We did it: Urban Ag and Farm to School Laws!

Serving School Lunch 2Two new bills in Louisiana that support bringing more good food to communities through local agriculture are now law!! The first creates a “farm-to-school” program, which allows Louisiana public schools to communicate directly with local farmers to buy food. Previously, for any food item over $25,000, schools had to go through a complicated and difficult public bidding process, which often left out local farmers because they could not participate, be it due to lack of time or technology. Now, schools can connect with farms for any items under the federal minimum purchasing threshold, which is currently $150,000! This will bring more fresh local food to Louisiana schools. As over 65% of students in Louisiana public schools qualify for free or reduced price meals, the new law will promote providing children with fresh food who may get their primary meal, or even most or all of their meals at school.

Pepper Sarah EbonyThe second new law is an urban agriculture incentive, which allows Louisiana cities to reduce taxes on land usedRooftop hydro towers with herbs smaller for farming. The hope is that more landowners will be motivated to allow use of their properties for urban agriculture and share the tax savings with farmers by leasing at more affordable rates. The intent is to increase access to affordable land in cities for farming and thus also increase availability of local fresh food.

Marianne Sen Thompson and Katie cropRecirculating Farms Coalition, working with students from Loyola New Orleans Law, various farmers, food advocates and especially the National Farm to School Network and Louisiana Farm to School Alliance successfully moved these 2 very important concepts through the Louisiana Legislature with Rep. Ebony Woodruff and Sen. Francis Thompson. On August 1st, with unanimous approval of the House and Senate, they both became law. Hooray for local food and farming and CONGRATS to all involved.

USDA “EQIP”s Urban Growers!

hoop houseJune 26th was an exciting day for us here at the Recirculating Farms Coalition! That’s when we found out we had been accepted to participate in the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP).

EQIP is a financial assistance program sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture through its Natural Resources Conservation Service. EQIP is designed to aid farmers in implementing practices that improve conservation and quality of soil, water, animals, land and other agricultural resources.

Through the Seasonal High Tunnel Initiative, a program funded by EQIP, the USDA supported our farm in New Orleans, Growing Local NOLA, in the planning, and purchasing of a brand new hoop house!

“Hoop houses” can help extend the growing season for various crops, like tomatoes or leafy greens. High tunnels are not greenhouses, but rather rounded structures covered in a plastic-like covering. These tunnels can add six or more weeks to a growing season by modifying the climate inside of the hoop house to more favorable growing conditions, protecting the crops from harsh weather or extreme temperatures. Crop yields are usually better not only because of the extended season, but the improvement of nutrient and water management that the hoop houses can provide, as well as the reduced incidence of pests and diseases due to the covering.

Three cheers for USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Services EQIP program! To learn more about the EQIP program, and to determine if you may qualify to participate, please visit the USDA NRCS EQIP website.

Urban Farmer Trainings in NOLA!

What a great weekend we had June 12 -14! We hosted the first in a series of intensive urban farmer “market” trainings for new and beginning growers. In a combination of classroom-type presentations and discussions and on-the-farm real activities, 38 excited participants learned the basics of growing food, sustainable urban style.

We kicked the weekend off with a “meet and greet” party – so attendees and presenters could mingle and chat before the class began. We had great snacks and drinks from local farms, prepared by Chef Tracy Koi.

The 2-day course ran all of Saturday and Sunday, and included topics such as: what kind of farm to choose (why and how), legal matters, land access, pest and disease identification and natural management, in-ground and raised bed growing, hydroponics and aquaponics and so much more!

We kept everyone well hydrated and fed too – with tons of good fresh food.

Thanks to a generous New and Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Development grant from the USDA- NIFA we are able to provide this training completely free – including all materials!

Next up is the intermediate class August 1- 2, then advanced in August. Get more information or to register for those classes here. The series will repeat September – November.

All participants will also be part of our mentorship program – being paired with a local experienced grower, and offered that opportunity for an internship on a working farm.

This is based upon work that is supported by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture, under award number 2015-70017-22880

Proposed F2S Law Moves Forward in Louisiana!

Marianne Sen Thompson and Katie

UPDATE – the bill passed through the Louisiana House Education Committee Full Senate and House too. Waiting to be signed by the Governor!

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!

 

Farm to school continues in Louisiana!

Pet Owners March In Support Of Pet Evacuation BillYesterday, 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.

The bill, introduced by Rep. Ebony Woodruff, is supported by many and was crafted with assistance from Loyola University of New Orleans, School of Law students, Pepper Bowen and Sarah Thompson, the Louisiana Farm to School Alliance and the Recirculating Farms Coalition.

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.

Read the full press release here.

To learn more check out our fact sheet here.