Florida Food Policy Council

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  • 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. 


    Sources: 

    https://www.fooddive.com/news/food-tech-startup-reshapes-strategy-as-coronavirus-closes-down-lab-work/574672/ 

    https://www.prb.org/which-us-states-are-the-oldest/ 

    https://foodtank.com/news/2020/04/louisa-burwood-taylor-on-food-technology-during-covid-19/ 


    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.


  • 29 Apr 2020 2:00 PM | Administrator (Administrator)

    Coronavirus-induced food supply anxiety has led to a renewed interest in home gardens—similar to the "war gardens" movement of World War I and the "victory garden" efforts around World War II  

    In March 1917, Americans contributed to the Allies’ effort in World War I by growing their own gardens “Sow the seeds of victory,” exhorted the patriotic posters of World War I, “plant & raise your own vegetables.” War gardens saved U.S. citizens from mandatory food rations. After the Allies won the war, “war gardens” became “victory gardens” to prevent widespread starvationThis movement did not reach its height until World War II, when 20 million gardens accounted for nearly 40 percent of U.S. veggies. But as World War II progressed, home gardeners grew frustrated with agriculture. As the New York Times reported in May 1944, “No amount of warning will make people plant their gardens again this year unless they are convinced that they are really needed.” Americans no longer saw the need when the war ended. They abandoned their gardens for lawns 


    But the need became evident again, especially after a devastating three year drought
     struck Florida, starting in 1999. Lake Okeechobee sunk to the lowest water level on record. Homes were in jeopardy of losing their water supplies. Sinkholes popped up with increasing frequency because of exceptionally low groundwater levels. Wildfires ravaged the state.  In 2001, the Florida Legislature fought drought by allowing homeowners to implement Florida-friendly landscaping, and prohibiting homeowners associations from interfering with new deeds and restrictions.  

    The Legislature defined Florida-friendly landscaping  to mean “quality landscapes that conserve water, protect the environment, are adoptable to local conditions, and are drought tolerant.” These practices rest on principles, including “planting the right plant in the right place” and “the appropriate use of solid waste compost.”  

    Florida-friendly landscaping can be edibleand delicious. Beauty berries and ginger have adorned the landscaping of Florida homes. Foodscaping enthusiasts replace grass with edible vegetation.  

    The 2001 law was not enough. Around 2008, one homeowner was fined $1,000 from his homeowners association for not watering his lawn enough, and then got fined $100 by the county when he watered his lawn too often. The next year, the Florida Legislature made the 2001 law retroactive. In 2009, the Legislature recognized for the first time that the participation of both homeowners and homeowners associations “is essential to state’s efforts in water conservation and water quality protection and restoration.”  

    The 2009 law establishes a broader prohibition against HOAs thwarting Florida friendliness compared to the 2001. The 2001 law established that a deed restriction or covenant “may not prohibit a property owner” from being Florida friendly. The 2009 law goes further, adding that covenants and restrictions must not prohibit, “or be enforced so as to prohibit” homeowners from “implementing Florida-friendly landscaping.” So now the Florida friendly law is not just about the covenants and restrictions themselvesit’s about how they are enforced. Let’s take an example. Covenants and restrictions often require a homeowner to get approval before changing around the landscape, and do not expressly prohibit Florida-friendly landscaping. On its face, this ask-us-first rule is neutral. It does not by itself prohibit Florida-friendly landscaping. So, an HOA enforcing this rule would be compliant with the 2001 version of the lawno more questions asked. But if the HOA enforces this facially neutral rule to target Florida-friendly landscaping, the HOA would likely be violating the current 2009 law. Under the current law, the HOA cannot say, “We will approve only water-guzzling plants.” 

    Now, homeowners should be able to grow drought resistant vegetables. Homeowners can grow their own Scarborough Fair: “savory sage, rosemary, and thyme. Every one of these vegetables is drought-resistantHomeowners can grow drought resistant vegetables, notwithstanding covenants and restrictions to the contrary.  

    HOAs are unlikely to find refuge in legislation passed last year, now codified as section 604.71, Florida Statutes. Section 604.71 prohibits municipalities from “regulating” vegetable gardens. It does not retreat from “Florida-Friendly landscaping.” Senator Rob Bradley (R - Fleming Island) introduced the bill because the City of Miami Shores forbade homeowners from maintaining home gardens. Section 604.71 expressly allows municipalities to regulate water, pesticides, invasive plants, and other gardening elements, so long as the regulation is of a “general nature” and does not “specifically regulate vegetable gardens.”  

    Consequently, a city could conceivably say that only plants capable of surviving on a certain amount of water are “Florida-Friendly.” Such a pronouncement is unlikely to violate section 604.71 because it does not “specifically regulate” vegetables. The municipal ordinance would apply equally to grass and other non-edibles. However, section 604.71 would hamper the ability of a city to target particular fruits or vegetables. For example, a city would likely be unable to say that chocolate is not Florida Friendly because chocolate requires 52 times more water than oranges. Most importantly, section 604.71 threatens the ability of cities to distinguish true home gardens from industrial projects sitting on property zoned as "residential."  

    Cities like New Port Richey have established specific conditions for when and how home gardeners can sell to protect true home gardens from herbicides, erosion, and other dangerous industrial practices. While section 604.71 may protect dubious industrial practices, it does not protect homeowners associations. 

    There remain two practical difficulties that stand in the way in dealing with intransigent homeowners’ associations. First, “Florida-Friendly landscaping” is a bit of a fuzzy concept. The law recognizes principles such as “planting the right plant at the right place,” but it does not set specific criteria for determining what “the right plant” means. Nor does it recognize the ability of a particular organization or agency to define this term further. As a result, lengthy court battles  have been fought 

    Then there’s the problem of attorney’s fees. Covenants and restrictions typically provide that HOAs may recover attorney’s fees if they win. The risk of fines and fees can intimidate homeowners.

    Victory gardens merit particular protection as a form of Florida-friendly landscaping. The first stop is the HOA itself. An HOA should be given the opportunity to apply its governing restrictions in a manner that promotes Florida-friendly landscaping. Litigation should be a last resort with Florida-friendly landscaping disputes, as with most disputes. The University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Science does not get involved in legal disputes, but the program guides homeowners and HOAs on promoting Florida-Friendly landscaping.  

    Now is another historic time when the virtues of victory gardens are clear. One New Jersey farmer’s call for “corona victory gardens” produced a nearly instantaneous response from 1,000 gardeners. In Florida, victory gardens can be the ultimate form of Florida-friendly landscaping. 

     

    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.


  • 6 Apr 2020 4:00 PM | Administrator (Administrator)


    The advancement of science has transformed the way we think, share, and regulate water. A long time ago, in what the Florida Supreme Court calls “ancient law,” no human appreciated the distinction between groundwater and surface water. We did not know that gravity pulls water downward, below the surface, below beyond the water table. We did not know that the water table fluctuates based on rainfall, tides, and other surface water influences. We did not know that the below the water table, there are aquicludes that separate water tables just beneath the surface from artesian aquifiers like the Florida Aquifier. We did not know these distinctive sources of water, let alone understand how they interact.

    So from England, we inherited the ill-informed idea that “to whomsoever the soil belongs, he owns also to the sky and to the depths.” But we cannot blame the English Rule on the English. The real culprit is ignorance. Ignorance was indeed the motivation for American courts to continue the English Rule in middle of the 19th century. The Connecticut Supreme Court, for example, declined to regulate groundwater because it moved “by influences beyond our apprehension.” The court continued, “These influences are so secret and uncontrollable, we cannot subject them to the regulations of law, nor build upon them a system of rules, as has been done, with streams upon the surface.” The Pennsylvania Supreme Court reached a similar conclusion: “One can hardly have rights upon another's land which are imperceptible, of which neither himself or that other can have any knowledge.”

    Eventually, scientists learned about the interdependence of water systems, and our judicial systems replaced the English Rule with the American Rule. As the Florida Supreme Court put it, “use your own property so as not to injure that of another.” The American Rule recognizes intricate hydrological realities of how we share groundwater. But Hawaii courts have gone further, recognizing the “precautionary principle” to water useThis is the idea that when we confront scientific uncertainty, we should proceed with caution. The precautionary principle promotes effective environmental measures, even when we are not certain of their necessity. Under the precautionary rule, ignorance is not an excuse. The precautionary principle demands certainty that no other person will suffer.

    Florida does not appear to have fully embraced this approach. One Florida court has allowed relatively relaxed water management practices because the statutory "time for construction, testing, and research" did not yet passThis policy means that water users can shoot first, then ask questions later. This attitude is unfortunate. We are still learning about the impact of water quality on our food system. But we have learned enough to better appreciate the limits of our knowledge, and the harm that may result when we do not exercise caution in the face of ignorance. One farm's water practices could harm other farms and everybody's food supply. In their article “Arsenic in Groundwater” published in Environment International, hydrogeologists Hugh Brammer and Peter Ravenscroft have shown us that phosphorus and other nutrients influence the amount of arsenic available for plant uptake, and that arsenic accumulates in irrigation water. Arsenic—whether from water or some other source, has led crop diseases known as “straighthead” and “parrot beak.” In some crops, yields have been reduced by as much as 90%. Through the centuries, we have appreciated the limits of human understanding of our food and water systems. When we approach the limits of human knowledge, we should act with humility and precaution. 

    The precautionary principle should be applied to water uses. We should be certain that our withdrawal, distribution, and handling of water is safe, rather than wait for evidence to mount to show that water uses are unsafe. We need legislation that specifically requires water permit applicants to prove safety before getting their permits. By putting safety first, we protect our water, and ensure that our food systems will not be compromised by suboptimal water management practices.


    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.


  • 14 Feb 2020 10:00 AM | Administrator (Administrator)

    Julie Rocco, of the Foundation for a Healthy St. Pete, lead a "Food for Thought" focus group in St. Petersburg in November, 2019.

    By Wendy Wesley

    When a diverse group of St. Petersburg residents were asked to name the greatest barriers to an equitable, resilient and regenerative food system, their answers had less to do with food and more to do with people.

    “1. Lack of interest in government leadership”
    “2. Gentrification”
    “3. Racism”

    “4. Lack of funds/resources for business/lack of owned land”
    “5. Community buy-in. People don’t know there is a problem”

    These answers, collected in November at the Enoch Davis Center in St. Petersburg, are from one of a series of county-wide conversations regarding food insecurity and food deserts called “Food for Thought.” The focus groups were organized by The Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg.

    The conversations were timely as St. Petersburg’s Mayor Rick Kriseman announced Dec. 10 a new request for proposal for Tangerine Plaza, which is the site of the shuttered Walmart and Sweetbay grocery stores.

    Kriseman stated the RFPs for the site must include a fresh food option.

    The Foundation’s stated mission, “to end differences in health due to social or structural disadvantages to improve population health,” makes them the proper group to hold discussions about nutrition equity in Pinellas.

    Residents from St. Petersburg, Lealman, Clearwater and Palm Harbor participated in the focus groups, and an online survey was available. Opinions, thoughts and ideas on creating an equitable, resilient and regenerative community-based food system were sought through a series of thoughtful questions posed by Foundation staff.

    The second question, “what is the most effective current activity or intervention,” yielded answers that reflected the diverse makeup of the audience as many from the Youth Farm at Enoch Davis were in attendance.

    “1. Youth Farm”
    “2.  Saturday Morning Market”
    “3. SNAP”
    “4. One Community Grocery Co-Op”
    “5. Food Banks”

    Lastly, Foundation staff asked participants to offer their “boldest idea our community should activate,” which sparked creative and innovative ideas and discussions. Some of these included financial incentives for non-profit co-ops; food policy standards written by citizens; discounts for healthier food and elevating the status and professionalism of farmers.

    Access to affordable and nutritious food, like the ZIP code, is a social determinant to health and should be top priority for local and county government, human service funders and providers of health care.

    This focus group exercise and the mayor’s announcement for the Tangerine Plaza RFP are exciting next steps in addressing a major missing piece to health equity on south St. Pete, where two USDA-designated food deserts exist.

    Stakeholder input collected during the conversation will be compiled and showcased at a larger community-based food system gathering hosted by the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg in February 2020.  


    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.


  • 6 Feb 2020 9:05 AM | Administrator (Administrator)

    Meeting with Kenwood Organic Produce

    Community-owned grocery co-ops, limitations on dollar-type stores, mobile markets, free food distribution and coolers at city-run recreation centers are myriad ways the City of St. Petersburg is tackling its food insecurity issues. As our city competes with other regions for jobs and new residents its leadership knows a healthy population is a necessity to succeed.

    From an equity profile of Pinellas County by UNITE Pinellas it is evident that the playing field is far from level. Regarding equity, specifically health equity, we know five things:

    --Inequity is historical rooted in public policy and bias and is not based on personal failings

    --Equity is the superior economic model

    --There is a path forward. By learning more about local dynamics and conditions and exposing the root causes that underlie disparities, our community can influence changes that can create a more just, fair and equitable Pinellas County

    --The levelers that are most likely to generate change are policy, institutional practices and changing the traditional narrative.

    --A lack of community awareness of inequity exists nationally and in Pinellas County

    Local businesses, with knowledge of what is available and how to partner, can remain profitable and level the field on food insecurity. Kenwood Organic Produce has done just that.

    Through a Florida program called Fresh Access Bucks, SNAP recipients can double the value of their benefits on Florida-grown organic produce. The “bucks” are accepted at farmer’s markets, produce stands and mobile markets.

    Kenwood Organic Produce, owned by Marcile Powers and Keevy McAlavay, agreed last year to accept what is known as “double SNAP” which doubles the value of SNAP dollars on Florida-grown produce.

    For St. Petersburg residents who live within a 10-mile radius of Kenwood this also means free home delivery on a double produce box.

    This willingness to participate pleases Heather Henderson of Feeding Florida.

    "I'm so impressed with their passion and commitment to increasing healthy food access and supporting Florida farmers,” said Henderson.

    Kenwood co-owner, Powers, agrees and recalls a time when other St. Petersburg residents were in need.

    “When the government shut down happened, we gave produce boxes to Coast Guard members,” said Powers. “Providing double SNAP boxes and delivering them feels the same.”

    Within a 42-block of St. Petersburg’s south side are two USDA-designated food deserts where access to fresh fruits and vegetables is severely limited. For a community that struggles with transportation the program will greatly help those in need of fresh food alternatives.

    Since the closing of the area’s only full-service grocery store more than 1,000 days ago, many residents use public transportation to do their grocery shopping which can make obtaining groceries a time-consuming and labor-intensive task. Lack of access to affordable and nutritious foods exacerbates chronic conditions like heart disease, diabetes and renal failure.

    Kenwood Organic Produce’s delivery service and willingness to partner with government programs is innovative and speaks to the business owners’ desire to give back to their community.

    Chambers of commerce, city and county economic development experts, Healthy St. Pete and health planners who advocate for Health in all Policies can help local businesses solve our food insecurity problem by educating about and encouraging participation in programs like Fresh Access Bucks and other innovative solutions.

    We have taken countless measurements, written pages of reports and attended numerous conferences to glean best practices to bring back to our communities. It is now time to put resources and energy into solutions.

    It is time for tangible policy and action. It is time for non-profits and government to show businesses what is needed and possible. It is time to put resources, previously used for data collection, into a communications plan that targets local businesses with the key message, “Here’s how you can make a difference in health equity.”  

    Florida SNAP and USDA facts:
    --Approximately 3.5 million people in Florida participate
    -- 134,000 reside in Pinellas County
    -- The average amount of time people receive benefits is 9 months
    -- There are two USDA-designated food deserts in south St. Petersburg
    -- The USDA designates an urban food desert as a census tract area with a poverty rate of 20 percent or greater where 33 percent or more of the population lives 1 mile from a grocery store.

    Kenwood Organic Produce Facts:
    --Phone: 727-777-7306
    --Address: 3325 5th Ave. N. St. Petersburg, FL 33713
    --Web: kenwoodorganic.com


    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.


  • 3 Dec 2019 8:00 AM | Administrator (Administrator)

    Bright orange plastic bottles of uniform pills wrapped in a white printed label epitomizes the marvels of modern medicine, yet are a modern disconnect from nature’s bounty. However, that may be changing.

    Produce is finally joining pills as a prescription option. While not yet widespread in Florida, fruit and vegetable prescriptions are now the doctors orders in certain markets.

    One such example, Wholesome Wave, is making it possible for at-risk consumers to exchange healthcare provider-generated "prescriptions" for local fresh fruit and vegetables at participating farmers' markets and stores through the Fruit & Vegetable Prescription Program.

    Courtesy of WholesomeWave.org

    According to Wholesome Wave’s website, “Since 2010, we’ve partnered with doctors to provide patients with innovative fruit and vegetable prescriptions. Participating providers enroll patients into the program for 4-5 months at a time. Doctors and nutritionists provide up to $1/day per household member in produce prescriptions, which can be redeemed for fresh produce at participating markets and grocery stores.”

    Since its 2010 inception in New England,WholesomeRx has grown across the country, specifically benefiting those living in medically underserved areas and food deserts, accounting for 32 million Americans. This priority population can gain immense support with a $1/day voucher toward produce.

    In Florida, food deserts and hunger impact over 3 million people, despite Florida’s abundance of agricultural commodities. Using food as medicine in these areas could decrease that number exponentially. WholesomeRx is already available in the Tampa Bay Area, a region with 19% of the population impacted by food insecurity."

    The goal of the program in Tampa was, “to reach more than 2000 seniors 60 years and older with a $15 reloadable gift card to purchase healthy fruits and vegetables.” In early April,  the program a milestone of “successfully registering all 2000+ participants—distributing more than $30,000 worth of ‘produce purchasing power’” was reached and by the end of the program, they will have “delivered nearly $250,000!” Participants also received advice and literature from professionals, compounding the success of the program. It has not yet expanded beyond Tampa and Tallahassee in Florida, but the potential is evident.

    Courtesy of WholesomeWave.org

    Ten years later, the benefits of produce Rx programs, such as Wholesome Wave's, extend far beyond lower obesity and chronic disease rates. Local economies are also boosted as vouchers stay local, creating a whole new avenue where farmers to sell and incentivizes both farmers and consumers to grow and eat healthy produce, according to CDC studies and various research findings. Other programs like this can start popping up if given the proper support.

    In order to create and sustain produce Rx programs, close health disparities, lift farmers, and overall enhance the connection between health and food, we have a responsibility to support these initiatives for Florida and beyond as advocates of a just food and healthcare system. And to be successful, we have to encourage buy-in from our partners in food and health in order to participate and sustain fruit and vegetable prescription programs. With this, Florida’s bounty can become even more beautiful.


    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.


  • 2 Nov 2019 10:46 AM | Administrator (Administrator)


    Whether it’s trade mitigation payments, crop insurance, or access to loans, agriculture reflects the systemic racism it was built on. In the face of this reality, two questions come to mind: why and how? Why is this the way it is and how do we fix it?

    The answer to the first question goes back to the way this country began. Stolen land from Indigenous people provided the literal foundation for agriculture. Stolen labor from kidnapped and enslaved African people turned the land into a system subjugated to human control that yielded enormous profit. This was the beginning of the U.S. system of agriculture. Layered on top of this foundation are policies that purposefully excluded people of color and Indigenous people, such as the Homestead Act of 1862 and the very first Farm Bill.

    Inequity and injustice show up in even the most innocuous way. For example, New Food Economy recently released an article that analyzed the racial demographics of recipients of the Market Facilitation Payment program (MFP) administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. MFP is designed to mitigate the negative effects of the trade war with China on American farmers. The article showed that 99.4% of recipients were White farmers.

    Why? Because the vast majority of farmers that have been able to scale their production enough to take advantage of exporting to China and be harmed by the trade war are White. Why? Because White farmers have historically received the inputs needed, land and capital, to grow their production and scale their farming operation. Why? Because the federal government engaged in land redistribution schemes early and often in our nation’s history, starting with the theft of land from Indigenous peoples. It comes back to a system of inequity.

    After asking why, let’s ask how. How can we, as Florida residents, agriculture advocates, and Florida Food Policy Council members work to combat the systemic racism in agriculture and build a more equitable foundation?

    Step one is education on and acceptance of the reality of systemic racism in the U.S. and agriculture. There are articles, books, and Ted Talks that offer a comprehensive history of this topic. Step two is evaluating the impact of current state and local policies and programs. How these policies and programs affect communities of color and who is benefiting from them are two key questions to answer. Respectful communication and collaboration with communities of color are key to getting accurate answers. Step three is to design practices, policies, and programs that actively reject systemic racism and uphold equity. Soul Fire Farm’s Food Sovereignty Action Steps and HEAL Food Alliance’s Platform for Real Food are just two examples of how to begin this process.

    As Florida Food Policy Council members, Florida residents, and agriculture advocates, we should use our power to create an equitable food system in our local communities and state. To do that, we have to understand and accept that our system of agriculture was built on racism, create a different foundation centered on equity, and build on that foundation.


    Candace A. Spencer is an environmental law attorney who works on federal agriculture policy in Washington, D.C. She earned both her B.A. in Environmental Science and J.D. from the University of Florida, as well as a Certificate in Environmental and Land Use Law. She previously worked at the University of Florida Levin College of Law, where she developed a new program area in the Conservation Clinic focused on environmental justice and community economic development and engaged in local urban agricultural policy. Candace is passionate about equitable food systems and land ownership, particularly Black owned agricultural land and addressing food apartheid. Her views are her own.


    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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