An Interview with Jesse Haskins
Jesse Haskins is a member of the Florida Food Policy Council and Attorney. In this interview, Jesse talks about his interest in food policy, how he interacts with food policy in his work, and his hopes for the future.
Watch his full interview here:
Please introduce yourself.
I'm Jesse Haskins. I'm an attorney now focusing on food law. I graduated from Duke Law in 2009 and then moved down to Tallahassee where I worked for the government for the State of Florida, first with the Department of Financial Services then with the Attorney General's office. This is around the time I also started to get more involved in food issues through my involvement with the Red Hills Small Farm Alliance. I've also spent some time working for a large insurance defense firm, but I've known for a long time that my passion really lies in food. I've loved eating food for my entire life, and so for that reason I went off on my own as a lawyer, and now I am focused on supporting small-scale agriculture and local food systems.
When did you first become interested in food policy?
The first time I learned about how important food policy was, was when I read the Omnivore's Dilemma around the time I was in law school. After that, when I started to work for the State of Florida, I learned about the group Red Hills Small Farm Alliance and I was a major supporter as far as getting the vast majority of our groceries delivered to us online through local farms in that organization. Around that time, I also started gardening more and had a vegetable garden with a number of herbs, and a number of fruit trees. Through that experience I think that's when I really became more invested in ecosystems, especially when it comes to the plight of the honeybees and other pollinators that we depend on for so many different types of foods and products without even realizing it. So, I think gardening was great and it is an area of food policy as far as making it easier to garden and promoting it as well from an educational perspective. I think it's a great way to learn about food policy by actually getting involved in the soil yourself. I think that was also a major part of how I have grown more into food policy. And finally, becoming involved in groups like the Florida Food Policy Council. Most recently I’ve enjoyed contributing articles to the Florida Food Policy Council and speaking for other groups that are part of our food communities like speaking on community supported agriculture most recently with the Florida Organic Growers.
What are some gaps or challenges that can be addressed by food policies?
The issue I think is most important to me is the loss of our food diversity and how that’s under threat. So, I’m talking both in terms of biodiversity and losing out. I think the food variety of food we get, our ability to access interesting fruits and vegetables, is becoming increasingly narrowed as various ecosystems are under a myriad number of threats, and this is compounded through the conventional, by-far predominant industrial food system where there's a lot of pressure only produce one type of banana that happens to be very easy to transport and store in grocery stores. I think one of our greatest promises as food communities is to support local food systems through farmers markets and community supported agriculture. And also the great work that Florida Food Policy Council has done in terms of educating everybody about local food systems as well.
What current projects are you working on? What are you excited about?
I’m really excited about the promise of community supported agriculture. That’s one of the projects that I've been undertaking. Especially speaking at Florida Organic Growers symposiums about how community supported agriculture is really a great opportunity for the entire community. We are talking about producers and eaters, which should be everyone, to become more self-sustainable, to help growers manage risk, specifically the risk of crop failure, by helping distribute that risk if something goes wrong and spreading it out across all the different members of food communities both growers and eaters. And I think community supported agriculture, as I mentioned earlier, is a great way to help make our food communities and our local food systems more financially sustainable, better able to handle risk, and better able to be the guardians of our heirloom crops.
I just for example learned about how to cook taro leaves which, this is a digression, but taro uncooked is poisonous. It can cause severe scratchiness and irritation to the throat, but cooked correctly, boiled for a substantial period of time, it is absolutely delicious. It is, I learned, a staple of Filipino cuisine, and I think farmers markets and community supported agriculture can really open up everyone's eyes to these new foods that are a great cultural gateway, a great way to preserve people’s own food heritage, to appreciate others and to literally savor new experiences. Community Supported Agriculture does a great job with that. Farmers markets do a great job with it.
So one of my overwriting projects and endeavors has been to help develop ways to build a contract, a framework where everyone can understand where the other side is coming from, whether that's the grower or the eater, to understand the risks they come with and to help manage risks and to understand the role they play.
Please explain a little more about the purpose of contracts.
A lot of people have this misperception that when we're talking about contracts this is all to prevent people from suing each other and there are concerns that it creates distance between people. But I don't think contracts should be viewed that way. Contracts aren't just legal documents; they serve several different important functions. It sets the terms of a relationship.
I'll give one example about that in the context of community-supported agriculture. There was one community member quoted in a survey who said he was disappointed with the experience because he didn't like purple carrots and what he termed “guesses squash.” He said, “We weren't expecting this.” If there was a contract in place explaining what the purpose of community supported agriculture was and what a community member can expect, those are the types of community eater relation misunderstandings that can be averted when there is a well drafted, nicely toned contract that spells out what the risks are and what the growers concerns are. And that's actually at the sort of progenitor of the CSA community supported agriculture movement. So, a contract is essentially a groundwork for having a relationship.
Especially for newcomers who may not know exactly what their role is, it memorializes a relationship so that when people forget details, and most of us actually recall very little, a contract makes it easy to look back and see exactly what this was agreed upon. And it's especially important now when Amazon has emerged as the prevailing assumption of how transactions are done, that there are going to be guarantees, that you are going to know exactly the product that you are receiving, and that if you are not satisfied, you can ask for a refund. We know this isn't the way community supported agriculture works. We know this isn't the way natural farming works. And that's why it's especially important now to have those types of written agreements. So, I think having written contracts are very important in agriculture and there is a way to do it to actually build relationships and to close barriers between different segments of the community.
What are your hopes for the future? How can policy get us there?
I think we can hope for a future where there is a broader recognition that reliance on local food systems is more sustainable, more environmentally sustainable, especially in light of the current pandemic. Also, more financially sustainable in the long run for everybody. I think that the current situation is absolutely tragic, but I think the silver lining might be that there is a renewed Interest in local food systems, farmers markets, and community supported agriculture. I also think it's a wake-up call in a sense for a lot of people within the food system and advocates as to realizing a greater potential, especially when we look at online delivery systems. So, my hope for the future would be that there is a broader public understanding about the vital role that local food systems play, and why especially now it should be a lot more appealing. As I mentioned earlier, especially when it comes to safeguarding our heirloom vegetables and fruits and dishes, and our culinary heritage as well.
Bio: Jesse Haskins started J. Haskins Law, P.A. to focus on local food communities. Jesse builds partnerships between farmers and communities. Prior to dedicating his practice to local agriculture, Jesse served as assistant attorney general for the State of Florida, assistant general counsel for the Florida Department of Financial Services, and as attorney for a large insurance defense firm. Jesse graduated from the Duke University School of Law in 2009. Jesse is an avid foodie. His favorite ingredient is tahini.
Disclaimer: The views of the interviewee do not represent the views of the Florida Food Policy Council. We are a forum for the offering and sharing of information and encourage diversity and communication within the food system.