Planting Seeds - Food & Farming News from CDFA

Employment opportunities in critical food and agriculture infrastructure

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Donating farm products to food banks – upcoming webinar

Farm to Family Banner

CDFA partners with California Association of Food Banks to provide resources and information to  farmers, ranchers and food processors 
Webinar – Wednesday, April 8 from 10-11 a.m.

Join CDFA and the California Association of Food Banks (CAFB) to discuss resources and funding to support farm donations to food banks during this critical time. Statewide food banks are facing significant demand and farm operations may have supply availability as foodservice and other retail outlets are impacted by COVID-19. 
 
The CAFB’s Farm to Family Program can work with farmers, ranchers and food processors to take surplus food products and distribute it to families in need. Supporting resources potentially include assistance with picking and pack-out costs, transportation of the product, and possible recouping of some product costs. 

Wednesday, April 8, 2020
10:00 to 11:00 a.m.
Register Here

Click here to learn more about CAFB’s Farm to Family Program.
 
If you are interested in donating farm products, please contact Steve Linkhart at Stevelinkhart@cafoodbanks.org

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Thriving demand for local farms that deliver – from Politico

Five Marys Farm in Ft. Jones, CA.

By Liz Crampton

Farmers who sell boxes of meat, dairy, fruits and vegetables directly to consumers are seeing a huge spike in orders as the coronavirus outbreak changes how people buy food.

Food delivery businesses run by local farmers across the country are flourishing as people grow wary of making frequent trips to the grocery store and choosing to cook at home instead of eating out. It’s emerged as a bright spot in the agriculture industry while other types of small to midsize farms are struggling due to many farmers markets shutting down and restaurants and schools scaling back contracts.

The spike in traffic for businesses that have been delivering to customers for years has also prompted other farmers to consider adapting their own business models. And many farmers are hoping that it will result in long-lasting shifts in more people buying from local producers rather than commercial grocery stores.

“It’s great for farmers and ranchers, we all hope it continues after this is over but I believe it will on some level,” said Mary Heffernan, who runs a cattle ranch with her family in Fort Jones, Calif.

“I think it was a wake-up call for consumers to realize they can easily go directly to the source and buy from farmers who ship right to doorsteps all over the U.S. as easily as an Amazon package.”

Five Marys Farms, Heffernan’s operation, typically ships about 15,000 pounds of beef, pork and lamb per month, Heffernan said. But that amount has jumped to more than 35,000 pounds in the last two weeks, and the farm has received orders from both returning customers and a flood of new ones.

“Business has been very active,” said Hannah Neeleman, who raises pork and beef at Ballerina Farm in Kamas, Utah. “With people staying in and cooking more of their meals, as well as being concerned with food storage, the uptick in our online meat sales has been significant. We ship nationwide and the trend has been true across all states.”

Yet local farming operations have also been plagued by shortages like the big-name grocery delivery companies that are rushing to hire more workers to keep up with skyrocketing demand.

Instacart, Amazon and Walmart grocery delivery services have also seen a boost — each saw at least a 65 percent sales increase in the past week compared to the same time last year, according to estimates from Earnest Research.

But many of those companies are paralyzed by supply chain delays, and now, are confronting worker strikes as employees demand better safety protections and pay.

South Mountain Creamery, which delivers milk, eggs, produce and meat in the Washington, D.C. area, has “been overwhelmed with orders,” said CEO Tony Brusco. His company, based in Middleton, Md., has had to stop taking new customers and scale back meat and ice cream orders.

Still, farming operations that rely on delivery orders are just a slice of the local agriculture sector, which on average has been struggling since the outbreak began. Local and regional agriculture and food markets stand to lose up to $700 million in sales through May because of the shutdowns caused by the coronavirus, according to an analysis by agriculture economists.

Heffernan says she believes the outbreak has proven that the public can support family farms that choose to diversify how products are sold, and it’s possible more farms will start shipping instead of relying on farmers markets and other channels.

“It’s good timing for farmers and ranchers who started [shipping] earlier and good for farmers and ranchers to realize there is a direct consumer market,” she says.”It just has to be easy.”

Link to Politico web site

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Thanking California Farmworkers

By CDFA Secretary Karen Ross

Thank you, farmworkers. Thank you for the physically strenuous work in all kinds of weather to bring a crop from planting to harvest.  Thank you for the daily contributions you make to bring safe, high quality food to our tables from the front lines of a food and agriculture supply chain that delivers California’s bountiful harvest to grocery stores and restaurants, farmers’ markets, community-supported agriculture programs, and food banks throughout the United States.

On this Cesar Chavez Day, we honor the legacy of  Mr. Chavez for his tireless work on behalf of farmworkers, and we reiterate our profound appreciation for the essential role of farmworkers in making California the No. 1 agricultural state in the nation and one of the most productive in the world.  

The COVID-19 crisis brings us all to uncertain times and shared anxieties. Our focus on food – how we source it, prepare it and share it brings a sense of purpose and a reminder of the importance to care for one another.  We see this every day with stories about extraordinary efforts by volunteers to shop for senior citizens; school districts finding resourceful ways to continue feeding school children who count on that meal for their nutritional needs; and restaurants creating innovative family meals for take-out and offering special services for the families of our health care profession.  Californians can be proud of every part of the food chain continuing to ensure the availability of food and ag products produced according to our state’s high standards for worker protection, food safety, and environmental stewardship.  

Our food producers have been focused on enhanced worker safety measures from the very beginning of this crisis – taking guidance and best practices from the CDC and the California Department of Public Health to introduce social distancing in fields and on production lines. And they have made sure to incorporate that guidance into training and illness prevention programs.     

Today, like every day, I am grateful to each member of the critical food and agriculture infrastructure for working to provide us with the nutrition we need to survive and thrive.  But especially today, I offer a special thanks to our farmworkers. 

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The Work Continues – Feeding Hungry Children During COVID-19 Crisis

CDFA’s Office of Farm to Fork (F2F) is committed to ensuring that all Californians have access to healthy and nutritious California-grown food. F2F would like to highlight the important work of partner agencies to make sure that needy school children continue to receive nutritious meals during the COVID-19 crisis.

The California Department of Education (CDE) received a special waiver from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), enabling any California school district previously approved to operate summer meal programs to also offer meals to students during a COVID-19-related closure. CDE’s Twitter account @CADeptEd offers continuing updates of school districts and volunteers offering free lunch services throughout the state. CDE also shows meal sites on its free CA Meals for Kids mobile app. Select Emergency Meal Sites in the app that is updated daily.

EdSource highlights how grab-and-go and drive-up allow families to pick up food at closed California schools, and the organization regularly posts articles about school issues related to coronavirus. 

The Dairy Council of California provides a HealthyEating.org/SchoolMeals landing page that comprehensively aggregates all feeding sites throughout California that provide children with free meals. The format is web-based and mobile-friendly, and allows users to easily self-navigate to find the closest location to their home.

No Kid Hungry is offering $1 million in immediate emergency grants to support home-delivered meals, grab-and-go meal programs, school and community pantries, backpack programs, and other steps to help reach children and families who lose access to school meals. Click here to submit interest in receiving grant funds. No Kid Hungry also offers a resource called Emerging Strategies and Tactics for Meal Service During School Closures Related to the Coronavirus.

The National Farm to School Network offers weekly updates about the latest news in the farm to school movement, including resources available to help school district nutrition specialists through the COVID-19 pandemic.

CDFA-F2F connects school districts and community members directly with California farmers and ranchers, providing information and other resources. Click here to subscribe to the California Farm to School Network newsletter.

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With dining rooms closed, restaurants work together to feed the needy – from the Sacramento Bee

By Benny Egel

Five upscale Sacramento restaurants have launched a program called Family Meal that’ll supply community members in need with thousands of free, pre-cooked meals each week throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

AlloraCamden Spit + LarderCanonBinchoyaki and Mulvaney’s B&L will assemble a combined 2,000 food kits per week starting Tuesday, nearly half of which will feed seniors in 11 Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency apartment buildings, Canon co-owner Clay Nutting said.

Additional deals with Sacramento City Unified School District and participating nonprofits would add up to 5,000 more kits per week once funding is secured, with each kit containing the equivalent of four meals.

“We certainly know the five of us aren’t going to be able to take care of every person in need, but that’s why we’re working hard to create a model that other people can follow and identify ways that some other restaurants can undertake their own initiatives,” Nutting said.

Allora, Canon and Mulvaney’s B&L began semi-independently rolling out about 1,000 combined meal kits in the last week, giving food to organizations such as Our Lady of Guadalupe Church and the Roberts Family Development Center, which then redistributed it among their members.

Restaurant staffers prepare, assemble and drop off the kits independent of each other to adhere to social distancing. Kits vary, but some of those assembled thus far have included chicken, mashed or roasted potatoes, chili, cooked rice, salads, tri tip, mandarins, white-bean-and-ham soup, pasta and dinner rolls.

“People are extremely appreciative,” Roberts Family Development Center co-founder Derrell Roberts said. “The food that they may have been getting prior to that was certainly not (this kind of) restaurant food … I think people taste this pork or chicken or beef and think ‘mmm, this is a little different.’”

Virtually all restaurants across California have closed their dining rooms within the last two weeks amid local and statewide stay-at-home orders designed to slow the coronavirus’ spread. Sacramento County had 164 confirmed COVID-19 cases and six deaths due to the disease as of Friday, according to county health officials. More than 86,000 cases have been identified in the United States, the most of any country.

Family Meal fulfills three needs, Mulvaney’s B&L co-owner Patrick Mulvaney said. Several small area farmers who sell primarily to restaurants have suddenly found their main clients don’t need much product; having a revenue stream and a place to offload that produce, dairy and meat helps ensure the farms will still be around once restaurants fully reopen.

Some participating restaurants are paying their employees to assemble the kits, while others rely on a few volunteer staff members. Either way provides a sense of normalcy and something to do, Mulvaney said. Add in the benefit of feeding the hungry, and it’s clear why Nutting and Mulvaney want to establish a template for other restaurants to mimic in their own communities.

“The idea is that it’s not necessarily flowing profit to our bottom line, but it is a way to keep people working and supplement our curbside business,” Nutting said. “If we can help the purveyors that provide us with this incredible bounty and take care of our community at the same time, we’re doing our small part during this crisis to keep everyone together.”

Each kit costs $20 to produce, $15 of which goes toward labor and ingredients. Similar efforts are being coordinated through Nixtaco in Roseville and Savory Cafe in Woodland, Nutting wrote in a Medium post on Thursday.

Though Sacramento has a surplus of restaurant staff and available ingredients that could feed other vulnerable populations, funding remains a hurdle in Family Meal’s potential growth. The City of Sacramento will pay for SHRA’s meals, but more money would allow the restaurants to expand on the 140 kits per week they each are now producing, Nutting said.

A private underwriter sponsored Canon’s first 300 kits, Nutting said. Mulvaney’s B&L relied on direct food donations from companies such as Sysco (300 pounds of meat for $12), Durst Organic Growers in Yolo County (2,000 asparagus stalks) and Ginger Elizabeth Chocolates (800 macarons) during the first week of service.

“Clay’s continuing to search for funding, but we said this week, ‘OK, we’re just going to start doing it,” Mulvaney said. “Someone asked, ‘well, moving forward, how are you funding this?’ I answered, ‘there’s hungry people out there. How are you not funding this?’”

All participating restaurants other than Mulvaney’s B&L remain open for takeout or delivery service, and many are now encouraging customers to donate to Family Meal under the premise of buy-one, give-one. Nutting also launched a crowdsourcing page through Spotfund on Friday morning.

“It shows the best of Sacramento when people say, ‘how can I help?’” Mulvaney said. “Each of us, in our own way, has a way to help.”

Link to story in the Sacramento Bee

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Secretary Ross thanks federal government for streamlining H2A process

CDFA Secretary Karen Ross:

“I want to thank USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue for elevating the importance of streamlining the process for eligible H2A applicants who have worked in the United States before or who are already here.  Secretary Perdue understands the challenges that farmers across the country, and especially in California, face as the work continues to plant and harvest our crops.  I have such respect for all agricultural workers who are vital to a safe, secure food supply.”

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The Work Continues – CDFA maintains critical food inspections during COVID 19 pandemic

A CDFA employee inspects eggs this week at a California grocery store. CDFA’s Egg Safety and Quality Management Program works throughout the state to ensure that eggs have been properly handled, labeled, transported, and refrigerated; and that they are wholesome and safe to eat. This is one of many ways that the critical infrastructure of food and agriculture–including CDFA–helps to maintain the food supply chain.

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The Work Continues: a COVID-19 Video Update from CDFA Secretary Karen Ross

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California agricultural commissioners maintain services during pandemic – from Ag Alert

By Christine Souza

With a statewide directive now in place for California residents to remain at home to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus and the illness it causes—COVID-19—and with agriculture considered a “critical infrastructure industry” by government agencies, county agricultural commissioners say they are maintaining essential services to facilitate agricultural production, processing and distribution.

“We know the importance of keeping the food supply chain running smoothly and ensuring a steady, safe and healthy food supply. County agricultural commissioners are communicating with their county public health officers to emphasize the full extent of essential services necessary to maintain the critical infrastructure of our food system,” said Sandy Elles, executive director of the California Agricultural Commissioners and Sealers Association.

If a county agricultural commissioner office is closed to the public, she said, phone and email communications will be available to “expedite delivery of services such as issuing phytosanitary certificates, issuing pesticide permits and investigating pesticide complaints or incidents.”

In addition, Elles noted that the state’s agricultural commissioners maintain a strong partnership with the California Department of Food and Agriculture and Department of Pesticide Regulation, and are “calmly working through these challenging circumstances, sharing resources and supporting our joint efforts to sustain our state’s robust agricultural production.”

DPR Director Val Dolcini agreed, saying, “Farms don’t close down in times of crisis and we’ll make sure that we’re doing everything we can to ensure that our food supply is safe, and that food production continues unimpeded.”

Merced County farmer Aaron Barcellos said the health and safety of his employees is his primary concern as his Los Banos-area farm concludes asparagus harvest and transitions to planting processing tomatoes. Barcellos said he is taking additional steps.

“We added a bunch of preventative measures, such as having employees clock in at separate times and staggering break times and meal periods, so we don’t have too many people gathered in one place at any one time,” he said. “We also provided letters to all of our employees, stating that they’re part of the agricultural sector working for us, so that they have reassurance that they can go to and from work.”

Barcellos said he has received all of the necessary permits from his local agricultural commissioner and he has conducted the required safety trainings with employees. A potential concern among farmers, he said, is ensuring an adequate supply of personal protective equipment, or PPE, such as N-95 respirators, Tyvek suits and other required equipment used by people applying crop-protection materials.

“We have a little bit of supply on stock, but you can’t find any replacement equipment right now. We’ve been looking all over the internet and talking to most of our local suppliers, and we can’t find anything,” Barcellos said.

San Joaquin County farmer Bryan Van Groningen, who began planting watermelons last week near Manteca, said he also is concerned about acquiring PPE equipment—recognizing that masks and other equipment are also essential for medical personnel and first responders. Van Groningen said he has a three-month supply of PPE and is investigating where to find more before the supply runs out, which could be at a time when farm activities will be busier.

Bryan Little, chief operating officer of the Farm Employers Labor Service, an affiliate of the California Farm Bureau Federation, confirmed that many crop protection chemicals farmers use “require use of PPE, like certain respirators for safe use in accordance with the label on the substance. The lack of availability of PPE could hamper production of certain food crops as a result.”

Riverside County Agricultural Commissioner Ruben Arroyo said DPR has confirmed that applicators and handlers must follow current laws and regulations, and follow the label, which determines PPE requirements.

“Applicators and handlers can always be more restrictive/protective than what is called for on the label, or they can look for products that require alternative PPE,” Arroyo said. “The other alternative is for applicators/handlers to find an alternate pesticide product to use that does not require the use of certain PPE, until the issue of back-ordered items is resolved.”

Arroyo said farmers with questions on this or other topics should contact their county agricultural commissioner.

“In Riverside County, we’re going to be covering calls, covering the export (phytosanitary certificate) calls, covering the nursery calls or if we get a drift incident or a complaint from a consumer,” he said. “It is just a weird situation that none of us have ever been in; I’ve been doing this since 1989 and I’ve never seen anything like this before.”

Regarding restricted-materials permits, Arroyo noted that agricultural commissioners generally offer classes to prepare for the private applicators exam, to allow employees or a farmer to be issued a restricted-materials permit. With offices being closed, he said, “we can’t necessarily offer the testing, but if there’s an emergency, at least here we’re going to try to make it happen and offer a test—but that’s not going to happen overnight.”

The California Association of Pest Control Advisers said it is working on solutions with DPR regarding license renewal and meeting the required continuing-education hours. In the meantime, CAPCA has postponed all continuing-education meetings through May.

Link to story on Ag Alert web site

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