Florida Food Forum

Our Florida Food Forum is an online, interactive series that enables Florida food system experts, community advocates, and residents to discuss emerging issues that impact food. It is currently the only type of webinar in the state of Florida that touches a wide-range of food-related topics such as food justice, technology and agriculture, food access, urban planning and food policy.

Forum Types

Monthly Forums

Forums are 1 hour-long, interactive webinars with topics ranging from “Food Politics: The Role of Food Policy in the Food System” to “Food Waste and Food Banks” to “Women in the Food System. On average, 50 or more participants attend the monthly events.

Special Sessions

Special sessions of the forum are produced every few months to bring focus to pressing or trending topics. Recent special sessions focused on issues such as: “COVID-19 Impacts on the Florida Food System” and “Food Security and Food Justice.” On average more than 50 attendees attend these unique events.


Florida Food Forums are recorded and available for public viewing on FLFPC's YouTube channel from anywhere around the world.

Florida Food Forum attendees include stakeholders throughout the food-system including growers, business owners, health professionals, professors and teachers, and consumers.

Florida Food Forums are advertised through the FLFPC website and monthly newsletter, as well as through multiple online platforms including Eventbrite, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

  • 1 Mar 2021 9:58 AM | Administrator (Administrator)

    Follow Up: February Florida Food Forum 
    Florida Food Festivals

    If you were unable to attend the meeting, the full presentation is available online here.  

    To keep the conversation going, please visit our forum on Florida Food Festivals here to add your thoughts and comments. 

    On Friday, February 26th, the Florida Food Forum on "Florida Food Festivals" featured guest speakers John Solomon, President of the Florida Seafood Festival and Jennifer Morgan, Public Relations and Media Representative of the Florida Strawberry Festival. Boyzell Hosey, Co-organizer of the Tampa Bay Collard Green Festival also spoke during the event.

    “The food festivals, based on local food production, are a vital part of building a sustainable food system and establishing food sovereignty in a community,” Dell deChant, Chair of the Policy Committee and Host of the forum, noted at the start of the program. 

    During the forum, presenters touched on a number of topics including the history of the festivals, how they have adapted during COVID-19, some of the challenges they face and what they bring to their local communities.

    First to present was John Solomon who began by explaining how the Florida Seafood Festival came to be.

    The roots of the festival go back to 1914 when the first “King Retsyo” (which is ‘oyster’ spelled backwards) was crowned at Mardi Gras. Over time the festival has had many names such as "Harbor Days,” and “Apalachicola Seafood Festival." It wasn’t until 1963 when the Florida legislature gave it the title of "Florida's Oldest Maritime Event" that the festival took on its current name as the “Florida Seafood Festival”

    John explained that about 28 to 29,000 people attend the 2-day festival each year, which is almost 10 times the local population, making the festival a big economic driver for the area and the community. By promoting the seafood industry in Franklin and surrounding Counties, the festival plays a role in the survival of the local communities.

    Especially after Hurricane Michael in 2018, the festival saw an amazing turnout of 24,000 attendees, which gave a much-needed boost to the local economy. Now with COVID-19, the festival has had to navigate new challenges. In 2020 the festival shut down for the first time in its history, but this year, the festival will be back with COVID safety protection the first weekend of November.

    With certain policy challenges like the closing of the bay for wild oyster harvesting, the festival has shifted to supporting local aquaculture and promoting education on harvesting processes. Going forward, John hopes that the festival can be more involved in policy changes.

    “We always have a philosophy at the festival, ‘We do not change what we do, we enhance what we do’” he said.

    Some of the features of the festival are its maritime exhibit, food booths and arts and crafts. For local non-profits the festival also allows fee-free space rentals to sell local food at the festival which supports both the local producers and the organizations.

    Next to present was Jennifer Morgan from the Florida Strawberry Festival.

    The Florida Strawberry Festival dates back to the 1930s when members of the newly organized Plant City Lions Club decided to give back to the community and celebrate the bountiful harvest of strawberries. In fact, more than 10,000 acres of strawberries are planted annually in the local area and there are some 2,800 farms in Hillsborough County that produce fruit and vegetable crops with an annual value of over $360 million.

    Similar to the Florida Seafood Festival, the Florida Strawberry Festival is also run by volunteers. The Board of 24 members and associates, as well as more than 8,000 volunteers make the event possible every year. Even in light of the pandemic, Jennifer noted that because of such strong community support, the 2020 festival was the third most successful to date.

    Every year the festival hosts around 7 livestock shows and about 300 exhibitors. In 2020, the net sales from the steers, swine and plants came out to a little under $1 million.  

    Because the festival is an agricultural fair, one of their goals is to help support agriculture and youth in the community. One of the ways the festival does this is in the form of scholarships. In 2020 alone, the festival was able to give back almost $1.3 million to youth in the community. The festival also partners with local food banks each year and donates to local churches and organizations that participate in the event.

    In light of the pandemic, the festival has had to adapt, especially its programming and safety measures. In order to make sure the 11-day event is prepared, festival organizers have worked closely with the State Health Department and CDC to follow all necessary mandates to keep attendees safe. The festival will run from March 4th to March 14th, 2021.


    Last to speak was Boyzell Hosey, who began by sharing the history Tampa Bay Collard Green Festival.

    Educating the community on the special technique of cooking collard greens in a pressure cooker is what led to the initial festival in 2018. Similar to the Florida Seafood Festival and Florida Strawberry Festival, the goal of the Tampa Bay Collard Green Festival is to do good for the local community, especially where there is suffering from food inequities and food insecurity.   

    In 2020, about 3,000 people attended the festival in the heart of Midtown, St. Petersburg. Some of the partners of the festival were the Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American Museum, Johns Hopkins All Children Healthy Start Program, the American Culinary Federation of Tampa Bay and the St. Petersburg Free Clinic.

    Although the festival usually takes place in February, this year the one-day festival will be held on May 15th. Because of the pandemic, this year’s festival will be held in a hybrid format, with programming both in person and online. Boyzell said that one of the main features of the festival will be a “drive-thru” collards giveaway and other special in-person and virtual experiences.

    With the conclusion of the presentations, the Q&A session began, which allowed speakers to go into greater detail about their festival composition, supporting local farms and gardens, and how they are overcoming challenges related to COVID.

    Forum moderator, Dell deChant, also proposed the creation of a network for festivals to connect as Florida does not currently have a resource for this. If you are involved in a festival in Florida and interested in being part of this group, reach out to us at info@flfpc.org



    Visit the Florida Seafood Festival: https://www.floridaseafoodfestival.com/

    Visit the Florida Strawberry Festival: https://flstrawberryfestival.com/

    Visit the Tampa Bay Collard Green Festival: http://tbcgf.org/

    Guest Presenter Information: 

    John Solomon has been the Executive Director of the Apalachicola Bay Chamber of Commerce for 6 years, the Franklin County Tourist Development Director for 2 years and President of the all-volunteer Board of Directors of the Florida Seafood Festival for 17 years. Before being elected to the Board of Directors, he worked security for the Seafood Festival and had attended for many years as it was just blocks away from where he grew up. Within 3 years he was elected president and has been ever since. John also served at the Franklin County Sheriff's Office for 20 years as Correctional Officer supervisor, IT Director and Evidence Officer ETC. Born in New Orleans, Solomon grew up in his hometown of Apalachicola and currently resides in Eastpoint, Florida with his wife. He has two children: a 14-year-old daughter and 32-year-old son.

    Jennifer Morgan is a Plant City native and strawberry farmer’s daughter. She is a graduate of the University of South Florida where she obtained a Bachelor's Degree in Education. Mrs. Morgan is currently the Public Relations and Media Representative of the Florida Strawberry Festival. She has spent many years volunteering and working within the fair industry and is grateful for the time-honored tradition. She has been married to her husband Brian of 15 years and they have two children, Rowen and Grymes.

    Boyzell Hosey is the Deputy Editor of Photography and Photojournalist for the Tampa Bay Times. He is also Co-Organizer of the yearly Tampa Bay Collard Green Festival.

    Forum Host: Dell deChant is the Associate Chair of the Religious Studies Department at the University of South Florida and a member of the Board of Directors at the Florida Food Policy Council. He is also Organizer of the Florida Loquat Festival in New Port Richey.

    Thank you to our sponsors for making this forum possible:

    FHEED provides food systems planning, GIS analysis, advocacy, and education about food systems and healthy communities.

    Contact: Anthony Olivieri, Founder, FHEED LLC

    Website: www.FHEED.com

    J Haskins Law, located in Tampa, empowers communities with the legal and risk management tools they need to exercise food sovereignty. The contact for J Haskins Law is Jesse Haskins.

    Contact: Jesse Haskins, Founder, J Haskins Law

    Website: www.jhaskinslaw.com

    The Florida Food Forum is a free event. To support our work, please consider becoming a member or making a donationFor questions or more information, contact us at: info@flfpc.org

    Disclaimer: The views of the presenters 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.

  • 31 Jan 2021 11:09 PM | Administrator (Administrator)

    Follow Up: January Florida Food Forum
    Building Bridges: Bettering Florida’s Food System Together

    If you were unable to attend the meeting, the full presentation is available to watch online here.  

    To keep the conversation going, please visit our forum on Building Bridges: Bettering Florida’s Food System together here to add your thoughts and comments. 

    On Friday, January 29th, the Florida Food Forum on "Building Bridges: Bettering Florida's Food System Together" featured FLFPC Board Members Erica Hall, Rachel Shapiro, Anthony Olivieri, Dell deChant, Tom Pellizzetti, Christopher Johns, Rick Hawkins and Jesse Haskins, who discussed how they are building bridges in their respective areas of expertise to better the food system. 

    Dell DeChant, a native Floridian, explained that he has lived through Florida’s transformation from a “largely rural, lightly settled agricultural state, to one that is highly urbanized, densely populated, economically diversified, and ecologically compromised.”

    Dell is a Master Instructor at the University of South Florida where he has served for 35 years. He researches religion in contemporary culture, using a “theology of culture approach.” He has published over 30 articles in professional journals and encyclopedias, presented over 40 conference papers and contributed chapters in 12 books, and has authored 3 books, one of the most popular being “The Sacred Santa: Religious Dimensions of Consumer Culture.” Dell is also the co-author on a text on comparative ethics titled Comparative Religious Ethics, a Narrative Approach. Most recently, he published an article entitled “Where’s the Beef? Looking for Food, Religion and Ecology,” in the book The Global Food System.

    In addition to his academic career, Dell notes how he is active in his community. Serving two terms on the New Port Richey City Council, he initiated the city's first sustainability projects including mulch recycling, Tree City USA designation, recognition of Earth Day and Arbor Day. He served as Chair of the Environmental Committee, which was initiated in 1990, and chartered the first community gardens in New Port Richey. He spearheaded the drive to establish the Martin Luther King Day Celebration in the city, and continues to work to better Florida and his community by serving on the Board of Directors of Ecology Florida, the Pasco County Food Policy Council, and the Florida Food Policy Council.

    Dell said that in his assessment of the contemporary food system, "the area which we see the greatest distortion is the area of food sovereignty and urban agrarianism, which are virtually overlooked in terms of policy and government action. Absent action in these areas as a culture We remain little more than a colony of the industrial food system.”

    Anthony Olivieri, originally from Cambridge Massachusetts, moved to Florida in 1990. His expertise in Community Food Systems, mapping of food and health disparities, land use policy, food systems analysis, and food systems education, programs and workshops, has been greatly seen in his work with FLFPC. 

    In 2012, for the first time Anthony created a map of diabetes in Broward County, a project which catalyzed a number of programs and policy change in the county. His research found that in Broward, cases of diabetes overlapped almost exclusively with low-income Black communities, and those areas also overlapped with an unhealthy food index that was created with funding by the CDC.

    Most recently, Anthony has been working on a project on health disparities and COVID. This type of analysis as well as Land Use Policy analysis is a unique skill that he brings to FLFPC. In fact, he worked with the council to develop a process and analyze 6 counties around the state of Florida, discovering 152 policies that relate to food access and food recovery.

    Another project Anthony helped develop was the creation the “Good Neighbor Store Initiative,” with Arely Lozano, which trained high school and middle school youth to analyze the food environment in their corner stores, how to map the information and how to present that information to the city council to advocate for policy change. Going forward, program implementation and opportunities to work with partners on program development and policy scanning is a high priority.


    Rick Hawkins has spent more than 46 years in the hotel and restaurant industry. During that time, he was the Director of Materials Management for the Breakers Hotel and led the Environmental Impact Team which worked to bring the company to the forefront of sustainability.

    He currently owns a small ranch where he raises beef cattle, chickens, fruits and vegetables, and he has spent much of his life involved in the food system growing sustainable and organic food and connecting growers to eaters.

    “In Florida,” Rick said, “there is a large disconnect between the people that grow the food and the people who eat the food. A lot of his time has been spent trying to help that.” 

    In 2007, Rick co-founded the not-for-profit LocalEcopia, along with Geoff Sagrans, the long-standing President, with the goal of helping sustainable business operations by eliminating the disconnect between growers and eaters. Similarly, at the Breakers Hotel, Rick was able to connect with local chefs to create agreements with local farmers to bring in fresh produce every week which in turn provided stable income to the farmers and also offered hotel employees the opportunity to obtain fresh Florida foods.

    With COVID, however, LocalEcopia has especially faced great challenges without the demand from local consumers such as schools and hotels.


    Jesse Haskins is an attorney based out of Tampa who has a strong passion for eating food, which has fueled his passion for engaging with professional organizations and broader food systems. 

    As the Year in Review Chair of the Agricultural Management Section of the American Bar Association’s Section on Environment and Energy Resources, he explained that, “agricultural Management is recognized as one of several different areas in resources, environmental law, energy law. I’m in charge of highlighting, mostly on the federal level, all of the developments that are going on in terms of agricultural policy.”

    Jesse also takes pride in his community-level work with growers and entrepreneurs, making sure that they are in compliance with regulations and that they have the transactional infrastructure they need to thrive as businesses and entrepreneurs, particularly when it comes to municipal and zoning regulations, and also raising capital. Working with Farm-to Consumer Legal Defense Fund (FTCLDF) for herd share agreements is another area Jesse has experience in, where he helped consumers can get direct access to dairy from ranchers on a more local level.

    Apart from his position on FLFPC’s Board of Directors, Jesse serves a Board member of Ecology Florida and Florida Organic Growers.


    Tom Pellizzetti came to FLFPC while he was working in small farm meats in Florida. Ten years prior, with his background in marketing and sales in consumer products, Tom began doing independent sales activities. At that time, by connecting with growers and customers, it became quickly clear that there was no way to “raise, process and sell cattle in Florida.” He realized that this was because of a lack of infrastructure both with cattle and other foods as well.

    Tom brings to the Board his experience of being in the commercial space. He connects food producers and brands with distributors while maintaining focus in that space, and stays closely tied into the activities on the ground. As a member of FLFPC, he said that he has been able to continue his passions in small farm to local food systems.

    “FLFPC is a great place to participate,” said Tom, “to find voice and pick up on cool ideas.” 

    Tom wants to continue to generate revenue and improve FLFPC’s resources and tools. At the same time, he hopes to monetize and give voice to local food people and have an avenue for every day folks to be involved in the conversation.

    Rachel Shapiro, lives in South East Florida in Palm Beach County. Rachel’s current project is the creation of a Food Hub named “The Feast” in Fort Lauderdale.

    “The Food Hub is all about building bridges and solving challenges within the food system,” said Rachel. “My involvement in the food hub has grown out of my involvement with FLFPC and the other Board members over the past decade.” Rachel notes how she is incorporating the work Anthony has done on the “Good Neighbor Store Initiative” to influence nutrition guidelines, and building on the work Rick has done with LocalEcopia to make it easier for small to midsize producers to get their food to the folks that really want to get it. 

    “We know that the food system is a multi-faceted animal.” Rachel explained that with an uncertain job market, the high failure of food-related businesses, and now with COVID and the new landscape it has created as far as food production, delivery and job loss, the hub is a tool to address these problems.

    “By encouraging entrepreneurship and focusing on services being offered, the hub is offering people another option as far as revenue generating facilities,” she said. Meanwhile, “providing a shared-use kitchen, a demo studio, and food hall, culinary entrepreneurs will be able to get off the ground at lower cost…We also have sourcing guidelines and are creating buying clubs to lower the cost for chefs and support the local farms.” 

    Going forward, Rachel hopes to continue to develop one of the main focuses of FLFPC, which is to bring together residents from around the state and bridge the gaps in the food system together. 


    Christopher Johns, a native Floridian, came from a traditional farming background. His family owns a farm in Hastings, which Chris had managed for a number of years before becoming an attorney in environmental law. He explained that seeing a lot of the environmental issues related to farming was the catalyst that made him want to enter law school.

    “I would notice that the different stakeholders in the groups, such as farmers and environmental non-profits, often didn’t seem to understand each other…Then while I was in law school, I had the chance to intern at the Harvard Food Policy and Law Clinic, which opened my eyes to food policy.”

    Until that point, he had thought of food as agricultural-centric, but when he was introduced to the concept of food systems, that helped him understand the broader context in which agriculture sits—a framework which allowed him to see potential issues with food systems and feeding people that he hadn’t seen before.

    Chris is currently working on two projects that relate to food systems. The first is the Florida Food Policy Toolkit which is going to be an introduction to and overview of the legal and regulatory framework in Florida as it intersects with food systems. It will also be a compendium of information for people who are involved in various areas of food systems in Florida such as production, distribution, community food assessments, etc.

    “With the help of volunteers, are currently compiling this information and are building a database and resources that will become tools for Floridians to use to better understand and advocate for healthier food systems.”

    The second project Chris is working on is a Whitepaper exploring the ways to allow urban agriculture to proliferate and flourish without harming protections that are established for urban agriculture.


    Erica Hall, who took over the role as Chair of the FLFPC 3 months prior, was the last to present.

    “In light of the pandemic, and racial and social injustice, more than ever there is a connection and our work is intersectional,” she began.

    Erica explained that intersectionality—an analytical framework for understanding how aspects of a person's social and political identities combine to create different modes of discrimination and privilege (such as gender, caste, sex, race, class, sexuality, religion, disability, physical appearance, and height)—is a framework that attempts to restructure the ways in which food is distributed, consumed, and produced, impacting the social, racial, cultural, political, economic, and environmental dimensions of food.

    “Thus, a racial and social equity lens should be used in every aspect of each intersection of the work as intersectionality centers social justice from various social locations. And that without the input or understanding of resistance from the people whose experiences of injustices we seek to alleviate, we risk reproducing structures that reinforce oppression through different means.”

    Erica noted that conversations around Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (JEDI) have to take place in safe places to facilitate change, and that is a priority for the council going forward. “The world needs a food system that delivers healthy, safe and nutritious foods to everybody, everywhere; and ensures a decent income for farmers and food workers, tackles climate change, and protects nature while building a community of practice all while working through a JEDI lens.”

    Working to bridge these gaps, Erica has been collaborating with a number of organizations across the state. She was elected Vice-Chair of the Executive Committee, Sierra Suncoast Group working on the connection between Climate Change, Food Waste, Environmental Justice, and Diversity Equity and Inclusion; appointed by Nikki Fried to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ (FDACS) Food Security Advisory Committee (FSAC), a core group of collaborative, cross-sector thought leaders across the state of Florida working together to create a statewide plan for addressing food security; works on the Executive Committee, Leadership Circle for The North American Food Systems Network (NAFSN); is assisting the chapter of the Congress for New Urbanism (CNU) with planning their CNU Florida Summit 2021, integrating Racial Equity and Justice into their summit which focuses on human-scaled urban design; presented with the Indian River Food Policy Council to Indian River stakeholders on the need for and the development/expansion of the Indian River Food Policy Council; is submitting expressions of interest to contribute to the textbook Food Studies: Matter, Meaning & Movement; and is a member of the Food Politics Action Team League of Women Voters of the St. Petersburg Area.

    Erica also highlighted FLFPC’s plan to partner with FDACS and other groups to create GIS story maps throughout the State, highlighting social, racial and health disparities and inequities.

    What are the next steps?

    Erica ended her presentation by explaining how intersectionality is all about collaboration. That partnerships are key, and through developing those partnerships with other people and organizations, help in funding will follow.

    “Become leaders in your community. Educate and advocate for yourselves and others. Join groups like ours—the Florida Food Policy Council. Reach out to us and tell us how can we help you reach your goals. Are there ways for us to collaborate and partner?​”

    With the conclusion of the presentations, a number of Board members stayed after to answer questions and discuss ways to collaborate.


    If you would like to contact FLFPC, reach out to us at info@flfpc.org.

    Guest Presenter Information:

    Please visit our Board of Directors and Team About Page for full bios.

    Forum Host: Dell deChant is the Associate Chair of the Religious Studies Department at the University of South Florida and a member of the Board of Directors at the Florida Food Policy Council.

    Thank you to our sponsors for making this forum possible:

    FHEED provides food systems planning, GIS analysis, advocacy, and education about food systems and healthy communities.

    Contact: Anthony Olivieri, Founder, FHEED LLC

    Website: www.FHEED.com

    J Haskins Law, located in Tampa, empowers communities with the legal and risk management tools they need to exercise food sovereignty. The contact for J Haskins Law is Jesse Haskins.

    Contact: Jesse Haskins, Founder, J Haskins Law

    Website: www.jhaskinslaw.com

    The Florida Food Forum is a free event. To support our work, please consider becoming a member or making a donationFor questions or more information, contact us at: info@flfpc.org

    Disclaimer: The views of the presenters 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.

  • 21 Dec 2020 10:10 AM | Administrator (Administrator)

    Follow Up: December Florida Food Forum 

    Community Gardens: What's Been Done, What's Ahead

    If you were unable to attend the meeting, the full presentation is available to watch online here.  

    To keep the conversation going, please visit our forum on Community Gardens: What's Been Done, What's Ahead here to add your thoughts and comments. 

    On Friday, December 18th, the Florida Food Forum on "Community Gardens: What’s Been Done, What’s Ahead" featured guest panelists Kitty Wallace, Garden Coordinator of Tampa Heights Community Garden and Co-founder of the Coalition of Community Gardens – Tampa Bay and Judith Gulko, Co-founder and Co-organizer of the Rotary Community Garden and Food Forest of Coral Springs.

    “There is a tremendous interest in community gardens which has accelerated recently due in part to the devastating impact of COVID-19 and the pandemic that is still sweeping the country, which has impacted food security and brought a heightened awareness of the fragility of the industrial food system. It has also inspired many to embrace local food production, led others to network and organize food sovereignty projects, and greatly expanded participation in community gardens,” said Dell deChant, Chair of the Policy Committee and Host of the forum, at the start of the program.

    The first presenter, Judith Gulko, highlighted six of the community gardens in Southeast Florida, their work and the challenges they face.

    The first garden she introduced was the Rotary Community Garden and Food Forest of Coral Springs, which she helped co-found, along with the Rotary Club. Judith explained that unlike some of the other gardens she would introduce, Coral Springs is not a food desert.

    “The Rotary sponsored us with the city so we were set up well from the start,” she said.” But we, volunteers and residents, run the garden.”

    The mission of the garden is, “to teach people how to grow food, to build community, and we are really passionate about bringing in plants that thrive here, providing a healthy ecosystem for plants, people, pollinators and other animals.

    One of the unique features of the garden is that it is in a fenced in area on city land in a park, however it is adjacent to an unfenced food forest. Sometimes this leads to thefts, but Judith says that there is a great amount of donations made as well. Another unique part of the garden is that it houses a memorial for the Parkland shooting and serves as a special place for the community.

    The Fruitful Field was the next highlighted garden. Located in a food desert in Pompano Beach, the mission of the garden is to serve under-privileged populations and educate youth, and is currently run by Chris Reesor.

    The Fruitful Field sits on a church property and is able to donate about 4 tons of food per year. In addition, for every CSA share purchased, an in-kind match is donated.

    With the success of the first garden, a CRA grant was received from the City of Pompano which was used to create a second garden, the Patricia Davis Community Garden, which is stewarded by GrowCity youth. Through the grants, youth are provided paid internships for their work.

    GrowCity fosters hands-on organic gardening, healthy cooking, healthy eating—among its many objectives,” said Judith.

    Similar to The Fruitful Field, the Delray Beach Children’s Garden is also located on church grounds. However, with its prime location in downtown Delray Beach, one of the challenges is the increasing amount they pay to rent the land.

    Cofounded by Shelly Zacks and Jeannie Fernsworth, Christina Nicodemo is Director of this unique garden. What makes this garden different, is that it was designed by children with permaculture principles and includes a secret garden for kids only.

    The mission of this garden is eco-consciousness in children’s garden education; adventure education and play; and they follow the Olmstead Quaker principles of having areas for organizing, greeting, gathering and meeting. The garden also services 50 homeschool children with weekly classes, and 25 “Mommy and Me” classes. Through its various service projects, grants and donations, the garden has been able to survive.

    The Lauderdale Lakes Community Garden, located in a food desert, is run by Beverly Williams, who is the founder and now Vice Mayor.

    “For many of our gardens,” Judith said, “development is always the monster that we are dealing with.”

    As the native soil is contaminated, the gardens use raised beds and concrete blocks and can be moved, which is part of its design. The garden offers low-cost box rentals, they teach organic gardening skills, and feed an Alzheimer’s Daycare with the fresh nutritious foods they grow. There is also a children’s garden nearby.

    The next garden Judith introduced is a lesson in resilience. Highland Gardens Community Garden which was located in Hollywood from about 2008 to 2018 was founded by Maria Jackson Ratliff, with help from Adriana Algieri. The garden was managed until the land was sold to a developer, then part of the garden was relocated to a private school in Hollywood.

    Recently, they began the East Hollywood Food Yard project which develops food yards and a new space for kids on diversion has been created as well.

    Miramar Community Garden, one of the oldest in the area, was last garden Judith highlighted. Run by Rita Brown, the garden is located in a city park.

    The garden is all organic, sustainable, and environmentally friendly, and was the first demonstration of a “micro-farming system” in Broward County.

    The mission of the garden is to create a network of healthy food sources of naturally grown vegetables and fruits, a social network for garden volunteers to learn about the urban agricultural industry and the opportunity for vocational training.

    Judith finished her presentation by acknowledging her partners Jackie ida and Satya Rudin.

    The next presentation was given by Kitty Wallace, who began her talk by introducing her background and the history of community gardens in Florida.

    After co-founding and managing the Tampa Heights Community Garden for 10 years, Kitty then co-founded the Coalition of Community Gardens, Inc., a network of community gardens dedicated to supporting the success of community gardening. Working closely with her partner Lena Young Green, Kitty has seen a transformation in the state of community gardens in Florida.

    “In the 1970s, due to the energy crisis, there was a resurgence of victory gardens in the State. Then in the 1990s, the American Community Garden Association performed a survey and found that Sarasota was the only city in Florida that was found to have a community garden at that time. Into the 2000’s, with additional interest in environment, health and community, interest in gardening has increased,” Kitty explained. “You can see where we've come from the 1990s with one city with garden.”

    What is a community garden?

    “A community garden is a single piece of land gardened collectively by a group of people,” Kitty said. “There are many ways to organize a community garden, as many ways as people who get together who have an idea of how they want to do their garden—led by their children, led by others in the community, but where are we now?” 

    At the federal level, Kitty notes that there is now an Office of Urban Agriculture. Established through the 2018 Farm Bill, its mission is to encourage and promote urban, indoor, and other emerging agricultural practices, including community composting and food waste reduction.

    Why is urban agriculture important today?

    “As we’ve seen what’s happened to us since March, we see a fragile food system in place. There are flaws, there are gaps, there are components that break down, there is an impact in food production, and even meat processing plants being affected. So, everyone is keenly aware of this food system fragility,” Kitty said. “So, we turn to solutions such as improving local production and increasing access to fresh nutritious produce for the health of community and the health of the environment.”

    Kitty noted that according to research on successful community gardens by Dr. Joseph England at USF, there are three main things that contribute to a garden being successful:

    1. The people feel very valued about the produce they are growing

    2. The people feel important about the meaningfulness of donating to others

    3. The celebrations that happen in the garden are important to the success of the garden.

    As for research on failed community gardens Kitty said, “Everyone knows this; drop a garden where no one wants it and it will fail! So, it’s important to have everyone in the community being a part of the development of the garden, setting the goals, planning the garden, and supporting the garden.”

    What is ahead?

    “Community gardens can play an important role in improving local production and distribution at the local level. So, I’m suggesting that you look at your local area, and see how you can help strengthen local government support for community gardening.”

    As for policy, Kitty performed research on several of the cities throughout the state, and found there are a wide range of policies in each municipality.

    “From the state level, the State of Florida supports front yard gardening—that infamous bill that was passed that disallowed home rule. Individual municipalities cannot ban front yard gardens because of this state rule. But what is key for the growth of community gardens is that there is support from the local municipality.”

    Although gardens play an important role individually filling local production gaps, Kitty said that the best strategy to accomplish a goal is to form a network of community gardens because more food can be produced and better distribution can be planned.

    What can you do?

    “I’m advocating that people pay attention to what the food insecurity figures are near you,” Kitty said. The USDA identifies census tracks as Food Deserts: low-income census tracts with a substantial number of residents with low levels of access to retail outlets selling healthy and affordable foods are defined as food deserts. And there is a Food Desert Locator where you can find out if you are within a couple of miles of a food desert or are you in a food desert.”

    By knowing where the food deserts are, you can then advocate for local policies that support community gardens in those areas. Looking at other cities that have well-thought-out policies and procedures for supporting community gardens is a great way to get started.

    Kitty gave some examples of good, well-defined policies that support community gardening are those in:  

    1. St. Petersburg

    2. Ft. Lauderdale 

    3. Orlando

    Making connections with your extension office, with your universities, and with your local government are other ways to get involved.

    Kitty continued her presentation by showing some of her research on community gardens located in different cities across Florida, highlighting some of the policies and procedures that support them. She also went into detail about community gardens found specifically in Hillsborough county, their history, challenges and successes. Then explained some of the important developments and projects that are being spearheaded to strengthen community gardens in the area.

    After two illuminating presentations, the forum opened up for questions.


    Rotary Community Garden and Food Forest of Coral Springs Website

    Florida Permaculture Convergence Facebook Page

    Coalition of Community Gardens Website

    Guest Presenter Information:

    Bio: Judith Gulko is an ecological edible landscape designer and Co-founder and Co-organizer of the Rotary Community Garden and Food Forest of Coral Springs. She is also Co-founder of the Florida Permaculture Convergence. As well, Dr. Gulko is a clinical psychologist in private practice in Coral Springs, specializing in working with people recovering from trauma.

    Bio: Kitty Wallace, retired educator, is past President of the Tampa Garden Club. She is Garden Coordinator of Tampa Heights Community Garden, which was named best community garden in the state by the Florida Federation of Garden Clubs. She is Co-founder of the Coalition of Community Gardens — Tampa Bay. She was named "Inspired Gardener" by the Florida Federation of Garden Clubs for her work with community gardens.

    Forum Host: Dell deChant is the Associate Chair of the Religious Studies Department at the University of South Florida and a member of the Board of Directors at the Florida Food Policy Council.

    Thank you to our sponsors for making this forum possible:

    FHEED provides food systems planning, GIS analysis, advocacy, and education about food systems and healthy communities.

    Contact: Anthony Olivieri, Founder, FHEED LLC

    Website: www.FHEED.com

    J Haskins Law, located in Tampa, empowers communities with the legal and risk management tools they need to exercise food sovereignty. The contact for J Haskins Law is Jesse Haskins.

    Contact: Jesse Haskins, Founder, J Haskins Law

    Website: www.jhaskinslaw.com

    The Florida Food Forum is a free event. To support our work, please consider becoming a member or making a donationFor questions or more information, contact us at: info@flfpc.org

    Disclaimer: The views of the presenters 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.

  • 22 Nov 2020 7:02 PM | Administrator (Administrator)

    Follow Up: November Florida Food Forum
    Black Farmers Matter

    If you were unable to attend the meeting, the full presentation is available to watch online here.  

    To keep the conversation going, please visit our forum on Black Farmers Matter here to add your thoughts and comments. 

    On Friday, November 20th, the Florida Food Forum on "Black Farmers Matter" featured guest panelists: Tanikka Watford Williams, Executive Director of The Moore Wright Group, Angelique Taylor and David “Kip” Ritchey, Owners of Smarter By Nature LLC, and Carla Bristol, Collaboration Manager at St. Petersburg Youth Farm. Incoming Chair of the Florida Food Policy Council, Erica Hall, moderated the event.

    The first presenter was Tanikka Watford Williams, who began her presentation by explaining the mission of the Moore Wright Group and her background.

    “The Moore Wright Group (TMWG) is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. Our mission is to break the cycle of poverty, abuse, and abandonment in the community by providing hope. Our vision is to create communities where everyone can thrive.”

    Tanikka explained how she was the daughter of Black farmers, and that they had instilled in her the importance of, “community, our food system, and of us.”  Thus, it was important that the Moore Wright Group was founded with the principles of helping people thrive.

    “I am also the granddaughter of a sharecropper,” said Tanikka, “a sharecropper from North Carolina. My grandmother also had a small, what she called “garden” that was 20 acres that helped instill in me the importance of growing your food, helping your community with that food, and how education and everything around us can help us grow.”

    Tanikka’s later experience starting and owning a produce distribution company helped her learned about the many holes and issues that existed within the system and she began to work with other organizations to bridge those gaps. “I recognized that a lot of food that was coming to our facility, wasn’t coming from Black farmers. We learned that a lot of things around us, didn’t allow for our farmers to be able to thrive.”

    Tanikka explained that currently Black farmers make up 1.2% of all farmers, 1% of all Ag sales, and that the average age of Black farmers is 61 years old, however, the average age of all other farmers is 54 to 57. “So, the difference in those years creates a lot of different issues for our producers and our processors, which also adds into our Ag sales.

    Another problem is that only 62% of Black farmers have access to Internet. “That limits access to our farmers for information and resources. Especially in times like now when we’re all virtual. This leaves our farmers to a very much so disadvantage that also doesn’t help our farmers to be able to increase sales and access the avenues to increase those sales.”

    History Leads to Understanding

    “A lot of people don’t know the history of how some of our extension services in the USDA were formed,” Tanikka said. She explained about the history of George Washington Carver who went to Tuskegee, Alabama, and came up with a revolutionary way of helping farmers.

    “He had the idea of beginning educating and thought, how do we get our farmers the information they need to be able to produce more, have crops on consistent rotation, and how to actually help our farmers not just to be consumers but to be producers and to supply to consumers? So, the idea of a moveable school came about.”

    Tanikka said that the reason she presents this story is because it helps set a framework for a lot of the mechanisms that help farmers be better producers through the USDA in their farm programs. Yet, even now, a lot of those services do not touch and help the people they were set up to be able to help.

    One example that discusses a failure of the USDA is Pigford v. Glickman. This was a class action lawsuit against the USDA, citing racial discrimination against African-American farmers in its allocation of farm loans and assistance between 1981 and 1996.

    “A lot of people have conversations about Pigford, and they want to say that Pigford existed to be able to help farmers now. That information is incorrect. Pigford was set up to right the wrongs of the past.” Tanikka explained. “Oftentimes Black farmers were not given loans; according to the actual lawsuit it said that Black farmers loans were processed 3 times slower than any other racial makeup. And also, a lot of the loans that were given, farmers didn’t actually know that they had those loans. So, then the USDA would come back and say that they had defaulted on their loan and then take the land. So, this money was to right the wrongs…So I like to talk about that because often the conversation is ‘Why doesn’t that create change now?’ and ‘How does that not set Black farmers up for a part of the platform right now?’”

    The Justice for Black Farmers Act

    Tanikka mentioned one piece of legislation that is currently going through Congress: the Justice for Black Farmers Act. “A lot of components of this act also help with some of the gaps with the land being stolen and access to education and a lot of different component. Will this speak to everything, no, but the point of it is to be able to help so that we have access to land and to be able to grow and to be able to help our farmers to succeed.”

    The second presentation was given by Angelique Taylor and David “Kip” Ritchey, who started with an introduction about their reason for farming and starting Smarter By Nature.

    “We are a small-scale regenerative farm located in Quincy, Florida, and our mission is to facilitate sustainable relationships between people and the natural environment by providing fresh food and education to the local community,” said Angelique.

    Located in a food desert, Angelique and Kip decided to start their business in 2017 to address the lack of fresh food in our community. “We wanted to be an asset to our community by learning different growing methods that would not only feed people but also restore the natural environment. We grow for our farmers market and we are also certified permaculture designers so we use different growing methods that would help feed the soil as well as grow healthy plants.”

    Agriculture is Changing

    Kip explained that agriculture as a whole is changing. “One of the things about agriculture is the excessive use of chemical fertilizers and the continuous tilling which is a practice that’s been going on since the industrial era of agriculture…As regenerative farmers we look at these current issues and we face them head on with our own practices of no-tilling and the use of natural and organic fertilizers and pesticides.”

    A lot of young farmers are at the forefront of addressing these issues in food production. “This is why permaculture, regenerative farming, and sustainability, these words are becoming new trends but they are something that is a huge necessity for our space—not only to think about food for your community, but to think about healing the earth in the process,” Kip said.

    Kip noted that on their farm they like to use cover crops. “People talk about this, like Tanikka said, George Washington Carver helped establish the use of cover crops in the large-scale agriculture, but it’s been something that’s been veered away from that we’re just getting back to.”

    Serving the Community

    Angelique and Kip founded Smarter by Nature in 2017 and currently service the Tallahassee community. Angelique has a background in Environmental Science and her passion for growing came from a love for the environment and wanting to help restore and protect sustainable systems for the future generations to enjoy. Kip’s background in Sociology and agreement with Angelique’s thinking about the earth and about food systems motivated them to create Smarter by Nature.

    Although their farm is 5 acres, they are currently cultivating 1 acre of space and engaging with the surrounding community both in person and online. “We have volunteers come out every Friday and Sunday from 9 to 11am, and they get hands on experience in terms of what we do,” said Kip. “We are learning every day. One of the values that we bring to our online audience is that we share our mistakes that we make along the way, and we share the lessons that we learn, not just the good food that we grow, but we show our challenges. This is something that we think is highly important today is to demystify the agriculture sector and to make it something that is accessible for people,” Kip noted.

    Angelique added, “We also look to inspire others to start growing where they are, because you can be regenerative gardeners on a small-scale and up to a large-scale. There are different practices that can be adopted by anyone and really everyone across the world. So, what we do is share our experience and just share our journey.”

    Improving through Policy

    “I would say that one of our biggest challenges that we face is access to equipment and infrastructure,” Kip said. “When we started our business, we started it urban gardening in smaller spaces but we decided that we wanted to grow more food to help feed our food desert here in Tallahassee.”

    When it comes to policy, there were two types of legislation that they would like to see implemented. “We believe that there should be a mandatory class on food education from elementary to high school. Food is such an underrated core aspect of culture. It’s something that everyone has to engage in all the time. And we need new entrepreneurs. Food is so vast and it’s not only just farming, it’s also processing goods as well. It can happen on a small-scale and on a large-scale. And I think that just how we study math, science, reading and writing, agriculture should be a core part taught in institutions,” Kip explained.

    The second policy recommendation was that at least 20% of food used in institutions be purchased from local farmers within a 200 miles radius of the given institution. “There is a huge disconnect between institutions and communities. We live in Tallahassee, we have Florida State (FSU) and FAMU, two huge institutions with over 20,000 students but they have no idea about what’s going on in the community around them. So, to be able to say that the food served at the institution comes from farmers in that area, and for any given city, we think that would be a huge step towards progressing in the food system.”

    From there, Carla Bristol introduced her background and current projects working with the St. Petersburg Youth Farm.

    “Unlike the previous panelists I was born in South America, in Guyana, grew up in Brooklyn, NY, and moved to St. Petersburg in 1996. When I got into this work, I said at best I am not a gardener, but I know that I can lift and provide visibility and to this space and to this conversation,” said Carla.

    The St. Petersburg Youth Farm program was established in 2019 with the goal of addressing the issue of food scarcity in the South St. Petersburg area. Another goal of the program was to create economic workforce development for youth. So, all of the youth participants are paid a salary. In fact, in the last 17 months, the program has hired over 35 young people.

    The program does a lot more than teach about growing food. Carla explains, “For youth development, which includes everything from character building, we teach Black history, we teach entrepreneurship, a heavy focus on leadership, but I would be remised if I didn’t say that one of the things that we also focus on and that we put as a cornerstone and a priority is mental wellness. Especially with everything that’s happening today, we were sharp in being able to pivot to online. But the beauty of it is that we also grow food.” 

    Carla continued, “One of the things that we didn't want to do was to just indoctrinate knowledge to our young people but actually have them experience how to build this, and how to understand and respect the soil we are growing in.

    The site that the program was assigned is located behind a community center that is right in the heart of what is known as Midtown in St Petersburg. “This .83 acres of land for us to grow food on, we are now past the soil remediation phase, we are past the tree removal phase, and now we are going into full-scale “Let's start building our soil!”

    The program will be erecting a greenhouse that will grow microgreens and with the support of a grant from the Ford Foundation partnered with USF, they will soon be growing hydroponically. 

    Eventually, Carla said that the farm location will be a space for not only growing, but education, which will include workshops and classes, and more importantly, it will become a space for the community.

    Changes in Local Policy

    “Initially when this program began, we would not have been able to sell at the farm location. We would have had to grow the food and we could literally sell at the parking lot next door at the rec center. And some of the policies in our city that are shifting are going to allow us to be able to sell on site at the farm,” said Carla. 

    “Part of what we're focused on right now is actually a huge effort and community survey. It's a big effort to find out what kind of things the community like would like. What are you buying and what do you wish that you could afford to buy? The effort with the greenhouse, 30% of what we grow in the greenhouse will be donated back to the community efforts.” 

    A policy that would enable the residents, community gardens and farm spaces to sell food where they grow would indeed have an impact on this project.

    Carla also noted that increasing healthy foods in the corner stores in the area where people already shop would also have a great impact on the local community.  

    Erica Hall wrapped up the presentation portion of the forum by explaining why this topic was chosen and why it is important to discuss.

    “As a food policy council, and as a statewide food policy council, one of our roles is to address gaps in the food system, and one of the gaps that we identified was this,” Erica explained.

    Erica provided a number of resources for further research and understanding of the topic, and explained what people can do to be more involved.

    With the conclusion of the presentations, the forum opened up for a lively question and answer session. Attendees were left with a greater understanding of the topic and impactful policies that could bring positive changes to the food system.

    Panelist Information: 

    Tanikka Watford Williams has a heart for the community and a love of supply chains and is an advocate for survivors of abuse, and black and brown farmers. Tanikka formed the first African American woman owned produce Distribution Company, as well as a small batch co-packing company. She has worked in wholesale and retail distribution for over 18 years; her experience includes developing markets, logistics center development, distribution center planning, perishable processing, HACCP, and cooperative buying opportunities in urban and rural areas to increase access to healthy and affordable foods, and resources for all community members. She is the creator of National Black Agriculture Awareness Week that got started in July of 2011. She has been recognized as a local hero in the 2012 April Edition of “O” Magazine and has also graced the pages of Family Circle Magazine, Grio, Washington Express, Wall Street Journal, Afro Magazine, ABC News, and the News and Times. In 2010 Tanikka, has had the honor of being recognized by the White House, United Nations, Let's Move!, the US Department of Agriculture, US Health and Human Services, DC Department of Health, and the Metro Washington Public Health Association for her works in communities. She has served on various policy and community councils and has been very active in advocacy and policy work on the east coast and west coast. She has served on councils Co-Chair and the Commerce Chair of the Live Well DC Community Coalition, as well as the Co-Chair of the DC Cancer Policy Taskforce Advisor, and the White House Let’s Move Community Coalition. She has been recognized as a woman of Achievement by the YWCA, and Leader of Excellence by the Urban League. Tanikka has taught classes ranging from Domestic Violence signs to Supply chain Systems Development. Tanikka Watford Williams is the Executive Director of The Moore Wright Group and works daily to put an end to abuse and the cycle of abuse, and be a resource for the community. Since COVID-19 the Moore Wright Group has impacted over 500,000 families nationwide. Tanikka is a wife, and mother of 7, 4 by birth amazing children ages 21, 18, 16, 13, 12, 11, and 10, and is an ordained Pastor.

    Angelique Taylor and David “Kip” Ritchey are regenerative small-scale farmers who own Smarter By Nature LLC. Angelique and David are certified permaculture designers with a background in environmental science and sociology. Smarter by Nature LLC facilitates sustainable relationships between people and the natural environment by providing fresh food and education to the local community. In December 2017, Smarter by Nature LLC was founded as a means to address the issue of lack of fresh locally grown food in underserved communities. They strive to provide access to affordable quality produce and opportunities for economic sustainability through education, as well as restore the natural environment in the process. 

    Sustainability is the guiding principle for how they cultivate diversity on their farm, which strengthens the health of the soil, leading to better quality food. They learned from farmers across the world and built their system using practices that align with their ethics of environmental stewardship. Their growing system is based on a combination of sustainable principles and methods which are used to grow seasonal annual vegetables and perennial plants. Through regenerative agriculture practices, Smarter By Nature aims to provide healthy produce as well as share the knowledge of growing food to their local and online community.

    Carla Bristol is the Collaboration Manager at St. Petersburg Youth Farm and the small business owner/gallerist of Gallerie 909.  She's a local community advocate with extensive global sales experience. Born in Guyana her family moved to the United States when she was 11 years old. She relocated to Florida from New York in 1996. She's birth mother to two but community mother to dozens of young people in the community. The work of elevating Youth Voices in the food equity conversation has been her commitment over the past 18 months. Youth to the delight of our community are now writing editorials for The Weekly Challenger Newspaper. They have created a project for feeding the houseless population in St. Petersburg with kindness message bags and are inspiring so many others. The program has been featured in the news, on television program and you can learn more about this program at www.stpeteyouthfarm.org.

    Forum Host: 

    Erica Hall is the incoming Chair of the Florida Food Policy Council and is a community development professional.

    Thank you to our sponsors for making this forum possible:

    FHEED provides food systems planning, GIS analysis, advocacy, and education about food systems and healthy communities.

    Contact: Anthony Olivieri, Founder, FHEED LLC

    Website: www.FHEED.com

    J Haskins Law, located in Tampa, empowers communities with the legal and risk management tools they need to exercise food sovereignty. The contact for J Haskins Law is Jesse Haskins.

    Contact: Jesse Haskins, Founder, J Haskins Law

    Website: www.jhaskinslaw.com

    The Florida Food Forum is a free event. To support our work, please consider becoming a member or making a donation. For questions or more information, contact us at: info@flfpc.org

    Disclaimer: The views of the presenters 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.

  • 2 Nov 2020 7:45 AM | Administrator (Administrator)

    Follow Up: October Florida Food Forum

    The National Farm Bill: What it Means to Florida’s Food System

    If you were unable to attend the meeting, the full presentation is available to watch online here.  

    To keep the conversation going, please visit our forum on The National Farm Bill: What it Means to Florida’s Food System here to add your thoughts and comments. 

    On October 30th, the Florida Food Forum on the topic of The National Farm Bill: What it Means to Florida’s Food System was led by guest presenter Mikhail Scott, Strategic Partnerships Coordinator with the Florida Department of Agriculture – Division of Food, Nutrition and Wellness.

    Mikhail began his presentation by introducing the Florida Department of Agriculture and the programs that the Division of Food, Nutrition and Wellness oversee.

    Within the Division of Food, Nutrition and Wellness, we actually conduct, supervise, and administer Child Nutrition Programs, Commodity Food Distribution Programs, and also many other assistance and benefits programs, while also providing outreach, guidance, training and a lot of other resources to students, parents, teachers and the like. So, what we are doing here is really trying to be impactful and touch as many communities as possible with the work we do in the department.”

    Mikhail noted four major programs managed by the division that play an important role in Florida's local food system: The National School Lunch Program, the Summer Food Service Program or Summer BreakSpot, the Emergency Food Program known as The Emergency Food Assistance Program or (TEFAP), and the Commodity Supplemental Food Program. 

    The National School Lunch Program, which is a federally assisted meal  program, is operated in both public and nonprofit schools across the state of Florida, as well as in residential child care institutions. The program provides nutritious meals to students, which often results in enhanced academic performance from students.

    “Another great part about the program is that it improves students’ understanding and generally their intake of fruits and vegetables, which we know is good for just general overall health and wellness,” he added.   

    As many students across Florida depend on these meals as their sole source of food during the weekdays, Mikhail notes the importance of this program.

    “Especially after Covid-19 and seeing what happened with school closures, I think it is more evident than ever before, how important programs like the National School Lunch Program are in many children's lives across the state.” 

    The Summer Food Service Program or Summer BreakSpot, offers nutritious meals at no cost to children 18 years and under throughout the entire state during the summer months of the year, helping kids who might otherwise miss out on meals.

    “We operate this program generally in schools and nonprofit organizations. Oftentimes, we might collaborate with government entities, so we will be at parks and local community centers, and we really try to make sure that we are finding and identifying those local communities where those gaps are.”

    Notably, participating organizations in this program are eligible for reimbursements on money that they spend on the program.  

    “We know that is going to be very important for some of these low-income communities where folks might not have the resources or might not have the funding to actually support some of these programs. So, they actually have the opportunity to have that money reinvested or redirected back to their organization,” Mikhail emphasized.

    The next program, the Emergency Food Assistance Program known as TEFAP in Florida, is a UDSA program that the division oversees, which allows for the distribution of high-quality nutritious foods to low-income households.

    “When we are talking about low-income households, we are talking about families that might be anywhere from 130% to 180% of the federal poverty level. And what we are able to do is we partner with regional food banks across the State of Florida who then work with local nonprofits, faith-based organizations, food pantries, soup kitchens, and the like, and we are able to distribute those foods to folks that are really in need for them,” explains Mikhail. “And obviously with the pandemic and the economic challenges that we have seen over the last few months with COVID, there has been a huge increase in the need for these types of resources. Some of our food bank partners are even telling us that their demand has gone up at some places, in some regions, over 100%. So, it's really important to understand that programs like the Emergency Food Assistance Program have a real significant impact on our local food systems and obviously in our communities of need.”

    The final program discussed was the Commodity Supplemental Food Program, which focuses on individuals who are 60 years or older, and who are typically on a reduced or fixed income. This program provides monthly food distribution and information about how they can use the foods, as well as and ensuring that they are, “diet sensitive, low sodium and nutritious meals.”

    From there, Mikhail moved on to a brief overview of the Farm Bill and its history.

    “When we think about the history of the Farm Bill, it was actually originally created by Franklin Roosevelt during the Great Depression back in 1933. When this bill was created, it had a few very small objectives at that time, which were specifically focused more so towards the farmers and farming community” he explained. “What they were aiming to do was provide financial assistance to farmers who were struggling economically due to high crop supply and low prices.”

    By raising the price of farm goods and controlling the actual food supply itself, farmers saw their economic income level and the actual amount of food supply that was in the country stabilize. Yet, the original Farm Bill in 1933, came at a very different time than now.

    “Once we look at how the legislation was actually transitioned to today, we will see that it is actually a lot different and much larger than it was in 1933,” Mikhail said. “Right now, we are dealing with the recession and Covid-19, but we are talking about the Great Depression. The country had recently undergone something called the “Dust Bowl,” which was a several-year drought which struck the Southern and Great Plains region that exacerbated financial hardships for farmers and really created a bad food situation for our nation. In action, that legislation authorized the government to essentially pay these farmers not to grow too much food; and so, this would help to stabilize prices, lower the commodities that were actually on the market like corn, wheat, and rice, and when the supply of those goods went down, this really helped to bring the prices up for farmers.”

    The shift in the Farm Bill over the years has been great. Today, the Farm Bill is classified as an “omnibus bill,” which packages many smaller pieces of legislation and smaller programs into one major bill. In the case of the Farm Bill, it has to be reauthorized every 5 years.

    “In 2008, which was the most recently authorized farm bill, it cost $867 billion to authorize. That’s anywhere from about $100 to $150 plus billion annually of a price tag on that program. It really goes to show how much funding is going into this program to make sure that the food system is sustained.” 

    Although are numerous components of the Farm Bill at large, Mikhail spoke on what he believes are three components that are most impactful to the food system: the support for farmers, financial assistance for low-income consumers, and support for economic protections related to the agricultural industry. 

    Out of the funding that the Farm Bill provides, around 80% goes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP, which is essentially a safety net for low-income families that provides a monthly benefit for food purchases depending on factors such as on household income, family size, employment status, and other qualifications.

    “That gives you an idea of the necessary need and the amount of benefits that are needed to actually support some of the folks that are in the country that might have as much or as much access to the same resources as others,” said Mikhail.

    With the large-scale layoffs and economic struggle due to the COVID-19 pandemic, SNAP and other Coronavirus relief efforts like the CARES Act and Pandemic EBT, have been a life-saver for many. The authorization to use SNAP online was especially a big change for food access in Florida and in many states around the nation.

    Although SNAP benefits are a large portion of the Farm Bill, farmers still receive support from two main components of the bill: farm subsidies and crop insurance.

    “Essentially, farm subsidies are governmental incentives that are paid to agribusiness, to agricultural organizations, and to farming families, large and small, that supplement their income,” Mikhail explained. “Those farm subsidies however, have experienced a little bit of criticism over the years from certain people who might be in opposition. This could be in part because sometimes subsidies are only applied to specific commodities, some of which are not necessarily made for human consumption.”

    Some examples of these crops are corn for ethanol fuel, wheat for feed for livestock, cotton and other commodities that aren’t consumed.

    “So this has often led to some of these larger farms and larger farming entities, to get these subsidies over smaller family farms who either can't produce those commodities at the same amount or they just don't grow that type of food because they are growing specialty crops like fruits and vegetables, which, unfortunately, are not covered in the Farm Bill for any type of subsidy program.” 

    The second component for farmer protections is crop insurance.

    “Essentially, it is an insurance policy that is subsidized by federal crop insurance programs,” said Mikhail, “Typically what will happen with that is the USDA Risk Management Agency will subsidize those insurance payments and those expenses, so they will take a portion of the company's administrative and operational expenses. They kind of share the underwriting gains and losses with the company.”  

    Mikhail emphasized that both of these components are extremely important for our food system to ensure that food is produced and goes to feeding our nation. 

    “If some of these policies weren't in place, we might have farmers reconsidering the amount of volume of crops that they actually want to grow, or farmers reconsidering that farming operation altogether. It’s important to remember that although a lot of that money is going to consumers that are really needing help, our farmers are also a very vulnerable population these days as it relates to the agricultural industry, and it's important to have those protections in place for them as well.”

    When it comes to the future of the Farm Bill, Mikhail was hopeful that as new legislation is developed, policymakers recognize the importance of protecting the environment and supporting conservation and environmental protections. As for what will actually end up in the bill, that remains to be seen.

    “If anybody has followed or knows a lot about the Farm Bill, sometimes these negotiations go smoothly and other times they lag on and actually lapse and have to be amended and are not actually reauthorized. The current Farm Bill that I mentioned that was authorized in 2018, is going to be valid through 2023. So, we shouldn't expect any significant change to the policy until we get a little bit closer to that 2023 deadline.”  

    However, for those interested in advocating for change, Mikhail did have some advice.

    "When it relates to larger agricultural policy or larger agricultural policy at large, it’s really easy for people to feel like they don’t have a voice or they don’t have a say in it. But, I want to encourage you all to look more into it, to better understand some of the nuances of this program and some of the nuances of this legislation, so that way you can understand if it affects the people you care about or if it affects different programs or initiatives that you care about, and then find ways to impact it on a local level.”

    He added, “It's really important that you all continue to stay vigilant, continue to stay very active, understanding that your voice matters. And at this point, the best way for any of us to be advocates is starting in the voting booth...You can be in the driver's seat as well, if you just stand up and let your voice be heard.” 

    The presentation was followed by a rich question and answer session.

    If you would like to contact Mikhail, send him an email at: Mikhail.Scott@FDACS.gov


    Florida Department of Agriculture

    Florida Department of Agriculture – Division of Food, Nutrition and Wellness

    Farm Bill Grant Programs: 



    Bio: Mikhail A. Scott serves as the Strategic Partnerships Coordinator with the Florida Department of Agriculture – Division of Food, Nutrition and Wellness, under Commissioner Nikki Fried. He is responsible for organizing the Department’s efforts related to healthy food access and developing and managing statewide partnerships that support improved food security in Florida. Mikhail has experience in multiple levels of government, having served in both the US House of Representative and the Florida House of Representatives in legislative roles. He has gained an intimate understanding of state policy and built strong relationships with lawmakers and community leaders across the state. He earned his Bachelor of Science Degree in Public Relations from Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University (FAMU) in Tallahassee, where he currently resides.

    Forum Host: Dell deChant is the Associate Chair of the Religious Studies Department at the University of South Florida and a member of the Board of Directors at the Florida Food Policy Council.

    The Florida Food Forum is a free event. To support our work, please consider becoming a member or making a donation. For questions or more information, contact us at: info@flfpc.org

    Disclaimer: The views of the presenters 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.

  • 27 Sep 2020 5:00 PM | Administrator (Administrator)

    Follow Up: September Florida Food Forum 

    Community Organizing and the Food System

    If you were unable to attend the meeting, the full presentation is available to watch online here.  

    To keep the conversation going, please visit our forum on Community Organizing and the Food System here to add your thoughts and comments. 

    On September 25th, the September Florida Food Forum on Community Organizing and the Food System featured guest speakers: Monica Petrella, Food System Program Coordinator for Hillsborough County and Wilson Perez, Farmworker Staff Member with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), with interpreter Uriel Zelaya-Perez, National Faith Co-coordinator for the Alliance for Fair Food.

    “Community organizing is vital, not just for projects related to the food system, but for any undertaking that requires community support and community. Everything from social justice work to political action to ecological restoration to caring for economically dissipated families, these and literally countless other endeavors rely on community organizing to be successful,” Dell deChant, Chair of the Policy Committee and Host of the forum, noted at the start of the program.

    The first presenter was Monica Petrella, who began her presentation by defining how she sees organizing and community food systems.

    “Organizing is the process of mobilizing several or many independent entities to accomplish an established unified goal, while a community food system is a conglomerate of activities, enterprises, organizations, individuals, and more that balance community well-being with agricultural production, nutrition, and food entrepreneurship.”

    “If you can imagine a see-saw, on one side you have community well-being, on the other side you have these three: agricultural production, nutrition and food entrepreneurship," Monica said. "In the community system, those activities, enterprises, organizations, and individuals, are all working on different manifestations that are balancing community well-being with this production, nutrition and entrepreneurship aspect.”

    Many of the ways in which the previous activities materialize within community food systems are community gardens, cooking classes, food banks, commercial kitchens, farmers markets, community supported agriculture, new and beginner farmer trainings, conservation and environmental stewardship, regenerative agriculture and permaculture, increase in small and mid-size farming, decrease in food insecurity, farm to table dinners, and agri-tourism.

    Yet, as every community is its own, Monica explained that it is important for individuals to define what their community is like. To do this, they must establish what is valued as a community by identifying common denominators such as environmental justice, nutrition disparities, and economic development, and by asking questions such as “Why are we doing this hard work?” or “Why are we trying to re-establish a food system or change someone’s nutrition?”

    “The faster we can find those common denominators, the faster that we can coalesce around a common unified goal,” she said.

    How do we do that?

    Monica described how using both theory and practice is the best to move forward in organizing.

    “Theory is really important because a lot of times when you think of an idea, it has probably already been thought of. Especially when it comes to food and agriculture—one of the most ancient practices. So, oftentimes, it's probably not being done here, which is why it's a new idea to you. But, there might be another person or another place that is doing this work. So, we should go out and find what they're doing and how they're doing it.”

    Monica recommended first researching best practices and models then tapping into local agencies and institutions to better understand their research and data.

    “We here in Tampa have both the University of Tampa and the University of South Florida, these incredible research institutions. I’ve been to events where I’ve listened to USF researchers talk about data that they had collected locally and it was brand new to me, and I’ve been very ingrained in this work and this scene; and it’s on me to make sure that I am staying up to date on what these researchers are doing and the information they are finding.”

    Putting effort into learning vocabulary and understanding what differentiates them from common or mainstream teams was another important part of theory Monica described.

    “So really, just understanding what we are talking about and getting everybody on the same page when we say ‘regenerative’ or when we say ‘sustainable.’ When we say different words, what do we mean and are we all okay with the definition?”

    The last important action was to continue staying up-to-date on the issues and researching through attending workshops, speaker series, and conferences.

    As for practice, getting out in the dirt and collect data were the two main aspects Monica highlighted. From there, other areas include: experimenting with various models, trying new things, learning from mistakes, setting realistic boundaries, and examining strengths and weaknesses.

    What are some organizing models?

    “The work that motivates me and kind of guides what I do is the Collective Impact Model,” Monica said. "Within this model there are five organizational components that help to successfully create a social paradigm shift: common agenda, shared measurement, mutually reinforced activity, continuous communication, and backbone support organization."

    Monica noted that the last component, backbone support organization, is what she is most closely involved with in her work. Things such as making sure that people have a place to come together, have the ability to share resources, checking to see if people are attending meetings, and making sure that the areas keep advancing. It mainly requires making sure that the other four areas in the model are being accomplished.

    Social Capital is another important model which Monica describes as the “resource of relationships.” As an intangible resource, as opposed to financial, physical or environmental capital, this model is measured by the aggregate of trust, reciprocity and cohesiveness amongst community members.

    By using both of these models together, communities can begin to create a strong unified coalition of people. How that is done is by individuals coming together to brainstorm and forming a collective goal and shared metrics, then designing solutions tailored to their community, but modeled after best practices.

    “That process is going to take a lot of giving and trying, rough drafts, and people coming in and putting in a lot of work. Attending a meeting and then going home isn’t enough. There is a lot of work to be done, and the more people we can divide it by, the easier it will be individually. And there is so much work to be done that anything you have to contribute, that’s enough.”   

    The second speaker, Wilson Perez, with interpreter Uriel Zelaya-Perez, began his presentation by discussing his background and work with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers.

    CIW is a farmworker human rights organization that has been focused, over the last 25 years, on how to eliminate systemic abuses in the agricultural industry in the Immokalee community. After many years of working in the fields for the agricultural industry, Wilson currently works as an organizer addressing the issues that the community in Immokalee faces.

    “When we talk about the conditions that the farmworkers face, or have faced historically, we are talking about things such as sub-poverty wages for farmworkers or for farm labor, abusive conditions such as wage theft that are very rampant in the agricultural industry, things like verbal or physical abuse that is sort of a daily bread for farmworkers in the industry as well.”

    Wilson also noted that although farm work does employ a diverse workforce, it is mostly done by migrants. Within that group of workers, women are the minority and are often faced with rampant abuse in the form of sexual or gender-based violence. Furthermore, one of the most extreme forms of abuse agricultural workers experience is a form of modern-day slavery. With this context, CIW began to ask farm workers what could be done to address these problems.

    When the coalition first started organizing, the main target was to begin a dialogue with large-scale growers and farmer owners, advocating for the elimination of these abuses and also for a wage increase which had been stagnant for 30 years.

    “What we realized in those early years of our organizing was that a lot of these farms didn’t really have significant power in order to change the industry the way we wanted to change it. That there was sort of another player in the supply chain of agriculture—big-time food corporations that exercise what we call ‘significant market power’ over the industry. When these food corporations come to our community they want to buy as cheap as possible, the best quality produce, but they don’t often take into consideration what kind of conditions the products that they were purchasing were coming from,” said Wilson.

    The Coalition soon wondered why these corporations that were able to use their power to make great demands, corporations that were benefiting significantly economically from purchasing in the Immokalee community, why they didn’t demand basic human rights for the farm workers in the fields.

    As a result, in the early 2000s, CIW started what is now known as the “Campaign for Fair Food,” which demanded that food corporations exercise their significant market power to change the conditions that farm workers face in their supply chain.

    The first campaign was with Taco Bell. After 4 years, the campaign was able to bring about great change. Thanks to strategic organizing and consumer pressure, Taco Bell agreed to all three of CIW’s demands: 1. Taco Bell would pay one penny more per pound of tomatoes purchased which would go directly to the farm workers as an added bonus for the work that they were doing; 2. Taco Bell would subscribe to a human right conduct created by the farm workers themselves where there was a zero tolerance policy for gender-based violence and modern-day slavery in the fields; and 3. The farm workers would have a voice in the implementation of these rights in the fields.

    “Since then, 13 other multi-billion-dollar food corporations have also agreed to these three demands and after capturing this significant chunk of market power, the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange (FTGE), the Florida Tomato Industry, agreed to implement these rights into what is now known as the ‘Fair Food Program.’ Which is sort of the embodiment of these demands out in the fields.”

    The establishment of this program has helped to secure basic farm workers' rights—access to clean water, access to a clean bathroom and many other things beyond that.

    “Over $30 million have been distributed to farm workers because of the penny more per pound bonus, over 2,200 complaints have been successfully resolved, and we have virtually eliminated forced labor and gender-based violence by way of that zero-tolerance policy in the fields,” said Wilson.

    This program has also become a basis and a model that has been expanded to other industries including dairy farm workers and garment factory workers.

    With the conclusion of the presentations, a fascinating question and answer session brought up many important topics that were eloquently addressed by the speakers.

    Mailing List Resources:

    Homegrown Hillsborough Mailing List Sign Up for News and Events

    Campaign for Fair Food - Mailing List Sign Up for News and Events

    Informational Resources:

    Hillsborough County Website

    UF/IFAS Extension Website

    Coalition of Immokalee Workers Website

    Fair Food Program Website

    Alliance for Fair Food Website

    Guest Presenter Information:

    Bio: Monica Petrella is a passionate advocate for regional food systems. She first learned about the power of regional economic systems while attending the Small Farms Conference hosted by UF IFAS in 2012. She attended the University of Florida where she graduated with her B.S. in Food and Resource Economics supplemented with a minor in Organic and Sustainable Crop Production. She then later attended the University of Vermont to earn a M.S. in Community Development and Applied Economics, specializing in Community Food Systems. She has worked on small farms, in farm-to-table restaurants, volunteered in community gardens, and met a variety of stakeholders in the Tampa Bay Food System. She has also published Teamwork Makes the Dream Work: Investigating the Impact of Social Capital in the Tampa Bay Community Food System. Previously she was involved in community organizing and political advocacy but recently started a new position at Hillsborough County as the Food System Coordinator.

    Bio: Wilson Perez is a farmworker staff member with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW). Wilson is originally from Guatemala and has worked in the agricultural industry across the East Coast for many years harvesting all types of produce. As part of the Fair Food Program, Wilson and his colleagues conduct workers’ rights education in the fields on all farms participating in the Fair Food Program.  Wilson’s work at the CIW includes hosting daily radio shows on the CIW’s community FM radio station, leading weekly community meetings, receiving complaints of abuses in the fields, and managing wage theft claims. 

    Forum Host: Dell deChant is the Associate Chair of the Religious Studies Department at the University of South Florida and a member of the Board of Directors at the Florida Food Policy Council.

    The Florida Food Forum is a free event. To support our work, please consider becoming a member or making a donationFor questions or more information, contact us at: info@flfpc.org

    Disclaimer: The views of the presenters 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.

  • 31 Aug 2020 2:55 PM | Administrator (Administrator)

    Follow Up: August Florida Food Forum

    Farmer's Markets: Sourcing and Supporting the Local

    If you were unable to attend the meeting, the full presentation is available to watch online here.  

    To keep the conversation going, please visit our forum on Urban Planning and the Florida Food System here to add your thoughts and comments. 

    On August 28th, the Florida Food Forum on Farmer’s Markets: Sourcing and Supporting the Local was led by Mary Hathaway, Co Manager of the Fresh Access Bucks program (FAB).

    “I’m really excited,” Mary began, “to get the chance to start this conversation on the importance of local, and how to encourage local growers to participate at farmers markets, and how farmers markets are vital for small and beginning farmers and healthy food access.”

    With her extensive experience, Mary holds a unique perspective on farmers markers. Currently working for Feeding Florida, the State’s network of food banks working to solve hunger, Mary acts as Co Manager of the Fresh Access Bucks program or “FAB,” which works closely with farmers markets, mobile markets, community supported agriculture programs, as well as farm stands.

    In 2013, Florida Organic Growers first started the FAB program and in 2018, Feeding Florida was awarded a 3-year large-scale USDA Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive Grant to expand the program. The current program within Feeding Florida continues its mission to increase access to good food for all Floridians while supporting Florida’s farmers and local economies. It is one organization among many nationally that works on joining fresh local food direct from farmers to community members of all income levels. Specifically, FAB takes federal dollars and incentivizes local community members to invest in their own health by matching, dollar-for-dollar, any SNAP dollars spent to purchase Florida-grown fruits or vegetables.

    “We look holistically at our food system, taking into consideration the livelihood of the growers and their communities, as well as folks that are trying to take a step out of poverty—or just a pandemic—and lean on the support of federal benefits to make sure their family has good, healthy food. So, this really helps create a positive feedback loop, invigorating local farms and local economies.”

    Mary described how local farmers at local farmers markets promote individual and public health, serving as conduits for healthy food, offering opportunities for ecological education, physical exercise, social life, and how they provide learning opportunities for every sector of the community.

    “Today I want to share my love of local food, of the local economy, and seasonal eating; and I hope you’ll join me to work towards inclusive spaces that fuel robust communities with their own regional flair.”

    How can we advocate for farmers markets? Why should we be advocates?

    “As a consumer, you go to the farmers market. It’s fresh; it’s beautiful; it’s unique! You’ve got culturally appropriate items, you’ve got varieties grown for different ethnic populations, you’ve got items in different forms,” Mary said. “Local food looks and often tastes better. The crops are picked at the peak of their freshness, transport is minimal, and farmstead products like cheeses and yogurts, jams and bread, are handcrafted for best flavor.”

    From variety to taste, there are a number of benefits gained from shopping at farmers markets including nutrition. “Local food doesn’t just look better, it’s better for you. The shorter the time between the farm and your table, the less likely it is that nutrients will be lost from fresh food.”

    By the time fresh vegetables reach the grocery store, many have lost up to 45% of their nutritional content. So, it’s easy to see how buying directly from farmers is great for health, especially when “80% of direct-to-consumer farmers only sell within 100 miles of their farm.”

    In her presentation, Mary cited a number of positives to shopping local. For one, local food preserves genetic diversity. Additionally, farmers are able to grow appropriate crops that fit the soils in their communities which is important when it comes to resilience and climate. Yet, her most compelling argument may be the idea that, “When you buy directly from your famer, you are engaging in a time-honored connection between eater and grower. Knowing a farmer gives you insights into the season, the land, your food, and in many places, it gives you access to where your children or grandchildren can go to learn about nature, their environment, and agriculture.”

    What happens when we support local farmers?

    “To ensure that local and regional food systems remain healthy and vibrant, and farmers stay in business, we need farmland. When you support your local farmer, you preserve open space.”

    Mary explained that when farmers get paid more for their products by marketing local, they are less likely to sell land for development. And when you buy locally grown food, you are doing something proactive to preserve that landscape, which is an essential ingredient in other parts of the economic activity like tourism or recreation. Additionally, when farmers can keep land, they can invest in sustainable practices and help maintain healthy ecosystems.  

    “The American Farmland Trust shows that about 11 million acres of the nation’s irreplaceable agricultural land was lost just between 2001 and 2016. Which is more than all the land currently in production for fruits, vegetables and nuts,” Mary said, “Most of these local food farms are in the path of development— that’s 55% of the egg and poultry farms, 68% of dairy, 77% of the vegetables we eat are right there on that edge. So, farmland protection is really important, and it is most effective on the state level.”

    Local food benefits the environment in many ways such as keeping taxes down and providing ecosystem services. “Well managed farms conserve fertile soil, they protect water sources, and they sequester carbon from the atmosphere. By supporting local farmers today, you are helping to ensure that there will be farms in your community tomorrow.”

    How does supporting local help local communities?

    “Local food supports local families. When you buy directly from farmers it cuts out the middleman and allows them to get full retail price for their food. There is research that show that farmers who use direct to consumer channels incur less debt and stay in business longer than those who sell through wholesale,” Mary explains. “Farmers markets provide one of the only low barrier entry points for new farmers, allowing them to start small as they learn and test the market. Small and mid-size farmers who sell at farmers markets have about a 10% greater chance of staying in business than those selling through traditional channels.”

    Another important issue she touched on is inclusion. Farmers markets often operate in locations that traditional grocery stores may not want to be in, providing an opportunity for producers to be there for communities in need.

    “As food systems work is about bringing everyone to the table, making connections, and supporting one another,” Mary says, “I just want to make sure everyone takes a moment to think about who we are leaving out and how we can do better. Don’t forget the role that you play at the local level so that all people have access, feel welcome, and actively participate, because a farmers market is for everybody.”

    In her presentation she also took time to talk about the importance of Market Managers—aka community superheroes—and how their role makes it possible for farmers markets to operate.

    “Farmers markets are these wonderful dynamic places that help increase access to fresh local food, they support local communities, and behind this there is a parking liaison, a special reasoner, a greeter, a community champion, a farm monitor, a property manager, event planner, business incubator, and that’s just one person—our market manager. That work encompasses so much, and it is a tough job.”

    What has COVID-19 taught us? What kinds of policies do we need going forward?

    “Food is political, because policy could be a tool to encourage a better supply chain to make sure everyone has access to affordable and healthy food,” Mary said. “A clear lesson of COVID-19 is that farmers market organizations that had the capacity to build strong relationships, or already had them, with elected officials or other community leaders were better positioned to make their needs known and ensure that markets were listed among essential businesses which is crucial for them staying open and to keep people aware of how to access those markets.

    One of the things that she would like to see is a Florida specific definition of a “Farmers Market.” With this definition, “it could lead to greater clarity for Florida consumers and this would support more of our growers. It could also help expand funding for the WIC and Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program (FMNP)...This is something we’ve seen other states do, and have great success, especially with encouraging people to buy from their farmers.” In fact, 31 states already have a definition through a statute or code.

    With COVID-19 markets faced new challenges which, and many even had to temporarily shut down. Going forward, Mary proposed a number of changes that could help markets overcome these obstacles such as providing consistent, long-term access to free wireless EBT equipment and service, as well as aligning policies with available tech capabilities and the ability to access technical support from a contracted State SNAP processor or direct-marketing liaison.

    “Every state has done something, but every state needs to do more.” One way to exercise agency is through “little p” policies—municipal laws, ordinances or resolutions that can be tailored to fit local needs and priorities in ways that state and federal laws cannot.

    Mary concluded her presentation after illustrating a number of effective local policies and their effects on local communities, and how citizens can advocate for policies they are passionate about. She also provided a number of resources which can be found below.


    Fresh Access Bucks

    Florida Farmers Market Association


    Healthy Food Policy Project

    Farmers Market Coalition

    American Farmland Trust 


    To contact Mary, send her an email at Mary@feedingflorida.org

    Bio: Mary Hathaway has worked as a farmer and an advocate for an equitable food system for more than 10 years. She is currently the Co Manager of Fresh Access Bucks (FAB), the statewide nutrition incentive program active in 62 farmers markets and direct to consumer outlets across Florida. Prior to this work, Mary earned a Masters degree in Agroecology where she spent her time working with Norwegian heritage-breed dairy operations and Tanzanian spice farmers. She lives on her small farm on the east coast of Florida with a few goats, hens and a toddler.

    Forum Host: Dell deChant is the Associate Chair of the Religious Studies Department at the University of South Florida and a member of the Board of Directors at the Florida Food Policy Council.

    The Florida Food Forum is a free event. To support our work, please consider becoming a member or making a donation. For questions or more information, contact us at: info@flfpc.org

    Disclaimer: The views of the presenters 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.

  • 1 Aug 2020 4:51 PM | Administrator (Administrator)

    Follow Up: July Florida Food Forum 

    Urban Planning and the Florida Food System

    If you were unable to attend the meeting, the full presentation is available to watch online here.  

    To keep the conversation going, please visit our forum on Urban Planning and the Florida Food System here to add your thoughts and comments. 

    On July 31st, the July Florida Food Forum on Urban Planning and the Florida Food System featured guest speakers: Earl Hahn, Development Department Director of the City of New Port Richey and Mark R. Hafen, Director of the Master of Urban & Regional Planning (MURP) program at the University of South Florida in Tampa.

    “This is a topic that is often overlooked and misunderstood by growers, activists, marketers and business startups. Yet it is one of the most important areas of consideration for folks working in the food system,” Dell deChant, Chair of the Policy Committee and Host of the forum, noted at the start of the program. “Urban planning is a topic that is ignored at our peril. If we are going to know about the Florida Food System, a critical part of that is planning, and especially urban planning.”

    The first presenter was Mark Hafen, whose presentation explained the role that urban and regional planning plays in promoting and supporting sustainable food systems.

    “What we refer to as agricultural lands, mining, and forestry, is working landscapes as opposed to urban and natural landscapes. And the role of the urban planner is really to balance all three of these.”

    As a rapidly growing state, Mark highlights Florida's particularly difficult task. With an influx of people moving in, there’s a lot of pressure on non-urban land for development. Competition for wetlands and upland scrub and other critical ecosystems both by agriculture and developers is critical.

    “We have a significant amount of high-quality agricultural land in the state, and some of it is really being threatened by development,” he said.

    As urban planners working with agriculture, one of the first things to look at is inventory and status. Showing a graph from a 2012 Census of Agriculture that illustrates the types of farms in Florida, Mark points out how a large percentage of farms are devoted to livestock and horses.

    From the USDA 2017 Census Agriculture, 29% of Florida Farm Land Use is used for crops while 37% is used for pasture, “So, our farmland is really critical for both animal husbandry, as well as for our growing crops,” he said.

    Mark goes on to describe the five main challenges to agriculture: 1. Profitability, 2. Sustainable management of farming operations, 3. Passing the farm/ranch onto the next generation, 4. Resisting the temptation to sell land for development, and 5. Protection of farmland from conflicting land uses and conversion to nonfarm development.

    To address these issues, urban planners are able to use tools such as: zoning, establishing agricultural districts, urban growth boundaries, subdivision and land development regulations and preferential property taxation.

    Other ways that planners can navigate challenges include: right-to-farm laws and policies that reduce conflicts between farmers and non-farmers, the Land Evaluation and Site Assessment system (LESA) of the National Resources Conservation Service which rates the quality of farmland to allow development in low quality lands and protect high quality lands from development, Purchase of Development Rights (PDR) which results in the retirement of development potential, and Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) which moves development potential from one parcel of land to another.

    What about urban agriculture?

    Mark explains that issues with conflicting land uses are quite prevalent. Although there are opportunities to utilize vacant land and brownfields, which are often in low-income, food desert neighborhoods, for some cities the opportunity to make money through development may take priority.

    “That is kind of a serious problem because they will allow the urban gardens, but they won’t provide long-term access to this. In other words, they won’t give long-term leases to the people that are planting the gardens. So, as a result, that doesn’t encourage urban gardening. So, for it to be sustainable for urban agriculture, you’ve got to have some sort of long-term land use for urban agriculture that is guaranteed.”

    To conclude his presentation, Mark had the following suggestions about what people can do, “Find your closest community garden. Get involved. And go play in the dirt!”

    The second presenter, Earl Hahn, continued the forum by talking about Urban Planning from a wider perspective.

    Earl began by giving a brief history of agriculture in North American cities and the progression of urban farms over time.

    “As cities industrialized in the 19th century and large-scale farming of grain and meat came to dominate the North American interior, the metropolitan geography of agriculture shifted,” said Earl. “At the same time, the expansion of public markets reduced the need for city dwellers to grow their own food. By the late 19th century though some farms still remained in cities, urban agriculture was becoming less a necessity and more a form of private recreation a well as a resource for charity.”

    In the 20th century, professional planners began to see more intensive agricultural uses “such as animal production and meat processing as threats to public health and safety, and they used the new tool of zoning to move such facilities out of central cities.”

    With concern for ensuring safe and adequate food supplies, producing reports on regional production transportation, and wholesale markets, planners developed what is now known as metropolitan “foodsheds.”

    “In the United States, food products travel an average of 1,300 miles, and so most of our current foodsheds are considered global. So what we need to be focusing on is producing the local foodshed, which may be defined as one where food is consumed within 100 miles of where it’s produced,” noted Earl. 

    In the early 20th century, how the “Victory Gardens (aka) War Gardens,” which the U.S. government advocated for in response to food shortages during World Wars I and II, and “Depression Gardens,” which were similarly advocated programs during the Great Depression in the 1930s, were the largest-scale urban agriculture initiatives in the United States to date.

    “In 1943, more than 20 million gardens sprouted on private and public lands, producing an estimated 9 to 10 million tons of fruits and vegetables,” Earl said.

    Jumping to how the current grassroots-driven urban agriculture movement took shape in the 1970s, Earl noted that community gardens were responses to deindustrialization, depopulation, increases in acreage of vacant land, and the failures of urban renewal but also to immigration.

    Government and nonprofit programs also helped to institutionalize the community gardening movement. “Between 1977 and 1996, the USDA started an urban gardens program in which agricultural extension agents across the country supported city residents with developing and sustaining gardens, providing seeds and technical advice.”

    How do planners and local government staff have influence over essential resources?

    Earl explained that in fact, planners have considerable influence over the development of production, processing, distribution and transportation infrastructure, consumer demand, and viable markets through public policies and programs.

    Yet, with urban agriculture comes some possible risks. These may include potential health and environmental risks, as well as cause land-use conflicts. Thus, planners have five strategic points of intervention: 1. Long-range community visioning and goal setting, 2. Plan-making actions, 3. Standards, policies and incentives to achieve desired plan goals, 4. Influencing the outcomes of development projects, and 5. Influencing the execution of public investment decisions.

    Ideally, the starting point for urban agriculture planning is the initiation of a community engagement process through which planners identify how urban agriculture contributes to the social, economic, and environmental goals of a community. Although there are a number of ways to do this, Earl highlights Food Policy Councils as one of the most effective ways to facilitate public planning actions.

    Other ways to help build the capacity of local growers or strengthen the infrastructure necessary for widespread, sustainable urban food production include: community garden programs, demonstration farms, municipal composting, education and technical assistance for growers, job training, grants, and direct-sale programs.

    With increased population growth, Earl touched on some concerns and possible solutions related to the loss of agricultural lands through methodology change, Community Planning Act amendments, acquisition of agricultural land forever funds for local governments, and creation of state and local land disposition policies.

    After two remarkably educational presentations, an even richer question and answer session followed.

    Guest Presenter Information:

    Bio: Earl Rafael Hahn is a Dominican born dual citizen who has lived his entire adult life in Florida. He has a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Florida and a Master of Science in Planning and a Juris Doctor from the Florida State University. He has been a member of the American Planning Association since 1982 and a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners and the Florida Bar for almost 30 years. Mr. Hahn has worked for both Chambers of the Florida Legislature and briefly for the Office of the General Council for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. Since December 2019, he has been employed by the City of New Port Richey as its Development Department Director, where he is in charge of the planning and zoning functions, and supervising the building and slum and blight functions.

    Bio: Mark R. Hafen is a Master Instructor in the School of Public Affairs at the University of South Florida in Tampa, where he serves as Director of the Master of Urban & Regional Planning (MURP) program. His teaching, research, and service focus on climate change impacts and adaptation, and urban environmental policy and planning.  He holds a B.S. in Business Logistics from Penn State University, as well as an M.A. in Geography and a Ph.D. in Marine Science (Geology), both from USF.  He has professional experience in land use planning, and has lived in the Tampa Bay region since 1986.  He has co-authored a book (with A.C. Hine, D.P. Chambers, T.D. Clayton, and G.T. Mitchum), Sea Level Rise in Florida: Science, Impacts and Options (2016, University Press of Florida), and actively serves as a member of  the Tampa Bay Climate Science Advisory Panel, the USF Urban Food Sovereignty Workgroup, and the USF Center for Brownfields Research and Redevelopment. 

    Forum Host: Dell deChant is the Associate Chair of the Religious Studies Department at the University of South Florida and a member of the Board of Directors at the Florida Food Policy Council.

    The Florida Food Forum is a free event. To support our work, please consider becoming a member or making a donationFor questions or more information, contact us at: info@flfpc.org

    Disclaimer: The views of the presenters 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.

  • 19 Jul 2020 3:49 PM | Administrator (Administrator)

    Follow Up: Special Florida Food Forum 

    Food Insecurity and Food Justice

    If you were unable to attend the meeting, the full presentation is available online here.  

    To keep the conversation going, please visit our forum on Food Insecurity and Food Justice here to add your thoughts and comments. 

    On July 17th, the special edition of the Florida Food Forum on Food Insecurity and Food Justice was led by FLFPC Board member Dell deChant.

    During the forum, Dell hosted an interactive discussion with three panelists who shared their knowledge and experience with these topics: Will Schanbacher, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at the University of South Florida, Arianne Corbett, President of Leading Health, LLC, and Erica Hall, Senior Legal Professional at Johnson Pope Bokor Ruppel & Burns, LLP.

    The forum began with a presentation from each panelist on how they interact with food insecurity and food justice, as well as policy recommendations to address gaps in these areas.

    The first presenter was Will Schanbacher who addressed the topic by focusing on a path towards achieving food insecurity and food justice.

    Will began with the “Tale of Two Pandemics” where we are seeing structural racism and an unjust food system come to light.

    He explained how the effects of COVID-19 have struck our world’s most vulnerable populations and how our communities of color have been negatively impacted by COVID-19, and that concurrently, our food security systems have been negatively affected and will continue to be in the pandemic’s aftermath.

    Feeding Tampa Bay, for example, here locally has between 650,000-1.7 million families in need since the onset of COVID-19.”

    Will pointed out how the apparent destruction from the pandemic is not new, merely a manifestation of an underlying issue of food security, namely in populations of people of color which has existed long before the pandemic began. 

    “Again locally, Feeding Tampa Bay has shown in our backyards, early evidence that food insecurity is rising among Black and Latino communities. And the medium-term economic impacts on food insecurity will be felt. They already are here, as we can see in our grocery stores…Policymakers and officials are already seeing evidence that we are going to see some of the same affects that happened during the financial crisis. And we see that like the recession, in 2008 and 2009, this will likely negatively impact black and Hispanic populations more so.”

    In the midst of this crisis, Will describes the work that many organizations are doing toward making substantive changes in the food system through job training programs, re-imagining how to incorporate healthier foods in food assistance programs, and promoting strategies to mitigate food insecurity through changes in how we understand the food system, including raising awareness and lobbying congress to fund anti-hunger campaigns.

    “Food insecurity efforts that we have here locally are excellent, but we also need to move beyond that. We need to incorporate perhaps more radical strategies.”

    Will suggests the concept of Food Sovereignty as a possible way forward, as it seeks to revitalize the cultural importance of food and feeding people.

    “As we move towards Food Sovereignty, we see that it is a combination of food sovereignty, anti-racist efforts, and ultimately food justice. So, we can only accomplish these things through a holistic and fully systemic and structural address of these issues.”

    Will concluded his presentation with a number of suggestions for moving forward through social action, participation in transformational programs, stronger connections to food through growing at home and increased participation of religious leaders.

    The next speaker was Arianne Corbett who spoke about food insecurity and food justice as it relates to children in Florida.

    “In Florida, and across the country, child food insecurity has been decreasing since the Great Recession. But in Florida we rank 11th in the country in child food insecurity,” Arianne said. “It’s really a critical period to think about nutrition and think about food insecurity because we know that kids who have inadequate nutrition are permanently impacted in their learning; their test scores are lower, their social interactions are impacted, their behaviors, moods and productivity are impacted now and throughout their life.”

    Arianne explained that even before the pandemic, data showed that food insecurity rates in communities of color including Black, Hispanic, and Native American households were at least twice that of non-Hispanic White households. And that food insecurity tracts very closely with poverty and unemployment.

    “The COVID crisis has disrupted our lives in ways that we could not have imagined, but none more so than for low-income working families with children. Unemployment has spiked sharply, families have experienced income losses and increased economic hardship…Feeding Florida estimates that unemployment in the state of Florida could be as much as 35 percent, and given our reliance on tourism and our service industry, it’s very likely that scenario could play out. As a nation, we are estimating that we could see the number of children in food insecure households increase by 7 million.”

    Efforts to step up and fill these gaps are very noticeable. Food banks and food pantries have massive lines, school meal programs that have set up enormous operations to provide food through drive-throughs, school bus routes and even delivery to homes, and outside organizations have stepped up to provide resources to make this happen.

    One of the organizations Arianne illustrates is No Kid Hungry, which is a non-profit based out of DC that is working to end child hunger by connecting schools and communities or helping them better utilize federal nutrition programs such as school breakfast, afterschool meals, and summer feeding programs. With the pandemic, she notes how they have had to make a quick pivot to funding emergency feeding operations to fill the gaps in communities.

    Another important local program that Arianne describes is the Tampa Bay Network to End Hunger, which created an innovative new Meals-on-Wheels program for kids, where they deliver meals directly to houses, and which helps support mobile food pantries, farm to community distribution and funding for school programs.

    “Even though we are doing so much with these programs, there are still big challenges.” To combat these challenges short- and long-term policies are needed.

    Flexibility granted by the local and federal government on who, where and when people can pick up school meals has been one of the most helpful things according to Arianne. What this has required, however, is a great amount of advocacy at the federal level.

    Another strategy and policy that has been crucial is the implementation of the Pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer (P-EBT) program, which provides each family of a child who is receiving free or reduced school meals with an EBT card with daily benefits that they would have received through the meal program at school.

    As for long-term sustainable policies, Arianne describes how the SNAP program is one of the most effective ways to fight child hunger and at the same time is an economic driver.

    “For every $1 spent in SNAP benefits, it generates $1.50 to $1.80 in economic activity in the community,” she notes.

    “What we are asking is that in Congress, for any next COVID recovery package, is it needs to increase the maximum SNAP benefit by at least 15%, increase the minimum SNAP benefit from $16 to $30 per month and extend the Pandemic EBT through the end of the next school year.”

    Going forward, Arianne said that the best ways for Floridians to take action is to contact their local legislators and share what food insecurity looks like in their community, find key allies and leaders to help make this case, and build relationships to widen available resources on food insecurity.

    From there, Erica Hall continued the conversation by discussing what she sees as major challenges to resolving food insecurity and making a more just food system.

    Understanding what food insecurity and food justice means is key. “Healthy People defines Food Insecurity as the ‘disruption of food intake or eating patterns because of lack of money and other available financial resources for food at the household level.’ It is also defined as the state of being without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food,” Erica explained. “It’s not just having lack of money, but also the lack of transportation and lack of access to reach those anchors and grocery stores to have access to that food.”

    “Food Justice on the other hand is a holistic and structural view of the food system that sees healthy food as a human right and addresses structural barriers to that right. That could be in the form of exercising your right to grow food, sell and eat healthy food. So the food justice movement works not only for access to healthy food for all, but also examines the structural roots of these disparities, and works for racial and economic justice, too.”

    Erica addressed the three main aspects of food justice as the access to healthy, locally grown, fresh and culturally appropriate food, living wage jobs for all food system workers, and community control through cooperatives, faith-based initiatives and community organizations.

    When it comes to major challenges to resolving food insecurity, Erica noted that communities of color remain on the frontlines of fighting two public health crises simultaneously and that the global pandemic and systemic racism are a threat to livelihood and safety on a day-by-day basis. Moreover, low-income families are affected by multiple overlapping issues such as lack of affordable housing, health problems, high medical costs and low wages.

    “Food justice efforts work not only for access to healthy food, but for an end to the structural inequities that have led to unequal health outcomes; and that’s what currently makes the food system unjust in my opinion.”

    Going forward, there are a number of ways to make a difference. One way is to create change is for individuals to think about their personal and professional partnerships, collaborations, and friendships and by growing their “circle” while engaging in dialogue. By expanding networks, this can increase one’s opportunities, whether it be financial or in other ways.

    “Policy is key to creating sustainability and success,” Erica said. “That is what is needed is to improve food security and food justice.” Providing better access to grant and loans to projects seeking to improve access to healthy foods through programs such as the Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI) is one example Erica gives, as well as creating and funding innovative public-private partnerships that spark economic development and improve health.

    Erica said that citizens can get more involved by volunteering and making their voices heard by joining groups like the Florida Food Policy Council and by becoming leaders in their community.

    With the conclusion of the presentations, the forum opened up for a lively question and answer session. Attendees were left with a greater understanding of the current challenges and strategies that can be used to combat food insecurity and increase food justice.

    Host Bio: Dell deChant is Board Member of the Florida Food Policy Council, Associate Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of South Florida, author of four books and numerous articles. Research foci: Agrarianism and Food Sovereignty. He is Chair of the New Port Richey Environmental Committee and Convener of the USF Food Sovereignty Group. 

    Panelist Information:

    Will Schanbacher is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at the University of South Florida. His research interests concentrate on religious and social ethics with a focus on the global food system and globalization and poverty. He is the author of The Human Right to Food: Combatting Global Hunger and Forging a Path to Food Sovereignty (Prager, 2019), The Politics of Food: The Global Conflict between Food Security and Food Sovereignty(Praeger, 2010), an editor of The Global Food System: Issues and Solutions, Ed. (Praeger, 2014). He is currently working with local religious organizations on projects to build gardens in the Tampa area. His forthcoming book, “Food Insecurity: A Reference Handbook (ABC-CLIO, forthcoming, 2022) addresses the history of food insecurity in the United States. He is the director of the department’s Global Citizen Project and member of the steering committee for USF’s Urban Food Sovereignty Policy Group. 

    Arianne Corbett, R.D., is President of Leading Health, LLC with more than a decade of experience in food and nutrition policy, health promotion and advocacy. As a consultant, Arianne works primarily on efforts to improve children’s access to healthy, high-quality food in schools and early care and education settings. For the past five years, Arianne has supported Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign in the Tampa Bay region. Prior to forming her consulting company, she managed public health and nutrition advocacy efforts for the Center for Science in the Public Interest and School Nutrition Association. Arianne is a Registered Dietitian and holds a Bachelor of Science in Food Science and Human Nutrition from the University of Florida.

    Erica Hall, M.S. CED, MBA, ARM, has an extensive background as a community organizer, advocate, trainer, Board member, and Senior Legal Professional who has worked extensively in urban agriculture and food policy. Erica is active in the US Green Building Council (USGBC), American Planning Association, and other environmental, neighborhood revitalization groups throughout the DC area working in youth development, Black Farmers, food insecurity, workforce training, historic preservation, and urban agriculture in DC, VA, MD, NYC, Atlanta and Los Angeles working in youth development, Black Farmers, food insecurity, workforce training, historic preservation, and urban agriculture. She previously chaired a DC non-profit, Healthy Solutions, that worked with Community Gardens, Brownfield Remediation, food insecurity, and urban agriculture. Erica previously served on the Board of Directors of Groundwork Anacostia River DC, a local non-profit that utilizes environmental restoration goals as a vehicle for community development. Erica is also a Senior Fellow of the Environmental Leadership Program, a dynamic network of 900 of the country’s top emerging environmental and social change leaders. Erica was also selected as co-chair of the Host Committee for Greenbuild, the world’s largest conference and expo dedicated to Green Building. Since 2011, she has been a Grant Reviewer for the USDA National Institute of Food & Agriculture's Community Food Projects Competitive Grant Program which funds projects designed to meet the needs of low-income individuals and increase community self-reliance concerning food and nutrition. As a member of the Ad Hoc Committee of the Enoch Davis/St. Pete Youth Farm, Erica helped to define the mission statement for the project, helped guide project direction, while producing some broad actions needed to implement the project. Through this program, youth are empowered to lead urban agriculture projects under community guidance and resources has proven to be a successful strategy in youth, workforce, and neighborhood development. 

    The Florida Food Forum is a free event made available to the public. To support our work, please consider becoming a member or making a donation.

    For questions or more information, contact us at: info@flfpc.org

    Disclaimer: The views of the speakers 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.

  • 28 Jun 2020 8:00 PM | Administrator (Administrator)

    Follow Up: June Florida Food Forum 
    Technology in the Food Production System

    If you were unable to attend the meeting, the full presentation is available online here.  

    To keep the conversation going, please visit our forum on Technology in the Food Production System here to add your thoughts and comments. 

    On June 26th, the Florida Food Forum on Technology in the Food Production System was led by Ricky Stephens, Director of Digital Strategy at Agritecture Consulting

    Ricky began his talk by discussing how his passion for food led him to his current work with technology and urban agriculture.

    “As I started getting deeper into what really drove me around food, it became clearer and clearer that it was also linked to environmental sustainability and human health,” he said. “You get to a point of no return where you understand enough where you feel responsible and that you need to take action. That’s what really happened to me.”

    After moving back to New York, Ricky dove into the world of sustainable agriculture but soon realized there existed a gap for early-stage learners, students, and entrepreneurs who wanted to find access to resources. This led him to launch Ag-Tech X which was acquired by Agritecture Consulting in 2018.

    What were the significant technology advancements of the 20th Century? What problems have they led to?

    Ricky noted that with the mission of creating chloric-dense foods, there was a focus on increasing productivity through row crop equipment, crop breeding and genetics, chemical pesticide and herbicide development, and Haber-Bosch process.

    “All of these things became crucial, but they also got us stuck in the system that we are now in,” he said. “As we got into the 21st century, we saw a mass increase in commodity crop productivity and homogeneity to food production in general, and also huge consolidation of American farming.”

    Although this system was created with a focus on increasing food security, one of the more shocking statistic Ricky pointed to was that as of 2018, “1 in 8 Americans experienced food insecurity, which translates to 2.8 million residents in Florida.”

    Other important problems Ricky discussed were: freshwater use, greenhouse gas emissions, and food waste.

    “Here in the U.S., especially when it comes to leafy greens, we produce 98% of all of our leafy greens in Southern California and Arizona where there is extreme prone-ness to drought, and then we import that produce…You are essentially taking water from areas where we are running out of it and transporting it 3,000 miles or more,” Ricky explained. “For greenhouse gas emissions, generally the food production system is responsible for somewhere between 25 and 33% of total greenhouse gas emissions…And obviously food waste is a huge problem. About 1/3 of all food we produce is never consumed. When it comes to highly perishable items such as fruits and vegetables, estimates are closer to 50%.”  

    Along with the aforementioned problems, Ricky noted how decreasing farmers and increasing labor shortages are a large concern, as well as inequity, systemic racism and discrimination found in the food system.

    How can we understand the “Agri-FoodTech” Landscape?

    “In 2013, the total investment space for all of Agri-FoodTech was about $500 million. By 2019, it had hit almost $20 billion, a 40 time increase in less than 6 years.” Ricky referenced this statistic from a report compiled by AgFunder.com.  

    “Overall Agri-FoodTech is booming, but there are a lot of different categories that makeup that landscape.” Ricky goes on to describe some of the most popular sectors in AgTech such as: ag biotechnology, novel farming systems also referred to as commercial urban farming, and also farm management software, sensing and IoT (Internet of things).

    What is driving this change?

    Ricky explained that there are a number of reasons for such dramatic recent change: heightened consumer awareness, dietary shifts where consumers demand more plant-based options, increased demand for more “local” and “sustainable” products and an increase in research which connects conventional farming to negative environmental and human health effects.

    From an investor’s perspective, the drivers are often more “high-level indicators,” he said. “A commonly heard indicator, especially around 2015, was that agriculture makes up about 10% of the world’s GDP, but only 3.5% of the total venture capital investment…So, that was pointing a lot of typical technology investors into the agriculture space.” With the possibility of gains in productivity and efficiency, that means more profit for investors. In addition, dietary shifts can provide an opportunity for early movers.

    Ricky also addressed some of the driving trends in urban agriculture such as “rising demand for fresh, local and organic food” and “rising inequality,” as well as the importance of entrepreneurs identifying what solution most drives them in their work.

    What are some types of startup financing and alternative investment opportunities?

    “There is this dilemma where new technology can certainly address some of these problems when it comes to sustainability and other major issues that have been presented because of the conventional food system that we are now in, but at the same time that conventional venture capital financing approach can perpetuate the status quo,” said Ricky.

    He pointed to the Food & AgTech Investor Sentiment Report, where investors were asked what their most valuable source of Deal-Flow was. “Warm Intros” was by far the greatest amount at 66%. “What that means is, if you are new to the technology start-up world, you aren’t going to be able to get a Warm Intro like somebody that has two exits under their belt and is connected to dozens of investors and can go out and raise $1 million just based on their resume alone.”

    It was explained that it may be beneficial to look at alternative financing as there are a number of possible high-impact funding sources including: public and private grants, Community Development Financial Institutions funds (CDFI), non-extractive lending, equity crowdfunding, non-dilutive accelerators and impact investment.

    Before opening up for an educational question and answer session, Ricky highlighted the opportunities, challenges and importance of Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA), small-scale urban farming, and regenerative agriculture and how Agritecture serves to educate and activate companies in these different areas. He provided a number of helpful resources on Agritecture’s website which can be found below.

    Agritecture Counsulting Website

    Agritecture Designer Course

    Agritecture Digital Workshops

    If you would like to get in touch with Ricky, send him an email at ricky@agritecture.com.

    Bio: Ricky Stephens is the Director of Digital Strategy at Agritecture Consulting, a global leader in urban agriculture planning services. Ricky manages all aspects of Agritecture’s digital strategy and online user engagement. He has led programming for multiple urban agriculture conferences and is heavily involved in the NYC Agriculture Collective. Before joining Agritecture, Ricky founded AgTech X, New York’s first incubator space dedicated solely to AgTech education and entrepreneurship. Previously, Ricky served as Manager of Marketing Analytics for Red Ventures, where he helped build out the company’s first international office in Brazil. He holds a BA in History from Davidson College.

    Forum Host:
     Dell deChant is the Associate Chair of the Religious Studies Department at the University of South Florida and a member of the Board of Directors at the Florida Food Policy Council.

    The Florida Food Forum is a free event. To support our work, please consider becoming a member or making a donationFor questions or more information, contact us at: info@flfpc.org

    Disclaimer: The views of the presenters 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.

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