October 2013

October 15, 2013, 11:00 AM – 2:00 PM,  Mississippi State University CAVS Center, Canton, MS 

MEETING CALLED BY      Roy Mitchell, Mississippi Health Advocacy Program

TYPE OF MEETING        Mississippi Food Policy Council Meeting

FACILITATOR           Roy Mitchell

NOTE TAKER            Ona Balkus, Emily Broad Leib

ATTENDEES

  • Tommy Alderman, Alderman Farms
  • Chris Alota, William Winter Institute
  • Ona Balkus, Harvard Law School
  • Bob Belue, North Delta Produce Growers Association
  • Judy Belue, Delta Fresh Foods Initiative
  • Emily Broad Leib, Harvard Law School
  • Liz Broussard, FoodCorps
  • Beneta D. Burt, Mississippi Roadmap to Health Equity
  • Jammie Collins, My Brother’s Keeper
  • Daniel Doyle, Mississippi Sustainable Agriculture Network
  • Jim Ewing, National Center for Appropriate Technology, National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service  (ATTRA)
  • Andy Frame, Attorney, Adams and Reese LLP
  • Jean Grantham, Delta State University
  • DeMarc Hickson, My Brother’s Keeper
  • Jody Holland, University of Mississippi
  • Charles Houston, North Delta Produce Growers Association
  • Patrick Jerome, Rainbow Co-op, Mississippi Sustainable Agriculture Network
  • Shelly Johnstone, City of Hernando/Hernando Farmers Market
  • Shamir Lee, My Brother’s Keeper
  • Tony Mason, North Delta Producer Growers Association
  • Ray McGee, Winston County Self Help Cooperative
  • Dexter McKinney, Common Health Action
  • Scott McMullen, Active Health Management
  • Tommy Meyer, Mississippi Farm Bureau
  • Roy Mitchell, Mississippi Health Grocery Cooperative
  • Caroline Newkirk, Mississippi State Department of Health
  • Samantha Newman, Mississippi Farm Bureau
  • Shelby Parsons, Rainbow Co-op
  • Alfio Rausa, Mississippi State Department of Health
  • Desta Reff, Mississippi State University & Harvard Law School
  • Debbie Smith, Mississippi Health Advocacy Program
  • Connie Thomas, Mississippi State University Social Science Research Center
  • Brett Watkins, Active Health Management
  • LaDaryl Watkins, My Brother’s Keeper
  • Leigh Wills, Hernando Farmers Market
  • Nancy Woodruff, Southern Cultured
  • Margaret Yates, 4 Rivers Fresh Foods

AGENDA TOPICS

INTRODUCTIONS    Roy Mitchell

DISCUSSION       Individuals introduced themselves and explained their organizational affiliations.

OVERVIEW OF ISSUE IDENTIFICATION AND PROCESS FOR FINALIZING 2014 MFPC ADVOCACY AGENDA  Emily Broad Leib, Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic

Emily explained that one of the main tasks for this meeting would be to review the issue identification document that was developed based on discussions and ideas presented in the July 2013 meeting. Each subcommittee would have the opportunity to review the potential advocacy options and activities included in the document, and report back to the full committee about what they believe should be the top advocacy priorities for 2014 related to their subcommittee topic. The issue identification document was prepared as a summary of some of the key barriers and challenges raised at the July meeting.

At the end of the meeting, attendees would have the chance to complete a survey to identify what they believe are the top priorities for policy advocacy and MFPC activities in 2014. The board will then review the feedback from Subcommittee chairs and the surveys and identify the MFPC policy agenda for 2014, which will be shared by December.

Emily next went through some of the key issues and advocacy points from the document and responded to questions and discussion.

QUESTIONS AND ISSUED RAISED RE: ISSUE IDENTIFICATION:

Meeting attendee raised the topic of food waste. The Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic recently published a report on how inaccurate and unregulated expiration date labeling leads to food waste in the U.S. There was some discussion about looking at gleaning programs and policies, and policies to incentivize food companies and retailers to decrease food waste.

Meeting attendees then had an extensive discussion about school garden policies. People were interested in connecting school garden programs with the state education curriculum, and wanted to know if other states have had success in this area. Many schools in Mississippi used to have agriculture programs and they were cut because of funding problems. These programs should be brought back to train a new generation of farmers, and go beyond teaching small-scale gardening. For example, currently teachers are generally not connecting science classes with food and gardening. But we don’t want to pass a policy that is another unfunded mandate, as many schools find that the unfunded mandate of the Health Schools Act is a burden. Teachers need training to teach these courses.

Someone mentioned that there is a school in Jackson that has been including food and physical science into the core curriculum for a while. There was discussion and curiosity about whether the new curriculum being rolled out, Common Core, includes any food science curriculum. Right now, it is hard to have a community garden unless you have a Food Corps volunteer. Someone also raised the point that we should reach out to leaders of 4H groups to participate in the MFPC. Our current science education system reinforces the acute care cycle, training nurses and doctors, where we have an opportunity to train preventive care professionals, nutritionists, etc.

One promising sign is that MS has adopted Teacher Academy, which will make it possible to bring botany and horticulture back into the classroom.

PREVIEW FOR 2014 MISSISSIPPI LEGISLATIVE SESSION Samantha Newman, MS Farm Bureau Federation

Samantha gave an update on some of the key legislative priorities for the upcoming legislative session. Many legislators want to undo Common Core program, but the governor will likely want to stick with the bill that was passed. There is also a renewed interest in charter schools. There is an ongoing debate about whether the small amount of money available in the state budget should be spent on education or Medicaid.

In addition, the Mississippi Department of Transportation wants more money through a tax increase to improve roads.

The Speaker is holding listening sessions before the beginning of the legislative session. MFPC has spoken at several types of committee meetings and might want to stay involved in these sessions and meetings.

Given the current fiscal climate, MFPC should be considering any policies we can push for that are budget neutral since these will be more low-hanging fruit.

REVIEW OF MFPC’S COMMENTS ON FOOD SAFETY Emily Broad Leib & Samantha Newman

After the MFPC expressed interest in commenting on the draft regulations that resulted from the recent federal Food Safety Modernization Act, the Food Safety subcommittee drafted comments that target the issue areas the MFPC members care about most. The comments focus on the concerns of small farmers because the vast majority of the comments are from large agriculture companies, but small farmers have less political power and resources to make their concerns heard.

The comment was created as a draft that different individuals and organizations around Mississippi can sign on to. The draft comments focus on three main areas:

First, this is the first time USDA would have regulations that require certain safety procedures on farms. We want to make sure that the exemptions for small farmers, which were part of the original law, are preserved and expanded in the final version of the regulations. The comment also proposes expanding the exemptions to include small-scale processing facilities, and increasing the exemption to include farms and processing facilities which have a net profit of $100,000.

Second, the comment aims to make sure the process for review if a small farmer loses his/her exemption is more clearly explained and protective of the farmers.

Third, we want to make sure the USDA acknowledges the statutory language of FSMA, which included an exemption for CSAs from the regulations. We also want to make sure this covers private buying clubs, which are similar to CSAs and farmers markets. Someone raised the suggestion of editing the draft comment letter to distinguish large national buying clubs from local buying clubs. Samantha noted that suggestion and will include that change in the final letter.

QUESTION: Are food hubs considered a buying club? Emily explained that since “food hub” can mean lots of different things, it would depend on the structure of the food hub whether it would be considered a buying club and/or if it would be exempt under any of the exemptions in the rules. The draft regulations have strange rules about aggregation and farmers processing someone else’s food, so food hubs are in a grey area.

The draft comments were distributed for review at the meeting. We would like as many individuals and organizations to sign on to the letter as possible. DEADLINE: Anyone who wishes to sign the letter should email Samantha Newman, snewman@msfb.org, by November 10th. Please email Samantha if you did not receive a copy of the letter and are interested in reviewing it and possibly signing on.

GUEST PRESENTATION: MS FARM TO SCHOOL INTERAGENCY COUNCIL Gail Kavanaugh, Child Nutrition Director for Vicksburg County School District

Ms. Kavanaugh is a member of the Farm to School Interagency Council and she was asked by the Mississippi Department of Education to represent the interests of schools on the Council. This Council was created by legislation that was developed and supported by FPC in the 2013 state legislative session. The Council was charged with addressing challenges for both schools and farmers with the goal of promoting more Farm to School programs in the state. The Council has representatives from MDAC, MDOH, extension services from MSU and Alcorn State University, farmers, the Poultry Association, the Fruit Growers Association, and the Farm Bureau. The legislation creating the council is available at http://billstatus.ls.state.ms.us/documents/2013/html/HB/0700-0799/HB0718IN.htm

So far, the Council has had two meetings – one organizational meeting and one substantive meeting – as well as one informal grower visit. In the first substantive meeting, it identified several priorities for the Council to work on, which include: (1) barriers for both farms and schools, (2) safety concerns, (3) procurement issues, and (4) production and distribution issues. In the second meeting, the Council visited the Holmes County Food Hub to learn more about small scale production and the potential for aggregators like this to sell to schools.

Regarding her experience with Farm to School, Ms. Kavanaugh explained that she first heard farmers talking about Farm to School at last year’s Farm to Institution Conference, hosted by the MFPC. In break out groups, she heard heated comments from both growers and schools about problems they faced to starting these programs, and she believed it was because of poor communication between the two sides about their needs.

She heard about pilot Farm to School programs, such as the Starkville preschool that had a successful Farm to School program, and decided to try it in the much larger Vicksburg school district. She knew that for her school district, she cared about food safety and the product being reliable and delivered on time. She started talking to the New North Florida cooperative to see if there was a possibility of purchasing from them. She organized a Farm to School Day after meeting with them, which was a huge success. After that, she set up regularly scheduled deliveries of local produce.

Since she does not order her produce through the state purchasing cooperative, she developed a template for a contract she would have with her distributor where it gave preference to Mississippi products. The benefit of this system is that she knows that her distributor can order from another source if the local producer’s products are not ready. The distributor also ensures that the growers have the safety certifications that make her comfortable. She thinks one challenge for other school districts is that many food service directors have lost the knowledge of procurement, so they do not know how to write a legal procurement document.

Based on that insight, the Council is developing resources for the schools to do their own procurement and educating farmers about what schools need. The Council is also developing educational materials from MSDH about why eating local products can help improve children’s health. They will also have resources on starting school gardens. The Council wants to ensure that teachers are included in outreach and education efforts, and incorporate field trips to farms teaching students about how foods grow.

The Council also plans to work with farmers to connect them to each other and create cooperatives, which would help make distribution to schools more reliable. It also plans to help farmers receive GAP/GHP certification.

QUESTIONS:

Daniel Doyle suggested starting agriculture education programs in schools to compliment and facilitate Farm to School efforts.

Someone asked if the state purchasing cooperative has shown any interest in facilitating Farm to School programs. Ms. Kavanaugh said Priscilla Ammerman is interested.

Someone asked if the other food served in schools is still heavily processed. She said that most food is ordered through the state purchasing cooperative, and each food service director has discretion about which products to purchase and how to process/prepare them. She prioritizes getting fresh fruits and vegetables whenever possible. However, most of the meats are more processed. Her district uses scratch cooking and follows requirements for reductions of sodium and fat (based on the 2008 MS Healthy Schools Act nutrition guidelines). Mississippi developed seasoning and spice blends that are salt-free. None of the schools in her district have fryers; they either bake in a convection over or use a combi oven. She wishes she could afford more combi ovens, but a double combi runs $40K and there are challenges to fitting a new piece of equipment in an aged building.

Someone asked if she has school gardens and whether she can cook with that food in the meals. Ms. Kavanaugh said they do have some gardens, but they have never produced enough to serve in the cafeterias, but if there was enough quantity they would be willing to serve it after making sure the fertilizer and pesticides are safe.

Ms. Kavanaugh believes another big barrier to purchasing local foods is that many people think that a food that does not look perfect is not safe to eat. She thinks we need to educate food service directors about purchasing ugly fruits and vegetables that can still be served in schools if prepared a certain way.

SUBCOMMITTEE REPORTING BACK Nancy Woodruff, Food Systems & Economic Development; Judy Belue, Farm to Institution;  Beneta Burt, Food Access; Samantha Newman, Farmers Markets; Samantha Newman, Food Safety

During lunch, attendees broke out into subcommittees and discussed their policy and outreach projects. In the afternoon, each subcommittee had a volunteer report back to the full group.

Farm to Institution Subcommittee (Judy Belue): The subcommittee discussed the potential for school gardens and also the challenges of maintaining them once the garden has been built. The subcommittee also discussed the potential for local procurement preference laws, which could encourage state institutions, such as schools, prisons, and hospitals, to prioritized buying Mississippi-grown food to serve in the meals they provide through their services. Judy reminded people to save the date for Tuesday, December 3rd for the annual Farm to Institution Conference.

Farmers Market Subcommittee (Samantha Newman): This subcommittee discussed the importance of improving access to markets for community members, and also how to reach out to farmers to participate in new and current markets. The subcommittee also identified the challenge for mobile farmers markets to surmount hurtles created by state regulations. The committee wants to consider how we can help farmers sell produce to institutions (such as with the procurement preference laws discussed in the Farm to Institution Subcommittee). They also talked about having a state agency day at the farmers market for educating policymakers.

Food Safety Subcommittee (Samantha Newman): Subcommittee members seemed generally pleased with the draft comments on the FSMA regulations. The deadline for signing on to the letter and submitting suggestions for changes to the letter is November 10th. Email snewman@msfb.org.

Local Food Systems as Economic Development Subcommittee (Nancy Woodruff): The subcommittee reported that they have a potential funder for the statewide food assessment, which they hope to have completed by mid-January so it can be used as an advocacy tool in this year’s state legislative session. Nancy also raised the issue of marketing and promotion of the MFPC more generally. People agreed this should be discussed at a future meeting and might be a task for that subcommittee or another subcommittee.

Food Access Committee (Beneta Burt): The subcommittee discussed the importance of advocating for the Healthy Food Retail Act, which almost passed last year. They discussed that we should look to the legislators who supported the 2008 Healthy Schools Act for support on this current bill since they both address increasing access to healthy foods. They also discussed the importance of incorporating parents into advocacy efforts. They discussed the possibility of scheduling small meetings with relevant legislators.

The subcommittee also discussed the importance of improving outreach and education for farmers on accepting SNAP/WIC/Senior vouchers at markets and making sure people who are eligible to receive these benefits are using them to purchase healthy, local foods whenever possible.

UPDATE ON MFPC BOARD BUSINESS AND UPCOMING EVENTS All

The MFPC is always looking for members to tell them about other events to add to the calendar on the website at http://www.mississippifoodpolicycouncil.com.

Tammy is also working on an email listserv for networking outside of the meetings. Anyone on the email list can opt in to that listserv.

October 26th: Tri County Co-op Agriculture Conference in Coffeeville, MS

October 27th: Food Day Jackson at Zoo

October 30th: Food Day Event @ MSU in Starkville, MS

October 31st:  Hob Nob Mississippi in Jackson, MS at Agriculture/Forestry Museum

November 1-2: Mississippi Environmental Educators Association (MEEA) Conference on Sustainable Local Agriculture in Biloxi, MS

November 8-10: Wise Traditions Conference in Atlanta, GA

November 13-14: Mississippi Fruit and Veg Grower’s Association Conference in Choctaw, MS

November 15th, December 13th:  Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture Production’s Field Days in Goodman, MS (contact Keith Benson for more info)

December 3: MFPC Farm to Institution Conference in Pearl, MS

***The next MFPC meeting will be in early 2014.