UPDATE – the bill just passed through the Louisiana House Education Committee too – so now onto the full Senate and House soon! Stay tuned!
Great news! RFC and friends have been pushing Farm to School programs nationally and locally – and we just had another BIG WIN!!
Yesterday, the Louisiana Senate Education Committee moved a Farm to School bill forward that could bring more fresh local food to schools, by allowing them to directly connect with farmers.
LA Senate Bill 184 would increase the “small purchase threshold”, which is the maximum amount of money schools can spend on a contract to buy food items, without having to engage in a lengthy and complicated formal public bidding process with potential food providers. In Louisiana, the threshold is just $25,000, so most school food purchases require formal bidding, and this often prevents smaller-scale farmers, who cannot spend time on detailed paperwork, from selling their food to schools.
Both Marianne Cufone, our Executive Director and Katie Mularz, our friend and colleague, who is the Executive Director of the Louisiana Farm to School Alliance testified before the Committee in favor of the bill with Sen. Francis Thompson, Chair of the Agricultural Committee, who introduced the bill.
Over sixty-eight percent of Louisiana public school students are eligible for free or reduced-price meals. If more fresh food is served in Louisiana schools, it can reach a majority of public school children.
The bill is also a great way to support Louisiana farmers, who are currently missing out on over 40 million dollars a year in sales due to wasted fruits and vegetables that never make it to market. Making new markets – schools – for Louisiana farmers, can help reduce waste of good food, and put it to very good use – feeding our children.
When SB 184 becomes law, Louisiana will join 44 other states and the District of Columbia in championing the Farm to School movement.
This is the first in a series of upcoming Farm to School initiatives. Watch for more news on Farm to School bills moving forward in Louisiana and at the national level!
Yesterday, the Louisiana House Agriculture Committee moved a Farm to School bill forward that could bring more fresh local food to schools, by allowing them to directly connect with farmers, and sets up a database of farmers and schools interested in participating in such a program. Emily Posner, RFC’s Policy and Legislative Counsel, testified in support of the bill.
House Bill (HB) 730 would increase the “small purchase threshold,” which is the maximum amount of money schools can spend on a contract to buy food items, without having to engage in a lengthy and complicated formal public bidding process with potential food providers. In Louisiana, the threshold is low – up to $30,000 – so most school food purchases require formal bidding. This often prevents smaller-scale farmers, who can not spend significant time doing intricate paperwork, from selling to schools. Additionally, the bill creates a database so that farms and schools able and willing to participate in such programs can identify one another and easily make contact.
HB 730 comes on the heels of Senate Bill (SB) 184, which has a similar focus, introduced by Sen. Francis Thompson. SB 184 passed through the Senate Education Committee unanimously two weeks ago. Both bills will now move through the full House and Senate respectively.
Some colleges are now encouraging their students to take “alternative” spring breaks – where the main focus is community service and learning through experiences. This past week, Recirculating Farms Coalition hosted two groups of Spring Breakers – one from Kentucky and another from University of Southern Cali Law – at our Growing Local NOLA community garden in New Orleans.
Students got out in the garden and cared for chickens, built, filled and waterproofed raised garden beds, reorganized our greenhouses, cleaned and planted our aquaponic system and much more!
Farm Manager Ica Crawford even cooked some local dishes for all the students to sample – using fresh eggs, greens and herbs right from the garden.
Big thanks to our friends Capstone Community Gardens and David Young for connecting us with the schools sponsoring these programs, the schools themselves for encouraging community service during spring break and of course all the students who worked so hard this past week – our garden looks amazing!!
Congress passed the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) four years ago, shifting the focus from food contamination response to active prevention. FSMA represents a dramatic overhaul of food safety standards in the past 70 years — but there are some worrying gaps for urban farmers and water-based growers in particular. Get the facts below, and click here to get our full set of comments to the FDA on the issue.
Environmental Impact and Water-Based Growing
FDA’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement was recently released for public input. It discusses some of the potential environmental and socioeconomic impacts of the measures being suggested under FSMA. However, the FDA missed some important issues for the urban agriculture and hydroponic and aquaponic farms. These systems are growing rapidly nationwide, and becoming a bigger and significant part of U.S. agriculture. It’s not fair or appropriate to try to fit water-based growing and urban agriculture into rules meant for much larger, often rural soil based farming.
Recirculating Farming – hydroponics and aquaponics
Recirculating farm technology has been continually growing over the course of the past 35 years here in the U.S. These water-based farms function in closed-loop systems that make things getting into the farm, like contaminants and diseases very difficult, and as such, can often operate without the antibiotics or other chemicals that can pose a potential threat to consumers’ health. They’re also energy-, space- and water-efficient.
Long story short, recirculating farms shouldn’t be punished for their unique and innovative practices by being grouped in with other farming techniques with different risks. However, FSMA does not account for the important ecologic, social and economic role of recirculating farms.
The Environmental Impact Statement also doesn’t take into account the growing urban agricultural sector. In the future, both traditional and water-based farmers will continue to emerge and expand across the U.S., but if the changes to FSMA pass in their current form, urban and recirc farms will almost certainly be hampered by unfair restrictions and lack of clear regulations for growing.
E.Coli, Food-Borne Illnesses and Recirculating Farm Technology
The FDA defines “agricultural water” as the “water that is intended to, or likely to, contact the harvestable portion of covered produce” or food contact services. In short, it’s the water that’s used for overhead spray irrigation — not the water used to hydrate a plant’s roots. Many outbreaks of E.Coli and Salmonella in the U.S. have been due to spraying contaminated water over fields of leafy greens like spinach or romaine. Naturally, a large part of the FDA’s concern is preventing agricultural water from contact with fresh food.
However, in the context of recirculating farms, water containing fish waste fertilizer is not intended or likely to come into contact with the harvestable portion of the plants. Second, fish waste does not contain E. Coli, and therefore the microbial testing proposed by FDA ijust doesn’t fit with water used in aquaponic systems.
Recirculating farms are different, by their very nature, than other forms of field soil-
based agriculture. Nevertheless, the DEIS completely fails to recognize the differences between soil and water based agriculture — a factor that could be disastrous for the growing number of recirculating farmers.
The RFC is continually working on this issue, submitting comments to the FDA and raising awareness of the possibilities of water-based farming. Want to get involved? Contact our Policy Counsel today to find out how you can make a difference for farms and farmers around the country.
Fantastic news this week – a bipartisan Farm to School program bill was introduced both in the House of Representatives AND the Senate. We are VERY excited! RFC and partners nationwide have been urging legislators to connect farmers with schools so more fresh food can be part of school meals. Additionally, much farm to school programing includes gardens on site at schools. This can foster children learning more about nutrition, health and various other topics associated with growing.