Florida Food Policy Council

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Community Voices

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  • 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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