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.
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.