Community Voices

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  • 17 Nov 2022 6:23 PM | Administrator (Administrator)

    Maine has officially broken U.S. (food) history, by opening the doors for its consumers to embrace and implement the idea behind ‘the right to food’. You may be thinking, “but doesn’t this exist already”? The answer is not so black and white. Typically, state and local regulations prevent consumers from growing their own food due to aesthetic standards (1). Only two and a
    half years ago, Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida passed Senate Bill 82, which allows vegetable gardens on residential property (2). While this is a giant step in the right direction for Florida, it is still a little ways away from Maine’s bold and game-changing action of enacting a right to food amendment to their state’s constitution. Food Sovereignty and The Right to Food According to the United Nations, ‘the right to food’ encompasses the idea that any person has “physical and economic access at all times to adequate food or means for its procurement” (3).

    Although this idea is not synonymous to food sovereignty, it is a major feature of the movement, which presents an alternative agricultural system that serves the people and their right to define their own food system. Food sovereignty aims to replace the power of the market corporate giants into the hands of the people at the heart of the food system, whilst highlighting the need for food to be nourishing, culturally appropriate, and produced through ecologically sound methods (4). While I have not seen tremendous effort in the U.S. to address creating economic access to food, but rather a dependency on social welfare for individuals and families in lower economic standing–headway has been made on physical access by allowing people to grow their own food. An even bigger accomplishment than this, however, is the emphasis on seeds–which Maine has clearly incorporated into its amendment:

    “All individuals have a natural, inherent and unalienable right to save and exchange seeds and the right to grow, raise, harvest, produce and consume the food of their own choosing for their own nourishment, sustenance, bodily health and well-being...(5)”

    The United States agricultural movement has led us to a current state of being largely controlled by a corporate monopoly, in which a handful of food corporations hold the power over what we eat, how it’s grown, and where it can be accessed. Beyond this power, we also face a consolidated ownership of seeds. Research into this monopoly reveals stark findings that only four companies control over sixty percent of global seed sales (6). Not only does this threaten the conservation and diversity of food, but it prevents our food system from moving towards a more food sovereign one–where food is grown using sustainable techniques and where the people hold the power in defining food and agricultural systems.

    Enforcing Food as a Human Right

    The right to food has included many definitions and interpretations, but one thing that remains clear is that states and local municipalities ultimately determine how liberal the application of the right to food can be. While Florida’s SB 82 Bill allows residents to grow food on their property for their own consumption, it does not acknowledge or establish ‘a right to food’ and includes exceptions dependent on ordinances regarding water/fertilizer usage and possible introduction of invasive species (7).

    Comparatively, the language in Maine’s amendment exhibits the positive connotation of enhancing one’s health and establishing food as an ‘unalienable’ human right, which clarifies the idea that every Mainer is lawfully entitled to adequate food. The UN claims that the right to food is recognized under international law and thus involves legal obligations for States to realize sustainable food security for all. Although the U.S. signed a declaration supporting the right to food, it has not treated it as an enforceable obligation across the country (8). Maine is the first state to take the next step in enforcing this idea, through policy, and is leading the shift from food security to food sovereignty. This is a state to keep our eye on,
    in order to learn from and advance our own statewide efforts to upgrade Florida’s vegetable garden bill to one that clearly endorses the right to food.

    About Author: Lana Chehabeddine is currently the Research and Development Manager with the Florida Food Policy Council and the Program Manager for Food for Climate League. She holds a MS in Food Systems and Society from Oregon Health and Science University, where she researched the relationship between the nationwide empathy deficit and the tolerance for structural injustice within the US food system, and BS in Exercise Physiology with a nutrition concentration from the University of Miami. She aspires to tackle and shed light on large systemic issues and help build a more equitable and empathetic society.









  • 10 Jan 2022 2:58 PM | Administrator (Administrator)

    Author: Roxanne Hoorne

    With the continued growth of urban agriculture in Florida, the state government is supporting its unique needs with the passing of Senate Bill No. 628, which recognizes the need to distinguish between traditional and urban farms when it comes to legislation, as well as its establishment of the Urban Agriculture Pilot Project Act.

    SB 628 took effect on July 1, 2021. 

    “The Legislature recognizes the ability of urban agriculture to spur economic development by providing for fresh foods in city centers, community revitalization, and the adaptive reuse of vacant lands.” ​​Michael Dema, ​​St. Petersburg Managing Assistant City Attorney, said in the Florida Food Policy Council's July 2021 Florida Food Forum on Urban Agriculture Policies and Programs. 

    “This (SB 628) is a kind of win-win for everybody, regardless of your political ideology,” as the growth of urban agriculture grows economies, provides jobs, adds value to land, addresses food-insecure areas, and adds green spaces. He sees the bill as “an opening in terms of broadening opportunities for urban agriculture in St. Pete,” building off the recent passage of Urban Agriculture Ordinance 488-H

    SB 628 acknowledges that some of the regulations applied to traditional farms must be amended to suit the unique needs of urban farms. The first section of SB 628 exempts urban agriculture from farm equipment regulations, requiring equipment be “stored, maintained, or repaired” by the owner on their property and kept at least 50 feet away from any public road. 

    In the legislation, “urban agriculture” is defined as “any new or existing noncommercial agricultural uses” on land within a “dense urban land area,” not zoned as agricultural as its principal use, and is designated by a municipality for inclusion in an urban agricultural pilot project that has been approved by the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Personal vegetable gardens on residential properties do not apply to these regulations.

    Section 2 of SB 628 excludes urban agriculture from regulations that exempt nonresidential farm buildings, farm fences, and farm signs from the “Florida Building Code and any county or municipal code or fee, except for code provisions implementing local, state, or federal floodplain management regulations.”

    The third section of the bill is the “Urban Agriculture Pilot Project Act.” Under this act, local governments are authorized to create and regulate agricultural pilot projects in dense urban areas, while determining their effectiveness and impact. The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services may select five municipalities with populations of at least 250,000 (St. Petersburg, Miami, Jacksonville, Orlando, and Tampa) that have submitted a narrative proposal of the pilot project including the location of the project, what crops will be grown, a plan for community involvement, the anticipated outcomes, nutrition and water use, fertilization management plans, and “any other requirements specified by department rules.”

    Pilot projects will be approved for a 3-year period that may be renewed again every three years by mutual agreement between the department and municipality. The municipality will be responsible for submitting a report detailing the outcomes and impact of the pilot project. The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services will summarize the reports of all outcomes and impacts of the pilot projects and report them to the President of the Senate and Speaker of the House of Representatives.

    After the passing of this act, The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services created the Florida Urban and Community Farming Pilot Programwhich will provide grants for select urban farming projects around Florida. They are currently evaluating applications and will announce the recipients of the program funding in January 2022.


    All quotes were retrieved from the official text, CHAPTER 2021-115 Committee Substitute for Senate Bill No. 628 unless otherwise stated.

    Roxanne Hoorne is passionate about communications and journalism concerning equity in food and climate issues. She is also interested in the intersection of art, science, and philosophy. Roxanne has worked extensively with non-profits in research and communications concerning these issues both locally and internationally, as well as in the arts, both as an employee and volunteer. She is a Florida Food Policy Council member and contributes to their newsletter. She hopes her writing not only informs readers but also inspires their engagement.  

    Disclaimer: The views of the writers 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.

  • 20 Dec 2021 8:10 AM | Administrator (Administrator)

    Author: Dell deChant

    Lately there has been a spate of articles in big-time publications about gas-powered leaf blowers and their harm to the environment. The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, The New Haven Register, Audubon Magazine, and Yale Climate Connections all have recently weighed in on the topic. Of course, leaf blowers are not the only yard and garden machines doing disproportionally large environmental damage.  Others include such well-known machines as the lawn mower, line trimmer, edger, and hedge trimmer. Gas-powered versions of these machines are high carbon emitters and particularly inefficient in their use of fuel. 

    As my long-time friend, Charlie Wilde, told me years ago, as a rule, the smaller the engine the less efficient is its energy use – and all those little lawn machines have very small engines. The recent articles underscore Charlie’s assessment. As noted by Margaret Renkl in The New York Times:  

    A 2011 study by Edmunds found that a two-stroke gasoline-powered leaf blower spewed out more pollution than a 6,200-pound Ford F-150 SVT Raptor pickup truck. Jason Kavanagh, the engineering editor at Edmunds at the time, noted that “hydrocarbon emissions from a half-hour of yard work with the two-stroke leaf blower are about the same as a 3,900-mile drive from Texas to Alaska in a Raptor.”

    James Fallows and the leaf-blower menace

    Most of the recent articles cite a 2019 article in The Atlantic, by James Fallows. What makes Fallows’ article especially notable is that besides offering well-researched information on why small (two-stroke) engines are so damaging, it also includes a helpful narrative about how he, his spouse, and others organized a successful effort to eliminate what he called “the leaf-blower menace” in his city – Washington, D.C. That part of the article is worth reading all on it own.  It is a virtual playbook on how grassroots organizing works.  

    Besides making clear the necessity of commitment and perseverance (they faced resistance and setbacks) for such efforts, it also identifies the place to begin – the neighborhood. That’s where the Fallows began, but it is not where many well-intentioned initiatives begin. Instead, folks often take their proposals directly to City Councils and County Commissions. The Fallows did eventually get the proposal to their City Council, but only after gaining support from their neighbors, then their neighborhood, and finally other neighborhoods in their city. This takes time, and there can be difficulties – and even good projects fail. This one worked out and, as Fallows tells us “On January 1, 2022, the use of gas-powered leaf blowers will be illegal within city limits.”  

    What About Florida?

    That’s good news for Washington, D.C., but what about other cities and what about Florida? Renkl reports over 100 cities nationwide ban or restrict the use of gas-powered leaf blowers. It is not clear how many cities in Florida have bans on leaf blowers or other high-polluting inefficient gas-powered lawn machines. It appears that some cities have restrictions (usually based on hours of operation, due to noise) but few have outright bans. Naples appears to be the only one, although there have been initiatives in Winter Park and Ft. Lauderdale. 

    I wonder how many folks even have the stomach for taking up the issue – especially considering the polarizing nature of politics today and aggressive actions by the governor and the state legislature to limit home rule in a variety of areas related to public health and the natural environment. It seems unlikely an initiative such as the Fallows organized in the nation’s capital could get off the ground in many Florida cities.

    Five Reasons to Let Them Go

    Even if there is little interest on the part of government to take responsible action, we can always act on our own and even encourage friends, neighbors, and our lawn-care providers to dispense with the machines. Here are five reasons to let them go: 

    (1) They are highly polluting and disproportionately high in production of greenhouse gasses.  

    (2) They are noisy, with dangerously high decibel levels, and aurally violent.

    (3) Efficient electrical alternatives are available, which are quieter and less polluting.

    (4) Ultimately, they are not necessary. Why spend the money? Why consume more resources? Remember rakes? Remember brooms? Leaves and grasses can be swept or raked by hand from impervious surfaces if removal is really necessary. Moreover, why not leave the leaves and grasses on the lawn, or rake them into garden beds where they can serve as natural soil amenities?

    (5) Finally (and best of all), they are not needed if we just rid ourselves of lawns. Doing that will eliminate the need for all the gas-powered yard machines. There are two good options for yard replacement: (a) a natural landscape of native plants and (b) a food-producing garden. Neither will need to be mowed, trimmed, or blown with gas-powered machines.  Both will sequester carbon not generate it, heal the earth not pollute it, create habitat not harm for creatures sharing our world, beautify not traumatize the community, and restore not disrupt our sense of place – and return a little bit of peace to the place that was there before we showed up.

    References and Additional Sources

    “Are leaf blowers bad for us?” (January 21, 2021), Yale Climate Connections – Sara Peach

    “The First Thing We Do, Let’s Kill All the Leaf Blowers” (Oct 25, 2021), New York Times Margaret Renkl

    “Get Off My Lawn” (April 2019), The Atlantic – James Fallows 

    “Here’s Why Leaf Blowers Are Evil Incarnate,” (October 7, 2021), The Wall Street Journal) – Kris Frieswick

    “Hi, I’m a Leaf Blower. Everybody Hates Me” (November 12, 2021), The Wall Street Journal – A Leaf Blower (Jason Gay) 

    “Those Loud and Polluting Leaf Blowers” (Nov. 5, 2021), New York Times – letters

    “Why Cities are Taking Action to Limit Loud and Polluting Lawn Care (Spring 2021), Audubon Magazine – Monica Cardoza.

    Or just Google-search leaf blower article

    Dell deChant is the Associate Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of South Florida. He is a Master Instructor and has served at USF since 1986. The author of three books, over 40 articles in professional publications, and chapters in twelve books, his specialization is religion and contemporary cultures. His current research focuses on religious, literary, and ecological expressions of Agrarianism as they manifest in American popular culture. He is Chair of the Environmental Committee of the City of New Port Richey, a founding member of Food Policy Council of Pasco County, a member of the Florida Food Policy Council, and a member of the Board of Directors of Ecology Florida.

  • 1 Nov 2021 12:00 PM | Administrator (Administrator)

    Author: Wendy Wesley

    Data from the latest census show areas of USDA-designated “low income, low access,” or food deserts, have more than tripled in south St. Petersburg. This is evidenced by seven adjacent census tract areas in 2020 compared with two non-adjacent tracts in 2015.

    This news comes as no surprise to food activists, like me, who work in local healthcare. We see the toll that nutrition insecurity takes on a community through worsening chronic diseases like heart failure and diabetes that are best managed when food is abundant, affordable, healthy and fresh.

    Their devastating effects are exacerbated on gas station diets.

    With this new data, and a community clamoring for interventions, we collectively scratch our heads and ask, “What’s taking so long?”

    When the Walmart at Tangerine Plaza closed in February of 2017, I anticipated the areas of “low income, low access” would increase. I did not expect those census tract areas to TRIPLE. This shows us the profound ripple effects of one grocery store to a community.

    The largest retail space of the city-owned Tangerine Plaza, once the site of full-service grocers Sweetbay and Walmart, has sat empty for more than four years. 

    Tangerine Plaza is located within the city’s South Community Redevelopment Area which was created to promote development in housing, neighborhoods and businesses. It comprises 7.4 square miles and is one of the largest in Florida. The plaza sits within a 42-block area of south St. Petersburg with no full-service grocery store.

    The city reports that a developer with a grocery store tenant will occupy the space sometime this year or in early 2022. Alan Delisle, of the city’s economic development department, stated that a lease would be executed this past March.

    Our elected officials have had four years to solve this problem. This is not four years with a stubborn property owner who will not budge, but four years of no movement on a property the city owns.

    Pre-pandemic data shows that 12.5% of Pinellas households are food insecure, which creates a food budget shortfall of more than $73 million. Imagine what that data will show today.

    Here are a few things our citizens, business leaders, elected officials and city staff can do to fix this:

    * Reject aspirational change and virtue signaling from our elected officials in the forms of food policy councils and “food is a human right” proclamations that confuse doing something with doing the right thing.

    * Demand our elected officials make good on their campaign promises to put a grocery store in Tangerine Plaza.

    * Instead of focusing so intently on the rushed redevelopment of Tropicana Field, ask city leadership to pay attention to needy residents directly under its nose. Take the foot off the gas of the Tropicana Field redevelopment and dedicate some bandwidth to the residents of this city who are struggling with chronic disease.

    * Support local and citizen-run farmers markets like the Southside Fresh Market and the Deuces Sidewalk Market.

    * Hold our new mayor and city council members accountable in their support of the city’s Health in All Policies program. It should continue and be adequately funded especially where SNAP promotion and support of corner stores are concerned.

    * Healthy St. Pete: focus on SNAP access promotion and health education to areas of “low income, low access.”

    * Development Review Commission: consider health when making decisions and allow variances for community gardens.

    Wendy Wesley is a licensed and registered clinical dietitian/nutritionist who works to improve the health of the community. She provides free public health education, individual nutrition counseling and advocacy for access to nutritious foods in her hometown of St. Petersburg.  

    Disclaimer: The views of the writers 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 May 2021 8:49 AM | Administrator (Administrator)

    Author: Roxanne Hoorne

    Some of St. Petersburg’s citizens recently rejoiced at the passing of Urban Agriculture Ordinance 488-H on December 3rd, 2020, aimed at loosening regulations on residential produce sales and community gardens.  While proponents of the ordinance celebrate the enhanced opportunity for urban agriculture and its community benefits, critics question who is utilizing the policy, how the information is being distributed, and why we need these regulations at all.

    Often, urban residents only become aware of an agricultural law when it gets in their way, which is exactly what happened to Derek Lewis, a South African beekeeper who traded in his African Killer Bees for the “less aggressive” European honey bees when he moved to St. Petersburg six years ago. “This was my problem right here,” Derek told me as he pointed to the sign reading “PURE RAW HONEY FOR SALE,” which he had retired from his front lawn.  Derek claims that before being cited by a new City Home Inspector, “I had no idea it was illegal to sell your own honey,” a sentiment which has proven true for many residential urban producers.

    Derek decided to challenge the city, bringing his bee crusade to the ongoing movement to loosen urban agriculture regulations in St. Pete. With the support of District 2 Council member, Brandi Gabbard, the goal of concerned community leaders and residents was to amend the city’s Land Development Regulations to make it easier for residents to sell their homegrown produce and address local food insecurity.

    Proponents of the ordinance, such as Wendy Wesley, a civically engaged licensed St. Petersburg dietitian and nutritionist, believes that the ordinance is “a step in the right direction,” as it will help residents gain access to nutrient-dense food, especially in food insecure areas. She hopes “This access will mitigate the devastating effects of diabetes, cardiac disease, kidney failure,” and even the loneliness that she sees in her practice.

    Urban Agriculture Ordinance 488-H made notable changes to existing laws expanding allotted frequency of sale of produce and garden infrastructure use, increasing maximum plant height, and reducing the cost of permits for community gardens and road side vendors.

    Derek got his honey and could sell it too, just not quite as often as he’d hoped. “In a sense, I won, in that I now have permission to sell (honey) from home, with the limitations (of 36 times per year), which doesn’t particularly suit me.”  Other individuals who pushed for the ordinance celebrated its passing. Carla Bristol, St. Pete Youth Farm Collaboration Manager, said that “It’s important policy and it lends support to the work we're doing here (at the Youth Farm),” where they seek to “create a space to grow food and grow as leaders, entrepreneurs, and as individuals while giving back to the community.”

    Some critique that while the benefits of the ordinance are clear, there has been little action to educate the public on how to utilize the opportunity, and if people are not utilizing policy, then what is its purpose? Carla emphasizes that, “You’ve got to first make people aware that this is a thing.” Wendy calls for “massive scale knowledge of this (ordinance) city-wide,” recommending that an educational flyer could potentially go out with a water bill, something everyone will see. The City of St. Petersburg and initiatives such as Healthy St.Pete were noted as being well positioned to play a role in disseminating this information to all St. Pete residents.

    While concerned citizens generally recognize the importance of the ordinance and celebrate its passing, some share Derek’s sentiments that the current loosening of restrictions isn’t nearly good enough. Assistant professor and founder of the Urban Food Sovereignty Group at USF, William “Will” Schanbacher, remarked that when it comes to policy, “One of the best things we can do is remove barriers for food insecure communities…without asking them to fill out any paperwork,” leading Will to question the purpose of these regulations on selling your own homegrown food in the first place.

    When asked this same question, Elizabeth Abernethy, AICP Director, Planning & Development Services, City of St. Petersburg said, “Retail activities are not allowed in residential zoning districts…Unlimited commercial activities in residential districts can impact the health, safety and welfare of residents, and have not been allowed under zoning regulations first established in our City in the 1920s.”

    Historically, there is a combination of laws labeling urban agricultural spaces as nuisances and the resulting zoning that aimed to separate residential, commercial, and agricultural spaces, all of which have deep roots that are gradually being overturned with the growth of urban agriculture. 

    Deeper systemic issues that stem in part from these outdated and restrictive agricultural laws still impact people today. Not only have laws restricted where and how food can be grown and sold, but making it a legal “nuisance” to grow food in residential spaces has disrupted and criminalized culture, especially among Black and immigrant populations. “I see us returning to the same traditions, and we are now having to rebuild what was already there,” says Carla. Agricultural knowledge and the appreciation that comes with your proximity to where your food is grown has been denied to many people in recent generations. Carla wants youth to know that “There is dignity in being able to grow food and being able to have control over where your food comes from.”

    This serves to emphasize not only the importance of revising these outdated policies, but the importance of the Youth Farm and other groups dedicated to sharing food, knowledge, and a sense of community, especially amongst the next generation. Wendy notes that from a health standpoint, “It’s not just about creating food… Gardens and farms are a 360-degree approach to health and wellness, not only for the food, but for the exercise and connection to human beings.”

    This ordinance, as well as the multiple local urban agricultural laws that have been amended in recent years, was greatly influenced by the voices and actions of concerned citizens. In Carla’s words, “Help me, help you, help us,” she expresses that when it comes to alleviating food insecurity, especially in populations that have been systematically denied access, do not assume that free food and aid programs are the best way forward.

    When given the opportunity, via resources and the support of policy, community resilience will be the source of thriving.

    Roxanne Hoorne is passionate about communications and journalism concerning equity in food and climate issues. She is also interested in the intersection of art, science, and philosophy. Roxanne has worked extensively with non-profits in research and communications concerning these issues both locally and internationally, as well as in the arts, both as an employee and volunteer. She is a Florida Food Policy Council member and contributes to their newsletter. She hopes her writing not only informs readers but also inspires their engagement.  

    Disclaimer: The views of the writers 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.

  • 29 Sep 2020 9:30 AM | Administrator (Administrator)

    Author: Jesse Haskins

    The 2018 Farm Bill dives well beyond food and farms. The 2018 Farm Bill covers rural development. Rural communities after all, produce the bulk of our food, despite the strides of urban agriculture. The rural development portion of the farm bill equips rural communities with the necessary infrastructure to continue their critical role in our food systems. 

    For example, the 2018 Farm Bill gives rural communities with skimpy broadband service priority for grants and loans. Under this program, rural communities with lower population density may receive a greater share of total project costs. Communities with fewer than 7 people per square mile enjoy funding up to 75 percent of total project costs, while communities between 12 and 20 people per square mile only get up to 25 percent of total project costs. 

    Another example of the Farm Bill providing support for the places where most of our food comes from: mental health. The statutory “Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network” was actually established in the 2008 Farm Bill. The 2008 Farm Bill, at least in the name, recognizes that farming and ranching is stressful. Grants under the 2008 program, however were restricted to extension services partnering with state cooperatives. The 2018 Farm Bill expands the list of potential grant recipients to include Native American tribes, state departments of agriculture, extension agents, nonprofit organizations that are “qualified” by the USDA, entities “providing appropriate services” as determined by the USDA, and of course, partnerships by any of the above. The new expanded list of potential grant recipients can use the grants in a number of ways: to create “farm telephone helplines and websites,” to provide assistance to farmers and ranchers “in crisis,” to establish support groups, and to engage in other outreach services. 

    But there have been legislative casualties in rural development, particularly in terms of renewable energy. The 2018 Farm Bill repealed the Rural Energy Self-Sufficiency Initiative. This discontinued program funded energy assessments for rural communities, and other funds to promote renewable energy in rural communities. Yet, the 2018 Farm Bill makes some strides in renewable energy. The 2018 Farm Bill extends the Rural Energy Savings Program. The purpose of the Rural Savings Program: “to help rural families and small businesses achieve cost savings by providing loans to qualified consumers to implement durable cost-effective energy efficiency measures.” 

    Together, these programs show a legislative recognition that food policy is not just about sustainable food—but about making sure that farmers and ranchers have the resources they need to be sustainable human beings. These programs illustrate the holistic approach Congress has taken to agriculture, tackling everything from farmers to food to energy. 

    Jesse Haskins started J. Haskins Law, P.A. to focus on local food communities. Jesse builds partnerships between farmers and communities. Prior to dedicating his practice to local agriculture, Jesse served as assistant attorney general for the State of Florida, assistant general counsel for the Florida Department of Financial Services, and as attorney for a large insurance defense firm. Jesse graduated from the Duke University School of Law in 2009. Jesse is an avid foodie. His favorite ingredient is tahini.


    Disclaimer: The views of the writers 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.

  • 5 Sep 2020 9:25 AM | Administrator (Administrator)

    Much deserved attention has been paid to a large USDA-designated food desert in the Midtown section of St. Petersburg due to the closing of a Walmart more than 1300 days ago. But new food deserts have emerged in other areas of the city that leave leadership concerned.  
    St. Petersburg is only as good as our poorest and sickest residents. 

    A swath of northeast St. Petersburg between the avenues of 62nd and 79th north bordering 4th Street to the west and stretching into Tampa Bay to the east is the site of St. Petersburg’s latest USDSA-designated food desert.  

    The closing of a Winn-Dixie at 7489 4th St. Non February 10 of this year is the catalyst. 

    The USDA uses residents’ income and access to transportation to designate food desertsWith 13 mobile home parks in the 33702 ZIP code it is easy to see why this area emerged with the closing of one store.  

    Residents of Americana Cove, a mobile home park that lies within the new food desert, have been affected.  

    “It was common for people here to take pull carts to Winn Dixie and get groceries,” said Maggie Banta, an Americana Cove resident. “Some who live here don’t have cars and live on fixed incomes.”   

    The shuttered Winn-Dixie is close to the Gateway Market Center which has competitors Publix and Target. To get there, pedestrians must cross 4th Street North and travel to MLK Street North. That is an additional five blocks and the reason for the new food desert designation. 

    These stores fall outside the 1-mile radius the USDA uses to designate an area a food desert.  

    Due west of this new area is a long-existing food desert in Lealman. To the south are deserts in MidtownOld Southeast and Pinellas Point. 

    The COVID-19 pandemic has shown many who live outside of food deserts the issue of health inequity. Interestingly, it has also helped explain the term “nutrition insecurity. 

    Comparatively, the terms “food” and “nutrition” can be defined as quantity of calories for the former and quality of calories for the latter. Food insecurity needs can be met with highly processed, low fiber, low nutrient and shelf-stable calories. Nutrition insecurity is met with fresh food that meets the nutrient needs of the community.  

    Community nutrition security can be defined as the condition that exists when all of the members of a community have access, in close proximity, to adequate amounts of nutritious, culturally appropriate food at all times, from sources that are environmentally sound and just.  

    Grantmakers and funders city and county-wide agree that access to nutrient-dense foods is a necessity for healthy, productive communities. And with a looming pandemic, where mounting a strong immune response is essential, the need is greater than ever especially for the elderly. 

    This new food desert primarily affects that population. 

    St. Petersburg councilmember, Gina Driscoll, and the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg have proposed a new city-wide food policy councilThese two entities bring enormous resources to the problem. Its formation was approved by the city council in August and planning is underway. 

    In addition, the One Community Grocery Co-Op continues to grow its membership and build awareness for the problem of nutrition insecurity city-wide. 

    When the world re-opens, St. Petersburg will return to its booming and sparkling self with a busy downtown and a thriving arts and restaurant scene. All these things make my hometown shine. 

    But many in our community lack access to food, transportation and housing all of which, when available, enable a population to manage cardiac disease, diabetes and kidney failure. 

    Wendy Wesley is a licensed and registered clinical dietitian/nutritionist who works to improve the health of the community. She provides free public health education, individual nutrition counseling and advocacy for access to nutritious foods in her hometown of St. Petersburg.  

    Disclaimer: The views of the writers 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.

  • 29 Aug 2020 12:24 AM | Administrator (Administrator)

    Since July, across the U.S. there have been reports of citizens receiving unsolicited packets of seeds in the mail. The recipients are unsure why they received these seeds or what the seed packets contain. Many of these packages are arriving from China or other countries with foreign postage, symbols or addresses.  

    The main concern surrounding the seeds is they could introduce invasive species to the U.S. An invasive species is any organism outside of its native habitat that causes damage in the introduced area. Some of the problems that invasive species can cause include economic losses in agriculture or horticulture, disruption of native ecosystems and waterways, competition with native wildlife, and human and animal health hazards. The pathway for introduction describes how an invasive species arrives to a new location. These unknown seed packets could potentially contain an invasive plant species or be harboring an invasive pest or pathogen. In this case, the pathway of introduction is through shipping seed packages internationally.  

    Officials are concerned about these seeds in Florida since it is a high-risk state for the establishment of invasive species. Florida’s temperate, subtropical, and tropical climates with relatively mild winters allow for year-round survival of many organisms. The state has many international airports and commercial seaports that constantly receive foreign goods serving as pathways for the introduction of non-native plants, animals, and pathogens. Tourism, the number one industry in Florida, also attracts many people to the state acting as additional pathways for the introduction of invasive species.  

    Due to the potential impacts of invasive species, there are many rules and regulations to aid in preventing their introduction and responding to their detection in the U.S. One of the earliest was the Lacey Act in 1900 that allowed for regulation of the import and interstate transport of illegal wildlife. Several additional acts, including the Plant Quarantine Act, the Federal Plant Pest Act, and the Federal Noxious Weed Act of 1974, followed the Lacey Act to aid in regulating the movement of potentially invasive species. The Plant Protection Act of 2000 is a key regulation that consolidated some of the previous legislation. This act allowed for the USDA-Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services (APHIS) to address issues involving plant protection, quarantine and emergency actions surrounding invasive species.  

    To collaborate on a national level, Executive Order 13112 created the National Invasive Species Council and the Invasive Species Advisory CommitteeFrom these organizations, the National Invasive Species Management Plan was developed with five strategic goals: prevention, early detection and rapid response, control and management, restoration, and organizational collaboration. In addition to national efforts, there are also state and local efforts that support the strategic goals.  

    The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) are two organizations that are regularly involved in efforts supporting the five strategic goals, including investigating the reports of suspicious seeds in the mailFrom statewide trapping to quarantine and eradication programs to international commodity inspections, these agencies help keep our agriculture and natural resources safe. Some invasive species still slip through these defenses despite all the regulation and resources devoted to invasive species issues. It is important to note that these resources are still limited. In our current globalized world, it is simply not feasible to be able to inspect and regulate all potential pathways of introduction.  

    In an effort to evaluate potential threats associated with the suspicious seed packets, the USDA and FDACS are gathering the suspicious packages for assessmentAs of Aug 12th, there have been no major problems found with the seeds, but only a small amount of the seeds have been tested so far. 

    If you have received packets of seeds in the mail, do not plant the seeds. You should report these seeds to the authorities for testing and proper disposal. There are several different ways to report the seeds: 

    • You can report these seeds online and send them by mail to the USDA-APHIS using this webpage. You can also report the seeds using the USDA-APHIS Anti-Smuggling Hotline at 1-800-877-3835 or

    • You can contact FDACS Division of Plant Industry at 1-888-397-1517 or for instructions. 

    • You can also drop off the seed packages at select local UF/IFAS County Extension Offices. Please contact your local extension office for more information.  

    Above all, invasive species efforts are not a one person job. It takes the strategic development of policies, the collaboration of many organizations, and the cooperation of the public to protect our agriculture and natural resources. You can do your part by reporting any unsolicited seeds you receive by mail.  


    Morgan Pinkerton is the Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems Agent with UF/IFAS Extension Seminole County. She is a Doctor of Plant Medicine specializing in invasive species, plant health, and extension education. Prior to her current role, she studied regulatory entomology and focused heavily on policy surrounding the movement of invasive species. She now assists commercial agricultural and horticultural producers in Seminole County in adopting more sustainable practices at their operations. Beyond her work in food systems, she is a competitive beach volleyball player and an avid world traveler.

    Disclaimer: The views of the writers 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 Aug 2020 3:00 AM | Administrator (Administrator)

    “Show me a movement,” President Obama told New York chef and writer Dan Barber while discussing possible reforms to the food system. 

    Specifically, Dan Barber was talking about alternatives to Big Food—a multilayered $1.5 trillion industry. Companies like Monsanto and churn out seeds and chemicals to sell to big corn and soybean industrial farms. Big Ag in turn supplies feed grain to big meat conglomerates, ultimately for the benefit of large scale groceries and fast food operations. Pitted against big food are movements for alternative agriculture—home gardens, community gardens, and businesses that take environmental stewardship seriously. Community organizers are the champs of the sustainable food movement. 

    But the sustainable food movement needs transparency to take root, as the fight over labeling laws demonstrates. Big Food spent $100 million to fight mandatory labeling of genetically modified organisms (“GMOs”). Even though the behemoth largely won the food labeling fight, author and food activist Michael Pollan explains how the battle for transparency will ultimately empower community food movements: 

    The industry’s $100 million fight to stop G.M.O. labeling has pitted many food companies against the overwhelming majority of their consumers, who tell pollsters they want their food labeled. This is a most uncomfortable position for consumer-goods businesses to find themselves in, which is why many of the G.M.A. member companies sought (unsuccessfully) to hide their involvement in the fight. Battling against transparency is bound to sow seeds of distrust, potentially undermining the most precious pieces of cultural capital Big Food owns: its brands. 

    So, community organizers need transparency. “Right to know” laws, at both the state and federal levels, help community organizers and journalists win on transparency, and get to the truth. To be sure, these “right to know” laws are far from perfect. 

    At the federal level, journalists making requests under the Freedom of Information Act frequently experience delays lasting years to get a response. The substance of FOIA also makes matters difficult for community organizers. Most problematic is Exemption 5. This broad exception to the public's right to know applies to “inter-agency and intra-agency memoranda or letters which would not be available by law to a private party other than an agency in litigation with the agency.” Because it often gives federal agencies free reign to withhold information, it has been consistently referred to as the “withhold it because you want to” exemption. For community organizers, the exemption stymies efforts to learn “how an agency came to a decision, what evidence it considered, what influences came to bear, and what compromises were struck.”

    Despite its flaws, the FOIA has been crucial in holding the government accountable for all sorts of abuses, including environmental. FOIA empowered the nonprofit organization American Oversight to expose former EPA administrator Pruitt's bedfellowery with representatives of regulated industries. FOIA requests showed that environmental groups and public health groups got “almost no time” with the head of the Environmental Protection Agency

    Florida Public Records Law doesn't have an exemption as secret-friendly as the federal Exemption 5, but it does have its own distinctive set of exemptions and shortcomings. By count of the Orlando Sentinel, nearly a year ago, state agencies enjoy a total of 1,122 statutory exemptions from public records law. For example, claims files maintained by governmental insurers are exempt for Florida public records law.  

    But at both the federal and state levels, it is easy to make a request. Both federal and state agencies have open records coordinators. The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, for example, maintains a portal dedicated to handling public records requests. The Florida Department of Citrus allows public records requests to be made to any departmental employee. So you don't have to be a professional community organizer or journalist to take advantage of right to know laws, but for professional organizers and journalists, these laws are a big help. 


    Jesse Haskins started J. Haskins Law, P.A. to focus on local food communities. Jesse builds partnerships between farmers and communities. Prior to dedicating his practice to local agriculture, Jesse served as assistant attorney general for the State of Florida, assistant general counsel for the Florida Department of Financial Services, and as attorney for a large insurance defense firm. Jesse graduated from the Duke University School of Law in 2009. Jesse is an avid foodie. His favorite ingredient is tahini.


    Disclaimer: The views of the writers 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.

  • 25 Jul 2020 12:26 AM | Administrator (Administrator)

    The Farm Bill broke a record in 2018. The 2018 Farm Bill received more yes votes in the House of Representatives than any other farm bill. And a major of the 2018 Farm Bill was the creation of a new funding program for farmers' markets: The Local Agriculture Market Program—or “LAMP” for short. This program is now part of federal law, and appears in the statute books as 7 U.S.C. § 1627c. 

    Reading statutes can be boring, but not section 1627c. Its list of purposes can be mistaken as a mini-manifesto on the virtues of local food. The bill's allocations reveals the winner of it all. But first, a brief overview of the statute. 

    LAMP consists of three pots of grant money. Value-added producer grants are intended primarily for items that take on extra “value” from being processed, like granola. The farmers' markets and local food promotion program recognizes several entities eligible for grants: local governments, nonprofits, food councils, and of course, farmers' markets. The final grant program under LAMP, partnerships, consists of a “partnership” between a “eligible partner” and an “eligible entity.” The eligible partner could be a government, nonprofit, for-profit, university, or bank. The partnered “eligible entity” can be a farmer, rancher, food council, local government, nonprofit, a community supported agriculture network, or a farmers' market. 

    Although LAMP consists of three distinct pots of funding, LAMP as a whole streamlines funding for local food systems. The statute itself directs the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture to create a program that 

    • supports the development, coordination, and expansion of … local and regional food markets and enterprises” 

    • connects and cultivates regional food economies through public-private partnerships” 

    • supports the development of business plans, feasibility studies, and strategies for … local and regional food system infrastructure.” 

    • strengthens capacity and regional food system development through community collaboration and expansion of mid-tier value chains.” 

    • improves income and economic opportunities for producers and food business through job creation” 

    • simplifies the agricultural processes.”  

    The new program doles out grants of up to $500,000 each to be used for any one of ten enumerated activities, including activities to “support and promote … farmers' markets.” Nearly all the enumerated activities have something to do with farmers' markets. For example, grant recipients may also use their grants “to support the processing, aggregation, distribution, and storage of … local and regional food products that are marketed locally or regionally.” That's basically what farmers' markets do. At their core, farmers' markets are distribution sites for local food. Of course, farmers' markets serve several other functions, like community building and education. But in general, people go to farmers' markets to get local food. We could take more time dallying through the remaining eight permitted statutory uses, but eating food can be just as important as reading about it. 

    So let's close with who wins. Farmers' markets. The farmers' market and local food program gets 47% of LAMP grants—more than the value-added program, which gets 35%; and way more than the partnership program, which only gets 10%. The remainder either goes to administrative expenses, and may carry over to the next fiscal year.  

    LAMP as originally enacted provides for fifty million dollars each year in mandatory funding. These funds are not subject to the annual legislative appropriations process. LAMP authorizes another 20 million dollars in discretionary spending, but unfortunatelyCongress's curbed its enthusiasm for LAMP discretionary spending around September 2019. As the current pandemic has renewed public and congressional interest in local food systems, we can hope that more federal funds with go to farmers' markets. Senator Susan Collins and Representative Chellie Pingree have written a bipartisan letter to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, urging that the USDA use the more recent Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) “to ensure that small- and medium- sized farms are able to survive this unexpected downturn while helping to meet the food security needs of American families.” 

    Jesse Haskins started J. Haskins Law, P.A. to focus on local food communities. Jesse builds partnerships between farmers and communities. Prior to dedicating his practice to local agriculture, Jesse served as assistant attorney general for the State of Florida, assistant general counsel for the Florida Department of Financial Services, and as attorney for a large insurance defense firm. Jesse graduated from the Duke University School of Law in 2009. Jesse is an avid foodie. His favorite ingredient is tahini.


    Disclaimer: The views of the writers 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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