Wednesday, November 06, 2013 • 9:51 AM Comments ()

Guest Column: New Rules Will Hurt Local Farms

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Local agriculture is strong in the Pioneer Valley, with over 150 farm stands, 40 farmers’ markets, and countless restaurants and grocery stores offering local food. We are lucky to have such a thriving local food system, and access to farm-fresh food is something we deeply value as a community.

New draft federal food safety rules under the Food Safety Modernization Act, however, threaten to reverse decades of progress toward building a thriving, sustainable local food system.

The proposed rules are wide-ranging, impacting wildlife and farm animal management, water testing, use of compost and manure, cooperative marketing and much more. They would disproportionately affect small farmers with high costs ($13,000 annually for farms with gross sales between $250,000 and $500,000, according to the FDA), and negatively impact the environment by discouraging sustainable farming practices.

Farmers like Dave Jackson Enterprise Farm in Whately worry that their quality of life, and that of their workers, will suffer: “It [limits] my ability to reward my workers more, [think] about a mortgage on new farm property, or [set up] a college fund for my kids. It easily cuts in half what little profit you get each year.” Jackson believes that the effect on less established farms than Enterprise would be worse.

“For a start-up grower hoping to gross as much as $250,000, [compliance could cost] every penny they would have to be able to feed their family,” he says. This is a vital issue we all need to care about to ensure that our food supply is safe and our neighbor farmers can keep growing the fresh, high-quality food we love. Healthy local farms are, after all, key to both food safety and food security.

Time and time again, the greatest risk to food safety occurs in the industrial food system, which grows most of our food. Even in Western Massachusetts, we estimate that only 10 to 15 percent of our diet is grown in our region. In the industrial food system, there is the commingling of many products from many different farm businesses, which must be bagged and shipped thousands of miles. When an outbreak of disease or toxicity occurs, it is much harder to track it to its source, since it may have occurred in any of a wide variety of locations in the chain.

There is an opportunity here—good food safety regulations could improve practices on all farms, including the small farms here in the Valley, with technical support and resources. But as the proposed rules are written, our community could lose our local family farms, which are already on the edge in this global food system.

We can make a difference by telling the FDA how important it is that the new rules do not put our local family farms out of business. The deadline to submit comments to the FDA is November 15—only a week away! You can join your neighbors in taking action at buylocalfood.org before these rules become final. Please help ensure that our local farms, CSAs, farmers’ markets and farmstands can continue to grow and thrive for generations to come.

Philip Korman is executive director and Kristen Wilmer is program coordinator of Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture.

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