Communicating community

Hopefully, all of you who read this blog are okay with my use of Vermont as one of this blog’s recurring examples of food system work. I will caution my readers to refrain from assuming that the Vermonters think they have it all figured out just because their residents are rightly proud of its glorious revival of small-acreage farming and its rep as an organic stronghold. I’d say the state food and farming leaders are very honest about the issues that they continue to face and their assessment of what remains to do. For example, there are still no full-time market managers at all and the average market manager makes less than 10,000 per year (really, it’s likely much less but I am trying to not overstate it here) and, in a state with only 625,000 residents (the most rural state in the union with 82.6 percent of its population living in either rural areas or small cities, and many of them poor*), the 80 or so markets are always struggling with maintaining attendance and sales amid strong competition from co-ops and other well-regarded outlets. And of course, like everywhere else, the state’s farmers are pulled in so many directions trying to serve every outlet at once while dealing with weather and regulatory woes and the typical small business challenges that many are not profitable.

What is exciting is that they all try to work collaboratively at the network level to seek appealing ways to showcase producers and organizers’ hard work. The pictures below are an example of that. My home team there (NOFA-VT) has an artist who does lovely work that hang on their walls and whose art is used by NOFA in many other ways. During my last visit, Erin Buckwalter showed me this bowl in their office of farming “affirmations” from that artist some of which also include actual data. She encouraged me to take a handful and so I have been asking people at markets to reach in to my bag of cutouts and take one. What a simple way to display the difference in our system from the one that reduces everything in a store to a place for purchased advertising. So if you see me, ask to dip in and see what you get…

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This one, from NOFA-VT’s imaginative and thoughtful Executive Director, will remain on my board to inspire me.

 

 

• Income and Poverty in Vermont

iMedian household income (in 2015 dollars), 2011-2015 $55,176 (US $53,889)
iPer capita income in past 12 months (in 2015 dollars), 2011-2015 $29,894 (US $28,930)
iPersons in poverty, percent Warning Sign 10.2% (US 13.5%)
Fifteen states have more than half their populations living in rural areas or in towns under 50,000 population.
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Vt Farmers Market Conference

 

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October Newsletter from Center for Agriculture and Food Systems (CAFS)

I am a huge fan of the Center for Agriculture and Food Systems at the Vermont Law School. This activist center has already added a great deal of thoughtful research to the field of community food and their impact continues to grow exponentially. It is my honor to be working on one of their projects, a legal toolkit for farmers markets, along with the good folks at NOFA-VT.

OCTOBER 2015

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GREETINGS
As I write this, the harvest is in and the farmers markets are in their final weeks. At CAFS, we have also had a bountiful season, presenting at conferences on each coast (the University of Oregon and Harvard University), teaching a wonderful class of food and agriculture law and policy students, and continuing our project work for food and agriculture producers and entrepreneurs. We are thrilled to report the award of additional funds through the National Agriculture Library, expanding that partnership through our innovative collaboration with William Mitchell Public Health Law Center and the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at the University of Connecticut. We are also pleased to announce the expansion of our staff with one of our own graduates, Sarah Danly, who is spearheading our leading-edge use of design, technology and the law to produce relevant and powerful legal tools. These are just a few highlights of what you will read below.
I hope you enjoy the fall issue.
Eat well, be well,
Laurie Ristino
Director, Center for Agriculture and Food Systems
Banner image courtesy of Brooklyn Grange

PROJECTS & RESOURCES
USDA National Agricultural Library
Awards CAFS $728,273 Grant
In September, CAFS received a $728,273 grant from the USDA National Agricultural Library. The grant will support three new projects; the largest — the Community FoodWorks project — is a collaboration with the Public Health Law Center at William Mitchell College of Law and the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at the University of Connecticut. The two additional projects, How to Use a Lawyer and Farmland Access Lease Assistant, will be designed to help farmers find and utilize legal resources.

STAFF SPOTLIGHT
Sarah Danly
Program Officer for Legal Design
Sarah recently earned her MELP (Master of Environmental Law and Policy) from Vermont Law School. She also holds a BA in Architectural Studies and Community Health from Tufts University, as well as a BFA from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, where she focused on sculpture, drawing, design, and digital skills.
   Sarah will work with students in the Food & Agriculture Clinic on designing accessible online legal tools and information, which include the animated clip, “What Does the Food and Ag Clinic Do?” Prior to coming to CAFS, Sarah conducted outreach for Next Step Living, a Boston-based home energy efficiency company, and worked at farmers markets as a vendor and assistant manager.

FACULTY SPOTLIGHT

CAFS Welcomes Practicing
Faculty Members Beth Boepple
and Amy Manzelli
Beth Boepple (right) is developing the fourth food and agriculture distance-learning course for CAFS, drawing on her rich experience practicing food and farm law. A VLS alum, Beth is a shareholder and attorney with Lambert Coffin in Portland, Maine, specializing in corporate, commercial and banking law; farm and food production law; and real-estate and land-use law.
    In addition, Beth will be co-teaching Agriculture and Food Entrepreneur Lawyering Skills with Amy Manzelli (left) in the spring. Amy currently collaborates with CAFS on two USDA-funded projects. She is a partner at BCM Environmental & Land Law, PLLC in Concord, New Hampshire, specializing in environmental, conservation, and land law.

NEWS & EVENTS
Director Laurie Ristino Presents at Harvard Law and the University of Oregon School of Law
On September 25, 2015, Ristino gave the presentation “Food, Agriculture, and Drought: Implications of Water Supply Scarcity on Food Production and Policy Solutions at the Federal, State, and Local Levels” at the Drought in the American West Symposium at the University of Oregon School of Law in Eugene. On October 3, she also gave a seminar at Harvard’s Food Law Student Leadership Summit entitled “No Food Without Nature.”
Associate Director Laurie Beyranevand Contributes to Recently Published Books
Beyranevand wrote the chapters “Breaking Down Barriers to Local Food Distribution in Urban Centers” from Urban Agriculture: Policy, Law, Strategy, and Implementation, and “Agricultural Biotechnology and NAFTA: Analyzing the Impacts of U.S. and Canadian Policies on Mexico’s Environment and Agriculture,” from NAFTA and Sustainable Development: The History, Experience, and Prospects for Reform.
People at CAFS
* Associate Director Laurie Beyranevand was interviewed October 1, 2015 on Heritage Radio Network’s Eating Matters podcast about food labels and CAFS’ food labeling site Labels Unwrapped. She was also quoted in Mother Jones‘ article, “Chipotle Says it Dropped GMOs. Now a Court Will Decide if That’s Bulls-t;” in ClimateWire‘s “Businesses learn there are tax incentives and laws to help them recycle mountains of food;” in the Valley News‘ article “Food Notes: A Modern Take on an Old-Time Product;” and in the Health Affairs Blog article “The FDA’s Determination on Artificial Trans Fat: A Long Time Coming.”
* Director Laurie Ristino was quoted in the Law360 article “9th Circ. Pesticide Ruling Holds EPA to High Standards,” commenting on the 9th Circuit Court’s decision to vacate several EPA registrations of bee-killing pesticides.

* Research Fellow Amber Leasure-Earnhardt(right) attended the Closing the Hunger Gap: Cultivating Food Justice conference in Portland, Oregon, in September. She met with food bank representatives, farmers, and advocates to discuss the role of CAFS’ gleaning research in furthering food justice.
* LLM Fellow Carrie Scrufari will be presenting her paper “Generally Recognized as Safe-Until They’re Not: Why the FDA Never Subtracts Food Additive From GRAS” at the Yale Food Systems Symposiumon October 30-31, 2015. She workshopped the paper in September at Pace Law School’s 2nd Annual Future Environmental Law Professors Workshop.
 

Vermont and Illinois market meetings

Sometimes work travel can be lonely. Saying goodbye to family and friends (especially when it’s 80 degrees at home and 15 at your destination), waiting at airports for hours, being at hotels on weekends. In my travels, I see and talk to plenty of people out there who live in the spaces from airport to hotel and back and spend most of their time in dry meetings in some nondescript building. I however, get to go hang out with warm and engaged market practioners who are interested in what a visitor is doing there. How gratifying it is when you bring up a market subject and eyes light up with recognition and excitement. Or that new market manager you spend some time with at lunch has great ideas and plans and you are able to say-“wow, you have an excellent plan, I think this is absolutely going to work” and they convey gratitude which is lovely but unnecessary. Or that you get to reconnect with market advocates you met on a previous trip and laugh, talk and maybe make a friend.
This month I did that in 2 states- Vermont and Illinois. Both are states that I have been invited to previously and was very honored to be invited back again.
In Vermont, I traveled to the conference with a market leader who I admire and can bat ideas back and forth on a wide-ranging set of topics. Once on the Vermont Law School’s beautiful campus in South Royalton, I get to see many peers again who catch me up and share news. The host organization, NOFA-VT is an honorable elder organization that has true leadership and camaraderie and those qualities are shared by those who comes to their events. Everyone shows up for them, from the Agency of Ag to the state benefit program leaders and a whole bunch of assorted activists. Vermont is so focused and collaborative on building their sustainable place that it feels important to keep reminding them how far forward in the vanguard that they are and how we are all watching their work closely for replication.
Adding to that, colleagues from previous years have become friends and take good care of me and make sure I have fun and good food: this trip, Libby was on call for me.
After those few days in Vermont, I hopped over to Illinois, first to Chicago and them to Springfield for the Illinois Farmers Market Association meetings (IFMA). This association has ramped up their activities very quickly, partnering on multiple trainings, analysis, policy work and pilots in every corner of this big state. I was able to drive from Chicago to Springfield with the state’s mother hen of markets, IFMA’s energetic and multi-tasking Executive Director Pat Stieren along with a fellow baseball pal with a wise agricultural/entrepreneurial mind, IFMA board member and Local Food Systems/Small Farms Educator at University of Illinois Extension, Deborah Cavanaugh-Grant. THAT conversation was global in its range and so very entertaining.
The board of the IFMA is one of the most hands-on that I have worked with, no doubt. Washington state’s market meeting seemed this year to have about the same level of participation and leadership from their board, and I am sure that other states that I have not been to recently will email me to tell me how great their board is too, but in Illinois I saw so much integrated activity for markets across all of the disciplines the board represents that I will hold them up this year as a beacon of volunteerism and professionalism.

Illinois also had an impressive amount of partners at both of their meetings, from USDA staff to technology solution providers to regional academic and NGO stakeholders. They are very interested in evaluation for markets and so asked many questions about the Farmers Market Metrics projects being piloted at FMC. I do think that when a state reaches for common sense and multiple ways to measure what is being done at markets, that those states are really ready to boost market capacity. It is no secret that one of my goals as a consultant is to build a professional set of market managers across the nation, well-paid and able to stay in place to pilot new ideas that keep their markets at the center of their food system. Obviously without a way to show how they increase benefits across many types of capital, markets will continue to use all of their energy and strategic thinking time on just the lengthy day-to-day to-dos every market has and as a result, will never grow their markets to sustainability or increase their own leadership.
It was probably not a coincidence that both of these states (and others) have started to create more peer-to-peer discussion opportunities at these meetings, which of course, will lead to more leadership development and embedded practioner problem-solving. I look forward in future years to those discussions being recorded or notes uploaded for other markets to learn from and action items identified to complete.
What both states struggle with at these meetings is how to assist the new markets (and sometimes the even newer organizers who aren’t even sure that a market is what they will do) who tend to show up in large numbers to these events, while still keeping the experienced markets attending. It may be time to create separate tracks for new and experienced managers for half a day and then bring them together at lunch, or to ask more of the experienced managers to design and lead more workshops in the morning and then allow them to meet with their peers in the afternoon. I’d also love to see one or two states pilot a one-on-one training system with a mentor market and a newer one at these conferences, offering 2-3 hour sessions with checklists and worksheets to be completed at the end by the trainee.
In any case, it was a marvelous week of market talk and ideas being offered and expanded, and I look forward to many more of these meetings and a return to two of my favorite market states.

Good information picked up in VT and IL

Good information picked up in VT and IL

IFMA discussion group

IFMA discussion group


Vermont Roundtable

Vermont Roundtable

Farmers Market Legal Toolkit Project

As a member of this team, I’m pleased to share the news of this project being funded:
The Vermont Law School’s Center for Agriculture and Food Systems received funding to develop a Farmers Market Legal Toolkit (FMLT) and educate market leaders on various legal topics that affect them. The project will be conducted in partnership with NOFA- VT, who will assist them in collecting data on area farmer’s markets. The legal toolkit will include resources in three major areas: governance structure of farmer’s markets, liabilities related to use of EBT/SNAP systems, and general risk management.

Research Awards to Support Rural Communities | National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.

(USDA Editor’s Note: The USDA press release mistakenly identified this project as the University of Vermont and the USDA research summary system mistakenly identified it as the University of Arizona, but it is in fact Vermont Law School.)

Market Benefit and Incentives PPT-Vermont 2013 – Helping Public Markets Grow

Since I’m back in Vermont for the 2014 Direct Marketing Conference, I decided to upload the Power Point from the 2013 Wholesome Wave convening that Erin Buckwalter of NOFA-VT and I gave about the 2013 Vermont Market Currency Report. I’ll add notes for each slide sometime in the next month or two but the data will still be helpful to many.

Market Benefit and Incentives PPT-Vermont 2013 – Helping Public Markets Grow.

Vermont Law School Helps Farmers Markets and CSAs

Good overview of the new Center for Agriculture and Food Systems at Vermont Law School that Laurie Ristino is heading. I am honored to be part of one of their first grants to help markets, written in partnership with NOFA-VT. If the proposal is successful, legal resources will be written for markets and for CSAs over the next few years.

VT Law