Florida Food Policy Council

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Community Voices

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

    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)

    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)

    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.

    Website: www.jhaskinslaw.com

    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 SITC.Mail@aphis.usda.gov.

    • You can contact FDACS Division of Plant Industry at 1-888-397-1517 or DPIhelpline@FDACS.gov 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.

    Website: www.jhaskinslaw.com

    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.

    Website: www.jhaskinslaw.com

    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.

  • 2 Jul 2020 11:08 AM | Administrator (Administrator)

    Nobody likes taxes, but local tax authorities should love farmers. It's not just tax authorities. When it comes to farmland, diverse groups love farms—for different reasons. The military loves farmland. Farmland provides the most cost effective contributions to the public coffers (less euphemistically known as taxes), plays an invaluable role in our national defense, and makes our land beautiful. Let's survey the benefits and policy incentives used to achieve them. 

    Tax Revenue 

    There are misperceptions that farmers do not pay their fair share of taxes, that farmland does not constitute the “highest and best use” of land, and that more development means more tax revenue. Growers actually pay more than their fair share of taxes, based on cost of community services (COCS) studies. COCS studies compare the tax impacts of residential development, farmland, and commercial/industrial use. Residential land use drains government revenue. Residential land use saddles local government with the costs of education, public safety, social services, and other programs. The costs of these programs exceeds what residential areas pay in taxes. The opposite is true for farmland. The governmental resources going into farmland is less than what farmers pay in taxes. In other words, farmers spend more on taxes than they take in from local governments. In 2002, for every dollar that farmland pays in taxes, the government paid back a median of 36 cents. One locality has the distinction of farms giving the most bank for the buck farms to tax authorities. In Carrol Township, Pennsylvania, two cents is the cost of services farms receive in exchange for putting a dollar into community coffers. The least bang for the buck is in Dover, New Hampshire: 94 cents. 

    The Florida Legislature has recognized the need to conserve, protect, and encourage the use of agricultural lands through the Greenbelt Law. The Greenbelt Law provides for the taxation of agricultural land at an especially low rate. The Legislature enacted the Greenbelt law to prevent farms from “being taxed out of existence”. To qualify, the grower must apply for an exemption with their local tax appraiser. 


    The military has spent a total of $259 million to preserve farmland through the Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration (REPI) ProgramThe program helps resolve the military concerns about “encroachments.” For example, lights from homes and business reduce the effectiveness of night-vision training. Wildlife, squeezed about by residential and development, has no place to go but “onto less developed military landsor farms. 

    From the military perspective, farmland provides an important buffer between military operations and development. To promote farms, the military has partnered with local governments, state governments, and not for profit organizations to preserve more than 437,000 acres of farmland near military bases. [link: These partnerships rely on a legal mechanism called agricultural conservation easements. With an agricultural conservation easement, the owner of the farm either gets cash, tax benefits, or a mixture of both. In return, the farm owner sells the right to develop the land. The grower still owns the land, still has the right to occupy the land, and still has the right to make money from agricultural uses. But the grower sells the right to develop the land in particular ways. For example, the landowner may lose the right to build a hotel, or to sell the land to a developer to build a hotel. 

    Community Welfare 

    A study of 44 cities shows that more green space means higher community well-being. Parks are well known places where neighbors can socialize, but green spaces also improve health. Individuals can get healthier just by taking an aromatic whiff of plants because of compounds in plants called phytonicides. These compounds can lower blood pressure, and fight cancer. The sight of nature can alleviate prison violence more effectively than armed guards. Nature has the obvious effect of promoting calm, and stands as a haven from the concrete jungle. Even in prisons, nature videos may combat violence just as effectively as six guards in Kevlar vests and full riot gear. Nalini Nadkarni and her colleagues found that prisoners watching nature videos committed 26% fewer violent infractions as compared to those who did not watch. 

    Conservation falls within the purview of the Natural Resources and Conservation Service (NRCS). This federal agency administers two agricultural conservation easement programs: the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) and the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). As agricultural conservation easement programs, ACEP and RCPP works on a similar legal foundation as the military's Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration. The owner of farmland sells or donates the right to develop the land to a governmental agency or non-profit entity. The agency or non-profit buys or gets (through donation) the right to monitor and enforce the landowner's promise to keep the land free from development. Through the ACEP program, governments and non-profits apply to the federal government for funding. In the RCPP program, landowners may either apply through NRCSs' “partners,” or apply to NRCS directly. 

    This survey of agricultural land use laws shows that more agricultural land use benefits everyone—not just farms and eaters (which should already be everybody). Farms make funding for robust community services possible, and play a vital role in our national defense. Farms can provide every person with a sense of community and serenity. The time to preserve these benefits is now. Every minute, our country loses three acres of farmland to development. Much of this destructive trend happens in our own state. Florida ranks eleventh in "states with the most threatened agricultural land." But every reader can do something: take advantage of the Greenbelt law, participate in agricultural conservation easement programs, advocate for more funding, or donate non-profit organizations like the American Farmland Trust and the Land Trust Alliance. The Land Trust Alliance also maintains a directory of Florida-based organizations that preserve farmland. 

    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.

    Website: www.jhaskinslaw.com

    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 Jun 2020 2:00 AM | Administrator (Administrator)

    Precision agriculture has emerged as a technology promising to make agriculture more sustainable, both environmentally and economically. It is the technology of giving “just enough”— enough water, enough fertilizer, and enough pesticide to help crops thrive, but not so much as to needlessly guzzle natural resources and spit out pollutants. In the long run, this technology conserves both planet and wallet. Despite these long term benefits, the up front cost locks growers into using certain fertilizers. This problem of lock in required the intervention of antitrust enforcement, yet current technological trends could reduce reliance on antitrust enforcement. 

    Precision technology includes sensors that can see the color green in the ground to determine the ideal amount of fertilizer. Technological advances also allow for increasingly precise machinery: more narrow blades to make incisions into the soil for fertilizer, faster speeds to inject fertilizer, and “closing wheels” to quickly bury the incision. 

    This is the kind of technology that farmers have relied upon in their pursuit of environmental and economic sustainability. This technology is especially useful for growers who use a particular fertilizer: anhydrous ammonia. To learn why, let's break down this technical term word by word.

    Ammonia is a form of nitrogen. Nitrogen makes plants green, and helps plants grow. Yet, ammonia is also a pollutant that kills fish, and in higher concentrations, humans. Ammonia puts us in a Goldilocks predicament. Too little could starve us of vegetables; too much could poison us (and plants). When it comes to ammonia usage, it is critical that we get the quantity right. 

    Now for that other weird word: anhydrous. Anhydrous means “without water”—as in a gas. Gas is dangerous. We can accidentally inhale gas. Gas can escape if it is not well sealed in the soil by expensive machinery like precision agriculture. But gas is popular because it is the cheapest form of nitrogen. 

    Traditionally, growers using the gas “knifed” it deep into the ground to prevent its escape. Yet, the deeper the injection of the gas, the more disturbance to the soil. Soil disturbance leads to soil erosion. Soil disruption also repels wildlife. Efforts to avoid soil disruption have been referred to as “no till” or “low till” farming. Despite the conservation benefits of minimizing soil erosion and preserving wildlife, no till farming has a historical environmental price tag: the heavier use of pesticides. 

    Newer precision agriculture technology promises to improve no till farming by minimizing pesticide use. Compared to traditional knifing, new precision agriculture machines inject less anhydrous ammonia and at shallower depths. But precision agriculture equipment is expensive. Growers consider expense the greatest challenge for growers using this technology. 

    Older knifing equipment similarly represents a major investment for growers, so much so that growers using the technology have felt that they were locked in to the gas fertilizer. Even when the gas fertilizer gets expensive, growers are reluctant to abandon expensive equipment. 

    The lock-in problem prompted the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to block the acquisition of CF Industries Holdings by Agrium. In 2009, these two companies were the only major suppliers of anhydrous ammonia in the Pacific Northwest, and represented two of the three “significant suppliers” of anhydrous ammonia in Northern Illinois. The FTC found that the two companies, merged as one, would have wielded too much power to set the price of anhydrous ammonia. In 2010, the FTC entered an order requiring Agrium to divest itself of certain assets. Agrium abandoned its bid to acquire CF when CF acquired another company, Terra Industries. Consequently, the FTC withdrew its order against Agrium

    The FTC's action illustrates how antitrust enforcement helps farmers. When multiple fertilizer suppliers compete against one another, they do so on two fronts: price and quality.

    A fertilizer supplier cannot raise the price on similar quality supplies because if it does, farmers will go to other suppliers. Suppliers can also distinguish themselves by offering a higher quality substitute. A nitrogen fertilizer supplier may be able to win customers at a higher price by offering a different quality substitute, like safer fertilizer. 

    This idea of “substitutibility” is important in antitrust law. Substitutes compete with each other. Lucky Charms and Frosted Flakes are substitutable sugar coma inducing cereals. They compete against each other for kids' affections. Lucky Charms and wine are not substitutes. Lucky Charms cannot substitute for wine at a fifty year wedding anniversary. Underage consumption of wine is a criminal offense. Underage consumption of sugar is not. The makers of the two products do not compete with one another. 

    To return to nitrogen fertilizers, anhydrous ammonia and liquid nitrogen fertilizers are not substitutes because of equipment built exclusively for anhydrous ammonia. A farmer who invested in equipment built exclusively for anhydrous ammonia cannot easily afford the switch to liquid nitrogen. Some machines will not allow the farmer to substitute liquid nitrogen for anhydrous ammonia. Feeding liquid nitrogen instead of anhydrous ammonia to these machines is like feeding wine instead of cereal to a toddler. Don't do it. No substitution allowed. 

    This means that even though anhydrous ammonia suppliers do not come up with the expensive machinery, they benefit from it. The anhydrous ammonia suppliers do not have to compete with liquid nitrogen because liquid nitrogen is not an option for farmers with expensive precision agriculture equipment. 

    There are other factors showing that anhydrous ammonia and liquid nitrogen are not substitutes, like the weather. Anhydrous ammonia cannot be effectively applied to soil too wet, or too cold. Weather might mean that the two fertilizers are not substitutable even if machines did not lock in farmers. Such confounding factors illustrate how defining the “boundaries” of a market “is often difficult,” even for government regulators specialized in these issues. We cannot say with high confidence how exactly technology will redefine market boundaries, let alone how antitrust enforcement will respond. But we can still look to the past, and anticipate potential impacts from emerging technologies. 

    In past presidential administrations, antitrust enforcement intervened to block gas fertilizer mergers because expensive machines made it exceedingly difficult to switch to alternative fertilizers. These machines, now with precision agriculture, remain a major investment. The role of antitrust enforcement agencies like the FTC remains indispensable. The current trend toward less antitrust enforcement places affordable agriculture in peril. 

    Fortunately, some companies have invented machines that accept all forms of nitrogen fertilizer. In 2011, Dawn introduced the Anhydra Universal Fertilizer Applicator that allows for the application of both anhydrous ammonia, liquid nitrogen, and manure. If this kind of universal technology dominates the market, growers may no longer be financially trapped to the use of anhydrous ammonia. Farmers could enjoy greater economic freedom to experiment with different nitrogen solutions. Precision technology allows farmers to save on the cost of fertilizer, and universal fertilizer applicators empower farmers to switch fertilizers without abandoning expensive equipment. As a result, we may soon arrive at a future where antitrust enforcement becomes less important to fertilizer freedom. 

    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.

    Website: www.jhaskinslaw.com

    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 May 2020 11:01 AM | Administrator (Administrator)

    In unprecedented times, innovation moves us forward. Whether it be vaccines or drugs, 3D printed masks, or contactless food delivery services, companies are working tirelessly to mitigate challenges from COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. 

    Some of the most universal and essential of these are the most forgotten. They keep us healthy and fed—food tech.  

    The pandemic has had an unparalleled effect on the food system. The restaurant industry has taken one of the hardest hits, with the ripple effect throughout the supply chain just as tremendous, all the way up to farmers. Some ugly truths have been exposed. Yet, on the bright side, from technologies to prevent food waste when the distribution chain is disrupted to apps for grocery delivery, and even at home meal kits, the pandemic has inspired or accelerated food tech innovation across the spectrum—from farm to truck to table to mouth and beyond.  

    Millions of employees considered nonessential have been ordered to work from home forcing some food companies to take drastic profit squashing measures, such as halting production or distribution altogether. Especially for professionals like food scientists, work from home just isn’t an option.

    Not all companies see this break as a disadvantage, however. Some see it as an opportunity. For instance, according to fooddive.com, Clara Foods is one of these companies. The mandate forced the company to abandon its labs in San Francisco, which have been crucial to helping create chicken-free egg whites using fermentation. "Time actually affords us the ability for our scientists and our team leaders to really breathe a little bit and really be critical and reflect on how we've been doing things in the past," Arturo Elizondo, Clara Foods' CEO, told Food Dive. "This actually gives us a big opportunity for reflection of our processes and just how will we come back and be much leaner and meaner when it comes to just how we run our day-to-day, which we've never really had an actual forced break to say, 'Okay, hit the pause button.'” 

    In Florida, food tech has taken many shapes and forms over the past few months. 

    From Farm: In South Florida, for example, larger farms like East Coast Fruits and Vegetables, Mecca Farms, Ernesto and Sons, and smaller organic farms like Kai Kai farms and Swank Farm, have been finding solutions to their surplus of produce without usual restaurant demands. The former now offer large, even up to 25 pound, boxes of fresh fruits and vegetables for $10. Their Facebook pages are updated regularly to share what’s available with the community, and pickup is quick and contactless. 

    To Table: With Florida having one of the oldest populations in the U.S., consisting of over 20% of the population at 65 years and older, many residents don’t feel safe shopping at high risk places like grocery stores. Fortunately grocery and meal delivery technologies including Instacart, HelloFresh, Nutrisystem, Amazon, and others offer a simple solution. Local Facebook page members have also used the platform to connect and collaborate in order to provide groceries to their senior neighbors. 

    With many more examples in the works, food tech is constantly devising new solutions to the day’s problems, in Florida, in the United States and across the world. 

    On a final note, some say many of the negative effects of COVID-19 could have been prevented with proper food technology, as much of agriculture and food is still undigitalized. For instance, according to Louisa Burwood-Taylor of AgFunderNews, the supply chain could have been more nimble and could have better helped buyers and sellers find one another. As a result of the abundance of middlemen, the existing system has been kept unchecked.  

    That doesn’t mean that things can’t change for the better. Traceability technology to increase transparency is more important than ever. Companies are building infrastructures for automation and e-commerce, including smaller, local farmers. COVID-19 might even create a better partnership between entrepreneurs and farmers. It might even create a different relationship between consumers and their food, possibly healthier, more equitable food. 

    In any case, the time is now for change, and food tech is here to stay. 





    Rachel Ram is a health educator, policy advocate, adventurer, and overall foodie. Rachel earned her Bachelor of Science in Health Education, Community Health and Preventive Medicine from the University of Florida in 2017. A lifetime resident of south Florida, she now resides in Brooklyn NY working for the American Lung Association. She began her work with the Florida Food Policy Council in 2016 and continues to raise awareness on food policy issues. Besides engaging in food policy, Rachel enjoys traveling, hiking, yoga, cooking and reading.

    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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