Tag Archives: organic agriculture

Urban Ag: Backyard Market Gardening

Just a short note: I’ll be speaking on Backyard Market Gardening on Thursday (Nov. 14, 2013) at the Mississippi Fruit & Vegetable Growers Convention.

Even a small plot can make big dollars if done right. I'll be speaking at the Silver Star Resort in Choctaw, MS, Nov. 14, 2013 on Backyard Market Gardening. (Photo by Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

Even a small plot can make big dollars if done right. I’ll be speaking at the Silver Star Resort in Choctaw, MS, Nov. 14, 2013 on Backyard Market Gardening. (Photo by Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

Held at the Pearl River Resort’s Silver Star Conference Center in Choctaw, MS, near Philadelphia, the conference features a host of experts on various agricultural practices.

Specifically, my talk will be on how to turn your home garden into a profit making enterprise, or take a small garden and expand it into a small farm — complete with marketing tips.

It’s an honor to be asked to speak. Some may recall that I’m a former president of MFVGA; I look forward to seeing old friends and making new ones!

Those who read this blog regularly probably will recognize some of the information — and photos! — from my writings over the years here. Nevertheless, you may not have seen all the info presented at one time.

So, you if get a chance, come on down. Here’s registration info:

http://www.msfruitandveg.com/

See you there!
Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook, follow him @edibleprayers or visit blueskywaters.com.

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Food Movement May Be Torpedoed by FDA

As many who follow food and farming news may have heard, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is formulating rules under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) that could adversely affect small farmers. “Adversely affect” may be an understatement. Read: Destroy small farmers and stop the food movement in its tracks, as far as local, organic and sustainable is concerned.

Here are my thoughts.

For a complete analysis, read the articles on the website of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and then click on the buttons it gives to make a public comment to the FDA. The FDA is accepting public comment until Nov. 15.

For a complete analysis, read the articles on the website of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and then click on the buttons it gives to make a public comment to the FDA. The FDA is accepting public comment until Nov. 15.

For a complete analysis, read the articles on the website of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and then click on the buttons it gives to make a public comment to the FDA. The FDA is accepting public comment until Nov. 15. See:  http://sustainableagriculture.net/fsma/

We all know that our food system needs help. And more oversight. The FSMA is the right step in that direction, but it has some serious flaws that need fixing in order for it to do the job it is supposed to do in protecting public health.

Foremost, FSMA requires regulations that giant agribusinesses must conform to and that’s a plus. Unfortunately, the protections for small farmers that Congress intended have been stripped away by the language of the regulations.

To be blunt, it appears that FDA decided to reinvent the wheel  in agricultural matters and instead of having a round wheel, it created a square one to fit its own purposes and ideas of what agriculture should do.

But as anyone who knows how agriculture works – dependent on seasons, erratic markets, odd federal policies, and a plethora of existing agencies, rules and regulations – a new square wheel won’t help it keep rolling along.

As proposed, the FMSA will regulate small farmers out of business, deter new farmers, beginning farmers, transitioning farmers and especially impact minority, underserved, distressed farmers and women who are only now starting profitable businesses in agriculture through the food movement.

First are the safety rules that FSMA would impose. They make sense when you have a giant industrial farm, but make no sense if it’s small farm where everything is done by hand, customers know the supplier and all facets of the farm are inspected daily by a sole proprietor and/or his family (who also eat the food they grow, drink the water that irrigates it and tend to the poultry and livestock that share their farm).

The rules  — such as extensive and expensive groundwater testing from ponds and wells – may be necessary when you’re a giant conglomerate,  don’t know where the water is coming from and are trying to locate a disease event affecting 2 million people in a handful of states. But if you’re growing for 200 families in your local area, you know what the water is doing, where it came from, and the consumers know it, too. It’s local water that local people share.

Yet, FDA estimates the typical cost for one water test  is $87.30 and, depending on the type of crop, it may have to be tested daily. What small farmer can afford $87 a day for water testing?

By the FDA’s own estimates, some of the most basic rules like water monitoring will put many small farmers out of business; it estimates complying with basic rules for small farmers would cost $12,972 per year.  Now, if you’re only making $40,000 or $50,000 a year, that’s a huge impact.

Moreover, it only exempts farmers from its regulations who make less than $25,000 per year over three years. That has its own problems. For example, where’s the incentive for a new or beginning farmers to take out loans and invest in land and equipment to be repaid over time, if they know that in a couple of years, they’ll hit a $25,000 income ceiling – beyond which they’ll be effectively penalized in profits, if not run out of business by regulatory costs?

That rule in itself dooms local and organic growers to not grow beyond a set point, effectively putting the brakes on organic and small ecofarm operations, and as a disincentive for young, new and beginning farmers from seeing farming as a career choice. It’s a barrier to underserved, distressed and minority farmers looking to make a living and provide healthy nutritious food for themselves, their families and their communities.

Doesn’t the FDA care about food deserts, urban ag and the burgeoning inner city and rural grassroots cooperatives that are changing the face of agriculture? Fresh food fights obesity, the worst effects of poverty and provides self sufficiency and community empowerment.

That $25,000 exemption should be raised to at least $100,000 so that young families can see local food production as a career, and help build communities.

Even for farms with sales up to $500,000 per year, NSAC estimates, they would have to spend between 4 percent and 6 percent of gross income to comply – this for farms that generally only have incomes of 10 percent of sales.

Again, these are not the giant food producers that are causing the food safety problems nationally, but generally are family farms that have been in operation for generations. They often include aunts, uncles, cousins, across generational lines. Two younger cousins, for example, could actually be doing the labor or be managing a farm and sharing the profits as a LLC for elderly family members and their extended families.

These are the endangered types of farms that are disappearing rapidly, being bought up by corporations and investment firms or turned from farmland into residential development and luxury estates or country clubs as elder farmers retire and their children turn to other employment. FSMA would only accelerate the trend of precious arable farmland being converted into real estate, further endangering this nation’s food sovereignty. Rather, government should be promoting the conservation of farmland and encouraging local food producers so we are not dependent on foreign sources for our food.

The act does offer some concessions for farms under $500,000 but above the $25,000 exemption, under the congressional Tester-Hagan Amendment. That includes farms that have “more than half of their sales going directly to consumers, or to a restaurant or retail food establishment in the same state or within 275 miles of the operation.”

But, even there, it has a huge loophole whereby FDA can yank that exemption with no reason and with no way for the farm to either defend itself or get reinstated.

Furthermore, under FSMA, CSAs, farmers markets and roadside stands are left vulnerable.

Here, state agricultural agencies are finally getting around to promoting small farmers having direct sales, and providing them limited legal liability to promote it. And community supported agriculture is starting to include not only young and women farmers but churches, schools, civic clubs and like. Such stands, farmers markets and CSAs are held accountable by being local, direct to consumer without middlemen. They are transparent and have immediate accountability. They should be protected.

In addition, a lot of the regulations that are FDA required under FSMA are already in place: such as General Agricultural Practices and food safety practices required under the USDA certified organic program.

If farms are already training and complying with state regulations and existing USDA programs, why add more and different requirements? Stores and grocery chains themselves are instituting their own food handling requirements and regulations, cooperating with state agricultural departments and the USDA. Why not accept USDA rules and adopt them, and ensure they are enforced, rather than creating new square wheels?

As stated, for a more complete appraisal, see the NSAC website.

As it is, if you care about food safety and the local food movement (Buy Local, Buy Organic!), then you’ll at the very least want to tell FDA to exempt small farmers who make under $100,000 per year, reconfigure restrictions on family farms making under $500,000 per year, and redraft the rules to comply with existing USDA programs to avoid duplication.

FMSA is a good start; and it’s important that the giant conglomerates that are responsible for the lion’s share of the nation’s food safety issues are held accountable for safe practices. The regs just need tinkering.

Without modification of FMSA, the food movement could be stopped in its tracks from the ground up by essentially outlawing — or effectively running out of business — small local farmers selling locally.

As an example of a good recommendation (and one I support) is this offered by the Mississippi Food Policy Council:
Recommendations: 1) creating stronger procedural elements of proof before taking away an exemption, warning letters, and a reinstatement process; 2) raising the exemption for producers and processors from $25,000 to $100,000; and 3) defining, as the Act requires, CSAs, farmers markets, and roadside stands as retail food establishments to allow for exemption, and expanding these to include local, direct sale buying clubs.

Share this with your friends and like minded folk.

Use the hashtag: #fixFMSA

Here’s a step by step on how to comment on the rules: http://sustainableagriculture.net/fsma/speak-out-today/

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook, follow him @edibleprayers or visit blueskywaters.com.

Why Calif.’s Prop 37 Matters – To Everyone!

Aug. 24, 2012

Why Calif.’s Prop 37 Matters – To Everyone!

If you care about food safety, human health and the environment, and if you haven’t heard of California’s Proposition 37, yet, please read on.

Prop. 37 seems innocuous enough. It simply requires that all food containing genetically modified organisms (GMO) or genetically engineered ingredients should say so on the label.

Why do the giant food and agriculture companies fear this so?

They allege it would be too costly to label products differently for only one state. Some companies would simply not sell in California—and limit those citizen’s consumer choices, they protest—and “it will cost jobs!”

That’s a straw-man argument. California is home to 37 million Americans—the largest state in the country by population (and the second largest “state” in the western hemisphere). If big companies don’t sell in California, they won’t stay big for long. As California goes, so goes the country.

If Prop. 37 passes, it’s more likely that companies will simply label foods containing GMOs instead of increasing costs and creating non-GMO product lines in an attempt to capture both markets. This is already happening with soy milk and cereal products in groceries that stock organic foods.

The real reason ag and food giants don’t want labeling is because they don’t want to give up market share, spend money to develop new products or spend more for non-GMO ingredients. In other words: It’s all about short-term profits.

Labeling GMO foods will likely accelerate the already phenomenal growth of organic food purchases away from “conventional” foods, brought to you by pesticide-laden, synthetic chemical farming, which makes food far cheaper to produce.

Polls repeatedly show that 90 percent or more of Americans want labeling of GMO foods. Why? No one has shown that GMOs are safe. Under a quirk of U.S. food-safety laws, the U.S. considers GMO seeds, crops and foods safe without any independent testing. No one knows what the long-term effects will be on human health or the environment.

Because of this, European countries, Japan and other countries require labeling on food products containing GMOs—which come mostly from the United States—and have outright bans on GMO seeds and crops.

Why does Prop. 37 matter to the rest of the United States? If the proposition passes:

• Big companies will change their crop purchasing to non-GMO. This, in turn, also could boost organic farming, which bans GMOs.

• More “conventional” farmers will turn to organic farming where prices are higher, especially if big companies are willing to sign contracts for organic products.

• Seed companies, which are being bought up by giant GMO producers to limit competition, will promote more heritage, heirloom and non-GMO seeds for farmers due to increased demand and loss of GMO market share.

• Because there will be fewer GMOs—which producers genetically engineer to withstand spraying with chemical pesticides and fertilizers—less chemical spraying is likely, which is good for the environment.

• It may be possible to halt or reduce honeybee colony collapse disorder. Experts suspect the causes of bee population decline to be certain GMO corn varieties and some pesticides used with GMO crops.

• Fewer potential human-health and environmental risks could arise from the unknowns of growing GMO crops, as the market for GMO dries up.

Overall, labeling GMO is an attempt to wrest control of food choices from the big ag, seed and Food conglomerates and put it back into the hands of consumers—where it belongs.

Read about GMO myths and truths at http://www.earthopensource.org/index.php/reports/58 Find out more about California’s Proposition 37: California Right to Know Campaign (http://www.carighttoknow.org).

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.