Latest Sysco / NGFN value chain report out, details great progress.
NGFN partner organization NSAC is working tirelessly. Read here, here, and here.
- Ag-of-the-middle briefings on Capitol Hill
- Rural developers to help connect food system networks
- Leaders call out stalled farm-to-school funding
- Bold food policy in Baltimore and North Carolina
- Food Safety Report
- NEW: Farm to school distribution case studies
- NEW: Sysco reports on value chain pilot
- NEW: Guide to local food funding
- Stay tuned for Writeshop 2
- Food News Roundup
- Add your profile to the NGFN Database
- NGFN Media
Webinar hosted by USDA
Members of Congress, agency staff, and others will have two opportunities in the coming weeks to learn about the power of mid-scale food value chains (the so-called “agriculture of the middle”) to open new market channels for family farms.
Both will look at innovative ways in which mid-scale farms -- those too large for direct markets and too small for global supply chains -- are making a living and keeping their land and communities in business. The briefings come as some members of Congress and agency staff question how the USDA's Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative benefits rural America and production agriculture.
One is a congressional briefing at 2 p.m., Tuesday June 8 on new strategies to support America's mid-size farms, sponsored by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, Organic Valley, Farm Aid, and Heifer International.
The briefing includes a panel of producer-entrepreneurs involved in values-based strategic marketing alliances called food value chains. They are: Regina Beidler of Organic Valley (VT), Diana Endicott of Good Natured Family Farms (KS), Karl Kupers of Shepherd's Grain (WA), and Gary Pahl of Pahl's Farm (MN).
The congressional briefing follows a USDA briefing earlier in the day. It is open to the public and takes place in the Senate Agricultural Committee Room, Russell 328-A. For more information, contact Jess Daniel at NSAC, email@example.com.
Another briefing is a May 24 webinar hosted by USDA's National Institute for Food and Agriculture through its Family Farm Forum webinar. Speakers will discuss the disappearing "Agriculture of the Middle" and how values-based, strategic alliances among farmers, distributors and others in the food supply chain can improve the economic outlook for mid-scale farms. For more details on the 2 p.m. webinar, contact Patricia McAleer at NIFA (firstname.lastname@example.org).
USDA's Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative, or KY2, has a focus on mid-scale food value chains and their potential for rural America and production agriculture. USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan discussed the initiative in a speech she gave April 26 before the National Association of Agriculture Journalists.
She said the initiative is a set of strategies for making USDA programs more effective in helping the nation's farms survive and thrive. Among those strategies, particularly for the agriculture of the middle, is development of regional food hubs, which can help farms and related businesses aggregate, store, process, and market foods more effectively. Another is an effort to support development of new meat processing options by making regulations governing lower-cost, mobile processing facilities clearer.
The national Agriculture of the Middle project has been examining these issues for years and, along with the National Good Food Network, is a good resource for information about the practice and potential of mid-scale value chains.
USDA Rural Development has joined with state rural development councils to encourage regional network-building around four funding priorities: food systems, climate change, renewable energy, and broadband Internet access.
Partners for Rural America is the national group of state councils leading the effort to bring people and organizations working in those priority areas together. The group held four regional summits over recent weeks and will work over two years with USDA Rural Development to implement recommendations and support regional networking.
Kathy Keith is executive director of the New Mexico Rural Development Council and a Partners for Rural America board member. "I'm glad they're taking time to listen to communities about what works and what their needs are," she said. "It will give USDA a better idea about projects that are out there."
Ms. Keith also encouraged people and organizations that want to get informed to contact their state rural development councils. That's the group in each state that has signed up, through its involvement with Partners for Rural America, to help connect projects and ideas, she said. A directory of state rural development councils is available at the Partners for Rural America Web site: www.partnersforruralamerica.org.
Proceedings from the first of the four regional summits in the western United States, are now available. Interest around food system development was especially strong there, Ms. Keith said, including crossover to related small group work on business and economic development questions.
One of the key components for food and farm businesses in pending reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act is financial support for Farm to School programming. Congress authorized Farm to School in the last Child Nutrition Act round (2004) but never funded the program.
More than 40 national organizations sent a letter to House and Senate congressional leaders earlier this month calling on them to support $50 million in mandatory funding for farm-to-school programming when the “Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010" goes to the Senate floor. They point out that on-the-ground examples in 44 states demonstrate the power of farm to school to address kids' nutritional needs cost effectively while developing a significant new market for farms, and supply chain partners like regional distribution entrepreneurs.
Among the signers were the American Public Health Association, School Nutrition Association, U.S. Conference of Mayors, National Association of Counties, National Association of State Boards of Education, United Fresh Produce Association, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, and Community Food Security Coalition.
The Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010 is the vehicle for reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act and, as voted March 24 out of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, includes a provision for $40 million in farm to school funding.
The problem, as detailed in this article at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, is that Child Nutrition reauthorization is now caught in an impasse over how to pay for its provisions, including farm to school. The Senate committee version calls for cuts in nutrition education and farm conservation programs. Child health and sustainable agriculture proponents argue such a funding approach defeats the purpose of improving nutrition and supporting healthy food production practices.
Two major food policy initiatives are in the news this month. Baltimore named what may be the country's first citywide food czar to implement task force recommendations. North Carolina food and farm interests issued a comprehensive action guide for local and state leaders.
In each case, the announcements represent months of work by a broad spectrum of citizens and community leaders. More than 1,000 people were involved in the North Carolina project, facilitated by the Center for Environmental Farming Systems at North Carolina State University.
These reports join the growing list of similar local, regional, and state plans for food policy action. Their purpose is to improve access for families and neighborhoods to quality food and to build new market channels, including distribution and other infrastructure, for farms to supply it.
The Community Food Security Coalition (CFSC) has collected many of these plans through its program to support Food Policy Councils across the continent. The Coalition recently surveyed food policy councils in North America to learn about needs and opportunities. The Coalition provides training and technical assistance through program advisor and food policy author Mark Winne.
The NGFN July 15 Webinar, featuring Mark Winne and co-sponsored by CFSC, is all about Building Local Government Support for Local Food. Pre-register for this free webinar now.
Note: This column is an excerpt from the briefing I prepare in advance of the NGFN food safety conference call, which takes place every second Tuesday of the month. For more details, please read the full text of the briefing, as well as listen to the recorded conference call. The calls are open to the public, and you are invited to join us. E-mail us at email@example.com if you would like notification about these calls.
The US Senate on Food
We continue to follow the progress of Senate Bill 510, discussion on which seems likely to be taken up again in June. Our partners at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) continue to work hard to keep the needs of smaller farmers in front of the Senators as they debate the bill, and they have had great success on getting some important amendments in.
In other Senate news, three Republican Senators have written a letter to USDA Secretary Vilsack casting doubt on whether the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative is a good use of federal funds. They imply that the initiative supports a niche market of customers that “generally consist of affluent patrons at urban farmers markets.” It is important that NGFN members and others who support the idea of scaling up to meet market opportunities work to counter the impression that there are separate “food systems” defined by their markets. A more inclusive approach that would support the full range of opportunities for local and regional producers who are scaling up would be to work toward a sustainable food system includes farms of all scales with fairness at all scales.
Two Requests for Comment
The next frontier in food safety implementation that threatens opportunity and choice for consumers and producers is USDA's recent updating of HACCP requirements for meat processing plants. The proposed requirement for reporting all updates to HACCP plans would have disproportionate effect on small processors. The HACCP comment announcement is here (scroll to “Comment Period for HACCP Systems Validation Documents Extended”)
FDA Produce handling guideline
Read the guidance request, and submit your comments here. Michelle Smith, the FDA GAP project leader has specifically suggested that this opportunity can give aggregators a chance to state whether they have a particular view about on-farm food safety and how responsibility for food safety can and should be handled by aggregators. If any network members want help developing a position, please contact us (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Wallace Center / NGFN Commitment to evaluate and create Quality Management System (QMS) support tools
Wallace Center / NGFN continues to seek partnerships and opportunities to test group certification for food safety compliance. As part of this work, I have developed an outline of the steps to develop and implement a Quality Management System (QMS) for food safety.
Initial analyses of the cost and implementation timeline of a QMS program show that it takes longer and costs more in the first year to implement such a plan (as compared to individual farms directly seeking their own compliance certification). These costs and time issues have to be addressed in order for producers and aggregators to achieve the long term reduction on costs and improvement in access to technical support that are possible through a QMS based system. A proposed USDA/AMS partnership would help quantify those costs.
And there’s more...
Read this month’s full briefing here. On the same page you’ll find the recording of this month’s NGFN food safety conference call, which includes a fascinating discussion of the Chelam Fruit Co-op’s experience with GlobalGAP Group Certification.
A new publication from the Community Food Security Coalition explores the strategic distribution planning of four different programs in western North Carolina, southern California, New York City, and New Mexico.
“Delivering More: Scaling Up Farm to School Programs” captures the thinking that these groups and others have put into moving beyond startup efforts to long-term sustainability of farm to school programs.
The publication is part of the Coalition's work to support a learning community of farm to school interests as they work through distribution opportunities and challenges. Resources from the learning community's work over 2007 and 2008, including workshop and short course materials and project data are available at Delivering More - Web Extras.
The Rodale Institute recently published a three-part series that captures key information about farm-to-school to date, called "The Movement to Make School Food Better."
A new report from the Sysco Corporation documents the food service distributor's efforts over two years to put more local, sustainably produced food into its large-scale commercial system. Sysco's Journey From Supply Chain to Value Chain: Final Report 2008-2009 is the culmination of a two-year research-and-development partnership with the Wallace Center at Winrock International and the National Good Food Network.
Sysco's goal with the pilot project was to develop a strategic plan for the procurement and distribution of foods that meet new consumer demand for knowing where food comes from, who produced it, and how it was produced. The desired outcome was a replicable business plan, which independent operating companies that manage different regions across Sysco's system could use as they respond to this new reality.
The company has achieved that goal and objective, according to the report. Sysco operating companies involved in the pilot have gained new customers because of the new choices they are now offering. Other Sysco regions are beginning to replicate the new values-based food supply chain business model that is evolving. Farms are also investing in the growth of their own businesses as Sysco opens this new channel for local and sustainably produced foods.
At its Grand Rapids hub, for example, Sysco was successful handling new varieties of apples, and accommodating the local farms' varying product volumes and availability, by developing new pack sizes for different kinds of customers. More convenience stores and hotels are buying apples from Sysco Grand Rapids now because the new, smaller pack sizes fit their limited inventory capacity better. In Kansas City, the challenge of incorporating local foods from many Amish and Mennonite farms resulted in the nation's first successful food safety audits of such farms. The experience is informing industry and legislative negotiations over how to develop new food safety regulations so they do not overwhelm small farm budgets and operations.
"Ultimately, Sysco's effort to build a values-based food supply chain results in new access for small and medium size farms to conventional food markets," said Craig Watson, Sysco's vice president agricultural sustainability. "This access leads to new jobs in the farms' communities and more Good Food on the market."
Someone finally put it all in one spot! The new Guide to USDA Funding for Local and Regional Food Systems catalogs all relevant programs in easy-to-reference detail.
Thanks goes to the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, which put its inside-Washington experience and skilled staff on the job. Each program write-up comes with crisp and clear application and contact information, as well as matching requirements and a case study of a successful grantee. A list of national and regional resources helpful for designing projects and writing grants is also included.
Last winter, more than a dozen experts on new, values-based food supply chains gathered in Washington D.C. to hammer out a compendium of what works and what does not when creating a values-based value chain (VBVC). The event was structured as a “writeshop”: an intensive and coordinated effort designed to pull together the best knowledge and put it into a form that practitioners can use.
Now the sponsors of that writeshop, USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service and the Wallace Center at Winrock International, are getting ready for the next step in the process.
Value Chain Writeshop 2 will bring private and social supply chain entrepreneurs together to design tools for getting expert information out to those in the field. The group will gather in July in Kansas City. USDA and the Wallace Center will join forces to produce and disseminate the resulting body of work.
For more information, contact the Wallace Center's Michelle Frain Muldoon at email@example.com.
CHILDREN AND FOOD
Call for Good Food Comes From the First Lady
First Lady Michelle Obama launched a new program within her “Let’s Move” initiative called “Chefs Move to Schools.” This program is aimed at calling on chefs to adopt a school “and work(ing) with teachers, parents, school nutritionists and administrators to help educate kids about food and nutrition.”
White House Action Plans Hopes Next Generation Will Ask, “Obesity, What Was That?”
The Childhood Obesity Task Force released an action plan, “Solving the Problem of Childhood Obesity Within a Generation.” This cross agency effort has helped develop national “goals, benchmarks and measurable outcomes that will help us tackle the childhood obesity epidemic one child, one family and one community at a time.”
Too Fat to Fight
Retired Military leaders are concerned about the low level of fitness and health found in American youth and are committing to assisting in the efforts to help our children and young adults be healthy individuals that are able and ready to serve their country.
SNAP Benefits Hit Record Enrollment
Almost 39.7 million Americans received SNAP benefits (the program formerly known as food stamps) in February of this year. This number means that one in every eight Americans receives SNAP, and in the number of participants has been steadily rising for quite some time. This article investigates some of the trends, and contains a state by state analysis of citizens receiving benefits.
Did You Eat Your Veggies?
Information regarding food and vegetable consumption, as well as policy and environmental support for the state level, has been compiled for the first time. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released ”State Indicator Report on Fruits and Vegetables, 2009”. “Supporting increased fruit and vegetable access, availability and reduced price are key strategies towards the CDC’s goal of improved fruits and vegetable consumption and this improved nutrition among all Americans.”
Forget The Water Cooler, Meet Me in the Garden
There has been an increase in the amount of gardens that are popping up on the campuses of some of the largest corporations in the country. “As companies have less to spend on raises, health benefits and passes to the water park, a fashionable new perk is emerging: all the carrots and zucchini employees can grow.”
New Carbon Footprint Calculator Yields More Sustainable Choices
Food retailers that are members of the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) will be able to use a free carbon calculator to help make more sustainable decisions with their resource planning, specific to the grocery retail industry. “Using the calculator, a retailer can measure its company’s carbon footprint, establish a baseline and ascertain the potential savings if it implements initiatives to lower energy use and emissions.”
Food vs. Fuel: Efficiency Verdict Delivered
A new Michigan State University report seems to have answered this ongoing comparison of farming efficiencies between growing for food or growing for fuel. Using 17 years’ worth of agricultural data, the report is found in favor of growing food. “It’s 36 percent more efficient to grow grain for food than for fuel. The ideal is to grow corn for food, then leave half the leftover stalks and leaves on the field for soil conservation and produce cellulosic ethanol with the other half.
Scaling Up Through Cooperative Effort
The Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education’s latest handbook; “Local Harvest: A Multifarm CSA Handbook” outlines the necessary steps for farmers to come together to aggregate their own produce and use effective cooperative marketing techniques. Inside the guide also has information regarding “advice on staffing, volunteer boards, distribution, legal topics and other practical information.”
No-Till Practices Produce More Stable Soil
After examining the effects of “19 years of various tillage practices,” a joint Agricultural Research Service and multi-university study, “shows that no-till makes soil much more stable than plowed soil.”
How to Safely Raise Organic Chickens at Scale
USDA Agricultural Research Service seeks to address this issue in their Fayetteville, Arkansas certified organic poultry research facility. The first study of its kind in the country, it hopes to find answers and strategies to deal with food safety concerns, such as Salmonella and Campylobacter. Although these are high priorities for poultry producers, “there are a limited number of safe, effective and approved organic treatments to prevent and treat health problems in organic flocks.”
“Superweeds” Caused by Roundup Use
“American farmers’ near-ubiquitous use of the weedkiller Roundup has led to the rapid growth of tenacious new superweeds. “ This has left farmers resorting back to hand weeding and regular plowing; which, some experts say, could lead to “higher food prices, lower crop yields, rising farm costs and more pollution of land and water.”
Are you part of a food and farm initiative that more people should know about? Are you skilled or knowledgeable in an area of this work and ready to be part of it? Do you have some research to share? Then create your profile on ngfn.org to make sure your work shows up in the National Good Food Network's database of experts, organizations, and information. The database is just starting. Help it grow into the comprehensive clearinghouse we could all use!
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