On Wednesday, January 20, 2016 the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry unanimously passed a bill reauthorization the Improving Child Nutrition Integrity and Access Act that expired at the end of September 2015. The legislation, supported by Republicans and Democrats alike, is being updated to change food served in schools and expand farm-to-school activities. The Recirculating Farms Coalition, the National Farm to School Network, Louisiana Farm to School and other local and national groups pushed for various important items in the bill. If passed, the new law will reauthorize child nutrition programs through 2020, and double the funding for the federal Farm to School grant program from $5 million to $10 million annually! The individual grants, allowing eligible schools to partner with local farms and develop their own gardens too, will see an increase from $100,000 to $200,000. The scope of the Farm to School program will be widened to include pre-schools, summer food services and after-school programs.
The farm-to-school movement promotes healthy eating and a connection with fresh food – where it comes from, how it is grown and even how to cook healthy dishes. In addition to expanding farm-to-school, the bill includes nutrition standards for free or reduced school food programs, moving meals served through these programs to include healthier items. Some nutrition goals are sodium reduction, more fruits and vegetables and an increase in whole grains. Especially for kids who eat most or even all of their meals a day at school, it’s critical that school food programs offer healthy options and help shape long term good eating habits.
The increase in funding, and expanded farm-to-school programs will inspire nutritious eating, and connect kids and their families with where good food comes from. Farm to School is also an important way to support our farmers. Making new markets – schools – for local farms, keeps our farmers employed doing what they do best – growing good food! The new bill is a huge win for farmers, school children and their families. Next the Improving Child Nutrition Integrity and Access Act of 2016 will go to the full Senate for a vote.
We here at RFC send out a BIG THANKS to all our supporters, collaborators, volunteers, partners and friends. All the things you do – from writing letters asking policy and lawmakers to make important changes to weeding in our community gardens – support our many projects and programs nationwide! Check out our national and local newsletters highlighting the many recent exciting accomplishments and events this year!
So here’s to you and yours this holiday season – we are thankful and grateful, and look forward to an exciting 2016!!
On Thursday November 19, 2015 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ignored major concerns voiced by a wide range of environmental, consumer advocacy, scientific and other organizations, and over 2 million public comments (the most the agency has ever received on a topic) to approve the first ever genetically modified (GM) animal for human consumption – a reportedly “fast growing” salmon.
RFC’s Executive Director, Marianne Cufone, released a statement about the approval.
Some of the major concerns with the salmon are that:
- There are no meaningful long-term studies done on health effects from eating this fish, or the real risks involved if these salmon were to escape into the wild;
- The main stated reason for approval is to strengthen farmed fish’s economic viability — but the FDA has not done due diligence in exploring alternative options;
- While the FDA echoes the company’s contention that the engineered fish are sterile, and thus supposedly unable to reproduce, 100 percent sterility is highly unlikely. There is still risk the fish could unintentionally end up in the wild and intermix with wild salmon; these risks have not been well evaluated;
- The salmon contains compounds that may cause increased allergic reactions;
- FDA failed to adequately explore safer methods for fish production. For example, aquaponics – raising fish in tanks connected to plant grow beds in a closed-loop recirculating system – can naturally achieve fast growth rates for fish, making genetic modification to artificially enhance growth unnecessary. These systems are also space, energy and water efficient – an all around win for our planet; and
- The company that created and will sell the salmon supplied the data FDA used to evaluate the fish’s safety. That is in no way objective or rigorous.
Surprisingly, FDA also decided that the new salmon will not be labeled as GM in stores because the agency says ‘ it is nutritionally equivalent to conventional farm-raised Atlantic salmon’. This is problematic for consumers – they deserve to know that the fish they may be buying and eating is genetically modified, so they can make informed decisions.
Over 9,000 stores owned by 60 chains across the nation have already rejected genetically engineered salmon, including Kroger, Target, Aldi, Trader Joe’s and others. Seventy-five percent of respondents to a New York Times poll said they would not eat genetically engineered salmon, and 1.8 million people have sent letters to the FDA opposing approval of the so-called “frankenfish.”
With this first approval of a GM animal for human consumption, there is widespread concerns that other GM animals will be approved soon.
On Monday October 5th, the Recirculating Farms Coalition hosted a dinner for the Women’s Professional Council of New Orleans, and a panel discussion on food security and access. The setting for the meal and topic was perfect – it was all held at RFC’s Growing Local NOLA community garden in Central City, New Orleans.
Historically, Central City is an under-served, lower income neighborhood, without any full service grocery store. The area is also considered a “food desert”, as there is very limited access to fresh food there. These are among the reasons Growing Local NOLA made a home in Central City, to offer a place for residents to grow their own fresh food and so they could also purchase it straight from the garden at a reasonable cost. The garden grows fruits, vegetables and herbs, and houses free range happy chickens that provide fresh eggs; all of this is available at affordable prices to the community. There are also free weekly exercise classes on Wednesdays, health supportive cooking classes every 1st Thursday of the month and gardening/farming classes every 2nd Saturday of the month.
Panelists included representatives from: Grow Dat Youth Farm, Broad Community Connections, Circle Food Store and Recirculating Farms Coalition. Interestingly, there was a consensus among the speakers that New Orleans is aware of inadequacies regarding access to healthy, fresh food based on socio-economics, race, and location and many people are working toward solutions – but there are still many hurdles to overcome.
The women enjoyed a garden fresh menu, crafted from just-picked items, or from local businesses. Cocktail hour included: pickled peppers, okra and watermelon rinds; herbed roasted nuts and pumpkin spice cider (BIG THANKS to Cathead Vodka for donating the pumpkin spice vodka!). This was followed by a watermelon, feta, mint salad over mixed spicy greens in a lemon pecan vinaigrette; ratatouille over Cajun rice and NOLA style BBQ shrimp and grits; and finished with an amazing sweet potato bread pudding with a burnt sugar cane drizzle. Yum! Kudos to Ica Crawford of Growing Local NOLA and Katy Jane Tull and Leah Fishbein of Cake By The Pound for a delicious and beautiful local meal.
On Thursday, September 17, USDA Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden led a panel of veteran farmers and veteran training organizations, including Marianne Cufone on behalf of Recirculating Farms Coalition. The group discussed, via an online chat through Google+ Hangout, opportunities available for returning service members who are looking for long-term careers in farming and ranching.
Many veterans show interest in agriculture because they feel that working on the land helps them successfully transition to civilian life and provides them with a way to continue serving their community. As part of the beginning farmer and rancher community, many veterans are eligible for a wide variety of USDA programs and resources.
Recirculating Farms Coalition, through a grant from USDA’s Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Development Program, has been hosting market (commercial) farmer trainings in New Orleans, Louisiana throughout this year, especially focused on veterans, women, and socially disadvantaged communities.
The event allowed RFC to highlight the assorted benefits of water-based growing methods for veterans. During the talk, Marianne Cufone noted, “[w]e learned these growing methods are especially useful for more senior or disabled vets – they are very versatile in design and so inspire creativity, they can be inside or outdoors and so offer flexibility, growing food often leads to healthier eating, and socializing, and in terms of physical requirements these systems are usually vertical – in towers, or elevated in beds – so they don’t require much bending and there is no weeding!”
To read Marianne’s entire remarks, click here:
To watch the full Google Hangout, click here.
See the USDA’s blog at for more information.