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  • 2 Jul 2020 11:00 AM | Administrator (Administrator)


    Nobody likes taxes, but local tax authorities should love farmers. It's not just tax authorities. When it comes to farmland, diverse groups love farms—for different reasons. The military loves farmland. Farmland provides the most cost effective contributions to the public coffers (less euphemistically known as taxes), plays an invaluable role in our national defense, and makes our land beautiful. Let's survey the benefits and policy incentives used to achieve them. 

    Tax Revenue 

    There are misperceptions that farmers do not pay their fair share of taxes, that farmland does not constitute the “highest and best use” of land, and that more development means more tax revenue. Growers actually pay more than their fair share of taxes, based on cost of community services (COCS) studies. COCS studies compare the tax impacts of residential development, farmland, and commercial/industrial use. Residential land use drains government revenue. Residential land use saddles local government with the costs of education, public safety, social services, and other programs. The costs of these programs exceeds what residential areas pay in taxes. The opposite is true for farmland. The governmental resources going into farmland is less than what farmers pay in taxes. In other words, farmers spend more on taxes than they take in from local governments. In 2002, for every dollar that farmland pays in taxes, the government paid back a median of 36 cents. One locality has the distinction of farms giving the most bank for the buck farms to tax authorities. In Carrol Township, Pennsylvania, two cents is the cost of services farms receive in exchange for putting a dollar into community coffers. The least bang for the buck is in Dover, New Hampshire: 94 cents. 

    The Florida Legislature has recognized the need to conserve, protect, and encourage the use of agricultural lands through the Greenbelt Law. The Greenbelt Law provides for the taxation of agricultural land at an especially low rate. The Legislature enacted the Greenbelt law to prevent farms from “being taxed out of existence”. To qualify, the grower must apply for an exemption with their local tax appraiser. 

    Military 

    The military has spent a total of $259 million to preserve farmland through the Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration (REPI) ProgramThe program helps resolve the military concerns about “encroachments.” For example, lights from homes and business reduce the effectiveness of night-vision training. Wildlife, squeezed about by residential and development, has no place to go but “onto less developed military landsor farms. 

    From the military perspective, farmland provides an important buffer between military operations and development. To promote farms, the military has partnered with local governments, state governments, and not for profit organizations to preserve more than 437,000 acres of farmland near military bases. [link: These partnerships rely on a legal mechanism called agricultural conservation easements. With an agricultural conservation easement, the owner of the farm either gets cash, tax benefits, or a mixture of both. In return, the farm owner sells the right to develop the land. The grower still owns the land, still has the right to occupy the land, and still has the right to make money from agricultural uses. But the grower sells the right to develop the land in particular ways. For example, the landowner may lose the right to build a hotel, or to sell the land to a developer to build a hotel. 

    Community Welfare 

    A study of 44 cities shows that more green space means higher community well-being. Parks are well known places where neighbors can socialize, but green spaces also improve health. Individuals can get healthier just by taking an aromatic whiff of plants because of compounds in plants called phytonicides. These compounds can lower blood pressure, and fight cancer. The sight of nature can alleviate prison violence more effectively than armed guards. Nature has the obvious effect of promoting calm, and stands as a haven from the concrete jungle. Even in prisons, nature videos may combat violence just as effectively as six guards in Kevlar vests and full riot gear. Nalini Nadkarni and her colleagues found that prisoners watching nature videos committed 26% fewer violent infractions as compared to those who did not watch. 

    Conservation falls within the purview of the Natural Resources and Conservation Service (NRCS). This federal agency administers two agricultural conservation easement programs: the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) and the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). As agricultural conservation easement programs, ACEP and RCPP works on a similar legal foundation as the military's Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration. The owner of farmland sells or donates the right to develop the land to a governmental agency or non-profit entity. The agency or non-profit buys or gets (through donation) the right to monitor and enforce the landowner's promise to keep the land free from development. Through the ACEP program, governments and non-profits apply to the federal government for funding. In the RCPP program, landowners may either apply through NRCSs' “partners,” or apply to NRCS directly. 

    This survey of agricultural land use laws shows that more agricultural land use benefits everyone—not just farms and eaters (which should already be everybody). Farms make funding for robust community services possible, and play a vital role in our national defense. Farms can provide every person with a sense of community and serenity. The time to preserve these benefits is now. Every minute, our country loses three acres of farmland to development. Much of this destructive trend happens in our own state. Florida ranks eleventh in "states with the most threatened agricultural land." But every reader can do something: take advantage of the Greenbelt law, participate in agricultural conservation easement programs, advocate for more funding, or donate non-profit organizations like the American Farmland Trust and the Land Trust Alliance. The Land Trust Alliance also maintains a directory of Florida-based organizations that preserve farmland. 


    Jesse Haskins started J. Haskins Law, P.A. to focus on local food communities. Jesse builds partnerships between farmers and communities. Prior to dedicating his practice to local agriculture, Jesse served as assistant attorney general for the State of Florida, assistant general counsel for the Florida Department of Financial Services, and as attorney for a large insurance defense firm. Jesse graduated from the Duke University School of Law in 2009. Jesse is an avid foodie. His favorite ingredient is tahini.

    Website: www.jhaskinslaw.com



    Disclaimer: The views of the writers do not represent the views of the Florida Food Policy Council. We are a forum for the offering and sharing of information and encourage diversity and communication within the food system.


  • 7 Jun 2020 3:30 PM | Administrator (Administrator)


    Picture of a grocery store with empty shelves in Florida due to the Coronavirus. Picture by Mick Haupt.

    By now most Americans have seen images of long lines at food banks around the nation – thousands of cars bumper to bumper in Cleveland, San Antonio, Minneapolis, Pittsburg, and many other cities. The images are devastating. How could this happen? The question echoes across the nation, and certainly with urgent distress for those waiting in those thousand-car lines. How could this happen in our rich nation with the world’s most powerful economy and its most productive agricultural system?  Why has the COVID-19 pandemic left so many Americans desperately short of food?

    The answers are many: the administration’s clumsy reaction to the crisis, widespread job losses in the nation’s massive service sector due to tough “stay-at-home” edicts, fear and panic-hoarding, and politicization of responses to the crisis. Besides these obvious explanations, there are others that are less apparent and unlikely to get much coverage in the 24-hour news cycle, but perhaps more telling.  

    While the pandemic reveals government ineptitude, it also reveals the precariousness of other foundational systems. Healthcare, economics, the media, and education have all been staggered by the sudden eruption of this contagion. What is failing are the systems themselves – most dramatically, our food system.  

    In urban centers around America, grocery stores are facing shortages of basic commodities. There are empty spaces on shelves, and not just in the paper aisles but also in the food aisles.  Food insecurity has increased, exacerbated by economic inequalities and driven even harder by the collapse of the service sector. Long and lengthening lines at foodbanks are leading to shortages there as well. Ironically, in the midst of this food crisis, farmers are plowing under crops, dumping milk and eggs, and laying off workers. 

    Why is this happening?

    Those who have been researching America’s foodways have long been aware of the liabilities of the contemporary food system. As a culture, beginning in the 1950s, the industrial food system began a rapid conquest of America’s foodways. This system relies on inflexible structures of the consumerist economic order: long supply lines, with low wage jobs every step of the way; just-in-time inventory processes; enormous mono-crop farms that destroy whole ecosystems; giant food processing plants, stock yards, and slaughterhouses; and vast extractions of oil, water, and phosphates.  

    Every food product we consume travels an average of 1,500 miles from farm to table. We are all dependent on massive quantities of food making this 1,500 mile trek, relying on a rigid, complex system, over which local governments, businesses, and individuals have little control or authority.  We are simply consumers, receiving only what the system delivers to us.  If the system breaks down or even stumbles, there is little that can be done except ask for help, hope the mega-corporations and their complex system can retool quickly enough to avert catastrophe, or look to the federal government for assistance.    

    This is exactly what is happening today. The process is not working. The industrial food system is reacting slowly and with mixed results (watch for more shortages and significant cost increases in basic commodities), the federal government is stumbling into action, and local leaders are hoping for help feeding the food-insecure. But when it comes to food supplies, there is very little local leaders can do besides hoping and asking for help –  because in most communities there does not exist a viable local food system. We are at the mercy of systems beyond our ken and out of our control.

    The poor, the dispossessed, the marginalized, the homeless, and all others experiencing chronic food insecurity are facing grave challenges in this moment. They are now joined by countless others, millions nationwide, who likely never had a concern over food in their lives. As the coronavirus  has highlighted the dramatic weaknesses and tragic inequalities in America’s healthcare system, its consequences may bring to national awareness the dangerous lack of resilience in the industrial food system upon which we have become dependent. Hopefully this will happen and prompt reform, but what would this reform look like?  

    What would reform look like?

    The reform would have to begin with the recognition that what is happening now is not a fluke, it is also not nearly as serious as it could be.  Image what would happen if more meat-packing plants shut down, if there was a sharp decline in the number of farmworkers harvesting crops, if climate change caused a collapse of grain production in the Midwest, if cheap transportation of food was no longer available, if we lost even more pollinators. Imagine what would happen if the federal government did not buy up surplus food from the industrial food system and facilitate its distribution. Imagine if the industrial food system found it more profitable to destroy surplus commodities rather than teaming with food-relief networks. Imagine a virus even more lethal than COVID-19.

    Imagine what would happen if any of those possibilities occurred. Where would our food come from then? The industrial food system is too frail to withstand large-scale cultural traumas, and if reform does not occur, what is happening today will happen again, likely with more dire consequences.  Reform is not impossible, and can begin today, taking many forms, with many options. It would have food banks also act as seed and seedling banks – offering seeds and seedlings along with basic food supplies. It would include community vegetable gardens as a part of every public park, and a line item for urban farms in every city’s budget. Cities would fund staff positions for agricultural  directors and urban gardeners. Local governments would require that new developments include not only green space, but farm space as well.

    Government at all levels would offer tax-incentives for replacing lawns and ornamental plantings with vegetable gardens, giving fruit trees to propriety owners, restoring agriculture classes in public schools – especially urban schools. It would include agriculture programs at every public university (not just the land-grant schools) and courses in horticulture as mandatory graduation requirements for all bachelor’s degrees. From pre-school through college, equal or greater stress would be put on learning gardening as is put on learning cyber systems today.

    This is not an impossible vision. Not at all. If only a fraction of spending by the USDA, state and local governments, schools of higher education, charities, and emergency feeding organizations was diverted to reforms such as these, the food-crisis we face to today might never have occurred – and if we act now, it need never occur again.


    Here are some articles for additional background reading on the impact of the pandemic on the food system:

    The Coronavirus Reveals The ‘Invisible Inequalities’ In Our Food System, Huff Post

    Farmers plowing under crops, dumping milk, New York Times

    What the Coronavirus means for Food Insecurity, The Hill 

    Supply chains stressed, but are run by ‘incredible foragers,’ USF expert says, Tampa Bay Times

    April saw the sharpest increase in grocery store prices in nearly 50 years, Boston Globe from The Washington Post

    US grocery costs jump the most in 46 years, led by rising prices for meat and eggs, CNBC


    The original Post can be found on the Ecology Florida website here.


    Dell deChant is the Associate Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of South Florida. He is a Master Instructor and has served at USF since 1986. The author of three books, over 30 articles in professional publications, and chapters in twelve books, his specialization is religion and contemporary cultures. His current research focuses on religious, literary, and ecological expressions of Agrarianism as they manifest in American popular culture. He is Chair of the Environmental Committee of the City of New Port Richey, a founding member of Food Policy Council of Pasco Country, a member of the Florida Food Policy Council, and a member of the Board of Directors of Ecology Florida.


  • 5 Jun 2020 2:00 PM | Administrator (Administrator)


    Precision agriculture has emerged as a technology promising to make agriculture more sustainable, both environmentally and economically. It is the technology of giving “just enough”— enough water, enough fertilizer, and enough pesticide to help crops thrive, but not so much as to needlessly guzzle natural resources and spit out pollutants. In the long run, this technology conserves both planet and wallet. Despite these long term benefits, the up front cost locks growers into using certain fertilizers. This problem of lock in required the intervention of antitrust enforcement, yet current technological trends could reduce reliance on antitrust enforcement. 

    Precision technology includes sensors that can see the color green in the ground to determine the ideal amount of fertilizer. Technological advances also allow for increasingly precise machinery: more narrow blades to make incisions into the soil for fertilizer, faster speeds to inject fertilizer, and “closing wheels” to quickly bury the incision. 

    This is the kind of technology that farmers have relied upon in their pursuit of environmental and economic sustainability. This technology is especially useful for growers who use a particular fertilizer: anhydrous ammonia. To learn why, let's break down this technical term word by word.

    Ammonia is a form of nitrogen. Nitrogen makes plants green, and helps plants grow. Yet, ammonia is also a pollutant that kills fish, and in higher concentrations, humans. Ammonia puts us in a Goldilocks predicament. Too little could starve us of vegetables; too much could poison us (and plants). When it comes to ammonia usage, it is critical that we get the quantity right. 

    Now for that other weird word: anhydrous. Anhydrous means “without water”—as in a gas. Gas is dangerous. We can accidentally inhale gas. Gas can escape if it is not well sealed in the soil by expensive machinery like precision agriculture. But gas is popular because it is the cheapest form of nitrogen. 

    Traditionally, growers using the gas “knifed” it deep into the ground to prevent its escape. Yet, the deeper the injection of the gas, the more disturbance to the soil. Soil disturbance leads to soil erosion. Soil disruption also repels wildlife. Efforts to avoid soil disruption have been referred to as “no till” or “low till” farming. Despite the conservation benefits of minimizing soil erosion and preserving wildlife, no till farming has a historical environmental price tag: the heavier use of pesticides. 

    Newer precision agriculture technology promises to improve no till farming by minimizing pesticide use. Compared to traditional knifing, new precision agriculture machines inject less anhydrous ammonia and at shallower depths. But precision agriculture equipment is expensive. Growers consider expense the greatest challenge for growers using this technology. 

    Older knifing equipment similarly represents a major investment for growers, so much so that growers using the technology have felt that they were locked in to the gas fertilizer. Even when the gas fertilizer gets expensive, growers are reluctant to abandon expensive equipment. 

    The lock-in problem prompted the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to block the acquisition of CF Industries Holdings by Agrium. In 2009, these two companies were the only major suppliers of anhydrous ammonia in the Pacific Northwest, and represented two of the three “significant suppliers” of anhydrous ammonia in Northern Illinois. The FTC found that the two companies, merged as one, would have wielded too much power to set the price of anhydrous ammonia. In 2010, the FTC entered an order requiring Agrium to divest itself of certain assets. Agrium abandoned its bid to acquire CF when CF acquired another company, Terra Industries. Consequently, the FTC withdrew its order against Agrium

    The FTC's action illustrates how antitrust enforcement helps farmers. When multiple fertilizer suppliers compete against one another, they do so on two fronts: price and quality.

    A fertilizer supplier cannot raise the price on similar quality supplies because if it does, farmers will go to other suppliers. Suppliers can also distinguish themselves by offering a higher quality substitute. A nitrogen fertilizer supplier may be able to win customers at a higher price by offering a different quality substitute, like safer fertilizer. 

    This idea of “substitutibility” is important in antitrust law. Substitutes compete with each other. Lucky Charms and Frosted Flakes are substitutable sugar coma inducing cereals. They compete against each other for kids' affections. Lucky Charms and wine are not substitutes. Lucky Charms cannot substitute for wine at a fifty year wedding anniversary. Underage consumption of wine is a criminal offense. Underage consumption of sugar is not. The makers of the two products do not compete with one another. 

    To return to nitrogen fertilizers, anhydrous ammonia and liquid nitrogen fertilizers are not substitutes because of equipment built exclusively for anhydrous ammonia. A farmer who invested in equipment built exclusively for anhydrous ammonia cannot easily afford the switch to liquid nitrogen. Some machines will not allow the farmer to substitute liquid nitrogen for anhydrous ammonia. Feeding liquid nitrogen instead of anhydrous ammonia to these machines is like feeding wine instead of cereal to a toddler. Don't do it. No substitution allowed. 

    This means that even though anhydrous ammonia suppliers do not come up with the expensive machinery, they benefit from it. The anhydrous ammonia suppliers do not have to compete with liquid nitrogen because liquid nitrogen is not an option for farmers with expensive precision agriculture equipment. 

    There are other factors showing that anhydrous ammonia and liquid nitrogen are not substitutes, like the weather. Anhydrous ammonia cannot be effectively applied to soil too wet, or too cold. Weather might mean that the two fertilizers are not substitutable even if machines did not lock in farmers. Such confounding factors illustrate how defining the “boundaries” of a market “is often difficult,” even for government regulators specialized in these issues. We cannot say with high confidence how exactly technology will redefine market boundaries, let alone how antitrust enforcement will respond. But we can still look to the past, and anticipate potential impacts from emerging technologies. 

    In past presidential administrations, antitrust enforcement intervened to block gas fertilizer mergers because expensive machines made it exceedingly difficult to switch to alternative fertilizers. These machines, now with precision agriculture, remain a major investment. The role of antitrust enforcement agencies like the FTC remains indispensable. The current trend toward less antitrust enforcement places affordable agriculture in peril. 

    Fortunately, some companies have invented machines that accept all forms of nitrogen fertilizer. In 2011, Dawn introduced the Anhydra Universal Fertilizer Applicator that allows for the application of both anhydrous ammonia, liquid nitrogen, and manure. If this kind of universal technology dominates the market, growers may no longer be financially trapped to the use of anhydrous ammonia. Farmers could enjoy greater economic freedom to experiment with different nitrogen solutions. Precision technology allows farmers to save on the cost of fertilizer, and universal fertilizer applicators empower farmers to switch fertilizers without abandoning expensive equipment. As a result, we may soon arrive at a future where antitrust enforcement becomes less important to fertilizer freedom. 


    Jesse Haskins started J. Haskins Law, P.A. to focus on local food communities. Jesse builds partnerships between farmers and communities. Prior to dedicating his practice to local agriculture, Jesse served as assistant attorney general for the State of Florida, assistant general counsel for the Florida Department of Financial Services, and as attorney for a large insurance defense firm. Jesse graduated from the Duke University School of Law in 2009. Jesse is an avid foodie. His favorite ingredient is tahini.

    Website: www.jhaskinslaw.com



    Disclaimer: The views of the writers do not represent the views of the Florida Food Policy Council. We are a forum for the offering and sharing of information and encourage diversity and communication within the food system.


  • 27 May 2020 11:01 AM | Administrator (Administrator)


    In unprecedented times, innovation moves us forward. Whether it be vaccines or drugs, 3D printed masks, or contactless food delivery services, companies are working tirelessly to mitigate challenges from COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. 

    Some of the most universal and essential of these are the most forgotten. They keep us healthy and fed—food tech.  

    The pandemic has had an unparalleled effect on the food system. The restaurant industry has taken one of the hardest hits, with the ripple effect throughout the supply chain just as tremendous, all the way up to farmers. Some ugly truths have been exposed. Yet, on the bright side, from technologies to prevent food waste when the distribution chain is disrupted to apps for grocery delivery, and even at home meal kits, the pandemic has inspired or accelerated food tech innovation across the spectrum—from farm to truck to table to mouth and beyond.  

    Millions of employees considered nonessential have been ordered to work from home forcing some food companies to take drastic profit squashing measures, such as halting production or distribution altogether. Especially for professionals like food scientists, work from home just isn’t an option.

    Not all companies see this break as a disadvantage, however. Some see it as an opportunity. For instance, according to fooddive.com, Clara Foods is one of these companies. The mandate forced the company to abandon its labs in San Francisco, which have been crucial to helping create chicken-free egg whites using fermentation. "Time actually affords us the ability for our scientists and our team leaders to really breathe a little bit and really be critical and reflect on how we've been doing things in the past," Arturo Elizondo, Clara Foods' CEO, told Food Dive. "This actually gives us a big opportunity for reflection of our processes and just how will we come back and be much leaner and meaner when it comes to just how we run our day-to-day, which we've never really had an actual forced break to say, 'Okay, hit the pause button.'” 

    In Florida, food tech has taken many shapes and forms over the past few months. 

    From Farm: In South Florida, for example, larger farms like East Coast Fruits and Vegetables, Mecca Farms, Ernesto and Sons, and smaller organic farms like Kai Kai farms and Swank Farm, have been finding solutions to their surplus of produce without usual restaurant demands. The former now offer large, even up to 25 pound, boxes of fresh fruits and vegetables for $10. Their Facebook pages are updated regularly to share what’s available with the community, and pickup is quick and contactless. 

    To Table: With Florida having one of the oldest populations in the U.S., consisting of over 20% of the population at 65 years and older, many residents don’t feel safe shopping at high risk places like grocery stores. Fortunately grocery and meal delivery technologies including Instacart, HelloFresh, Nutrisystem, Amazon, and others offer a simple solution. Local Facebook page members have also used the platform to connect and collaborate in order to provide groceries to their senior neighbors. 

    With many more examples in the works, food tech is constantly devising new solutions to the day’s problems, in Florida, in the United States and across the world. 

    On a final note, some say many of the negative effects of COVID-19 could have been prevented with proper food technology, as much of agriculture and food is still undigitalized. For instance, according to Louisa Burwood-Taylor of AgFunderNews, the supply chain could have been more nimble and could have better helped buyers and sellers find one another. As a result of the abundance of middlemen, the existing system has been kept unchecked.  

    That doesn’t mean that things can’t change for the better. Traceability technology to increase transparency is more important than ever. Companies are building infrastructures for automation and e-commerce, including smaller, local farmers. COVID-19 might even create a better partnership between entrepreneurs and farmers. It might even create a different relationship between consumers and their food, possibly healthier, more equitable food. 

    In any case, the time is now for change, and food tech is here to stay. 


    Sources: 

    https://www.fooddive.com/news/food-tech-startup-reshapes-strategy-as-coronavirus-closes-down-lab-work/574672/ 

    https://www.prb.org/which-us-states-are-the-oldest/ 

    https://foodtank.com/news/2020/04/louisa-burwood-taylor-on-food-technology-during-covid-19/ 


    Rachel Ram is a health educator, policy advocate, adventurer, and overall foodie. Rachel earned her Bachelor of Science in Health Education, Community Health and Preventive Medicine from the University of Florida in 2017. A lifetime resident of south Florida, she now resides in Brooklyn NY working for the American Lung Association. She began her work with the Florida Food Policy Council in 2016 and continues to raise awareness on food policy issues. Besides engaging in food policy, Rachel enjoys traveling, hiking, yoga, cooking and reading.



    Disclaimer: The views of the writers do not represent the views of the Florida Food Policy Council. We are a forum for the offering and sharing of information and encourage diversity and communication within the food system.


  • 29 Apr 2020 2:00 PM | Administrator (Administrator)

    Coronavirus-induced food supply anxiety has led to a renewed interest in home gardens—similar to the "war gardens" movement of World War I and the "victory garden" efforts around World War II  

    In March 1917, Americans contributed to the Allies’ effort in World War I by growing their own gardens “Sow the seeds of victory,” exhorted the patriotic posters of World War I, “plant & raise your own vegetables.” War gardens saved U.S. citizens from mandatory food rations. After the Allies won the war, “war gardens” became “victory gardens” to prevent widespread starvationThis movement did not reach its height until World War II, when 20 million gardens accounted for nearly 40 percent of U.S. veggies. But as World War II progressed, home gardeners grew frustrated with agriculture. As the New York Times reported in May 1944, “No amount of warning will make people plant their gardens again this year unless they are convinced that they are really needed.” Americans no longer saw the need when the war ended. They abandoned their gardens for lawns 


    But the need became evident again, especially after a devastating three year drought
     struck Florida, starting in 1999. Lake Okeechobee sunk to the lowest water level on record. Homes were in jeopardy of losing their water supplies. Sinkholes popped up with increasing frequency because of exceptionally low groundwater levels. Wildfires ravaged the state.  In 2001, the Florida Legislature fought drought by allowing homeowners to implement Florida-friendly landscaping, and prohibiting homeowners associations from interfering with new deeds and restrictions.  

    The Legislature defined Florida-friendly landscaping  to mean “quality landscapes that conserve water, protect the environment, are adoptable to local conditions, and are drought tolerant.” These practices rest on principles, including “planting the right plant in the right place” and “the appropriate use of solid waste compost.”  

    Florida-friendly landscaping can be edibleand delicious. Beauty berries and ginger have adorned the landscaping of Florida homes. Foodscaping enthusiasts replace grass with edible vegetation.  

    The 2001 law was not enough. Around 2008, one homeowner was fined $1,000 from his homeowners association for not watering his lawn enough, and then got fined $100 by the county when he watered his lawn too often. The next year, the Florida Legislature made the 2001 law retroactive. In 2009, the Legislature recognized for the first time that the participation of both homeowners and homeowners associations “is essential to state’s efforts in water conservation and water quality protection and restoration.”  

    The 2009 law establishes a broader prohibition against HOAs thwarting Florida friendliness compared to the 2001. The 2001 law established that a deed restriction or covenant “may not prohibit a property owner” from being Florida friendly. The 2009 law goes further, adding that covenants and restrictions must not prohibit, “or be enforced so as to prohibit” homeowners from “implementing Florida-friendly landscaping.” So now the Florida friendly law is not just about the covenants and restrictions themselvesit’s about how they are enforced. Let’s take an example. Covenants and restrictions often require a homeowner to get approval before changing around the landscape, and do not expressly prohibit Florida-friendly landscaping. On its face, this ask-us-first rule is neutral. It does not by itself prohibit Florida-friendly landscaping. So, an HOA enforcing this rule would be compliant with the 2001 version of the lawno more questions asked. But if the HOA enforces this facially neutral rule to target Florida-friendly landscaping, the HOA would likely be violating the current 2009 law. Under the current law, the HOA cannot say, “We will approve only water-guzzling plants.” 

    Now, homeowners should be able to grow drought resistant vegetables. Homeowners can grow their own Scarborough Fair: “savory sage, rosemary, and thyme. Every one of these vegetables is drought-resistantHomeowners can grow drought resistant vegetables, notwithstanding covenants and restrictions to the contrary.  

    HOAs are unlikely to find refuge in legislation passed last year, now codified as section 604.71, Florida Statutes. Section 604.71 prohibits municipalities from “regulating” vegetable gardens. It does not retreat from “Florida-Friendly landscaping.” Senator Rob Bradley (R - Fleming Island) introduced the bill because the City of Miami Shores forbade homeowners from maintaining home gardens. Section 604.71 expressly allows municipalities to regulate water, pesticides, invasive plants, and other gardening elements, so long as the regulation is of a “general nature” and does not “specifically regulate vegetable gardens.”  

    Consequently, a city could conceivably say that only plants capable of surviving on a certain amount of water are “Florida-Friendly.” Such a pronouncement is unlikely to violate section 604.71 because it does not “specifically regulate” vegetables. The municipal ordinance would apply equally to grass and other non-edibles. However, section 604.71 would hamper the ability of a city to target particular fruits or vegetables. For example, a city would likely be unable to say that chocolate is not Florida Friendly because chocolate requires 52 times more water than oranges. Most importantly, section 604.71 threatens the ability of cities to distinguish true home gardens from industrial projects sitting on property zoned as "residential."  

    Cities like New Port Richey have established specific conditions for when and how home gardeners can sell to protect true home gardens from herbicides, erosion, and other dangerous industrial practices. While section 604.71 may protect dubious industrial practices, it does not protect homeowners associations. 

    There remain two practical difficulties that stand in the way in dealing with intransigent homeowners’ associations. First, “Florida-Friendly landscaping” is a bit of a fuzzy concept. The law recognizes principles such as “planting the right plant at the right place,” but it does not set specific criteria for determining what “the right plant” means. Nor does it recognize the ability of a particular organization or agency to define this term further. As a result, lengthy court battles  have been fought 

    Then there’s the problem of attorney’s fees. Covenants and restrictions typically provide that HOAs may recover attorney’s fees if they win. The risk of fines and fees can intimidate homeowners.

    Victory gardens merit particular protection as a form of Florida-friendly landscaping. The first stop is the HOA itself. An HOA should be given the opportunity to apply its governing restrictions in a manner that promotes Florida-friendly landscaping. Litigation should be a last resort with Florida-friendly landscaping disputes, as with most disputes. The University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Science does not get involved in legal disputes, but the program guides homeowners and HOAs on promoting Florida-Friendly landscaping.  

    Now is another historic time when the virtues of victory gardens are clear. One New Jersey farmer’s call for “corona victory gardens” produced a nearly instantaneous response from 1,000 gardeners. In Florida, victory gardens can be the ultimate form of Florida-friendly landscaping. 

     

    Jesse Haskins started J. Haskins Law, P.A. to focus on local food communities. Jesse builds partnerships between farmers and communities. Prior to dedicating his practice to local agriculture, Jesse served as assistant attorney general for the State of Florida, assistant general counsel for the Florida Department of Financial Services, and as attorney for a large insurance defense firm. Jesse graduated from the Duke University School of Law in 2009. Jesse is an avid foodie. His favorite ingredient is tahini.

    Website: www.jhaskinslaw.com



    Disclaimer: The views of the writers do not represent the views of the Florida Food Policy Council. We are a forum for the offering and sharing of information and encourage diversity and communication within the food system.

  • 16 Apr 2020 5:00 PM | Administrator (Administrator)


    On April 14, the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) announced the launch of a pilot program for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients to purchase groceries online with the use of an EBT card. SNAP participants do not need to apply to participate in this program as they are automatically eligible.

    Removing barriers and enhancing access to critical services, while supporting Florida's infrastructure, remains a top priority for this agency," said DCF Secretary Chad Poppell in a press release

    The pilot program began on April 16 with the launch at all five Walmart Tallahassee locations and Amazon purchases for Tampa-based SNAP customersStarting Monday April 21, online purchasing will be available statewide at both Walmart and Amazon retailers. DCF is currently working with the USDA and the Florida Retail Federation to expand the network. 

    Under the new program, customers are able to use their EBT cards for the online purchase of approved grocery items and will still be required to provide a unique personal identification number (PIN). Customers are able to opt for curbside pick-up; however, utilization of food assistance benefits cannot be used to pay for delivery services.

    At the direction of Gov. Ron DeSantis, all SNAP recipients are to receive the maximum allowed amount for their household size during the months of March and April as one of the federal emergency measures included in the Coronavirus stimulus legislation.

    To ensure Floridians can safely access SNAP, TANF, and Medicaid benefits, DCF has implemented a six-month recertification extension for individuals and families scheduled to recertify in April or May. Additionally, work requirements for individuals participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program have been waived as a condition to receive program benefits.  

    For more information about how to apply for food assistance visit this page or call 1-866-762-2237.

    To get more information about the online purchasing piot click here.

    To see a list of items you can buy with SNAP benefits click here.


  • 6 Apr 2020 4:00 PM | Administrator (Administrator)


    The advancement of science has transformed the way we think, share, and regulate water. A long time ago, in what the Florida Supreme Court calls “ancient law,” no human appreciated the distinction between groundwater and surface water. We did not know that gravity pulls water downward, below the surface, below beyond the water table. We did not know that the water table fluctuates based on rainfall, tides, and other surface water influences. We did not know that the below the water table, there are aquicludes that separate water tables just beneath the surface from artesian aquifiers like the Florida Aquifier. We did not know these distinctive sources of water, let alone understand how they interact.

    So from England, we inherited the ill-informed idea that “to whomsoever the soil belongs, he owns also to the sky and to the depths.” But we cannot blame the English Rule on the English. The real culprit is ignorance. Ignorance was indeed the motivation for American courts to continue the English Rule in middle of the 19th century. The Connecticut Supreme Court, for example, declined to regulate groundwater because it moved “by influences beyond our apprehension.” The court continued, “These influences are so secret and uncontrollable, we cannot subject them to the regulations of law, nor build upon them a system of rules, as has been done, with streams upon the surface.” The Pennsylvania Supreme Court reached a similar conclusion: “One can hardly have rights upon another's land which are imperceptible, of which neither himself or that other can have any knowledge.”

    Eventually, scientists learned about the interdependence of water systems, and our judicial systems replaced the English Rule with the American Rule. As the Florida Supreme Court put it, “use your own property so as not to injure that of another.” The American Rule recognizes intricate hydrological realities of how we share groundwater. But Hawaii courts have gone further, recognizing the “precautionary principle” to water useThis is the idea that when we confront scientific uncertainty, we should proceed with caution. The precautionary principle promotes effective environmental measures, even when we are not certain of their necessity. Under the precautionary rule, ignorance is not an excuse. The precautionary principle demands certainty that no other person will suffer.

    Florida does not appear to have fully embraced this approach. One Florida court has allowed relatively relaxed water management practices because the statutory "time for construction, testing, and research" did not yet passThis policy means that water users can shoot first, then ask questions later. This attitude is unfortunate. We are still learning about the impact of water quality on our food system. But we have learned enough to better appreciate the limits of our knowledge, and the harm that may result when we do not exercise caution in the face of ignorance. One farm's water practices could harm other farms and everybody's food supply. In their article “Arsenic in Groundwater” published in Environment International, hydrogeologists Hugh Brammer and Peter Ravenscroft have shown us that phosphorus and other nutrients influence the amount of arsenic available for plant uptake, and that arsenic accumulates in irrigation water. Arsenic—whether from water or some other source, has led crop diseases known as “straighthead” and “parrot beak.” In some crops, yields have been reduced by as much as 90%. Through the centuries, we have appreciated the limits of human understanding of our food and water systems. When we approach the limits of human knowledge, we should act with humility and precaution. 

    The precautionary principle should be applied to water uses. We should be certain that our withdrawal, distribution, and handling of water is safe, rather than wait for evidence to mount to show that water uses are unsafe. We need legislation that specifically requires water permit applicants to prove safety before getting their permits. By putting safety first, we protect our water, and ensure that our food systems will not be compromised by suboptimal water management practices.


    Jesse Haskins started J. Haskins Law, P.A. to focus on local food communities. Jesse builds partnerships between farmers and communities. Prior to dedicating his practice to local agriculture, Jesse served as assistant attorney general for the State of Florida, assistant general counsel for the Florida Department of Financial Services, and as attorney for a large insurance defense firm. Jesse graduated from the Duke University School of Law in 2009. Jesse is an avid foodie. His favorite ingredient is tahini.

    Website: www.jhaskinslaw.com



    Disclaimer: The views of the writers do not represent the views of the Florida Food Policy Council. We are a forum for the offering and sharing of information and encourage diversity and communication within the food system.

  • 5 Apr 2020 4:30 PM | Administrator (Administrator)

    An Interview with Christopher Johns


    FLFPC Board Member and environmental attorney Christopher Johns took time to discuss his interest in policy, how he interacts with food policy in his work, and how policy can help fix gaps and challenges to create a brighter future. Below are some highlights from his interview.

    Watch his full interview here:

    Please introduce yourself.

    My name is Chris Johns. I'm an attorney with the law firm Lewis, Longman and Walker. I'm primarily in environmental law and also a little bit of land use law as well. I'm a Florida native. I was born in Hastings and raised there which is in Northeast Florida, just outside of St. Augustine. I went to the University of Florida for undergrad and got a degree in construction management. After undergrad I went back to work on my family's farm. I was the 5th generation in my family to farm. We are all, or were all, potato farmers. So, I spent about 4 or 5 years growing and helping manage my family’s potato production. Then while I was there, I got involved in several environmental issues that intersected with the agricultural community and through that experience I got an interest in law. I decided to go back to school and I went to the University of Florida and I got a law degree. Then after law school I got hired by Lewis, Longman and Walker, and I now live and work in West Palm Beach.

    When did you first become interested in food policy? 

    I first became interested in food policy in law school. I had the opportunity to intern at the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic and up until that point, most of my understanding of food and food production was pretty much limited to agricultural production. My time at Harvard really opened my eyes to how much more there is to food production and processing and distribution and consumption and waste, and the framework of looking through food systems really caught my imagination. Ever since then, it's been something I've been kind of interested in because it's a really important thing.

    In what ways does your job intersect with food policy? 

    There are primarily two ways. Land use law has a very direct impact on all sorts of aspects of the food system based on zoning laws and regulations that control where we can build things. As you can imagine, it has a very direct impact on cities and how much green space they have, and whether they allow for urban agriculture or raising animals in the proximity of residential areas with food that's getting produced.

    The second way my job kind of brushes up against food policy is a little more subtle. Most of the work I do relates to water law and water issues. As you can imagine, we need water to grow our food, and in particular, we need clean water to grow our food. There are a number of federal regulations that control and dictate what constitutes clean water and creates a regulatory framework for at least attempting to clean water that's already dirty and then keep water that is clean, clean into the future. And so that impacts the food system in a couple of ways. When growing vegetables, if you're irrigating your land, you don't want to be irrigating your land with water that has a lot of pollutants in it. Especially for something like leafy green vegetables where you might be irrigating through a sprinkler system or something that contacts the leaves. So, if you don't have clean water, then you are going to be putting dirty water out there and it might get on the leaves and it might make a bunch of people sick.

    Another way that is probably even more subtle but a lot more interesting is through what's known as bioaccumulation. Pollutants that go into the water can actually filter up into the food chain through sedimentation and then accumulation as small organisms living in polluted sediment absorb pollutants. Then bigger organisms come and eat those small ones. When they eat those small ones, they take on all the pollutants that are in them. It goes on up the food chain until you get to bigger and bigger things like fish and things that we actually consume. Over time, if your water is not clean enough and a lot of pollutants are going in the water, then you can end up accumulating a lot of serious pollutants into your food supply. It's very subtle but, as we're finding out, it can have significant impacts on really important parts of our food system.

    What are some gaps or challenges that can be addressed by food policies? 

    A good example that I always think about is hunger and food security. Florida produces an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables, yet if you look at the statistics a pretty surprising number of children are food insecure in our state. I believe it's somewhere in the realm of between 1 in 4 or 1 in 5 kids are food insecure at some point during the year. Looking at things through the lens of food systems allows you to identify if it is a production issue, a distribution issue, or an access issue. Are we not sending produce to where the hungry kids are? Can they not afford the produce? Once you identify where the weak link in the chain is, you can then use food policy to address and hopefully strengthen and mitigate those issues.

    Another interesting food policy tie-in is the environment. Food waste is a pretty serious issue. I think the older statistics are around 1/3 of the food that we produce doesn't get eaten and so it typically ends up in a landfill. One of the consequences of that is it's a huge contributor to greenhouse gases. It's primarily methane which is extremely potent, much more potent than carbon dioxide. So, knowing that is an issue we can then ask why this food is getting wasted and food policy helps us find solutions to reduce food waste or recycle it and put it to other uses that have better outcomes than sitting and decomposing in a landfill.

    What are your hopes for the future? How can policy get us there? 

    I think my main hope, well my belief really, is that we can produce enough food to feed everyone in the world. Currently we actually produce enough calories that could feed everyone but it's really not just making sure people have enough calories, it's also about making sure that people have proper nutrition. I think it should be one of the main goals of our society as citizens to make sure that we're producing enough healthy food and making sure that it gets to everyone who needs it. Looking at things from a food systems lens, is probably our best hope of being able to achieve that goal because it can identify issues with production, with distribution, with cost. And it's going to be through those various frameworks that help us figure out why children can’t get fed and why the food that they need is not getting to them. Hopefully, at that point we can get enough people to care to make a change and fix it.


    Bio: Christopher Johns is a native Floridian, born and raised in Hastings, Florida. The son of a 4th generation farmer, Chris was raised helping his family on their commercial farm. After receiving his bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida, he returned to his family’s farm to help manage production of their potato crop. After returning to the farm, he participated in the Florida Natural Resources Leadership Institute, where he graduated a fellow of Class IX. Chris earned a J.D. with a certificate in environmental and land-use law from the University of Florida Levin College of Law. While in law school, Chris interned at Harvard Law School’s Food Law and Policy Clinic.

    Today, Chris lives in West Palm Beach and works for, Lewis, Longman & Walker, as an environmental attorney. He represents a spectrum of clients from local governments, to Indian tribes, to private landowners, including agricultural producers, on complex issues involving environmental permitting and natural resource protection and development. He remains interested in food policy and using his skills, experience, and insights to foster meaningful improvements to food systems throughout Florida.


    Disclaimer: The views of the interviewee do not represent the views of the Florida Food Policy Council. We are a forum for the offering and sharing of information and encourage diversity and communication within the food system.

  • 2 Apr 2020 3:30 PM | Administrator (Administrator)


    Nearly every American life is impacted by COVID-19, but food insecure children are experiencing a unique challenge. With school closures consistent across not only the entire state but nearly the entire country, what is being done to ensure our children don’t have to add hunger to their list of challenges during this time?

    Fortunately, a significant amount. Several Florida counties have stepped up and provided school meal distribution to those in need immediately. Summer BreakSpots are open, and any child under the age of 18 can pick up food and doesn’t need to go to that school. Parents can also pick up the food with a waiver and identification of the student.

    The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and the Division of Food, Nutrition, and Wellness launched the website to help families find the closest schools where they can pick up breakfast and lunch during the extended break. There are more than 930 locations across the state offering this service. Pickups are generally in mid morning to early afternoon.



    “For millions of Florida’s children, school meals are the only meals they can count on. We are working closely with school districts to ensure that students have access to healthy, nutritious meals while schools are closed due to COVID-19,” stated Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried.

    To provide a picture of the number of students who rely on these lunches, “In the 2018-19 school year, Florida’s schools served 286,734,316 school lunches, of which 245,782,422 were free or reduced lunches. These schools served 2,908,335 Florida students, of which 2,089,852 were students receiving free or reduced lunches.” The existing issue of hunger is further complicated by many parents losing their jobs due to COVID-19, making purchasing necessities like food more difficult, and the allotted amount is not always enough.

    Many schools and pickup sites have enacted guidelines of social distancing, such as drive through lines and keeping distance if biking or walking, to prevent the spread of the virus. Additionally, everything must be taken to go. It is recommended to disinfect the bags of any take out foods and wash your hands as soon as you get home and again before eating.

    The plan to reopen school this year is still undetermined. In the meantime, this is the new normal. If you’d like to help out, some counties have safe distribution volunteer opportunities as well. 

    The new challenge of virtual schooling exists across the state. In every county, students are back to the books with online lectures and assignments from their teachers. Hopefully, a full belly will not be a challenge as well.



    Rachel Ram is a health educator, policy advocate, adventurer, and overall foodie. Rachel earned her Bachelor of Science in Health Education, Community Health and Preventive Medicine from the University of Florida in 2017. A lifetime resident of south Florida, she now resides in Brooklyn NY working for the American Lung Association. She began her work with the Florida Food Policy Council in 2016 and continues to raise awareness on food policy issues. Besides engaging in food policy, Rachel enjoys traveling, hiking, yoga, cooking and reading.



    Disclaimer: The views of the writers do not represent the views of the Florida Food Policy Council. We are a forum for the offering and sharing of information and encourage diversity and communication within the food system.

  • 28 Mar 2020 11:30 AM | Administrator (Administrator)

    CALL TO ACTION

    Farmers markets in many cities have been shut down and are unable to operate, thereby decreasing valuable opportunities to increase food access for individuals as well as revenues for Florida farmers.

    HOW YOU CAN HELP:

    Contact your Florida state and local governments asking them to issue a statement affirming the essential role farmers' markets play for Florida’s farmers, economy, and communities across the State, and affirmatively equate farmers’ markets with grocery stores and other retail outlets for the purposes of Covid-19 containment policies.


    Below is a sample letter:

    [DATE]

    [NAME

    ORG/OFFICE

    ADDRESS

    CITY, STATE, ZIP]


    CC: [NAME, TITLE]


    Re: Urgent Action Needed to Reopen [NAME OF MARKET] As Essential Service During COVID-19 Outbreak


    Dear [NAME],

    I am [name and organization]. We, like so many in our community, are concerned with ensuring the health and safety of everyone during the COVID-19 pandemic, while supporting the resilience of our local small businesses and regional food system. During this time of crisis, it is more important than ever to ensure that farmers’ markets continue to safely provide fresh foods to the community members that rely on them, while providing essential markets for farmers. [INSERT INFO ABOUT ORG/MARKET AND HOW IT CONNECTS TO ISSUE. INCLUDE INFO ABOUT NUMBER OF FARMERS, AMOUNT OF MONEY THAT STIMULATES LOCAL ECONOMY, USE OF CALFRESH/MARKET MATCH/WIC, ETC.] 

    For this reason, we are concerned that the [INSERT COUNTY OR CITY NAME] Farmers’ Market/s has/ve had its/their permit/s revoked and is/are now unable to operate. This means a significant loss in food access for the community and impacts the small and mid-sized farmers that rely on the market for their livelihood. [OPTIONAL: Use other local/regional examples] As of March 19th, Governor Newsom issued a Stay at Home Order, which lists farmers’ markets as one of a number of essential services that will remain open during the Order. Numerous Bay Area counties, through Shelter in Place Orders declared farmers’ markets as essential businesses. And many counties and cities outside of the Bay Area have also deemed farmers’ markets as essential businesses, including Los Angeles, Fresno, and Palm Springs.

    [ORG NAME] writes to request that [INSERT NAME OF COUNTY/CITY OFFICE WRITING TO] take swift action to allow continued operations of [ENTER MARKET NAME(S)], as the market plays an essential role for California’s farmers, economy, and communities across the State. We ask that you equate Certified Farmers’ Markets with grocery stores and other retail outlets for the purposes of COVID19 containment policies. Many people in Florida, including those using CalFresh, Women Infants & Children (WIC) benefits, and Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program vouchers rely on farmers' markets. [OPTIONAL: INCLUDE DATA ON CALFRESH, WIC, SFMN USAGE AT LOCAL MARKET] It is wrong to declare food stores as essential public services and not also farmers' markets.

    The rigorous regulations that normally govern farmers’ markets exist to prevent the spread of infectious diseases, and so farmers’ markets and market vendors are exceptionally well prepared to enact additional precautions. [MARKET NAME(S)] are ready to initiate all guidelines for Farmers’ Markets, published by the Florida Department of Public Health (FDPH), and additionally, are initiating additional measures including [INSERT ADDT MEASURES HERE IF APPLICABLE] to keep market shoppers, vendors and staff safe and mitigate the spread of COVID-19. In addition, Farmers’ Markets specifically have a number of additional benefits as food outlets including:

    • A shortened supply chain means that food passes through far fewer hands than other retail outlets;

    • Markets are open air with space to move away from people if needed;

    • Market trips are brief, unlike prolonged events, and average shopper outings at the market average around 20-30 minutes;

    • Farmers’ market booths are non-permanent, so products are not constantly being touched 7 days/week, and can be wiped down regularly by vendors.

    We urge [INSERT NAME OF COUNTY/CITY OFFICE WRITING TO] to take swift action to protect Florida Certified Farmers’ Markets, and the farmers who rely on them by reopening the [NAME OF MARKET]. The closure of our Certified Farmers’ Markets for several weeks, let alone several months, could result in the permanent loss of many of Florida’s family farms, which our communities’ food supply and economy relies on. 

    We appreciate your consideration and look forward to partnering with you to help Florida farmers and farmers’ markets navigate this crisis.


    Sincerely,

    [NAME]



    COVID-19 Resources for Farmers Markets:

    Florida Farmers Market Association Resources

    Fresh Access Bucks COVID-19 Updates and Resources

    COVID-19 Alternative Market Model Examples

    Online Sales Platforms for Farmers - Oregon Tilth

    Agricultural Justice Project Covid-19 Resources, Guidance, and Information



    If you have any helpful resources to contribute, comment below or contact us at info@flfpc.org.


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