Longmont Farmers Market

  (Longmont, Colorado)
Growing Farmers, Good Food, Healthy Communities
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Back in Business!

It was 6am and I was sitting in the passenger seat on the highway trying to make conversation with Audrey, the Longmont Farmers' Market assistant manager. I just wanted to talk about anything...anything that would take my mind off the next 12 hours or how I got to where I was going before the sun was up. Not too long ago, I applied for a manager-for-hire posting for the Longmont Farmers' Market after a few years farming and feeling old in Boulder County. I was enthusiastic enough to overcome my lack of management experience and was hired on to a pretty small market weighing in at about 35 vendors. That was 2 years ago. I was now driving up to the Boulder County Fairgrounds, the home of the Longmont Farmers' Market, to get ready to start preparing for a market that had doubled in just a couple years. 

The USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) reports that the number of farmers markets in the United States has grown 6.8% from 4,385  in August 2006 to 4,685 in August 2008. What they don't report is the expansion of existing markets, some in operation for decades like our market in Longmont, CO. Farmers' Markets offer small and mid-size farmers access to retail markets and opportunities for residents to learn where their food comes from and even how to prepare it. Some markets even host federal subsidy programs, like the Farmers Market Nutrition Program, that give low-income mothers and their young children access to healthier alternatives to the traditional cheap foods that are sometimes the only food options available on a tight budget and often lack any nutritional value.

Preparing for the opening day of the season is just as exciting as is it nerve-racking. We put the tents up, seats and tables out, turned on our credit card and EBT (food stamp) machines and prayed that the dark clouds moving in travel very, very slowly. The first of the vendors appeared and then the next and then another. Within an hour, we were in business! The customers began rolling in and everyone was delighted with the produce, the familiar faces, the new farms, and fabulous new tastes of local food artisans. We were able to add new vendors in part due to the new beginning farmer program sponsored by the market and hosted by our agriculture extension office and the fabulous market site improvements were funded by our county Parks and Open Space Dept. We are so fortunate to have county commissioners and parks directors who understand the value of local food production and access for our health, economy and quality of life. Our county invested $80,000 over the winter installing electricity, planting trees, and leveling dirt packed areas to make our giant open space a special event for everyone.

The learning curve has been steep, the failures have been many, but the successes have made the experience worth the struggle. If you are ever in Longmont/Boulder County area on a Saturday from 8am-2pm, stop by and say hello, enjoy freshly harvested crops of the Colorado season, and celebrate the culture of eating local.



Myths/Facts H.R. 875 Food Safety Modernization Act

Websites, list-serves, and emails have been flooded with fear based proclamations on H.R. 875, The Food Safety and Modernization Act. I've received a couple emails that have shed light on the Congressional bill and have posted a those excerpts below. The first is a letter from the office of Rep. Rosa Delauro, who introduced the bill; the second is from a clarifying email by Tracy Lerman, policy organizer - Organic Farming Research Foundation.

I. Letter from the office of: Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT)

• MYTH: H.R. 875 "makes it illegal to grow your own garden" and would result in the "criminalization of the backyard gardner."
FACT: There is no language in the bill that would regulate, penalize, or shut down backyard gardens. This bill is focused on ensuring the safety of foods sold in supermarkets.

• MYTH: H.R. 875 would mean a "goodbye to farmers markets" because the bill would "require such a burdensome complexity of rules, inspections, licensing, fees, and penalties for each farmer who wishes to sell locally - a fruit stand, at a farmers market."
FACT: There is no language in the bill that would result in farmers markets being regulated, penalized any fines, or shut down. Farmers markets would be able to continue to flourish under the bill. In fact, the bill would insist that imported foods meet strict safety standards to ensure that unsafe imported foods are not competing with locally-grown foods.

• MYTH: H.R. 875 would result in the "death of organic farming."
FACT: There is no language in the bill that would stop organic farming. The National Organic Program (NOP) is under the jurisdiction of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The Food Safety Modernization Act only addresses issues under the jurisdiction of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

• MYTH: The bill would implement a national animal ID system.
FACT: There is no language in the bill that would implement a national animal ID system. Animal identification issues are under the jurisdiction of the USDA. The Food Safety Modernization Act addresses issues under the jurisdiction of the FDA.

• MYTH: The bill is supported by the large agribusiness industry.
FACT: No large agribusiness companies have expressed support for this bill. This bill is being supported by several Members of Congress who have strong progressive records on issues involving farmers markets, organic farming, and locally-grown foods. Also, H.R. 875 is the only food safety legislation that has been supported by all the major consumer and food safety groups, including:
-- Center for Foodborne Illness Research & Prevention
-- Center for Science in the Public Interest
-- Consumer Federation of America
-- Consumers Union
-- Food & Water Watch
-- The Pew Charitable Trusts
-- Safe Tables Our Priority
-- Trust for America's Health

• MYTH: The bill will pass the Congress next week without amendments or debate.
FACT: Food safety legislation has yet to be considered by any Congressional committee."

II. From Tracy Lerman:

Policy Organizer

Organic Farming Research Foundation :

"This food safety thing is a huge can of worms, and there is a lot of misinformation being spread around. In the wake of the salmonella peanut scandal, there are several bills being introduced that attempt to address the gaps in the food safety net. Some of them call for more draconian measures than others and could pose onerous regulations on small family farmers.

The main myths that I have seen are that these bills are being pushed by Monsanto, that they will be passed by Congress in the next two weeks, and that they will outlaw backyard gardens and organic farms. None of this is true. Monsanto has nothing to do with these bills. Period. I've definitely been getting these action alerts for more than two weeks, and so far the bills haven't even been heard in a Congressional committee. The bills also contain quite a few provisions that will regulate the pharmaceutical industry (so I've heard) which will slow them down tremendously. Also, it's one of those things where a bunch of bills get introduced but what will likely happen is that pieces of each bill will be put into one of them, likely the Dingell bill, HR 759." [And, to the concern that organic gardening and backyard gardening will be outlawed]: "The Obamas are about to put an organic garden on their lawn. Congress just gave an historical increase to organic farming programs in the last farm bill. Why would they then turn around and outlaw organic farming?

Rep Delauro, who introduced one of the bills (HR 875) has been vilified as one of the perpetrators in this whole thing, but she is actually a very reasonable, intelligent, and progressive member of Congress who has been very supportive of local food and family farming. Last week, a delegation from the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (of which OFRF is a member) met with her staff and were told that it was by no means her intention to introduce any bill that would turn the tide on local/organic/family farm initiatives and efforts. She also happens to be chair of a very powerful subcommittee, the Agriculture Subcommittee in the Appropriations Committee, and therefore has the ability to really influence what actually goes down the pike with these two bills.

In terms of resources on what the bills do and how they are problematic, I suggest you check out the blog, La Vida Locavore http://www.lavidalocavore.org/. She has some good takes on it. Also, NOFA www.nofa.org and Food and Water Watch http://www.foodandwaterwatch. org/food/foodsafety/ background-on-h-r-875 have a good take on the Food Safety issues. Also, read this from the last NSAC Weekly alert, which has a link to this write-up in "The Hill": http://thehill.com/op-eds/ agriculture--food-safety-2009- 03-19.html

Food Safety Buzz: Amid the chatter on the blogs and foodie listserves in the wake of the introduction of several food safety bills this year in Congress, the Friday, March 20, 2009 edition of The Hill (a Capitol Hill rag read by staffers and legislators) contains a 5-page special section on Agriculture and Food Safety.

The special section includes a short piece by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) outlining the food safety bill she recently introduced to fundamentally restructure the food safety bureaucracy by establishing a new Food Safety Administration within the Department of Health and Human Service. Another piece, by Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI) draws the connection between food safety and food imports. Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) argues that food safety concerns can be addressed with improvements to the existing system and more prudent use of current funding, while House Agriculture Chair Collin Peterson (D-MN) notes his intention to conduct food safety oversight hearings regarding both FDA and USDA."


Montana Food Efforts a Great Model for Hard Times by Rose Hayden-Smith

Thanks to Rose Hayden-Smith for this great article in the Huffington Post: Montana Food Efforts a Great Model for Hard Times



Last fall, while the financial market experienced a kind of volatility that had nearly everyone drawing parallels with the Great Depression, I had the privilege of participating in the Western Regional Assembly on Farm-to-School, which was sponsored by Ecotrust. A large group gathered in Portland, Oregon to share information, develop strategies and network around the issues of good food for schools, institutions and communities.

To many people, farm-to-school/farm-to-cafeteria, school gardens and attempts to create local food systems are somewhat of a novelty. Here's the line of thinking...Sure, it's important to provide healthier food options to youth and communities, and to teach them about agriculture and the food system. And it's important to try to eat locally sourced foods as much as possible, for many reasons. But mostly, these activities lie largely outside of the "big-E" economic and the "big-A" agricultural system. They are simply too small in scale to make much of an impact.

What I learned about this topic has shifted my thinking in fundamental ways. Local food systems -- including farm-to-institution programs -- can mean real money for local farmers, local food processors and local/state economies.

And the state of Montana has an excellent model for this.

Mary Stein, who is on the faculty of Montana State University, recently shared information with me about what's going on in Montana in terms of needs and opportunities. She described an area of acute poverty that has developed on the eastern flank of the Rocky Mountains, and in reservation counties. I did some research of my own and was astounded to learn that some of the poorest counties in the United States are in Montana. Rural residents have been struggling there for years. History repeating itself? Perhaps. While 1929 marked the beginning of the Great Depression for Main Street America, rural residents had been struggling for nearly ten years prior to that, since the conclusion of WWI. Then, as now, rural struggles too often go unnoticed in the United States.

Per Stein, through the 1950s, Montana produced about 70% of the food its residents consumed. That figure has fallen to 10%, and the state is perilously - some would argue dangerously - dependent upon food that is shipped in, much of it via trucks. A frequent observation is that Montana is one truck driver strike away from food insecurity.

Like many other states, Montana's attempts to recreate a more local and sustainable food system have been hampered because of the loss of nearly all the food processing infrastructure in the last fifty years. When we created a meta/mega food system in America, one of the casualties was local food processing. What Montanans grow has changed over the years, too, and the agricultural product is less diversified today than in the past. Montana has become a commodity-based agricultural system, producing mostly grains and beef cattle that are shipped out of state for processing and distribution. Ironically, Montanans probably import processed grains and meat that they produced initially.

It's not just a lack of processing infrastructure that hampers the effort to eat more locally sourced foods. It is also federal school lunch policy. "With the way the commodities programs are currently structured, there is a massive barrier for K-12 schools to source these commodity products locally," MSU's Stein says. "Montana is a beef state, and yet it's almost impossible for our schools to access locally-produced beef, because districts can't specify local beef within the federal commodities program." Nor can they get cash in lieu of commodities to buy local beef. (This is a policy area that incoming Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack could influence, by the way, as federal school lunch programs fall under the purview of the United States Department of Agriculture).

Grow Montana seeks to change this food system and revitalize the state's economy. Grow Montana is a broad-based coalition whose purpose is "to promote community economic development policies that support sustainable Montana-owned food production, processing, and distribution, and that improve all of our citizens' access to Montana foods." The coalition is coordinated by the National Center for Appropriate Technology, which is based in Butte, Montana, and which is also one of the coalition's partners.

Grow Montana Director Nancy Matheson says of their model, "We're looking to use the local food movement as a way to transform and revitalize Montana's economy, specifically the rural economy." She is particularly interested in hearing from others who are working on topics central to rural food systems and economic transformation.

Grow Montana works on multiple levels. It encourages conversations with communities, entrepreneurs, farmers and ranchers, identifying needs and opportunities. Matheson says, "The message is coming from the grassroots, and we take it on a collective basis to the state level." And Grow Montana's policy work is having real economic impacts, because its members recognize the real opportunities that exist. Unlocking the Food Buying Potential of Montana's Public Institutions - Towards a Montana-based Food Economy is a study that provides information about one Grow Montana strategy that impacts farm-to-school programs, and could inform this kind of work elsewhere.

On the ground, Grow Montana's work is equally impressive. The organization uses a FoodCorps to accomplish vital economic and human goals. FoodCorps members -- who are VISTA volunteers -- deploy to create and develop farm-to-cafeteria programs in local schools and colleges. Through these programs, K-12 schools and colleges buy locally-grown food. This strengthens Montana's agricultural economy, while also strengthening the prospect of community health by serving local, healthy and delicious food to youth.

The FoodCorps work is coordinated by Crissie McMullan, who traveled with this year's FoodCorps members (hundreds of miles via a van) to the Western Regional Assembly in Portland. One of the real "goose bump" moments at the gathering was when the Montana delegation was asked to stand. These incredible young volunteers -- who are doing such important and ground-breaking work in sustainable food systems -- earned an enormous and sustained round of applause.

Per Grow Montana Director Matheson, FoodCorps also enables the larger organization to "develop strategies that we can test in the real world, on the ground...strategies that inform our policy work." Food Corps volunteers track statistics about the amount and value of local food purchased for their programs; valuable information is being gained. And dollars are staying in Montana because of the program. The economic impact is real.

In honor of the Montana program, which provides a unique model we ought to consider implementing in other locales and states -- and which has inspired me enormously -- I'm including their tagline with the one I use to define my work as a Victory Grower.

"Montana Food for Montanans."

"A Garden for Everyone. Everyone in a Garden."

To View, To Eat, Per Chance to Not by Mark Winne

As the manager of the Longmont Farmers' Market, I am often asked about our solution to making local food more accessible to poor and hungry people. If you want an honest answer, be willing to make some time to be a part of a conversation immersed in systems thinking. This article by Mark Winne, author of Closing the Food Gap, speaks to the challenges we have as a nation in addressing the inequities in our food culture.

To View, To Eat, Per Chance to Not

By Mark Winne
November 25, 2008

November has always been a confusing month for me.  Traditionally, it is the time when we Americans give thanks to a mixed bag of things from the bounty of the autumnal harvest to the blessings of that new flat-screen TV that now adorns the living room wall. It’s also the time of year when the U.S. Department of Agriculture issues its annual hunger count, known officially as the report on “Household Food Security in the United States.” By asking 40,000 of us a series of questions concerning our ability to purchase food, USDA’s researchers can determine with a reasonable degree of statistical certainty how many of us are, in the nomenclature of the Department, either “food secure,” “food insecure,” or, to avoid using the “h” word, have “very low food security.”

What did they find for 2007? Well, if you’re a hedge fund operator who bet on growth in food insecurity, you’ll be reaping the rewards of your wager this holiday season. Compared to 2006 when 35.5 million Americans were either food insecure or suffering from very low food security, 36.2 million or 12.1 percent of the population fell into those categories. And with the economy swirling down the toilet, well-honed research skills are hardly necessary to project that 2008 will be far worse.

Dig a little deeper into the numbers and you find that 691,000 U.S. children went hungry in 2007. Based on my research, that’s about the same number of flat-screen TVs of 40 inches or more in width that are sold every month in the land of the free. At about $1,000 per TV (my sources tell me that the price is coming down, thank God), you’d generate about $10 billion a year that could feed all those hungry children and probably take a big bite out of food insecurity for everybody else. The Food Stamp Program, for instance, provides its recipients, on average, a whopping $1.12 per meal. With a record 28 million people in that program, a $10 billion boost could, well, you can do the math yourself to get the high-definition picture.

I’ve always found the timing of the hunger report a curious contradiction. Why would the USDA choose to draw attention to scarcity just before our national day of abundance? Are we supposed to feel guilty and incur additional intestinal discomfort from that second helping of pie? I know the food banking community is using this information to try to leverage their overtaxed donors to prevent their food shelves from running bare. In a press release from the nation’s food bank network now known as Feeding America, a name that bears an unsettling resemblance to “CAFO,” the acronym for concentrated animal feeding operation, CEO Vicki Escarra said that “food banks are desperately in need of relief from Congress…to allocate dollars for the purchase, storage and transportation of USDA Commodities…to continue feeding people….”

State and regional food banks are using USDA’s data and the growing demand for food to pump up their capital campaigns and once again expand their warehouses. On a recent trip to Oklahoma I toured the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma which is adding 36,000 square feet to their already enormous facility. The Capital Area Food Bank of Washington, DC is well on its way to raising $36 million for a “state-of-the-art,” 125,000 square feet (nearly three acres!) expansion that will double the size of their existing warehouse. Even in my home state of New Mexico where we have the second worst level of food insecurity in the country, our statewide food bank is negotiating for enough new warehouse space to house a good size bomber squadron. And in New Jersey you know things are bad when the Community Food Bank runs a New York Times ad with a totally hot picture of Bruce Springsteen telling us that, “We can’t let this bank fail!”

Now anybody who knows me knows that I love the Boss more than God, but come on Bruce! We all know that more food for food banks and more money for construction projects, and even more money from Congress to buy food for food banks aren’t going to get us out of this jam. The numbers that the USDA released this month, although showing more Americans food insecure and hungry than ever before are, as a percentage of the total population, not much different than they have been for the last 12 years.

When USDA began measuring food insecurity in 1996, it found that about 11 percent of the population was hungry or food insecure. While an increase (or decrease) of a percentage or so can mean millions of people, today’s figures compared to those of 1996 suggest that we have made terribly little progress. Whether we add a few bucks to the food stamp program or build several million more square feet of food banks every year, we seem to end up in the same place.

Here are the “ways” that the government recently advised the food insecure to cope: eat a less varied diet (more Ramen Noodles?), obtain food from emergency kitchens or community food charities (they are running out of food!), or participate in a federal food assistance program such as food stamps (line up for your $1.12 per meal). Though a barely adequate recipe for survival, there’s nothing in these “ways” that provide a long term solution. Neither do food bank expansions, nor star-studded appeals for more charitable largesse. To do something other than beg the government and our neighbors for more food would require that we recognize poverty as the cause of hunger, and in turn recognize our low-wage economy and enormous wealth disparities as the cause of poverty. To do these things would of course imply a wholly different political strategy on the part of anti-hunger advocates and a different role for government other than recommending that the poor go to under-resourced food pantries.

At about the same time that the USDA staff was stapling together their 2007 hunger report, a party of 12 was enjoying a truly spectacular meal at Chicago’s premier Italian eatery, Spiaggio’s. Recently made famous as Barack and Michelle Obama’s “special occasion” restaurant, Spiaggio’s is the kind of place that can set you back a pretty penny, if indeed you worry about that kind of thing.  The party of 12 (not associated with the Obamas, or Jesus’ disciples for that matter) shared a meal that night that came to a cool $18,000. Using USDA’s food stamp math, that amount would have fed 16,071 low-income people that evening.

How do we reconcile the seeming anomaly of hunger in the land of plenty, of children without enough to eat, with such things as our appetite for high-end consumer goods and frightful displays of conspicuous consumption? Will hunger in America be resolved by more food banks, more food stamps, and more Wal-Mart jobs? The food crisis at hand should make us pause on Thanksgiving Day, not to give thanks for what we have or to remember those who are needy, but to express a hard-edged determination to hold our government accountable for the elimination of poverty that will, in the long run, put an end to USDA’s hunger reports.

Mark Winne is the author of “Closing the Food Gap: Resetting the Table in the Land of Plenty.” For more information, go to www.markwinne.com.

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WHO WE ARE: Foodforethought is an information service that encourages dialogue and exploration of innovative trends in the global food system. The service is managed by James Kuhns of MetroAg Alliance for Urban Agriculture in collaboration with Amber McNair of the University of Toronto in association with the Centre for Urban Health Initiatives (CUHI), and Wayne Roberts of the Toronto Food Policy Council. To subscribe, please contact editor@foodforethought.net.



Growing Interest, Growing Community

The Longmont Farmers' Market officially closed for the season on October 25th. After many hugs and farewells to good friends and good food, we all went home and slept in! The end of the season can often be bitter-sweet. 

 For the several years I've been working in agriculture, the winter has often been a solitary time to reflect on the summer community gatherings at the market. But this winter has been a little different. I barley got started longing for food talk with fellow foodies, when I received an invitation to the Longmont, CO Sustainable Harvest Fair. I was even invited to speak on a panel about agriculture and farmers' markets!

I wasn't really sure how many people would wake early on a chilly Saturday morning, drive to the local high school to listen to people talk about renewable energy, agriculture, water, etc. When I arrived at 8am, the parking lot was packed. When I walked through the front doors it was only a matter of minutes before I started recognizing market customers, farmers, leaders of community organizations and most surprisingly, city council and other local government employees!

All too often, talks about sustainability and local foods are hosted by NGO's and local idealists who get together over potlucks. But there I was mingling with government folks who thought the farmers' market was a community treasure and worth investing time and resources in to make it a center piece for local food, local economy, health, and culture.

For too many years farmers and agricultural workers have suffered from the lack of support for land, water, fair prices for their labor, and recognition for their contribution to the development of local communities. We've seen the rising impacts of the disconnection of local communities to healthy, whole foods in our health care system. City and county planners spent too much time planning agriculture out of the city limits and burried beneath the growing concrete neighborhoods.

 The Longmont Sustainable Harvest Fair was a much desired and much needed awakening that many hope will be the beginning of a fruitful relationship between farmers and their community.

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