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.
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.
Open water fish farming has a global history of serious problems – from massive pollution to interference with other ocean uses like fishing, diving, swimming and boating. Experimental operations have mostly done poorly in the U.S., requiring huge inputs of public dollars to remain open or failing and closing.
Recirculating farms grew in popularity as a response to development of open water fish farms years ago, because closed loop systems avoid most of the problems created in open water farms – there is no outflow of pollution, fish can’t escape, it’s harder for diseases and parasites to get to the fish, and there is no interference with wildlife. There is just no need to move forward with outdated open water commercial fish farms at this time when there are better, more sustainable options available today.
But for some reason, NMFS keeps pushing forward with allowing commercial fish farms in the ocean, starting with the Gulf of Mexico. In recent years, the Gulf has been battered by hurricanes, covered in oil and then sprayed above and below with chemicals in an effort to mask the terrible effects of the spill. The Gulf, its the wildlife and all the people who live near and work on and in Gulf waters can not handle the effects that can come with industrial aquaculture on top of the already existing problems.
Both the House and Senate of the U.S. Congress have now passed the same version of the Agriculture Act of 2014, the reauthorization of the law commonly known as the Farm Bill. President Obama is expected to sign the legislation, making it law soon. The new Farm Bill comes with changes not just for farmers, but also for children, low-income communities and many others nationwide on food access and quality.
While the Bill includes some important provisions, after a more than 2-year wait for its finalization, it is not what it could or should be. Among its weaknesses is the failure to formally recognize recirculating farming as an expanding part of U.S. agriculture. Farmers who use recirculating hydroponic, aquaculture and aquaponic methods for growing are building an innovative, eco-friendly industry to supplement other sustainable growing practices and transition our country from factory farming, back to a local food based system.
The Recirculating Farms Coalition is greatly disappointed that Congress missed this easy opportunity to acknowledge recirculating farming as a notable and meaningful contribution to U.S. agriculture and our food systems. We hope that President Obama will revisit this and other critical issues before the end of his final term in office, and show a type of forward-thinking leadership that is necessary for the U.S.