• Publishers' Note Spring 2011

    Publishers' Note Spring 2011

    Who doesn’t love the first signs of spring? As soon as we see the sap buckets being readied and hung on waiting maple trees, we know for sure that winter’s grip is beginning to ease. We also know that soon we’ll be making our yearly trek to the sugarhouse near us to witness the age-old rituals and to get a taste of that wonderful sweetness in all its variety, from fancy to dark amber. In this issue, you can learn about the subtle and not so subtle taste differences in maple syrup.

    Continue Reading

  • Tapping for Taste

    Tapping for Taste

    There are people in Vermont who prefer fake maple syrup—not just people who are looking for something cheaper but who actually prefer the stuff made of corn syrup. There are other people in Vermont who don’t talk to those fake syrup types. And there are Vermonters who stand by Grade B for all occasions and others who keep a little Fancy on hand.

    Continue Reading

  • The Art of Growing Food

    The Art of Growing Food

    Gardeners can always learn from other gardeners, and I’ll admit that some of my best ideas have come from visiting other gardens and drawing from the past. We all start with the same basic ingredients—seeds, soil, and plants—yet the art of growing food can be expressed by a kitchen garden that goes beyond the practical straight rows of a vegetable garden to include herbs, flowers, and vegetables planted with a creative eye to balance color and height and to create an ornamental edible landscape.

    Continue Reading

  • Lambing Time

    Lambing Time

    It’s 5:20 a.m. and a pale glimmer of dawn shows in the sky above the Northfield Range. I can just make out the ghosts of the sheep’s breath in the open doorway of the shed, and their dark forms nestled in the deep straw. They hear me coming and rise, grunting, their girths almost impossibly huge this late in March. Two of my 23 pregnant ewes gave birth the day before and the new lambs—two sets of twins—are cuddled close to the warmth of their mother’s bodies.

    Continue Reading

  • What Washington Just Did—Food Safety

    What Washington Just Did—Food Safety

    In May of 2009, then-governor Douglas signed legislation that created the Vermont Farm to Plate Program. Over the following 18 months, hundreds of Vermonters came together at Farm to Plate Regional Food Summits to share ideas and strategies to support new farm and food enterprises and to strengthen local and regional markets for Vermont’s agricultural products. On January 12 of this year, in a packed room at the Vermont State House, the fruit of this excellent effort was presented in a comprehensive, 10-year strategic plan for new investments, programs, and legislation to support the continued development of Vermont’s local food system.

    Continue Reading

  • Plant, Weed, Blog

    Plant, Weed, Blog

    When Vermonters think of local food, we tend to think of farmers’ markets, where each purchase comes with a personal exchange. Or we imagine a tour through Vermont’s characteristic working landscape. Or we recall fresh flavors and home-cooked dishes shared with friends.

    Or maybe we think of computers.

    Continue Reading

  • The Best Farm Products You Can’t Eat

    The Best Farm Products You Can’t Eat

    We usually think of “food” when we think of “farming,” but many agricultural crops are turned into products that humans can’t eat. Such products are manufactured throughout Vermont today using various crops and livestock, and are therefore, like food items, creating jobs for Vermonters, keeping farmland in active use, and leading our state toward greater self-sufficiency. What follows is a series of articles about nine inedible farm products.

    Continue Reading

  • Spring Cartoon—Localvore Picnic

    Spring Cartoon—Localvore Picnic

    If you go out in the woods today, you're in for a big suprise...

    Continue Reading

  • Farmers' Kitchen Nitty Gritty Grains

    Farmers' Kitchen Nitty Gritty Grains

    Corn in Vermont fields is not uncommon, but wheat? In the 1800s wheat was a common sight on the rocky hillsides of the state, but as the country expanded westward, other land appeared to be more hospitable and profitable for the large production of wheat needed for a growing population. During the past decade, however, wheat in Vermont has had a rebirth of sorts. A small cadre of farmers have, individually and independently, decided to again give it a try by attempting to grow small quantity, high quality wheat—and they’ve been finding success.

    Continue Reading

  • Last Morsel—Roots on the Rails

    Last Morsel—Roots on the Rails

    On summer evenings in the garden in Weathersfield, I know it’s nearly time to call it a day when the train whistle blows; over the river, Amtrak’s Vermonter is about to cross the highway in Cornish. As I stand up, knees cracking from too-long bending over the rows of carrots that want thinning, I think about the train on its trek north to St. Albans, and how tomorrow it will head south to Washington, DC. Back and forth, more than 600 miles, each day, every day.

    Continue Reading

What Washington Just Did—Food Safety

President Barack Obama signs H.R. 2751, the “FDA Food Safety Modernization Act,” in the Oval Office, January 4, 2011.
President Barack Obama signs H.R. 2751, the “FDA Food Safety Modernization Act,” in the Oval Office, January 4, 2011.

Written By

Dave Rogers

Written on

March 01 , 2011

In May of 2009, then-governor Douglas signed legislation that created the Vermont Farm to Plate Program. Over the following 18 months, hundreds of Vermonters came together at Farm to Plate Regional Food Summits to share ideas and strategies to support new farm and food enterprises and to strengthen local and regional markets for Vermont’s agricultural products. On January 12 of this year, in a packed room at the Vermont State House, the fruit of this excellent effort was presented in a comprehensive, 10-year strategic plan for new investments, programs, and legislation to support the continued development of Vermont’s local food system.

And during this same period, both houses of Congress were moving forward with food-safety legislation intended to “fix” some of the serious health-related problems of this country’s industrial-scale food system. A recent estimate by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that food-borne illnesses make 48 million people (1 in 6 Americans) sick; 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die each year. The political pressure on Congress to pass wide-ranging food-safety reforms was intense.

Along with some reasonable and necessary provisions, such as stepped-up surveillance of imported foods and increased inspections of large food manufacturing facilities, the food-safety bills under consideration included language to strengthen the FDA’s food-safety standards and regulations that apply to vegetable and fruit growers and food processors—large and small, national and local. (The U.S. Department of Agriculture administers meat-safety programs and regulations.) The costly investments of time and money required to comply with these new regulations clearly threatened countless small vegetable and fruit farmers, food processors, and local markets in Vermont and throughout the country.

This legislation needed to be fixed.

Across the country, sustainable and organic agriculture organizations, food cooperatives, local food advocates, and progressive consumer organizations, among others, joined in organizing grassroots efforts to press Congress for amendments that would protect the interests of small farms and food processors. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition’s Food Stafety Task Force (NSAC) led the intensive lobbying effort on Capitol Hill. TheNortheast Organic Farmers’ Association (NOFA) Interstate Council (which represents NOFA’s seven state chapters) and NOFA Vermont were directly involved.

For various reasons, these efforts were vigorously opposed by many well-established and politically powerful national consumer groups, food-borne illness victims’ groups, large-scale farm associations, national food corporations, and public health organizations. Yet on January 4, after a long and torturous political fight of almost two years, President Obama signed into law the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). It included hard-won revisions that limit the FDA’s power to impose new regulations on Vermont’s, and the nation’s, small farms, local food processors, and local markets. In the end, NSAC, the NOFA chapters, the National Organic Coalition, the National Cooperative Grocers Association, and many other organizations got behind the final bill. Vermont’s Congressional delegation voted in favor of it.

The most significant—and contentious—amendment (the “Tester Amendment”), and the one that allowed NOFA Vermont to support the final bill, prevents the FDA from imposing new standards on fruit and vegetable growers who market at least 50 percent of their product directly to consumers at farmers’ markets, CSAs, roadside stands, stores, restaurants, and other outlets. These growers’ gross annual sales must be less than $500,000 and must take place in-state or within 275 miles of the farm. They are required to identify their farm on labels, posters, or signs at the point of sale. Roughly 85 percent of Vermont’s vegetable and fruit producers qualify under this provision.

Small on-farm and non-farm food processors who meet the same criteria will not be required to implement expensive hazard control plans and other measures that will be required of large-scale processors. Small processors will need to comply with already existing state and local food-safety regulations and identify their products in the ways stated above. Also, “very small” processors (a term that is yet to be defined) who may market most of their products regionally or nationally through wholesale channels will qualify. While a good estimate of the percentage of Vermont’s small processors who will be included under this provision is not yet available, it is safe to say that a significant majority of them will qualify.

Additional amendments, by Senator Bernie Sanders and others, require the FDA to conduct a study of how a farm’s size, diversity, and practices may affect risk and then adjust standards and regulations accordingly. The FDA is required to coordinate proposed regulations with established USDA organic standards and farm conservation practices. The FSMA also authorizes a $50,000,000 grants program to support food-safety training and planning projects for small farms, food processors and wholesalers. 

But even with these amendments, the FSMA is far from perfect, and the concerns of some farm groups and advocacy organizations led them to oppose its passage. Of particular concern—to everyone—is a provision that authorizes the FDA to revoke the above protections for small farms and processors if it judges that a product is being produced under conditions that may jeopardize the public’s health. Will the FDA use this authority to ramp up its longstanding campaign against raw milk and cheeses? Will fruits and vegetables produced on some diversified veggie-livestock farms be deemed “high risk”? Will the FDA attempt to define FSMA terms such as “low risk” and “very small” in ways that unfairly disadvantage some farmers and processors?

These and many other questions and challenges will need to be addressed in the coming months and years (!) as the FDA moves forward in implementing the FSMA. It is going to be extremely important that Vermont’s farmers and local food advocates stay informed and politically engaged to make sure that the FDA “gets it right.” After all, we’ve got big plans.

More information about the FSMA and food safety can be found on NOFA Vermont’s website, www.nofavt.org.

Official White House photo by Pete Souza

About the Author

Place Holder Image

Dave Rogers

Dave Rogers is NOFA Vermont’s Policy Advisor.

Leave a comment

You are commenting as guest. Optional login below.

What we do

A quarterly magazine devoted to covering local food, sustainable farming, and the many people building the Vermont food system.

Vermont's Local Banquet Magazine illuminates the connections between local food and Vermont communities. Our stories, interviews, and essays reveal how Vermont residents are building their local food systems, how farmers are faring in a time of great opportunity and challenge, and how Vermont’s agricultural landscape is changing as the localvore movement shapes what is grown and raised here.

Connect

Sign up for quarterly notifications and issue highlights.
Please wait
Home Stories Issues 2011 Spring 2011 | Issue 16 What Washington Just Did—Food Safety