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.
February 2nd was an exciting day for us here at the Recirculating Farms Coalition. We learned that we’d been awarded a New and Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Development Program grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to supporting training and mentoring for urban farmers in innovative growing methods like recirculating hydroponics, aquaculture and aquaponics, combined with traditional soil-based farming. AND the announcement came with an in-person visit from USDA’s Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden and various USDA staff from Louisiana and Washington, DC! Read USDA’s press release here.
Deputy Secretary Harden, accompanied by Louisiana and Washington, DC staff, toured RFC’s community garden, spoke with food and farm project leaders and enjoyed assorted treats prepared with ingredients from local farms.
Shout out to the various local farms and food businesses that provided food for our menu:
7th Ward Boys and Girls Garden – 7th Ward, New Orleans; Capstone Community Gardens – 9th Ward, New Orleans; Grow Dat Youth Farm – City Park, New Orleans; Growing Local NOLA – Central City, New Orleans; Happy Hen Farm – St. Rose, LA; Inglewood Farm – Alexandria, LA; Landry-Poche Strawberry Farm – Ponchatoula, LA; Locally Preserved – New Orleans; Schwars Citrus – Braithwaite, LA; and VEGGI Farmers Cooperative – New Orleans East!
The Deputy Secretary spoke to a diverse crowd of farmers, educators, community members and press on this initiative to train, mentor, and enhance the success of future farmers and ranchers. See video here.
“As new farmers and ranchers get started, they are really looking to their community for support. The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program empowers these farmers and ranchers to bring innovative ideas to the table when it comes to addressing food security, creating economic enterprises, and building communities,” said Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden. ”
Our Executive Director Marianne Cufone followed with thanks and appreciation for the grant, the visit and for everyone who works so hard in the food farming community:
“I want to first thank Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden and the rest of the USDA folks for coming here, to New Orleans, to make these announcements. Highlighting our community and supporting training and mentorship in farming here is so important for us all to have access to healthy fresh affordable food, and for our farmers to be both ecologically and economically sustainable. We are very excited about being part of the New and Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program.
I also very much thank all of you for joining with us here. You are each a critical piece of the food and farming community and the time, energy and heart you put into this work has empowered us all to create green spaces, more good local food and perhaps most importantly, a network of friends, colleagues and partners, who work together to grow literally and collaboratively in this City and beyond.
There are so many innovative, amazing projects and programs in food and farming that you all make happen – I look forward to us all sharing them this morning with each other, Deputy Secretary Harden and the rest of the USDA staff.
On Martin Luther King Day, January 19th, 45 students and professors from Tulane, Loyola, Xavier, University of New Orleans and Dillard all came out to our Growing Local NOLA community garden to lend support to us here at Recirculating Farms Coalition. The joint program of all the colleges fosters interaction among students at different institutions and helps to inspire a connection to the city and local organizations, in tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Junior’s dream of community.
We accomplished so much – building compost bins, sorting and planting seeds, painting, weeding and some general spring cleaning and organizing!
Big thanks to everyone who participated – and special kudos to our LA Master Gardener Debra Surtain for organizing the event, the visiting Rev. Sally Wright from Presbyterian Church USA and our NOLA team who worked hard on their day off!
We all enjoyed working together and look forward to doing it again soon!