Louisiana Update #9: A post-flood visit with a market farmer

Spent Wednesday morning tagging along with Copper Alvarez on her BREADA Small Farm Fund site visit to Lucy Capdeboscq’s home and farm near Amite. Copper has been crisscrossing the state seeing farmers who are reporting losses from this month’s floods. It’s important to note that BREADA is not focused only on their market farmers needs, but doing their best to get funds to any market farmer across the state.  Although one of Lucy’s daughters had been one of Red Stick market vendors in the past, Lucy sells only at the Saturday Crescent City Farmers Markets down in New Orleans. As a result, she was surprised when Copper contacted her by phone, asked if she had damage and then offered an evaluation visit in case BREADA’s fund might be able to help.

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Of course, no decisions or promises are made during the visits about any support, but as Lucy commented, the contact and visit were very welcome. Crescent City Farmers Market is also reactivating their Crescent Fund and has already had Lucy fill out their short form to receive assistance. The Crescent Fund is hoping to raise enough money to handle the 8 or so CCFM market farmers who have indicated losses, by quickly offering up to $1,500 for their farm needs.

To get to Lucy’s place, one turns off the main road at the permanent sign indicating it is also the direction to the legendary Liuzza strawberry farm. Although their famous berries are still a few weeks from being planted, other products like cucumbers could be seen in some of their fields. When you know that Lucy is a Liuzza by birth , it is clear why she lives amid those fields, (just off Jack Liuzza Lane) on the land deeded her by her parents. She and her late husband Allen raised their children here and kept their land productive even when they took on other professional occupations.

Allen and Lucy joined the Crescent City Farmers Market shortly after it opened. The Caps (as their farm name is known) were a huge hit immediately due to  Lucy’s charming customer service and Allen’s practical sense for growing their traditional yet innovative items. Lucy’s arrangements of zinnias and lilies with her decorative okra, hibiscus buds and her legendary sunflowers have remained market favorites since those early days.  As Poppy Tooker wrote in the 2009 Crescent City Farmers Market cookbook: “Lucy and Al have built a reputation for forward thinking innovation. They were the first to try early harvested rapini and green garlic made so popular in California.”

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Lucy’s okra, used for her bouquets.

To me, the Caps are a quintessential market vendor type: growing traditional and newer South Louisiana products on a small piece of land behind their home within sight of other family members also still farming. As a matter of fact, on one of my visits to the farm years ago, Lucy told me how much she was looking forward to letting a shopper know that next Saturday that their favorite item had been planted that week and would soon be back at market. That deep awareness of specific customer likes seemed to me then (and still) to be the best illustration of the personal touch of direct marketing farming that I have come across in my site visits.

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Louisiana Update # 8: The natural cost

 

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The flood leaves a watermark stain on the tree’s leaves as U.S. Geological Survey surveyor Scott Hedgecock works to survey the water levels along the Tangipahoa River along Highway 190 just west of Robert, Louisiana. (Photo by Ted Jackson NOLA.com )

Climate change is not entirely accepted, even by those for whom it should be obvious possibly because it is not entirely understood.  People don’t feel its effects as they move in comfort from their air-conditioned personal vehicle to living amid a span of concrete around their glass-enclosed home away from coasts or forests, getting most of their information through a thumbnail headline or from friends who work and live in the very same setting. In other words, industrialized countries.

Another culprit may be the environmental work done in the 1970s and 1980s, which often used unfamiliar phrases that lacked relevancy such as global warming (or even the term used at the beginning of this post, climate change) and focused mostly on national policy changes or in shaming users of resources without compelling evidence of the effect of that reduction. Environmentalists were seen as “do-gooders” who meant well but lacked realistic goals (this was actual feedback from focus groups at an organization I worked at in the 1980s.)

The strong pushback showed the fallacy of engaging ordinary citizens using lofty or scientific terms and  led to many turning to food as an organizing tool. After all, what could be better as an impetus to understanding and sharing the repair of the natural world but food?

Yet in the roll call of environmentalists circa 2016, food system organizers are usually in the middle of the pack. Most can certainly outline the issues involved with food production that both imperil and reboot Mother Nature, but are rarely working directly on those issues in concert with environmental organizations. Farmers markets have done an admirable job on promoting entrepreneurial activity and improving access, but efforts to highlight the stewardship of the natural world by market farmers has fallen a little behind.

I hear our great writer Wendell Berry exhorting us to remember the farmers:

“Good farmers, who take seriously their duties as stewards of Creation and of their land’s inheritors, contribute to the welfare of society in more ways than society usually acknowledges, or even knows. These farmers produce valuable goods, of course; but they also conserve soil, they conserve water, they conserve wildlife, they conserve open space, they conserve scenery.”

The  “eyes to acres” ratio suggested by Berry and Wes Jackson needs to be included in regional planning theory and in the metrics that assess our work. Within the framework of disaster, the acknowledgment of the need for that ratio could mean”deputizing” farmers to supply immediate indicators of the level of destruction.

Disasters point out the fragility of a place and at the same time remind us of the strength of human ties and the resolve of communities. Following that line of thinking, deeper knowledge of local and regional systems would help knit everyone more closely together, allow for rescue and recovery to happen faster even as it is offering a narrative with more relevancy to those in far-off but similarly sized food systems.  If the watershed or the regional system for food production were one such way to describe the need among those participating in food initiatives, assistance could be met one farm, one family or even one small town at a time.

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Louisiana Update #7: Online support

One of the innovations I have seen in the decentralized recovery efforts (and we have moved from rescue to recovery, with rebuilding as the next step to come) is the idea of aligned organizations in New Orleans using Amazon and other online sites and their direct shipping to buy supplies for their sister organization in one of the flooded zones. Or, create or use accounts for those registered with them and send them items needed directly to the households the next day!

What we learned here in years past is that sending funds to a general account can delay support as it means that checks have to be deposited or  those knee-deep in flooded homes have to manage the funds away from recovery work, wherever internet connections and computers can be found.

This method allows friends outside of the flooded zone to upload the list of items and then those items to be purchased and sent directly to those in need.

Here are 3 of those; the first one in the Baton Rouge area and the second in the Acadiana area:

Together Baton Rouge

Blessings For New Iberia             Their Facebook site

The third may require a little added explanation: Many folks across the U.S. see Mardi Gras only as a time of debauchery, but in reality, it is a celebratory Lenten public event with deep community attachments. Most of the “krewes” that parade are actually social aid clubs that give back to the community throughout the year. The list of their good works is too long to list, but here is one of my favorite walking clubs that will use the direct donation process to help with recovery. They have a list of folks to send the items directly to via the online purchases made by the organization.

Dames de Perlage

I have encouraged some of the farmers in the Acadiana parishes to do this as well, as there are few if any food or farming organizations in the area to collect support on their behalf. As I receive those, I’ll post them in future updates.

For those farmers in the Baton Rouge areas, BREADA has had an active small farms fund for over a decade that will help many such farmers. I saw a sign at the New Orleans farmers market suggesting that Market Umbrella will also be setting up a farm recovery fund that will support their farmers on the North Shore hit hard by this event. More on that later as I get more information.

Truly the recovery has been managed most ably by on the ground organizations, tied together to others via word of mouth, social media or texting. The larger organizations are working as well, but seemingly unable to process real-time innovations or absorb local help very well. This is the new reality of disaster zones:  two separate efforts working at the same time, rarely transecting and with different expectations. Sounds a lot like the food system.

 

 

 

 

Louisiana Update #6: Food for everyone

Local-girl-made-good Fleurty Girl CEO Lauren LeBlanc’s FB update shows how the Louisiana culture of food and community comes together when needed. Everyone who was in the Gulf Coast from 2005-2008 remembers how a good meal after hours of tearing out drywall made it possible to come back the next day, and since eating red beans together outside in some tailgating/parade chair is a familiar practice here, normalizing.

Some of our busiest and most celebrated restaurant chefs have been the first to get food out in the worst areas after various disasters.  Just like in 2005, John Besh and his fellow chefs were set up feeding first responders in flooded areas within a few days. 

Free food/hot meals on Saturday, August 20th:

DENHAM SPRINGS:

-Chef Alon Shaya (!!!), of Shaya restaurant in New Orleans, will be cooking red beans and rice with the John Besh Foundation in the Ryan’s parking lot at 916 S. Range Ave in front of the Wal Mart at noon tomorrow.

-The Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation will be grilling burgers in the New Covenant Baptist Church parking lot at 215 Florida Ave (next to James’ Grill) starting serving at 11am.

-A group of NOLA friends will be grilling 1,000 burgers behind the Whitney Bank on Florida Ave in Denham Springs. They’ll also have 800 cookies from Moonshine Bake Shoppe.

-Christ’s Community Church will be setting up out front and serving 6000-8000 hot meals for lunch and dinner at 26574 Juban Road.

ALBANY
– Located at 30057 N. Cafeline Rd. Sat. August 20, starting at 11am, Red Beans, Smoked Sausage over Rice, bread & Cake

GONZALES
-Truckload of non-perishable food will be distributed at The Christian Assembly at 41258 Hwy 941 in Gonzales starting at 2pm.

-Hot meals for lunch and dinner served in the parking lot of Fellowship Church at 10757 Airline Hwy.

PRAIRIEVILLE
-Hot meals for lunch and dinner served in the parking lot of Fellowship Church at 14363 Hwy 73 in Prairieville.

ST. AMANT
-Hot meals at The Church in St. Amant at 13423 Hwy 431 in St. Amant, LA 70769.

ROBERT
-free food and misc supplies in the parking lot across from Robert Supermarket. Should get started at 11am.

Whether you’re cleaning your own home or helping someone with theirs, you’re gonna eat GOOD Saturday! ❤️❤️❤️

10,500 hot meals from @OpBBQRelief distributed at Denham Springs at Sams Club Sunday. Will be doing it again Monday.CqajnEtUsAAe27J.jpg

Louisiana Update #4: Telethon for Second Harvest Food Bank: donate at www.no-hunger.org

Louisiana Update #2

Current crest level and the previous record levels of the rivers in our watershed:Cp6brbwVUAAjtEz.jpg

Louisiana Floods, Update #1

Sunday update from Copper Alvarez, BREADA Executive Director:

Checking in with our Red Stick farmers and Main Street Market folks today — A lot of fields under water but most homes are okay…Keeping Louisiana and the Baton Rouge region in our prayers! 

Support the farms of Louisiana by donating to the BREADA Small Farms Fund.

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Sunday update from Hammond Farmers Market:
Hello all, from what we’ve heard all of our market family is safe and sound! We hope everyone else is faring well through this crazy time.

Our farmers are all safe, although fields, fences, and feed did not fare so well…If anyone is looking to help out, we are asking for livestock/chicken feed as one of our farms lost everything in the storm.

If you’re interested in donating feed to help our farmers out, please email us at hammondmarket@gmail.com or message us on or FB page.

Everything, no matter how small is appreciated.

-Ashton

 

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UPDATED: Darker blue shade shows areas that have a new flooding threat from back water off the Amite

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Dear Baton Rouge, New Orleans has your back

 

Securing or Expanding Your State Cottage Food Law 

BY far, the most visited posts on this blog over the last two years have been those on cottage food laws. As someone who ran markets in a city/state with byzantine rules and a total lack of clarity for producers, I was gratified when a cottage producer took it upon herself to push for such a law in Louisiana, following recent adoption of one in neighboring Mississippi. That law had been championed by a task force headed ( I believe) by a researcher from Harvard.

Markets can help this process even when not leading it by maintaining and sharing their internal process for inspections, permits and on-site pricing/labeling rules with those advocates working to begin or expand their cottage food laws.

In addition, markets can collect qualitative data through Marker Surveys (allowing them to write a quote on the sheet) from shoppers about how they feel about the short chain system that relies on the deep and regular relationship they have in their markets and then to share those stories with those advocates.

In addition, I’d be happy to share the template of the mystery chef project that I employed at my markets which encouraged selected market community members to purchase products already at market and gave a written  assessment on the taste, display and labeling of that product. That assessment was sent via postcard to the vendor via mail and a copy was put into their file. The most common result was a positive assessment and so we also encouraged them to display the postcard at their table if they wished. Send me an email to dar wolnik at gmail if you want me to send you that template-that is if I can find it. Additionally, the other piece of that system was the mystery shopper surveys that we also created; one of the templates is available on the http://www.marketumbrella.org site on their Marketshare page. All it requires is the creation of a free log in and password to see all of the resources they offer on their page.

Here are the results from my posts about cottage food laws; and the link below leads to a very good framework for those states (or cities or counties) to plan or expand their own systems: Securing or Expanding Your State Cottage Food Law – Real Food – MOTHER EARTH NEWS

Farming oysters and clams

Recently, I heard an absorbing edition of Louisiana Eats (food and culture maven Poppy Tooker’s radio show full of “edible content”)  about seafood, and specifically about oysters and clam production along the Gulf Coast of the U.S. Poppy visits a new “off-bottom” oyster farm that is producing bigger and cleaner oysters than ever before and talks to our pal Rusty Gaude, marine biologist and seafood extension agent who has been working on increasing varieties of clams and oysters for many years.  I wrote a short piece about the oyster project a while back and now with Poppy’s show, could actually visualize and understand what they are doing down there.

As for Rusty’s excellent work, I wrote a bit about it recently here.

I know Poppy knows a great deal about oysters as she and I (with funding from Kellogg for our market organization to make teaching videos) had interviewed innovative oystermen in Puget Sound among others, a few years back. The amount of time that she volunteered for ours and other projects confirms how committed Poppy is to improving the lot for Gulf Coast fishing families while also educating folks on the need for reducing the erosion that is likely to sink New Orleans within the next 75 or so years.

To me, the link to all of this is the market organization that first introduced Poppy and Rusty (and me) and allows all kinds of leaders in the community to ask for feedback or space to test out ideas: this is the type of work that farmers markets can curate and encourage even if they are not the main recipient of those new goods-after all, more regional sustainable goods available helps everyone.

Read about another innovative project to reduce the erosion using artificial reefs that encourage oysters to grow and protect the coast.

 

 

 

Farmers market ‘reconnects’ with campus 

This is a project I have assisted whenever called on to do so. This university attracts a great many rural and suburban from a diverse set of backgrounds and yet has almost no attention paid to environmental sustainability or food policy in its coursework, outside of a very few entrepreneurial and committed professors.

A selected student runs the 2-3 times per semester market, and is in charge of adding vendors, running the actual market day and doing on-campus marketing. From my vantage point, this simple project has taught quite a few young adults about farming and about healthy food at a point when they are willing to take in new information. It has also opened an ongoing discussion of why the campus outlets don’t offer better and local food whenever possible.
This market is also an example of the expanded typology that we need to categorize and share so that organizers or partners don’t only expect a 30 + member heavy-on-raw-goods Saturday morning market as the only appropriate intervention. The goals of this market are closely tied to their unique structure and strategy or, what we used to call the 4Ms at Market Umbrella (well, I still call them that)-the market’s mission, management, marketing and measurement. Those first two Ms are the framework for the internal systems created and are linked (the mission should tell you what type of management/governance is required) and the following two are designed once the system of management has been created.

(By the way, this is also a framework we used for evaluating any new project at MU for many years: we first decided if any project suggested was clearly within our mission; then we discussed the type of supervision (management) that would be required and decided if we had the skills and hours to do it well; any marketing and outreach also meant ensuring that our vendors and present shoppers understood the project and of course measurement was based on the external benefits of the project but the impact on the market itself was also measured. Even if the project was successful by external measures, if the present market community felt the project had negative impacts that outweighed the positive ones, then it was not repeated or made into a actual program past pilot stage.)

Many vendors found having a farmers market on campus was beneficial towards the students. It offered students a way to buy local food. Ory explained that Locally Preserved products could easily be incorporated into easy meals for college students. One option is adding their apple pie butter to a bowl of oatmeal for flavor.

Source: Farmers’ market ‘reconnects’ with campus | lionsroarnews

 

Some background from the professor and the founder…

New state laws boost farm to school in Louisiana

The first is Senate Bill 184 – the “Small Purchase Threshold” bill. Up until now, any food purchase a school made larger than $30,000 was subject to a complicated bidding process, known as a “formal bid.” This made it difficult for schools to get seasonal and local foods because the process is often challenging for smaller-scale, local farmers. The passage of SB 184 increased the small purchase threshold to meet the federal standard of $150,000, enabling schools to work more closely with small-scale farmers to serve local food to Louisiana children.

The second is House Bill 761 – the “Urban Ag Incentive Zone” bill. This bill creates urban agriculture incentive areas and reduces taxes on land used for urban farming. It greatly reduces expenses associated with acquiring urban agricultural land, and in turn encourages Louisianans to grow more local food.

Source: New state laws boost farm to school in Louisiana

Louisiana updates its cottage law on labels for raw honey, state sales tax

June 2015: The update means no label is required to sell raw honey and deletes the earlier need for registering at the state for sales tax collection. However, if there is local (parish or municipality) sales tax registration and collection  required, it does not lift that requirement.

The following foods were specifically listed:

  • Baked goods, including breads, cakes, cookies and pies
  • Candies
  • Dried mixes
  • Honey and honeycomb products
  • Jams, jellies, and preserves
  • Pickles and acidified foods
  • Sauces and syrups
  • Spices

My original post on the subject in 2013

2014 revisions to cottage food law

New for 2015: no label required for sales of raw honey

 

Good site for the cottage food community which includes some interpretation of laws.

More detail from the sales tax issue. The original article from TP overstates the sales tax issue a bit. I asked for a clarification from the sponsor and this is what I was sent:

The pertinent information is in the bill itself on page 1, line 19 through page 2, line 5 of HB 79 Enrolled – which provides as follows:

“No individual who prepares low-risk foods in the home shall sell such foods unless he is registered to collect any local sales and use taxes that are applicable to the sale of such foods, as evidenced by a current sales tax certificate issued to the seller by the sales and use tax collector for the parish in which the sales occur.”

This means that if any local sales taxes are applicable to the sale of the food, then the seller must be registered to collect that tax in order to sell his home-produced food legally. If no local sales taxes are applicable to the sale of the food, then the seller doesn’t need to be registered to collect taxes on the sale of the food.

The main purpose of this particular amendment that HB 79 makes to the cottage law is to strike the reference requiring sellers to register to collect state sales tax. This correction was necessary as state sales tax does not apply to food for home consumption

Hope this helps,

Brandy Pearce
Legislative Assistant to
Representative Richard Burford

 

 

The Association of State and Territorial Health Officials on cottage food laws

Tyler Ortego’s Big Idea is fighting coastal erosion with oysters

1) Food and environment should be linked more often.
2) I think my region will become ground central for innovation on coastal reclamation.
The work along the Gulf Coast to deal with the loss of habitat because of climate change and natural resource depletion could very well become a beacon for other coastal communities. I can tell you that we are here (at the intersection of the busiest set of ports in the Western Hemisphere by the way) and we will remain here as long as we can to find ways to mitigate the loss of land and food.

Some time take a look at the wetlands map of the coast of North America and estimate how much undeveloped land remains in the South that can be the start of reclaiming food and place.
Tyler Ortego's Big Idea is fighting coastal erosion with oysters | NOLA.com.

Growing populations and development along the coasts increase the vulnerability of coastal ecosystems to sea level rise. Development can change the amount of sediment delivered to coastal areas, worsen erosion, and remove or damage wetlands. For example, coastal Louisiana lost 1,900 square miles of wetlands in recent decades due to human alterations of the Mississippi River’s sediment system and oil and water extraction that has caused land to sink. As a result of these changes, wetlands do not receive enough sediment to keep up with the rising seas and no longer function as natural buffers to flooding. Rising sea levels could also increase the salinity of ground water and push salt water further upstream. This salinity may make water undrinkable without desalination, and harms aquatic plants and animals that cannot tolerate increased salinity. In the mid-Atlantic region, sea level rise is making estuaries more salty, threatening aquatic plants and animals that are sensitive to salinity.

Mo’ Money? No Problem.

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The picture is from my regular weekly, year-round Saturday market, founded in 1996 in the small town of Covington Louisiana, which is only 40 miles north of New Orleans but separated from it by Lake Pontchartrain and its 24 mile-long bridge.

The market is very ably run by sisters Jan and Ann, using very minimum staff hours but with enormous amounts of community buy-in. They have music scheduled every week, often have food trucks and during holidays have author signings or tasting events. The market has loads of seating, a permanent welcome structure with donated coffee and branded merchandise for sale. I tell you all of that to show how they balance the needs of the shoppers (by adding amenities that cannot be offered by the vendors) and the needs of their vendors (they keep the fees low by having less staff hours and carefully curate the products to showcase only high-quality regionally produced items), but also do their very best in their estimation to reduce their own wear and tear as staff.

To that end, they decided long ago to not participate in the same farmers market wireless machine/token system that we had in New Orleans; I had been the Deputy Director of that market organization and in 2006 or so had shared news of our emerging token and benefit program system with nearby markets in case they wanted to add the same; Covington told me then they didn’t see the need in their small town, even though they know and care about the large number of low-income people on benefit programs living nearby and do their best to offer a wide variety of price points and goods. I must confess that after our initial chat I was a bit disappointed by the lack of interest in expanding the reach, but soon realized this was an example of a particular type of market (rural niche) and the leadership was comfortable with the middle-class vibe they had certainly attracted. And I also realized a few years later that if they had been influenced by our complex system, it would have probably been a wrong move for the market at that time (more on that later.)

They knew, however, they at least needed the access for shoppers to get more cash and had asked the bank (a market sponsor) to have an ATM, and had also asked the municipality to add one (the market space is on city hall property), but couldn’t get anyone to move on the request. Finally, a 3rd party entrepreneur approached them to put one in and ta-daa, they finally have their ATM. It is moved in on Saturday morning and out again when the market is done, but the market will have a conversation soon with the mayor (a strong market supporter) about getting it there permanently. I was thrilled to see even that machine, as the nearest bank is blocks away and on far too many days I have grumpily got BACK in my truck to get more cash.

And in the days since those early rounds of proselytizing for (only) a centralized token/EBT/Debit system at every market, my own work has led me to the conclusion that instead there needs to be a suite of systems for markets to choose the appropriate version to process cards, rather than just the one system for everyone. Some markets can serve their shoppers with an ATM (some can own it, some can lease theirs and some can have a 3rd party offer the service like Covington), with some farmers having EBT/debit access on their own; some markets can use a phone-in system for EBT and have a Square on a smart phone at the market or farmer-level; some need the centralized system, but are figuring out electronic token systems; and yes, some do still need to bells and whistles of the centralized token system; and some markets need that system that is still developing, as technology continues to change to add more options for these systems.

What will help this multi-tiered system to happen is for markets to keep on sharing their ideas with each other and to gather data on why their system works for their community. That may be as simple as doing a regular Dot Survey/Bean Poll to ask shoppers about the interest in card use, or doing an annual economic survey like SEED, or asking their vendors on their annual renewal/application form about their use or projected use of card technology (you’d be surprised how many vendors already have Square or another version of it). And markets and vendors that do have the technology need to track the time and effort it takes to process cards and to build the entire system, which includes some outreach and marketing, and a significant amount of bookkeeping and share that information.

I keep gathering examples of innovation among markets and hope that sooner or later I (or other more able researchers) can be tasked with conducting in-depth research about those ideas to offer the market field a more comprehensive and dynamic view of all of the great ideas managed by our market systems. In the meantime, if you come to Covington your pajeon (warm Korean pancake) is on me; after all, I’ve got the cash.