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 ( 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 (
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.” (
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 (
-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: or 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 (
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 ( 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...