Big News for Montana’s Beginning Farmers and Ranchers

The USDA has awarded over $250k to the Community Food & Agriculture Coalition to expand Montana’s training and resources for beginning farmers and ranchers. The grant, which was awarded through the highly competitive national Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, will focus on workshops and resource development. This is the first time a BFRDP grant has been awarded for work in Montana.

Photo by Chad Harder

Photo by Chad Harder

“Over the past fifteen years, the average age of farmers in Montana has gone up from 53 to almost 59 – and it’s even higher in Missoula County. That means that our overall population of farmers is aging rapidly and we need to be replenishing that pool with young people if we want Montana to remain an agricultural state,” says Annie Heuscher, program director at CFAC. “At the same time, we’re starting to see growth – between 2007 and 2012, Montana gained 91 farmers under the age of 34! The future of Montana’s agriculture depends on cultivating and supporting this next generation.”

The project will expand and enhance offerings for beginning farmers across the state, rolling out new programming continuously over the next three years. Workshops focusing on financial, legal, business planning, and land access topics will be offered during the winter months in Missoula and around the state via a partnership with MSU Extension. During the summer months, the project will offer on-farm field days for interns and new farmers on a wide array of production topics.

Two of the primary challenges facing beginning farmers are access to financing and access to land. The final two pieces of the project will focus on those challenges, with a range of partners coming together to develop local financing and investing tools and enhance statewide land access tools.

Liz Yuhas is a beginning farmer who has a small operation in Target Range. In early 2014, looking to expand her farm, Yuhas signed up for CFAC’s first year of business planning workshops. “The workshops did a thorough job of introducing me to what building a farm from the ground up entails.  Meeting other farmers with innovative ideas inspired me and made me feel I wasn’t alone in this,” says Yuhas.  “The information was eye opening for me.”

For more information on upcoming resources, visit http://www.MissoulaCFAC.org. This project is a partnership with MSU Extension, the National Center for Appropriate Technology, Farm Hands, the Montana Community Development Corporation, and the Montana Sustainable Growers’ Union (Homegrown) and is financially supported by the USDA NIFA BFRDP program.

FSMA is Back! Comment by 12/15!

2014_11-FSMACompost, water, wildlife, costs to farmers and processors – some good changes were made in the FDA’s latest revisions to the Food Safety Modernization Act, but there is still a LOT that needs to change!

As currently proposed, the rules will:

  • Squash local food: the proposed rules unfairly burden local and regional food innovations and limit opportunities for family farmers to launch and grow their businesses
  • Undermine sustainability: the proposed rules make it harder for farmers to use sustainable methods to protect soil, water and wildlife.
  • Raise costs: the proposed rules impose major expenses on small farms and food businesses and lack fairness, clarity, and consistency.

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) has done an incredible job of putting together info that will help you figure out if you’ll be affected by the proposed rules, highlight the top changes, and explain in-depth the various issue areas.

Click here for a summary of the top 10 fixes and fails in this update.

Click here for a flowchart that can help you identify if you’ll be affected by the Produce Rule, Preventive Controls Rule, or BOTH.

Click here for in-depth information on each of the major changes you might want to comment on.

Click here for info on how to make comments to the FDA: Due by December 15th!

If you have a story about how these rules will impact your farm, PLEASE consider sharing your story!  Showing real-life impacts is the most helpful way to make decision-makers understand the implications of your actions.  NSAC is collecting stories to share with the media around the country.  Click here to share your story.

THE ISSUES IN MONTANA

Although all of these issues have the potential to impact Montana’s farmers, there are a key few that we’re most concerned about.  We recommend you read through all of the key issue areas on NSAC’s website (see link above), but here are a few we’re most concerned about in rough order of importance (much of the info below comes from NSAC’s work):

Ag Water: PR

Background: While many farmers in Montana have switched a portion or all of their watering to drip irrigation, many still use direct water application through pivots, hand lines, etc.  The revised PR added some flexibility to the water standard but it is still requiring that farmers adhere to a “recreational” water quality standard that is totally unnecessary and is still including costly, unscientific standards like overly burdensome water testing requirements.  Here’s an example from NSAC: A farmer who uses water from a stream on his property to irrigate his fields (though not using drip or furrow irrigation) would be required to first take at least 20 samples over a minimum two year period to develop a water quality profile for each water source, and then verify the profile with 5 samples annually. Every 10 years, the farmer would have to re-establish a 20-sample baseline.   FDA may allow the farmer to rely on some past test results, but in certain instances where there is a significant change in water quality, FDA may require all new samples, even if the source of the problem is outside the farmer’s control.

Ask: FDA should not overly burden farmers to test and address water quality issues outside of their control.  FDA should take a risk- and science-based approach to determine an appropriate water quality standard and should defer finalizing a numeric standard until a full risk assessment is completed.  Any numeric standard should be in guidance, not the regulations.  FDA should reduce the frequency of testing and should provide the farmer with the flexibility to determine the number of tests needed to establish a baseline.

Thresholds for Eligibility: Produce Rule (PR) and Preventive Controls Rule (PCR)

Background: FDA originally proposed that it would determine whether a farm qualified for an exemption based on their sales of all food.  They’ve since updated it to be based on sales of total produce, but not all produce is covered under the regulations.

Ask: In the Produce Rule, only covered produce should count towards the threshold for eligibility and in the Preventive Controls Rule, only covered product should count.

Illegal Onsite Audit Requirement (Supplier Verification Program): PCR

Background: FDA is requiring facilities to make their suppliers have and pay for onsite audits (explicitly prohibited by Congress) – separate from and in addition to any requirements the farm would be subject to under the Produce Rule or under existing programs like GAP.

Ask: FDA must comply with Congress’s intent and remove the onsite audit requirement. FDA should remove the supplier verification program entirely from the regulations.

Excessive Costs of Environmental and Product Testing: PCR

Background: The proposed rules include significant requirements for facilities to complete environmental and product testing – like taking samples of work surfaces and products and testing them for pathogens.  Here’s an example from NSAC: For a small facility (under 20 employees) preparing raw salads for sale, the new environmental monitoring provision alone is estimated to cost $2,891 annually. The product testing provision would cost an additional $12,000 annually just for the testing – for facilities that also have to hold products while waiting for test results, FDA estimates the total costs of testing and holding to be over $28,000 annually. These provisions impose significant added burden on facilities, and the farmers that supply them, particularly for those producing multiple crops and food products.

Ask: FDA must find ways to decrease the costs of compliance, especially for small farms and facilities.  FDA should take a flexible approach to environmental monitoring and product testing and should only include them in guidance, not regulations.

Direct-to-Consumer Marketing: PCR

Background: Although Congress clearly instructed the FDA to clarify that CSA drops, farmers markets, and other direct-to-consumer marketing strategies are not “facilities” (and therefore, not subject to preventive controls rules), the proposed rules fail to make that clarification.

Ask: Clarify that CSAs, roadside stands, farmers markets, and other direct-to-consumer vendors fall under the definition of a “retail food establishment” and thus are not facilities that must register with the FDA and are not subject to the Preventive Controls Rule.  Also, FDA must issue the separate rule defining “retail food establishments” immediately and allow sufficient time for public review and comment.

Conservation Practices: PR

Background: The original rules had the potential to make it difficult, if not illegal, to enact on-farm conservation practices that provide pollinator and wildlife habitat, encourage grazing as part of crop rotation, and more.  Now the rules are better in that they now say that “nothing in the regulations require covered farms” to remove conservation practices, but a good rule should encourage conservation practices!

Ask: FDA should state that farmers are encouraged to use conservation practices and should include requirements to train personnel on how conservation practices support food safety goals.

Farm/Facility Definitions: PR and PCR

Background: Figuring out whether your operation is a “farm” or “facility” is one of the most confusing parts of the rule.  For example, “drying grapes to make raisins is a farm activity, but slicing applies into rings and then drying them is no longer a farm activity.” (NSAC)

Ask: The FDA should clarify the “farm” definition to ensure that it is clear and concise and to ensure that farmer operated and controlled businesses (like WMGC) that engage in “farm” activities, including packing or holding raw commodities, are farms, regardless of whether the “farm” activities are “on-farm” or “off-farm.”  Also, FDA should remove the phrase “in one general physical location” from the farm definition since farms are not always contiguous and structures may be in different locations.

Manure and Compost: PR

Background: The FDA re-aligned their compost rules with the National Organic Program and has deferred finalizing the standard for 5-10 years while it conducts a thorough risk assessment.  This is a good thing, but we need to ensure that farmers stay a part of that discussion and research.

Ask: Involve producers in this ongoing process!

Paperwork and Recordkeeping Requrements: PR and PCR

Background: FDA is requesting comments on whether farms that pack and hold ag products for other farms should retain records and if so, for how long.  For example, if there is a produce drop site on your arm, you might be required to retain records, invoices, or packing slips for each transaction.

Ask: Records should be limited to those kept in the ordinary course of business.  NSAC recommends that FDA should require farms to retain, for no more than one year, a 1 up-1 down record (i.e. where it came from and where it went), such as an invoice.

Thoughts? What are your biggest concerns?  Stories of how this will impact your farm?

Holiday Feast Menu Release!

Montgomery

Monday, December 8th :: Montgomery Distillery :: 5pm – 8pm

Whoa guys.  This looks… INCREDIBLE.  Hope you’ll join us!

Each tasting ticket is $5 or four for $15!

Menu

Confit of Montana Hutterite Chicken, Carrot creme brulee, lemon-pickled cucumber: Chef de Cuisine Nate Jerrell

Montana Wagyu Beef Tongue Tacos, Jimmy Nardello Chile Sauce: Executive Sous Chef Michelle Loftus

Roast Beets, Amaltheia Chevre Custard: Executive Chef Patrick Browne

Liquid Nitrogen Ice Cream Pops: Executive Pastry Chef Lindsay Marshall

Click here for more info on buying tickets for our awesome raffle – we have even more great prizes than last year!

Local Food Holiday Feast!

Come join The Community Food and Agriculture Coalition for our annual

Holiday Feast fundraiser and membership celebration!

Monday, December 8th from 5pm – 8pm

Hosted by Montgomery Distillery – 129 W Front Street

Montgomery

The celebration includes a variety of small food plates for purchase by Mark LoParco and his team at UM Dining. The plates will feature delicious local food prepared with a gourmet sort of zing.

Live music performance featuring Alyssa Hands and her ukulele.

An exciting assortment of local food raffle prizes including items donated by the Western Montana Growers Co-op, Flathead Lake Cheese, Life Line Dairy, The Tamarack, The Missoula Food Co-op, Montgomery Distillery, Home Resource, Black Coffee Roasting Company, Arlee Apiaries, and local farmers! Get tickets today – available online at our website (click here) for $5 each or 4 for $15.

$1 from every drink purchased at Montgomery between 12PM and 8PM on the day of the event will be donated to CFAC.

 We’re looking forward to celebrating local food and farming with you!

Happy Harvesting!

Tis the season to harvest and reap the benefits of Mother Nature’s bounty! Apple, pear and plum trees are bending under the weight of their fruit, a cornucopia of squash is ready for plucking and corn is as high as a . . . well, you know. You don’t have to be a farmer or bide your time until the next Farmer’s Market to take advantage of this season of abundance. Several organizations exist around the Missoula area that are eager to match consumer with farmer.

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New to the local food scene, Missoula Community Food Exchange has yet to develop a website, yet their Facebook page is all you need. Local farmers with a surplus of goods can use this page to post their available crops while consumers can post their “needs”. Craving haricot vert beans? Clark Fork Organics has them. Need tarragon for that classic French dish? Contact Urban Herbs. The page also features news items about community food issues and foodie “happenings” around Missoula.

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Each Fall, the Great Bear Foundation leads “picking parties” as part of their Bears and Apples campaign. Fruit tree owners that lack the time and resources to glean their orchards get help from pickers looking for free and fresh fruit. This not only benefits those of use looking for a bushel of apples, but also keeps the bears out of the neighborhoods and therefore out of trouble. As a bonus, pickers have access to the foundation’s cider press! Read more on their website.

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Ripe Near Me is a budding website where growers can post their wares and those of us looking to buy local can find those growers. Just put in your town or zip code and you can find growers eager to sell eggs, apples, pears and other goodies.

Along the same lines, Local Harvest is another helpful website to find local farms, Farmer’s Markets and CSA opportunities in your area. Some, such as Urban Herbs even have a link allowing you to shop their products online.

Let us continue to strengthen Missoula County’s food system by taking advantage of these wonderful avenues for enjoying fresh food. Happy harvesting!

This blog post was written by Susie Wall, a dedicated CFAC volunteer. If you are interested in writing blog posts or other volunteer opportunities, please contact us today! 
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