Posts in category: Food Politics

May

18
2012

FARFA Meeting

Marissa     Food Politics     ,     0    

Earlier this week, I attended a small meeting at Boggy Creek Farm held by Judith McGeary of The Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance (FARFA). I have known about this organization since my family started getting interested in food politics from the producers point of view a few years ago when we bought the farm. Amazingly, I had no idea it was based in Central Texas until this week! They work as advocates on the national level as well as state level (in several states too), so I had never thought of where they were based. I was so excited to see that FARFA was “coming” to Austin for a meeting and did some more digging into the group and of course, discovered that Judith farms right here in Central Texas.

The meeting had a bunch of the “big players” in the world of East Austin urban farms – Johnson’s Backyard Garden, Green Gate Farms, Springdale Farm, and Boggy Creek Farm of course. Also in attendance were Simmons Family Farms, Munkebo Farm, Coyote Creek Farm, and Capital Kitchens (a shared use commercial kitchen in South Austin). I hope I didn’t forget anyone!

The purpose of the night was to help FARFA focus on what legislative issues are truly concerning food producers in the area. This is an interim year for Texas so it gives advocates like Judith a chance to recoop and plan for the 2013 legislative session. She has been holding these meetings all over Texas, and plans to continue to gather as much input as possible. After the “airing of grievances”, she told us that pretty much nothing she had heard that night was news to her – small farmers and food producers across the state are struggling with the same regulations. The top issues can be lumped into two categories: property taxes and food safety regulations.

(Pardon me if I get any of this wrong – I’ve done my research but these issues can be so tricky, sometimes things aren’t clear! Correct me if you see a mistake!)

Property Taxes and Agricultural Valuation

Most of the land that qualifies in Texas for agricultural appraisal does so under ‘open space valuation’ or 1-d-1 appraisal. By State law, the land must be devoted principally to agricultural use which includes “production of crops, livestock, poultry, fish or cover crops” amongst some other qualifications which are less important to small farmers. On top of this, the land must have been used in this agricultural capacity for the last 5 years…and once it stops being used in this way, you owe back taxes for the previous 5 years. There are several problems for small producers here.

First are the accepted agricultural uses. Each county determines what is the ‘normal’ usage of land in their area – this makes sense as the arid western potion of the state will have different normal use than the swampy south eastern portion. But large scale cattle ranching seems to be the norm for deciding whether or not you are a livestock operation. Therefore stocking rates – the number of animals you are required to keep per acre – can be absurd to a small farmer who is trying to maintain the health of the land. And pastured chickens don’t count either because there simply aren’t enough birds – “normal” use is big confined poultry housing with tens of thousands of birds. Additionally, “crops” means monoculture operations like cotton, corn and sorghum NOT mixed vegetable plots that most small scale farmers produce. So for many vegetable farms, agricultural valuation is simply out of the question because their land ISN’T being devoted principally to agricultural use. Yeah…try and figure that one out!

A picture of the garden, which doesn't count for ag valuation.

The second problem is the the length of time to get these things done. It’s essentially a 10 year penalty. You must farm for 5 years before you get any tax relief. Then when you stop farming, you must pay back taxes on the previous 5 years. So if you aren’t planning to farm for at least 10 years, you may as well not even bother as you won’t get any benefit from applying for agricultural valuation.

What does FARFA plan to do about this? They are pushing for extending the definition of ‘agricultural use’ to include language that is friendlier to small scale producers and also makes a more uniform application of the State law across each county. Additionally, they would like to see a reduction in the time it takes to obtain the valuation – a decrease from 5 to 3 years. All good things. Let’s hope they can get these through next year!

Department of Health Regulations on Food Safety

FARFA is working on a wide variety of legislation under this general topic. The most pertinent portions for me were the expansion of cottage food laws and direct, but off farm, sales of raw milk.

The Texas Cottage Foods Law covers those foods that are produced in your own kitchen (i.e. not a licensed commercial kitchen) and then sold directly from your residence (here’s a great blog post about some controversy over the existing law). This is legal for non-potentially hazardous baked goods, jams and jellies, and dried herbs (and probably a few other things that I’m forgetting). FARFA would not only like to see the list of acceptable foods expanded, but also the ability to sell these foods at farmers markets and other direct sales locations. This would greatly increase a small producers ability to make value-added products that can easily be a significant portion of income for a family farm type operation.

The second topic was especially pertinent to us as we have flipped back and forth on the issue of getting a Grade A Raw for Retail dairy license. Under the current law, we would have to require customers to come to the farm to buy the milk. While we are sure the quality of our milk warrants such a drive from Austin (where we have heard the most interest expressed for raw goat milk), it is a big step to pay the hefty licensing fees on the chance people are going to make that journey. FARFA is pushing for allowing any direct sales of raw milk. That means selling at farmers markets and through delivery services. This would be a huge benefit to producers like us that are just a bit too far off the beaten path! Learn more at Texas Real Milk.

A picture of raw goat milk from Sand Holler Farm.

There were many other topics covered including egg grading, the excessive permitting from multiple districts (state, county, city), zoning, etc. It was a very informative meeting and I encourage all small farmers and food producers to attend any of these meetings held in your area.

Also, please consider joining FARFA to help fund these ventures. Membership can be as low as $10 a year. Remember they work on a national scale too – I’ve simply reported on their current work here in Texas. They have fought against NAIS,  for GMO food labeling, and other important issues. Join today and sign up for their email alerts!

Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance Logo

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Feb

10
2011

GMO Alfalfa

Marissa     Food Politics         0    

Genetically Engineered Alfalfa On the Way

Our goats eat a lot of alfalfa – it’s what makes their milk so sweet.  We have yet to find a source of local/organic/sustainable alfalfa (it isn’t grown in this part of the country commercially).  We just buy what’s at the feedstore and don’t know much about its origin.  And now we have something else to worry about…here’s a message from Scott:

Ever heard of Percy Schmeiser? http://www.percyschmeiser.com/

Some of Monsanto’s GMO canola seeds blew onto his family farm in Canada and sprouted.  When Monsanto found out about it, they sued him for patent infringement, even though he was completely innocent.  The case went all the way to the Canadian Supreme Court and cost Schmeiser his life savings.  The final decision was a draw.  Schmeiser didn’t have to pay Monsanto but they retained their patent…and thus the ability to treat the next guy exactly the same way.

The new GMO alfalfa approval seems like a horrible magnification of exactly the same problem.  Apparently alfafa pollen is carried by bees and other insects over a distance of several miles.  This means every alfalfa field will be contaminated with the stuff before long and Monsanto….bless their black little corporate heart….will be able to sue hundreds of folks for patent infringement.   It would easily drive an honest hard-working farmer out of business.

Since Secretary Vilsack has already given the approval for GMO alfalfa, it seems like the only recourse is to appeal to the President.  I have already written him http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact/ and encourage yall to do the same.

Sigh.

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Jan

31
2011

Eating Animals

Marissa     Book Review, Food Politics         3    

Many of us at Sand Holler Farm are vegetarian. We all have a different story on how we came to this dietary state. I just recently finished a book by Jonathan Safran Foer (author of Everything is Illuminated) about his journey to committing to this diet after waffling back and forth for much of his life. It was an interesting and entertaining read – if not somewhat gruesome at times. Eating Animals does not provide any earth shattering revelations or even much information that is not currently available to anyone who cares to do a bit of research about their food. But I still think it’s an important book for people to read – people of all dietary persuasions.

The book’s main focus is the horrendous treatment of animals in factory farmed situations – I feel that this fact cannot be repeated too often. Consumers should be demanding a product that does not force animals into this kind of situation. It is hard for me to imagine that people are willing to continue to support this industry…ah, but I forget! The Almighty Dollar rules our lives. But it rules the lives of corporations too. Vote with your dollars – send them to sustainably raised meat!

Foer, on the other hand, advocates a vegetarian diet as the answer. He does not even believe that being an “ethical carnivore” is even a possibility. I disagree however. When raising food animals, there will always be compromises to be made (causing pain by disbudding in order to prevent future injuries, or castrating to prevent unwanted breeding) but I think that there are plenty of small farms that are doing the best possible. With more support for them, that industry can grow and hopefully again replace the factory farms that are currently dominating meat production.

His views, and the views of some he portrays in the book, can be a bit extreme for my tastes, but it’s worth hearing their opinion. Go ahead, check it out!

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Aug

26
2010

Egg Recall

Marissa     Food Politics         0    

While sitting down to my eggful breakfast this morning, my ears perked up when I heard something about the wonderful food on the radio. They were talking about making sure your yolks are cooked COMPLETELY through and even about pasteurizing eggs. Pffft. I took a bite of my ooey gooey fried egg on toast (ciabatta from Texas French Bread!). But then the story went on and I realized this wasn’t just a ‘food safety expert’ scaring everyone. There’s an egg recall!!! (yes, I do typically live under a rock…remember I have a 4 month old!)

While some experts say that small-producer, free range eggs aren’t any safer from salmonella contamination, I have to wonder. Perhaps statistically, the eggs from a small farmer are just as likely to be contaminated, but the fact is, there simply can’t be a HUGE outbreak because of their size. Our centralized food system is what causes these devastating outbreaks that has people all over the country (or at least in 16 states this time), dumping food for fear it’s going to make them sick!

The two farms that are indicated in the outbreak aren’t selling their recently laid eggs in the carton. Instead, they are being shipped to a “breaking plant” where the eggs will be pasteurized and sold as liquid eggs. That’s great that not all that food will go to waste, but it seems more like a band-aid than a true fix to the problem. How do we stop massive outbreaks in the first place?

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Jun

28
2010

Take that Monsanto!

Marissa     Food Politics         0    

I won’t expound too much on my issues with Monsanto, but this piece speaks for itself.

Monsanto has developed plants that are resistant to one of their herbicides – Roundup. The vast majority of soybeans, corn and cotton grown in the US are these ‘Roundup-Ready’ varieties. Farmers can then douse the fields in the herbicide without fear of harming their drop. However, Mother Nature is fighting back. There are now weeds that have become immune to the herbicide and farmers are being forced into the fields with hoes. Monsanto is even paying farmers for the purchase of other herbicides!

Roundup Resistant Weeds Pose Environmental Threat

Here at Sand Holler, we never have to fear such an outcome. We don’t use herbicides – we are already out there with hoes in hand! We strive towards a system that is as sustainable as possible. We improve the health of the soil and plant vegetable varieties appropriate for our conditions. If everyone took this approach, we could greatly reduce the amount of chemicals – organic or not – that are sprayed on crops and end up in other parts of our environment.

 

Ripening Tomatoes: grown without ‘benefit’ of concentrated chemicals

 

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