, City of Hernando/Community Foundation of Northwest Mississippi
  • Roy Mitchell, Mississippi Health Advocacy Program
  • Kim Morgan, Mississippi State University – Ag Econ
  • Willie Nash, Mississippi Roadmap to Health Equity/FoodCorps
  • Abigail Phillips, Mississippi Roadmap to Health Equity/FoodCorps
  • Andy Prosser, Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce
  • Tre’ Roberts, Jackson Innercity Garden
  • Kiana Robinson, My Brother’s Keeper
  • Marion Sansing, Gaining Ground Sustainability Institute of Mississippi
  • Debbie Smith, Mississippi Health Advocacy Program
  • Donna Speed, Mississippi Department of Health
  • Connie Baird-Thomas, Mississippi State University – SSRC
  • Nancy Woodruff, Gaining Ground Sustainability Institute of Mississippi/Winston County Self-Help Cooperative

AGENDA TOPICS

INTRODUCTIONS             Roy Mitchell

DISCUSSION       Individuals introduced themselves and explained their organizational affiliations.

 

RECAP OF LAST MEETING             Roy Mitchell

DISCUSSION      Roy reported back from the main points from the last MFPC meeting, including the election of the MFPC board and presentations from MDAC and MS Dept of Education.

 

UPDATE ON HEALTHY FOODS ADVISORY COMMITTEE           Toby Barker

DISCUSSION       Representative Toby Barker (R-Hattiesburg) updated the Food Policy Council on the status of HB1170. You can find a link to this bill here: http://billstatus.ls.state.ms.us/documents/2011/pdf/HB/1100-1199/HB1170SG.pdf.  One committee meeting has been held with another expected to convene before 2012.

 

ROUNDTABLE DISCUSSION WITH JOEL GILL, CANDIDATE FOR COMMISSIONER OF AG        Emily Broad Leib

DISCUSSION               The MFPC Board developed a list of questions to ask the candidates for Commissioner of Agriculture and Commerce. We were planning to have both candidates (Cindy Hyde-Smith and Joel Gill) present at the meeting, but Cindy Hyde-Smith unfortunately had to cancel.

First, Andy Prosser from MDAC spoke briefly about the role and responsibilities of MDAC and the Commissioner of Agriculture. Then, Mark Leggett gave a short introduction and bio of Joel Gill.

Question & Answer with Joel Gill (questions posed by Emily on behalf of the MFPC):

 

If you were Commissioner, can you give us some ideas of how you might support the growth and economic success of small and medium-sized farms in Mississippi? Mr. Gill stated that he advocates mandatory country of origin labeling and supports the “Make Mine Mississippi” campaign. Gill also thinks that local farmers markets build important ties between producers and consumers. He believes that every county in Mississippi could have a farmers market. Finally, he would like to pair young producers with older producers who would like to keep their land in agriculture production after retirement.

Mr. Gill also supports the proposed GIPSA rule that would require vertically integrated poultry companies to keep purchasing from growers that that have taken out loans to make improvements required by the company until the grower has paid off their loans.

 

Do you see ways in which MDAC could increase access to locally grown, affordable foods for Mississippi residents, especially in low-income communities? Mr. Gill noted that SNAP/EBT helps both the producer and residents who have EBT cards.

 

Do you see ways that the Commissioner could improve the process for small farmers to get GAP and GHP verification so that they can enter the local food economy? Mr. Gill said that the beef industry has faced similar issues for years. State-inspected plants are prohibited from shipping poultry, beef, and pork products across state lines. The Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce (MDAC) needs to be an advocate in such situations. MDAC can’t change federal law, but it can lobby for change.

 

Do you think MDAC has a role to play in helping with technical assistance to specialty crop growers for grants and programs like the Specialty Crop Block Grant, Know Your Farmer Know Your Food, SARE, etc? Do you see ways that the Commissioner could support the establishment of a safety net or incentives for farmers that produce “specialty crops,” (fruits and vegetables) who are not covered by USDA crop insurance programs?  Mr. Gill does not object to making this information available, however he stressed that he thinks producers have to be wary of the strings that are often attached to federal grants. For example, he is concerned that producers who ask for a NAIS premise number may be placing a permanent easement on their land.

 

Could you give some ideas of how you might support connections between local farmers and schools? What do you see as the biggest obstacles to expanding the farm to school program in Mississippi and what do you think are the best strategies for overcoming these obstacles? Mr. Gill acknowledged that he is not fully versed in Farm to School, but he would like to work with those in the room to advance such initiatives throughout the state. He mentioned that many institutions are concerned that they will not be able to purchase from national distributors if they purchase too much food locally. He believes that there are ways to address this issue, however.

In your role overseeing farmers markets in Mississippi, could you give us some ideas of how you might make farmers markets and local produce more accessible to low-income communities? Mr. Gill believes that MDAC should educate consumers on why they should buy Mississippi products and how doing so helps their families and their communities.

Andy Prosser, Director of Market Development for MDAC, also mentioned that Mississippi now has more SNAP/EBT machines at farmers markets and with individual farmers than any other state in the nation.

 

How would you support local meat and/or poultry farmers in Mississippi?  Would you support efforts to improve in-state processing opportunities? Mr. Gill is absolutely not going to support another beef processing plant. He thinks the Commissioner should lobby for state inspected meat to be legally sold across state lines. He also supports bringing back the funding to have inspectors for plants that want to process horses.

Questions from the audience

Q: We’re seeing a large increase in farmers markets and local, natural foods. People want local meat from farmers markets. What are we doing to facilitate that?

A: Mr. Gill said that MDAC should lobby for a more robust state inspection system. With regard to natural foods, he is concerned about genetic drift from farms that use GMO crops.

Q: What do you envision MDAC’s role to be in changing the culture of obesity in Mississippi, particularly in children?

A: Gill does not believe that obesity derives from natural, wholesome products; instead, processed foods are the cause. As a result, he does not think MDAC should play a large role in stemming the tide of obesity. He is open to suggestions on how the Department could do so, however.

Q: I would like to see a farmer market in every county, but I work in counties with only one grocery store and no sellers. Is there anything you would do to restrict roadside stands?

A: Mr. Gill stated that he would not do anything to restrict producers from selling agricultural products or the free market.

Q: How would you propose funding a farmers market in every county versus having local products in grocery stores?

A: Mr. Gill said that grocery stores are not always going to be able or interested in selling local products. The state, however, has plenty of land that it could use for farmers markets and there is not much cost involved with running markets.

Q: A lot of the producers that come to the farmers market in our area do not really make money at the farmers market. They do it out of love, not for money. How could we get enough produce to be sold locally to have farmers markets in every county?

A: Mr. Gill noted that mid-sized producers might be able to work with farmers markets to supply more produce to farmers markets. Advertising campaigns might be able to help producers earn more money at farmers markets too.

Q: Many people want local and organic food for health reasons. As MDAC works to educate the consumer about the benefits of buying locally, could it team up with public health authorities to educate consumers about the benefits of eating high quality, nutritious food?

A: Mr. Gill said that all you need is a forum and an advocate. The Department can serve as a microphone to get that message out.

Q: I’ve been managing the Hernando market. I can’t get a meat product from Mississippi to my customers without having that product shipped out of state first. The home canning and cottage industry rules have been frustrating for individuals that want to sell at farmers markets. There is also a discrepancy between how the Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH) and MDAC treat vendors. This is confusing for us and damages our market.

Joel Gill: Very often MSDH and MDAC use each other to hand the ball off.

Andy Prosser: We’re responsible for meat and eggs and, to a certain extent, dairy. MSDH is responsible for other products. We’d like to work with you to get through these hurdles, but we have to enforce the federal food rules.

Joel Gill: I don’t mind standing up to the federal government because I strongly believe in the sovereignty of each state. In many states, state inspection would also allow that meat to be sold outside the state as long as it meets federal standards. We need to iron the hiccups out so that state inspected meat can be sold anywhere.

 

PRESENTATION FROM BROOKE SMITH, WHY HUNGER, AND JUDY BELUE, DELTA FRESH FOODS     Brooke Smith, Judy Belue

DISCUSSION               Brooke Smith is Director of the Grassroots Action Network at WhyHunger. WhyHunger works on food access and food justice issues both in the US and around the world. It is currently working with three different communities in the US: one in Arizona, one in the Central Coast of California, and one the Delta. WHY Hunger started doing community organizing with stakeholders in the Delta in 2009. In 2010, the Delta Fresh Foods Initiative grew out this effort.

Brooke explained that one of WhyHunger’s core values is that expertise lies in each community. She also stated that Delta Fresh Foods would love to partner and engage with the Mississippi Food Policy Council. One idea they have been discussing is to bring a program like Double Up Food Bucks to Mississippi. Double Up Food Bucks is a program in Michigan that doubles the amount of money SNAP recipients can spend at farmers markets. Kellogg, which funds Double Up Food Bucks, is interested in leveraging what they have learned in Michigan and expanding the program into Mississippi. Brooke also mentioned that Delta Fresh Foods is interested in partnering with another organization to do a food economy assessment of the Mississippi food system.

Judy stated that Delta Fresh Foods had commissioned a food economy assessment of the Delta food system. She wanted to highlight the fact that SNAP recipients spend $511 million on food in the Delta. She also noted that the assessment will be placed online once the Delta Fresh Foods website goes live.

 

MFPC WEBSITE LAUNCH       Emily Broad Leib

DISCUSSION             Emily presented the new MFPC website, which can be accessed at www.mississippifoodpolicycouncil.com. We’ll post meeting minutes, upcoming events of the MFPC, and upcoming events related to food and nutrition around Mississippi, as well as grants and other resources. Please let Emily know of any upcoming events to post on the site – ebroad@law.harvard.edu.

Also, PLEASE send along pictures of food system work you are doing around the state so we can make the website more lively.

 

REPORTING BACK BY SUBCOMMITTEE           All

DISCUSSION

Farm to School Subcommittee(Nate Rosenberg)

This summer, we conducted a survey of all school food service directors in Mississippi. The survey went out from the MFPC and work was done by Nate and two interns. Thirty-eight percent of MS food service directors responded to the survey. In general, they all seemed very enthusiastic about farm to school. It was interesting to learn that many of them said the reason they were most interested in farm to school was to help out the local economy. Survey results also showed that the majority of the respondents had all the kitchen equipment they needed in order to prepare fresh produce (though a few did not). Many of the food service directors also noted that they wanted more guidance about the rules and laws surrounding farm to school in Mississippi. Nate is going to clean up the survey results and we will post them on the MFPC website.

Nate noted that he and Emily are overseeing a team of Harvard Law students that are looking into legislative recommendations for promoting farm to school in Mississippi. The team is looking at legislation that has been passed around the country to make suggestions that they will share with the MFPC and with the legislative task force on food access. This project will be completed this semester, and in spring the students will create a legal guide for schools hoping to engage in farm to school programs.

Alison Buehler and Marion Sansing from Gaining Ground Sustainability Institute of Mississippi (GGSIM) also reported on a new farm to school pilot they have helped organize at a preschool in Starkville. It has been successful so far but it is challenging because preschools don’t operate the same as regular public schools so they had to work with the Dept of Health rather than the Dept of Education. For their pilot, 10 families put in $10/month to help pay the school cook extra money for her work in incorporating local produce. They are calling the program “Fresh Start” and they worked to both take out junk foods from the school and integrate fresh, local produce from a local farmer. The first delivery of produce was on October 1. Right now they are integrating one local vegetable into lunch once a week but they are hoping to get up to three local vegetables each week by May.

GGSIM is hosting their annual meeting in February and as part of that meeting they will host a farm to school summit on February 25 in Raymond, MS. Everyone from MFPC is invited.

Charles also noted that North Delta Produce Growers is now partnering with schools to sell local peas.

Others noted that in addition to working to get local produce into schools, we should look at getting produce into other institutions, such as congregations and community colleges/higher education institutions.

Legislative Task Force Committee (Roy Mitchell)

The legislative task force committee of the MFPC was created to work with task forces of legislature that were working on issues related to food, health, obesity, etc. This year, HB 1170 created a legislative task force to look at issues of food access in Mississippi. Roy is representing MFPC on the task force. Roy reported that the task force planned to reconvene after the Southern Obesity Summit, although the next meeting date had not yet been confirmed. There was a lot of interest among the committee members in Farm to School and EBT machines. Roy noted that the MFPC board would discuss the legislative agenda for the MFPC at its next meeting on November 2nd. Roy encouraged MFPC members to email any ideas or concerns about the legislative session to the MFPC board officers prior to the November 2nd meeting.

In-Home Food Processing Committee (Emily Broad Leib)

Emily spoke on behalf of Dita, who could not attend today. As discussed at the previous meeting, the Mississippi Department of Agriculture, the Mississippi State Department of Health and Mississippi State University worked together to offer classes for individuals who wanted to sell non-hazardous foods in-home processed food products. One class was available for people who wanted to process and sell non-hazardous canned food and another was available for those who wanted to process and sell non-hazardous and non-canned food. Classes were hosted in Hernando and Jackson, with more classes to come. The MFPC has heard concerns from individuals who attended the classes that they were difficult and confusing. Emily stressed that the In-Home Food Processing Committee would love feedback from people who attended the classes, so they can identify issues and work to rectify them. Emily can be contacted at ebroad@law.harvard.edu.

Board Update

Roy has been elected as Chair of the Mississippi Food Policy Council, Judy as Vice-Chair, Rhonda Lampkin as Secretary, and Mark Leggett as Treasurer. The Board will meet the first Wednesday of each month and will hold open meetings for MFPC members and interested guests on a quarterly basis.

 

REVIEW AND NEXT STEPS         Roy Mitchell

DISCUSSION             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:

Also, Kim Morgan from MSU Ag-Econ noted that they are going to host a series of market-to-retail trainings for growers. They have funding to hold these trainings around the state and they are also hoping to add in policy information. They will have 3 dates for trainings, starting with December 9 in Raymond, MS.

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.

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