Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The End of the Session

It looks as though today will be the last day of the 2011 legislative session. Everyone in the building is exhausted, and ready to go home. But the successes of this session are many, and I feel most grateful to have had the privilege of bearing witness to them. I have spent countless hours in the Senate and House Agriculture committee rooms, hours more conversing with lawmakers, and hours still observing the floor. Each and every hour has been worth it. I would like to take this blog to wrap up the various legislation we have been tracking, and let you readers know the status of things. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the Vermont legislature, and the town of Montpelier for the edification they have provided me this semester. This summer, I will be working as an agricultural liaison intern to the Governor of Vermont- a job I never would have gotten without the help of others. Thank you!
Raw Milk Cheese Classes
Our long labored-over, S.105 passed the Senate on Monday. After extensive testimony in the House and Senate Ag committees, following initial negotiations between the Agency of Agriculture and Rural Vermont, it was determined that the language we agreed upon with the Agency should be removed. Instead, regarding raw milk processing classes, the House asked the Agency to simply interpret the statute differently, rather than to include language in the Misc. Agriculture Bill (S.105.) This news was well-taken by Rural Vermont, although it did make us feel that we had wasted some time. S.105 did, however, include language that clarified the definition of raw milk, which should prove helpful to farmers. For now, we can put the raw milk classes issue to bed, and our organization can resume instruction!

Plum Creek
The Plum Creek language for retroactive exemption and further tax breaks, was also abandoned. This was at the request of leadership and I am very pleased to see that we are not codling these environmental criminals in our state.

The Jobs Bill
The jobs bill (H.287) is still in conference committee and it is unclear how much of the language pertaining to improving agricultural infrastructure will remain upon passage. We are continuing to watch H.287. H.287 also included the econometric model, which at the request of BGS, will likely be removed (much to my, and that of Senator Pollina's chagrin.) From what I now understand, much of the agricultural language is being shifted into the Budget bill to ensure its passage. Either way, the language will promote agriculture within the state and is surely a step in the right direction.

Seed- Saving Resolution (Representative French)
At the caucus on Monday, Representative French introduced a resolution that would protect the right of Vermonters to save their seeds. This resolution was signed on to by many, and when it came to the floor was directed to House Agriculture. There it will sit until January 2012, and I hope that Rural Vermont campaigns to promote its passage. This resolution is a perfect building block for bigger, broader legislation regarding seed politics, and I look forward to further developments in its wake.

On-Farm Slaughter
Well, we never did get Baruth (or anyone else for that matter) to present our on-farm slaughter resolution. We know that this legislation needs Agency support to move forward, and it is my hope that Rural Vermont will meet directly with the Agency to negotiate the issue. Several Representatives have also displayed interest in getting involved with on-farm slaughter resolutions or bills, which presents yet another opportunity to make this much-needed change here in Vermont.

It seems that my blogging days have almost come to a close. This semester has been invaluable. I have witnessed the shift in leadership- from Douglas to Shumlin, and the difference that has made. I have seen the monumental health care bill pass the House, Senate and conference committee. I have had the privilege of sitting in on countless committee meetings, hearing testimony from tens of people from around the state, working directly with the Agency and discussing a wide-array of topics within agriculture. I have gotten to know some of our lawmakers, and they have been generous with their advice, and their time. Each day at work this session was a good day at work (even when we got bad news.)
In Vermont, we are lucky to have agriculture protected and encouraged by our Senators and Representatives, but it is our job to push for the positive changes we want. Our working landscape is one of our greatest assets in the state, and working to protect it means promoting the livelihood of small farmers. I am honored to have been a part of the Rural Vermont staff and could not overstate my appreciation of my supervisor, Jared Carter. Finally, I want to thank you to my blog readers.

I leave you with this quote that is posted on the wall in the House Agriculture Committee Room:
There seem to be but three ways for a nation to acquire wealth
The first is war. This is robbery.
The second is by commerce, which is generally cheating.
The third is by agriculture, the only honest way.
-Benjamin Franklin

Monday, April 18, 2011

H. 287: The Jobs Bill

On Friday morning, the Senate Committee on Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs passed amended version of H. 287, to be reconsidered by the House. The bill creates many programs that support agriculture in the state, including the new Local Food Coordinator position. The bill also contains a section entitled "State Purchase of Food and Agricultural Products." This section mandates that: " the commissioner shall use an econometric model developed and maintained jointly by the legislative and execute economists to evaluate the net cost and economic impact of purchasing food that is produced, grown or harvested on land physically located in Vermont, and of food and agricultural products that are processed or produced in Vermont." This is exactly the language we wanted in S. 63 (the bill Pollina sponsored in Senate Government Operations.) So this is a lesson in politics: if it dies somewhere, look somewhere else. Now, H.287 has to go back through the House for approval. I will let you know what happens.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

BooHoo for the Bureaucrat?

This week, in three different committees I heard testimony that suggested that unfair legislation was being laid upon bureaucrats or rich corporations. In the Senate Committee on Government Operations, State Building and General Services testified against any sort of local preference when buying food for state institutions. BGS also opposed the implementation of an econometric model for evaluation of local v. non local food. An econometric model could be used to evaluate any bid, to examine multiplier effects activated by choosing local bidders and would make a well-rounded assessment mathematically. I know that in previous posts I have mentioned proposed legislation that would necessitate a certain amount of food bought buy the state to be locally derived (grown, harvested and produced.) In fact, S.62, H. 287, S.99, H. 491, and S. 69 all contain a variety of "buy local" sections. Some instate a preferential percentage, some implement an econometric model,some are more vague, but BGS has discerned that all of these bills place an unfair burden on their operations. BGS instead is requesting for a one year respite on the issue, at which time it will report to the legislature on the "state" of local purchasing in the state. This respite is requested, despite the fact, BGS feels it is already doing an excellent job purchasing in a way that protects the best interest of the Vermonters. I would argue that although BGS is doing its best, it will certainly not seek to do any better, without legislation that forces it to do so. BGS says it buys 90% of its food locally, but their definition of local includes local vendors. BGS testified against local purchasing legislation in Senate Government Operations and in House Agriculture. In both cases, the chairs (along with the committees) were supportive of BGS, acting as though their biggest fear was that the bills would somehow inconvenience BGS. BGS is exactly the type of group that needs to be "inconvenienced" if we want to move forward with a sustainable model for our state. State entities are some of the groups that have the largest potential to make change, and if our law makers don't push them to do so, they will be allowed to stay stuck in their bureaucratic habits- poor purchasing practices that do the minimum to help Vermont businesses and farms.
This morning, I also heard testimony on the Plum Creek case: a cut contrary up in the Kingdom that violated UVA laws, resulting in the removal of thousands of acres from the program (much to Plum Creek's chagrin.) Both Senator Baruth (who I generally agree with/ adore) and Senator Starr sided with Plum Creek, in that they found "the punishment did not fit the crime." How can we justify excusing large corporate entities from following UVA rules, yet hold the small land-owner accountable? And, when did our law-makers start siding with the big guys instead of the little ones? Our governor is proposing a renaissance in agriculture. For the first time in years, we have a Governor who is pushing for real change to support Vermonters on the farm, but legislators have to pave the way. Backing BGS and Plum Creek acts not to pave the way for a new, farm economy, but rather to allow the road to stay full of unnecessary potholes deep from the depressing weight of bureaucratic and corporate agendas.

Cartoon: http://public-domain.zorger.com/a-book-of-nonsense/103-cartoon-very-sad-crying-man-shrugging-man-public-domain.gif

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Food Sovereignty in VT

Today, I had a conversation with Bob St. Peter from Sedgwick Maine, to discuss the local food ordinance passed there. I wanted to know more about their process to activate their town on this issue, as well as see the viability of this type of rule-making. Bob told me that before the item was brought to town meeting, he and other ordinance draughters met with a variety of groups in the town: chamber of commerce, other local officials, town clubs, etc.. From there, the authors of the ordinance worked to connect with towns-people about the ordinance, in preparation for the vote. The ordinance passed unanimously in Sedgwick and Penobscot. Upon inquiring as to Sedgwick's interactions with the agency, Bob told me that as of yet they have seen no push back. Despite home bakeries, unregulated raw milk and meat production, the agency has yet to step in. Of course, State agencies do have the right to fine or penalize these towns, but would it be worth their time?
Bob has had hundreds of phone calls and emails, regarding the ordinance. People from all over the country want to get involved. The ordinance appears to cross boundaries and appeal to people across the board: Glenn Beck even featured the ordinance on his show. Although we can not let the libertarians or tea party activists take this state's rights issue away from us, we can be glad to see that this appeals to the masses. Bob reminded me gently that this was not a party issue. He quoted Wendell Berry's idea of the "Local Community Party," in arguing that his interests lay in sustaining communities in a time of ecological and economic crisis.
What if 50 towns in Vermont passed ordinances like these? What a radical push-back to the state/ federal food system that would be! We need to bring this idea home. Vermont is the perfect place for ideas like this to come to fruition. We have the right farmers, the right land, the right consumers and the right close-knit communities to make this happen.
Div III? I think so.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Tracking Bills

Things in the legislature are heating up! Rural Vermont is tracking a variety of bills and I am finding myself bouncing between House Ag, Senate Ag., House Human Services, Senate Government Operations and Senate Economic Development Committees. I wanted to write down quick summaries of each bill- both for an update for my loyal readers and as a way of keeping myself in line.

H. 367: An act relating to labeling genetically engineered food, would require all foods with one or more GE ingredient to be labeled as such (House Human Services)

H.52: An act relating to the definition of poultry, would make quail, partridge and pheasant non-amenable species and thus not subject to mandatory inspection.

H. 287: An act relating to job creation and economic development, instigates several state programs to enhance local agriculture as a stimulus for the economy. It would create a large animal vet educational loan repayment fund, allocate money for farms to become GAP (Good Agricultural Practices) certified, implement a skilled meat cutter apprenticeship program, designate a local foods coordinator, and allot further funding to the Farm to Plate Initiative.

S.69 and S. 63 are both acts relation to purchasing of Vermont products and services. Either bill, if it were passed would provide a preference for local bidders on state contracts. Food that was grown, harvested and produced locally would be given an 8% preference in bids. S. 69 would also implement a task force to develop a fair-trade vermont labeling and certificaton system.

Misc Agriculture Bill or the Dairy Housekeeping Bill: Contains new language that will allow the raw dairy classes to be up and running again, as well as a number of legislative fixes to do with agriculture. Compost language has been tied on to the end of the bill, attempting to limit the rights' of municipal zoning regulators. This bill, although lengthy is comprehensive, clear and progressing in the right direct. It is currently still in draft form.

H.421: An Act Relating to the Use and Registration of Genetically Engineered Alfalfa seeds in Vermont, would require seed distributors to register purchasers and notify all residents within 3 miles of where the seeds will be planted.

H2A resolution: This joint resolution asks the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. House to extend the H2A program for dairy workers as they are not seasonal workers but work all year round. Passed in the House and is up in the Senate this week.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Catholic Priest Connects Firing Illegals to Greening Your Business

This is my most recent piece for the Center for a New Community. It will be published online next week:

The “green” movement has been co-opted by hundreds of groups, organization, and even corporations. Walmart , George W. Bush , and even the United States military have taken the word “green” and used it to their (fiscal) advantage. Green has come to mean anything that is sustainable or “earth-friendly.” It has also become a verb: a businesses can “green” themselves by limiting their energy footprint. When any entity uses the word to increase its’ financial profit, or for other such selfish purposes, I refer such use as “green-washing.” One of the more recent, and more creative co-opters of this term is The Greenery, a successful landscaping business in South Carolina. In a blog post on March 15, 2011, Dominique Peridans, a Roman Catholic priest and anti-immigration activist says that The Greenery is truly green: “If "green" means ‘environmentally sound,’ and legal hiring creates a more respectful, more harmonious work (and civic) environment, then perhaps it has gone really green. Those supportive of such business practices cannot but wish such companies continued growth. Go green!”
I wanted to look into Father Peridans’ speculation. Maybe he was right. Maybe hiring legal workers was the best way to make your company green. To conduct my research, I put myself into the role of a small business owner, looking to make my business more sustainable. I sat down and googled “greening your business.” The first link that pops up is from the NRDC . The website provides a guide to making your business have a lighter impact on the earth. Oddly enough, the suggestions refer to consumption practices: e.g. paper-use, energy use, water waste, and using non-toxic products. Nowhere, on any of the websites that came up upon googling, was there discussion of hiring only legal workers as a solution to business-greening.
According to the World Bank, 53% of Mexico’s population lives on less than $2 per day, and 24% lives on $1 per day, with an unemployment rate of 40% . Illegal immigrants have lower per capita and per household, incomes than all other households in the United States . Illegal immigrants often reside in substandard living conditions that are crowded . Generally, illegal immigrants don’t have many poseccions, and cannot drive/ do not own a car. So, what makes these employees so unsustainable? At carbonfootprint.com, I attempted calculating the carbon footprint of an illegal immigrant, finding that it was about 0.02 tons of carbon/ year, versus the average American’s 20.4 tons of carbon/ year . So, if your employee has a low carbon footprint, I suppose that would help green your business (since no one would be driving a Hummer to work at least.) Father Peridan appears to be reaching with his suggestion for the ultimate “greening” of your company. The motivation behind the co-option of “green” is clear: appeal to a wider (more liberal?) audience, and convince more folks to take an anti-immigration stance.
Knowing the insurmountable poverty and harsh living conditions that illegal immigrants face, I cannot blame any of our environmental plights upon them. In fact, if we were looking for ways to become more green, we could take a few pointers from the impoverished people of the world, who do so very little to contribute to our global ecological crisis.

Catherine Craig is a Hampshire College student and a legislative intern working in Vermont for a farmer advocy group. She was raised Catholic and is ashamed of how Father Peridans’ blog piece represents Catholicism. Father Peridan seems to have forgotten that Christ was an activist for the poor not for the businessman.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Pete the Moose

Last year, at the very end of the session, legislation was passed that made it legal for people to own wild animals. The bill was snuck through on account of a very charismatic moose in the Northeast Kingdom: Pete. Pete was a baby moose, who was orphaned and raised back to health by a almost-too-perfectly-woodsy hermit. Long story short, Pete was raised on a ranch that was composed of wild and non-wild species mixed together, and this legislation made it so all those wild animals became the property of the ranch owner. Today, this legislation was reversed in the house and it is no longer legal to own wild animals in the state of Vermont.
The story of Pete the Moose brings to light the clearly yet unanswered question of humanity's relationship to the "wild," but in terms of law-making another issue is highlighted: unfitting, and devastating, laws can get made, if they are brought to committees at the right time and are allowed to fly under the radar. I was glad to see this legislation pass today, and to have last year's law reversed. The vote was done by role call, and it was my first time seeing that process (for an overly-eager intern like myself, it proved most stimulating.)

Monday, March 21, 2011

Proposed Current Use Bill Summary and Plum Creek

House Bill 237, sponsored by Representative Clarkson, makes some minor changes to the use value program. The bill would eliminate the preferential property tax transfer tax rates for enrolled land and use the savings to develop and implement an electronic database for the use value program. The land use change tax would be 10% of fair market price, rather than 20% as it is now. The tax will then be paid to the local municipality, rather than to the general fund. Those enrolled in the program, and who take great issue with the changes created by this bill, would be granted an easy out of the program. The bill’s success would be monitored by a program study, which is implemented by the bill. The bill would take effect in July of 2011.
Rural VT is comfortable with all these changes, and supports this legislation. Currently, Plum Creek (notorious land pillagers and corporate thieves) are bending the ears of Senate and House Ag., about the clause within Current Use that indicates a moratorium on logging all contiguous land to a cut contrary (an area that was over-harvested.) Plum Creek wants legislation that makes the penalty less harsh, as they have hundreds of acres frozen right now on account of the current penalty. I, nor Rural VT, is in favor of an easement and we will continue to monitor Plum Creek in the State House. For more information on Plum Creek, and what these guys are up to, visit this link: http://www.nrcm.org/issue_plumcreek.asp.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Food Sovereignty in Maine Towns

Town meeting. A practice that has held fast in New England for hundreds of years. On town meeting day, issues usually focus on roads, schools, zoning and budget issues there in. But in Sedgwick, Maine town meeting had an additional focus: food sovereignty. The town unanimously passed an ordinance that nullifies federal and state laws that oversee processing and sales of local food products. You might say: "Can they do that?!" That is what I said, and I am not sure yet. This ordinance would allow people to run bakeries out of their kitchens, sell their meat after having processed in on the back step and sell milk that is still warm from the udder. Radical. Powerful. Promising. This is the type of local action that starts entire economic and social revolutions. But is the Agency of Agriculture in Maine going to shut this town down? And if not, can we emulate this type of law-making here, in our state. I will continue to look at case law that would support or refute the town's right to nullify state or federal legislation and promise to update this blog with what I find out. This ordinance is by far the most exciting political action I have witnessed during my time in Montpelier- I want to bring this type of thinking into our towns! I feel a Div III brewing...

For more about Sedgwick, visit: http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2011/03/maine-town-declares-food-sovereignty/

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Genetically Modified Foods in VT

Today, two bills dealing with GE Foods were introduced. The first, I discussed in my last posting, and aims to protect and inform consumers. The other GE bill would require all farms using GE alfalfa to register with the Agency, 60 days prior to use of the seeds. This bill would seek to track alfalfa, as well as contain its impact. The bill requires farmers using GE alfalfa to notify all neighboring farms within a three mile radius. The passage of these two bills would mean protections for farmers and for consumers on GE food products within our state.
Today, Jared and I sat down with Will Stevens to see how we could help with this effort. The food labeling bill was given to Human Services, which means getting to know that committee and labeling on the bill's behalf there. The alfalfa bill will be up in House Agriculture. Rural Vermont is thinking of also having an event to discuss GMOs more generally, maybe a panel/ potluck so that we can get the community's input as we move forward.
Although these bills do not do it all, they are a step in the right direction and demonstrate a positive type of legislation: laws that are not overly divisive, yet make a fast improvement. I am very happy to be back at work- there is so much (too much) to do!

Monday, March 7, 2011

From Bonaire to... Bananas

I am sitting in the Rural Vermont office, where Jared (my boss) and I are the only ones coming in for the day. A predicted 4 inches turned into two feet of snow outside, and I could barely step out of my apartment this morning. This past week, I was in Bonaire visiting my friends Stephanie and Clark. Together we swam through reefs teeming with life, lay on beaches made of coral pieces bigger than my fist and ate mangoes shipped in from South America for breakfast. What was most astonishing about Bonaire was how, despite it not having a landscape as lush and rolling as Vermont, I fell in love with it. How tremendous is it to be able to love many ecosystems? To adore the nesting robin equally to the reef-munching parrot fish is to realize the true interconnectedness that exists on earth. Upon arrival back in the states, I was still falling asleep dreaming I was snorkeling but nevertheless was at my parent's house in Thetford, Vermont. My Dad and Step Mom suggested I read a recent New Yorker article, "We Have No Banana's" by Mike Peed. The article describes the devastating banana blight: Tropical Zone Four. This soil-borne fungus affects the most popular breed of banana, the Cavendish.
In 2008, Americans alone at 7.6 billion pounds of Cavendish bananas. Monoculture. Monoculture threatens biological diversity and food security, and as Peed's article eloquently outlines: GMO solutions are only short-term. And as scientists seeks to develop resistant Cavendish-comparable banana, the ugly side effects can be more of these super strong blights. Some scientists, according to Peed, argue that many of the diseases and blights we see today are a product of our own creation: products of the over-use of antibiotics and pesticides. In the long-run, GMO research makes more crops vulnerable to diseases, while making it possibly to utilize them as a monocrop. As the Tropcial Race Four blight decimates banana crops world-wide, exposing the mistake that is monoculture, our government has recently approved GE alfalfa, a new GE corn variety, and a new GE sugar beet variety.
A bill introduced last week in the Vermont House would require all food and food products sold within the state of Vermont with one of more Genetically Engineered (as defined by the National Organic Program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture) ingredient to be labeled as such. If the food is improperly labeled, the vendor or packager would be held accountable under 18 VSA 4050, "Misbranding of Food". The law would take effect on July 1, 2011. This bill is one way for consumers to place their vote on GMOs. It would allow consumers to employ informed consent when ingesting GMOs, as well as raise general awareness amongst consumers on the subject.
While sitting with my feet in the while sand on Bonaire, my whole body surged with a feeling of urgency. Our ecological crisis is not waiting for us to act. The diversity we appreciate (although certainly not enough) is at stake. E.O. Wilson suggests that humans have an innate tendency to love life. He calls this: biophilia. Although, he recognizes that the world consists of developers, loggers, farmers, vegans, etc., he says that all these interactions with the landscape are equal in their love for it. The challenge now is for us to appeal to the biophilia within each other, to find middle ground, so we can keep the reefs, the bananas, the raw milk, the green pasture and the deep forest.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Rural VT "Warned" by the Agency of Agriculture... and I get a JOB!

Yesterday, our group received a letter warning us that we were acting outside the law by offering Raw Milk Cheese Classes. See the email from our direct Jared below for more information. Needless to say this caused for a busy day of brainstorming next steps, as we feel this is a right we want to protect. We met with the Agency to confirm their position and will work to make the next move with the help of our board.
In other news, I ran into the Governor today and he shook my hand and said he would like to hire me as a summer intern (unpaid.) Done and done! I was very happy to walk home along the river, in this Valley of a town and celebrate my success. To celebrate, I am going to the cafe, getting some good coffee and studying for the LSATs. Do I know how to live or what.
I will keep yall posted about developments on the cheese class issue.
Jared Carter wrote:
Our dairy classes have been put on hold due to
a Notice of Warning from the Agency of Agriculture’s alleging that by
teaching consumers (or “unlicensed persons” in his words) how to make butter,
yogurt, cheese, and other products at home Rural Vermont and our farmer hosts
are in violation of Vermont law. The raw dairy processing classes are an
important part of Rural Vermont’s campaign to educate consumers on raw milk and
to increase exposure for farmers selling raw milk in their community. The
warning threatened legal action towards Rural Vermont and our farmers. Rural
Vermont does not want to put our farmer members at risk so we are temporarily
suspending the classes.

The Agency’s argument centers around its
interpretation of the 2009 Raw Milk Law, in which they claim that it is illegal
for farmers to knowingly sell raw milk to customers who plan to do anything to
their milk besides drink it. Rural Vermont believes this violates the
intent of the law and does not agree with the Agency’s interpretation.
Nevertheless, until we have solid understanding of the Agency’s official
policy, we have decided to suspend the classes.

Keep in touch with us as we work to bring
recognition of farmer and consumer rights around raw dairy. Check our
www.ruralvermont.org where we will post updates as soon as we

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Knowing Your Farmer...

Today, the House Ag Committee, look testimony from meat producers in the state. These were folks who either sell meat they have grown or meat they have processed within the state. To be fair, the majority of representatives on the agriculture committee know these businesses already. They know how these businesses function, understand the realities of the VT market, and meat production more generally. Representative Duncan Killmartin, however, seems completely out of touch on these issues. While asking questions of Vermont Smoke and Cure's CEO, the Republic representative asked how the company promoted/utilized the Vermont brand with its products. The company is called Vermont Smoke and Cure. Yes, some of us know these companies, these slaughter houses, from working in Vermont and in the farming community. Others, however, know these groups from shopping at the co-op or an out-of-state Whole Foods. This is what constituents are looking for in Representatives: to have their fingers on the pulse of community life and all that it contains. All Representatives have something to offer, and one silly question does not mean that we should lose faith in them. But, as Will Steven's pointed out this weekend at the NOFA conference: there are 3 farmers in the VT house of Representatives. Good thing Rural VT is there to represent.

Speaking of NOFA, I was thoroughly impressed with the conference and was really honored to speak for our group at the Ag. Policy discussion on Saturday. Everything that folks brought up in the Policy discussion were things I felt well versed in and things that Rural VT is actively pursuing change for in the State House.
P.S. I am headed to visit Steph and Clark in one week. Noah and I are going together. We will leave this snowy land for snorkeling, white sand beaches and mangroves!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Environmentalist= Commie Pinko Stalin-Spawn?

This week, I was asked to write a blog, on environmentalists as communists (?!?), an accusation made my the new appointee to Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources, for Imagine2050 and the Center for a New Community (http://imagine2050.newcomm.org/). And, since the house and senate are inundated with this beautiful snowstorm, I took the morning to type this up. My blog will be web-published by them in the next few days. But here is a sneak peak for my faithful blog-followers.

In a 2009 radio appearance, Harrison Schmitt called environmental leaders “communists”. Schmitt was appearing on Alex Jones’ radio show when he located the origin of the present environmental movement’s politics in the fall of the Soviet Union. Schmitt suggests: “Because the great champion of the opponents of liberty, namely communism, had to find some other place to go and they basically went into the environmental movement. … They converted environmental activism to a political movement and some would say a religious movement.”Governor Susana Matinez has appointed Schmitt to be the head of Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department, placing him in charge of: “Mining and Minerals Division, State Parks Division, Oil Conservation Division and Energy Conservation Management Division.”

When I think of environmentalists, or point to the leaders of the environmental movement, I do not tend to think of them as communists. That, however, may be a failure of my imagination (as a self-proclaimed environmentalist). Environmental leaders, such as Bill McKibben, advocate for immediate local and global action to help stave off climate change and other environmental problems. In the face of climate change, McKibben and others tend to refer to the issue as non-partisan. We are all subject to the effects of environmental degradation, and therefore it knows no party lines. That being said, Schmitt suggests that environmentalists operate outside democracy. Environmentalists are, according to Schmitt, the offspring of Stalin’s movement. As long as the Schmitts of the world keep talking, and people keep listening, the words of environmentalists can be discarded. And when the words of scientists, scholars, passionate tree-huggers, etc. go unheard, the degradation can continue unchecked.

Wendell Berry, environmentalist, farmer and author of The Unsettling of America and many other books, warns that America itself is threatened by pollution and land degradation: “(we) are eroding our freedom along with our soil. … We are destroying our country—I mean our country itself, our land…” Berry suggests that our freedom is at stake when we forsake our landscape. To me, he sounds far more like a patriot than a treasonous commie.

Silent Spring, Rachel Carson’s book that is said to be the impetuous for the modern day environmental movement was published some 30 years before the fall of the Soviet Union (1991). So while it is true that environmentalists tend to advocate for some select communists ideals (land conserved for equal, but controlled, public use, e.g. National Parks), it could also be argued that modern day environmentalists and the environmental movement appeal more to Nationhood more than political dissent. So, it seems unlikely that this movement, which began long before the fall of Stalin’s communism, is deeply informed by communist rhetoric. Schmitt uses a now old trick of anti-environmentalists: diverting attention away from the severe environmental problems at hand and instead focusing on the people drawing attention to those problems. If Schmitt can get us liberals in a room for a day to discuss whether Obama’s science advisor, John Holdren, is a pinko, British Petroleum (for example) can move forward with a new pipeline without any of us noticing.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Local Foods Purchasing Bill: What I did at work today

Local Foods Purchasing Bill
Rural Vermont- 2011

Senator Anthony Pollina approached Rural Vermont at the beginning of the 2011 legislative session for assistance in drafting a local procurement bill. This bill is meant to encourage state entities, and institutions that contract with the state, to purchase local food from small farms. In effect, the bill would provide a monetary incentive to purchasing local food, probably in the form of an applied percent advantage for local bidders (around 10%.) This document shows what other states have done, as well as lays out some language surrounding the bill.

Thirty-five states have reciprocal laws that require public contracting agencies to buy from the lowest bidder, and to give preference to local bidders in the bidder's home state. And although reciprocal laws have proved contentious, the courts have ruled in favor of local preference statutes, especially when these laws will directly improve local economies (http://static.newrules.org/drdave/1-localpref.html). Several state contractors currently purchase local food: correctional facilities, state hospital, Vermont Veteran’s Home, Woodside Juvenile Rehabilitation Center. Act No. 38 (H.522), an act relating to the viability of agriculture within Vermont, set into motion much of this purchasing. In section 4 of the Act, a study is established: “within the agency of agriculture, food and markets, the agency of administration, and the department of buildings and general services to develop a system of local food and dairy purchasing within state government and government-sponsored entities.”

A Vermont Local Foods Bill

Under the market-participation exemption, states are permitted to mandate or provide incentives for the purchasing of locally grown food (food within a certain geographical boundary.) State entities, and related contractors, such as jails, schools or other institutions, are all subject to the bill we propose for Vermont. For the purpose of this bill, local food is defined as Vermont-grown farm produce. The product receiving incentive must be grown, harvested and produced within state bounds. In addition, products receiving incentives must be grown, harvested and produced on small farms. The Economic Research Service of the USDA defines small farms as farms with less than $250,000 in sales annually (http://www.ers.usda.gov/briefing/farmstructure/glossary.htm#typology).
Purchasing local food re-circulates money into the economy and helps to ensure a quality product. A study in Arizona found that using local independent suppliers for state contracts results in three times the economic benefit of bids fulfilled through national chains. The study’s findings were published in 2007 in an article entitled: “Procurement Matters: The Economic Impact of Local Suppliers.” (http://localfirstaz.com/downloads/procurement-matters.pdf)
What Other States Have Done:
Below are a few of the states that have procurement preference bills. Some states have assigned percent incentives (Indiana and Louisiana); while others have more broad statutes (http://www.oregon.gov/DAS/SSD/SPO/reciprocal_detail.shtml).
-15% preference is awarded to small businesses (independently owned and operated)
-1-5% preference for all other local businesses depending on the size of the contract

Agricultural or forestry products, including meat, seafood, produce, eggs, paper or paper products shall be granted a 10% preference (does not have to lower bid price).
-Produce shall be produced in Louisiana and produce products shall be produced and processed in Louisiana.
-Eggs shall be laid in Louisiana and egg products shall be processed from eggs laid in Louisiana.
-Meat and Meat products shall be processed in Louisiana from animals which are alive at the time they enter the processing plant.
-Seafood shall be:
-Harvested in Louisiana seas or other Louisiana waters
-Harvested by a person who holds a valid appropriate commercial fishing license issued under statute
-Products produced from such seafood shall be processed in Louisiana. Domesticated catfish shall be processed in Louisiana from animals which were grown in Louisiana.
-Paper and paper products shall be manufactured or converted in Louisiana.
All other agricultural or forestry products shall be produced, manufactured, or processed in Louisiana.

-Gives first preference to locally produced goods which are sold within the commonwealth, and then to goods manufactured and sold domestically

We propose:

-10% preference to small (less than $250,000 annual sales) farm products, grown, harvested and produced within state bounds
-Economic costs and benefits (relating to the state budget and the rural farm economy) shall be analyzed two years after implementation and reported to the general assembly

VT Migrant Dairy Workers: Living in the Shadows

January 25-27th: Barre Farm Show and VLS Food/Law Conference

This past week at work, things were slightly slower in the State House, which gave me opportunity to go to the Barre Farm Show and to a Conference at the law school. It is nice to head out in the community, representing Rural VT, and to listen to folks with a new ear. There is so much to learn, and so much to learn before your can learn the next thing that sometimes I think my head will explode. But I think it is all headed in the right direction. I have been having beers with politicos, hearing State House gossip (none of which I will share) and having lovely potlucks! So, life in Montpelier is going swimmingly, as is work at Rural Vermont. Here are my notes from some of the more interesting parts of last week. This week, I hope to get my network on even more. I have many lunches, etc., planned (scheming for summer internships) and we are hoping to get the local foods bill out to Pollina ASAP. HURRAY!

Barre Farm Show: Dairy Update

The Agency of Agriculture reported on the state of dairy in Vermont this past week at the Barre farm show. Much of the House Committee on Agriculture was in attendance.
Here are some notes on dairy in VT right now:
-We are hovering around 1,000 dairy farms. This is a number we do not want to drop much further
-The number of organic dairy farms has dropped slighting from 204 in ’09 to 196 last year.
-26 off-farm dairy producers, and 39 on farm dairy producers with licenses in 2010

Milk Pricing:
-Butter is up, cheese has gone up
-Grain, if bought locally keeps the cost of milk down
-Vermonters are getting more and more into the grain business. It is profitable and the market is strong. Later, in a conversation with NOFAVT, we discussed how the state should be giving more help to dairy farmers so they don’t have to resort to growing grain.

A Climate of Stress:
-Last year a hotline was established by the Ag Agency for dairy farmers to call. They received almost 700 phone calls. High debt levels, the Dean Foods Case, cost of production and other stressors contributed to many family/ martial issues as well as personal mental health problems. The program is looking for funding in order to operate this year.

Also on Thursday and Friday, I attended a conference at Vermont Law School: “Pollinate and Cultivate, Seeding the Future of our Food.” The conference featured panels on a variety of food/law topics. Of particular interest was the panel on migrant farm workers in Vermont.

Since 2005, diary arms with over 100 cows employ about 5,300 migrant workers.
98% Mexican
-As dairy farmers are not seasonal workers, there is no VISA program to allow these folks to be here. Meanwhile, as they need medical attention, or help from law enforcement, they are forced to forgo those items so as not to risk jail or deportation.
-Many workers are forced to stay in their barn dwellings, with curtains drawn all day and remain virtually invisible to the community
-As immigration does not fall under the jurisdiction of local law enforcement, there is movement to instate bias-free policing in Vermont towns. This would allow these folks to come into the community without hassle from local officials or “concerned” citizens. To find out how to implement bias-free policing in your town visit: Afsc.org/document/bias-free-policing or http://vtmfsp.org/node/92. It seems to me that this policy is applicable in any township within our nation, not just ones with migrant workers. That being said, show me an area in America without immigrants…

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Why wouldn't a quail be poultry? (1-26-11)

Today began at 8:30 am with a quick brainstorm with Jared before we headed in for him to testify in Senate Agriculture. There, Jared explained some concrete ideas that Rural Vermont has for implementing the Farm to Plate Initiative this session. The committee seemed very supportive of on-farm slaughter, and there was much discussion regarding legal action that could be taken against the Federal government if they try to hold VT back from this for longer. In addition to slaughter, Jared began to touch on the local procurement bill we are working on with Anthony Pollina. The group also seemed supportive of this, and has directed us to get more specific and start presenting evidence on how this would work for VT. 35 other states have these buy-local programs worked into legislation, and it is high time we catch up. So, for the remainder of the week, I am going to plow away on that research: looking at what other states do, and preparing a proposal.
During the afternoon today, I heard about the Taste of Place program, which is run by the Agency of Agriculture. I have put up my notes below, but it essentially is looking to help figure out how to brand VT products for regional and national recognition. The program is in its' initial stages and is looking to define quality standards, etc.
Below those notes, I have written more about the Farm to Plate progress in the House, as well and the ever-exciting H52 poultry bill. I know, you are on the edge of your seat... Is a quail poultry or not?!?!? Read below to find out...

Taste of Place and Place Based Labeling (Agency of Agriculture)
Agency of Agriculture examined wine, cheese, maple, apple and meat products in terms of customer ideas on quality and standards.
-Working with the Center for Rural Studies at UVM, a survey was conducted on these products. Survey was sent to New England states, and got a response from 10% of those who received the survey.
-Survey respondents were generally upper middle class
-Study found that consumers are disillusioned with top-down quality control and standards. Rather, consumers are interested in industries regulating themselves in order to establish field-specific, stringent standards.
-This would create systems of self-monitoring within industries and possibly more specialized premium products

House Committee on Agriculture:
Discussing Concrete Goals/ Actions from Farm to Plate

-More Vermont food sold regionally
-Duncn think that increasing local purchasing of dairy products is nearly impossibly and it is a poor goal---->How do we get our farmer's to receive fair prices for their milk
-The committee discusses how impenetrable the milk market is on account of monopoly
-Norm brings up directing the focus of action onto other livestock products such as meat, etc..
-Goal of boosting local farm economy through regional distribution and by increasing local consumption

H.52 would strike quail, partridge and pheasant from the definition of poultry
-This bill would allow game bird farmers to sell there birds without inspection
-Question remains as to whether this lack of inspection would be listed on menus or not
-The committee recognizes that USDA inspection does not necessarily indicate safety for the consumer
-Chickens within the 1,000 bird limit would remain subject to the caveat on menus
-Randy will be brought back for further questioning
-This bill has yet to be voted on (so you can't know about the quail yet)

Just another day at work.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Week One.

This first week in the State House has been a whirl. A whirling wind of papers, bills, notes, meetings, notes on meetings, and red velvet upholstered chairs. Wednesday, I met Pat Leahy (or rather I forced myself upon the unsuspecting Senator as he stood in the lunch line.) I also ran into Jim Douglas in the house balcony. I ran directly into him, only to mumble out a faint: "Excuse me, governor." He proceeded to sit next to me on the red velvet cushions. The balcony I speak of wraps around the building about the House floor. It is the ideal place to perch, memorize the names of representative, rub shoulders with Jim Douglas, and review one's notes before the next meeting.
So far, I have spent the majority of my time bouncing between the House and Senate Agriculture Committees. Issues this week included: a bill regarding the definition of poultry and whether game birds should be regulated by the poultry bill, a bill regarding the designation of compost as an Accepted Agricultural Practice or (AAP.) Below are my notes on the poultry bill and the current use issue.

Current Use
Senate Agriculture Committee
January 19, 2011

The Land Use Change Tax (Current Use Penalty):
-Penalty assigned if, and when, land is developed and taken out of agriculture
-20% tax if farmed for 10 years, 10% tax if farmed for more than 20 years
-Each year about 0.2% land of all Vermont land is developed.
-The Current Use plan is essential to success of VT farms. 2 million acres, or 33.3% of all VT land is in the program.
-Program provides incentives for folks to get into agriculture and stay in it.
-Penalties could have exemptions for land parceled out for relatives (small acreage for children’s homes, etc.)
-A portion of penalty money would go to towns in new bill
-.5 million of 2 million acres in program is farm land, the rest is forest. All of these parcels are tracked by the Current Use Commissionr

H52: Poultry Bill and Game Bird Exemption
House Agriculture Committee
January 19, 2011

H52 proposes to exempt quail, pheasant and partridge from the definition of a “poultry product.” This exemption would allow for the sale of such game birds without inspection. If sold to restaurants it currently stands that the menu must inform the customer that the meat is not inspected.

Testimony by Randy, VT Meat Inspection Service:
-Officially neutral on the change
-Current voluntary inspection is $40.11/ hr., mandatory inspection is free
-Approved sources are facilities that have been inspected either by the FDA, USDA or the State. While the inspection exemption limit is 1,000 birds, the limit for approved sources is 200,000 birds.

Testimony by Chip Hellus (Quail, Chicken and Rabbit farmer):
-Found that restaurants were deterred by having to note non-inspected product on menu
-Believes this change will improve his business and that of his suppliers
-Cites the Farm to Plate Initiative as a step in the right direction; this change should be part of those first steps to make local farms more accessible

Testimony: Allen Burns (VT State Department of Health):
-State is neutral on the bill but does think labeling in restaurants is important

Testimony: Rob Litch (Misty Knoll)
-In favor of the change, says it would boost economy

Testimony Rich and Bill Thompson (Cavendish Game Birds, Springfield):
-Want less inspection and oversight so they can process without the inspector’s present. This would allow them to work more hours, possibly even have two shifts. In addition, they would be able to complete specialty orders (like keeping the head and feet on the bird) if their meat was not inspected bird by bird.

Generally, the Ag Committee seemed in favor of the change. They will discuss the matter again soon, and possibly receive further testimony.

Raw Milk Survey
Today I spent all day calling raw milk producers to hear how their business was going, and how they felt about current milk legislation, in order to aggregate data for our presentation of our annual raw milk report to the House Agriculture Committee. Talking with farmers about the challenges they faced with legislation, or with this extremely cold weather, helped to remind me why I do this job. Speaking of being passionate about this job.... Anthony Pollina approached me (and Rural VT) about helping write a bill that addresses the state purchasing local food. This bill would seek to mandate a certain percentage of local food to be purchased by the state for state institutions. Several state entities currently purchase local food: correctional facilities, state hospital, Vermont Veteran’s Home, Woodside Juvenile Rehabilitation Center. Act No. 38 (H.522), an act relating to the viability of agriculture within Vermont, set into motion much of this purchasing. In section 4 of the Act, a study is established: “within the agency of agriculture, food and markets, the agency of administration, and the department of buildings and general services to develop a system of local food and dairy purchasing within state government and government-sponsored entities.” The website on State local food purchasing has not been updated since summer 2008 (http://www.vermontagriculture.com/buylocal/government/index.htm)
In terms of research that already exists on food systems and availability in VT, the UVM Center for Sustainable Agriculture program has been instrumental in conducting studies within the State. Notably, the Center mapped all farmstands and CSAs within VT and have worked to address regional distribution limitiations through the Farm Enterprise Program (http://www.uvm.edu/~susagctr/?Page=food.html). It seems that the resources for the state to access local food are there. It is only a matter of implementing policies that would encourage/ mandate local purchasing further.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Face of the Intern.

Day 1... Just Arrived

Today was a pretty incredible first day at the State House. Highlights include: a Patrick Leahy siting within the first hour, a great commemoration of Roe v. Wade on the House floor, and an inspiring meeting focusing on the new Farm to Plate Initiative (which was backed by Rural Vermont.) The Farm to Plate Initiative is a comprehensive strategic plan for improving the state's engagement agriculture (in the economy, in academic institutions, in public and private sectors.) Ideas about correction facilities growing their own food and programs for agricultural training in high school got me thinking about all the ways that farming not only is a social justice issue, but can in itself inspire social justice!
The State House is immaculate and beautiful. The whole place is buzzing with energy. During one meeting, the democratic caucus this afternoon, one representative referred to the State House as a family... later in a small meeting we had cake for the Ag chair's birthday. Oh, Vermont.
Tomorrow, I will try to catch up on the many bills that have been introduced so far this session and then spend some time at a committee meeting on the poultry bill. Just another day at the office...