CDFA Specialty Crop Block Grant Helps Launch Northern California Food Hub – from the Ukiah Daily Journal

mendolake-food-hub_logo

By Karen Rifkin

The Mendo-Lake Food Hub, a grant-funded program initiated by North Coast Opportunities to connect local farmers with local retailers and restaurants in order to meet the growing demand for local food, is up and running.

Coordinator John Bailey, the man at the helm, explains that the program is funded by a two-year, nine-month grant from the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA’s Specialty Crop Block Grant Program), developed and written by NCO employees Susan Lightfoot, Miles Gordon and Patty Bruder.

“It originated from the Farm to Fork grant to help create the connections and infrastructure for local foods to be used in food processing at local schools—to re-establish the knowledge and equipment to deliver fresh food.

“From this came the knowledge that a lot of farmers were struggling to get food to the market. The next step was to establish these connections and a base to create a system that can work and keep on working,” he says.

Many local growers earn retail dollars at farmers markets but there are only so many people who go there, and most food that is eaten is not bought at a farmers market.

Bailey asks, “How do we help smaller local farmers get into places where most food is bought and consumed?”

Lake and Mendocino counties are spread out, with a small population base and a lot of small farms, some of which are hours away from food centers.

“We are talking about one- to five-acre farms, maybe 10,” he says.

Lightfoot created a database of information and researched other food hub models throughout the country. Many food hubs have sprung up over the past 15 years, and in the last five years many more have been developed to figure out how to revitalize local food systems.

A traditional food hub model is a vegetable distributor with a main warehouse, trucks and full time staff.

“You need a million dollars a year gross revenue to make that model work,” says Bailey.

In working out the puzzle pieces, individuals were interviewed and it was determined that barriers for suppliers were transportation and cold storage and for buyers they did not know who the farmers were or what they had for sale.

Bailey connected with Josh Cavender, a Mendocino coast producer who was already distributing produce on the coast that he purchased from wholesale markets down south.

They came to an agreement, per box, for Cavender to carry local produce from farmers in Fort Bragg to retailers in Willits and Ukiah on his regular trip south. From there the produce is delivered to retailers in smaller vehicles.

John Foster Trucking is in the process of creating the nodes, retrofitting 30-foot shipping containers complete with insulation, a roof, refrigeration and internal lights. The Kelseyville node is up and running; the Willits and Ukiah nodes will be in place next; and the Caspar node will be there in late July.

The nodes have two temperatures, one in the mid to high 30s for leafy greens and one a bit higher with temperatures in the mid to high 50s for watermelon, peppers and tomatoes.

Additionally, Gowan Orchards has offered to make part of its cold storage available if needed.

The website—www.mendolakefoodhub.com— a fully functional shopping cart, provides a sales platform for farmers to display their produce and for buyers to purchase by the case. It is open for buying clubs, restaurants and grocery stores.

“Our biggest goal is to support local food systems, our local farmers selling fruits, vegetables and nuts,” says Bailey.

Produce is available from conventional growers; no spray; Mendocino Renegade, a local certification that conforms to organic standards, certified by a committee of farmers with less paperwork at a lower cost; and fully certified USDA organic.

“Young people who get into farming do it for a few years, realize they cannot make a go of it and give up. I operated a row crop farm in Potter Valley for four years; it was very hard to sell my produce wholesale and the farmers market did not bring in enough money. I didn’t see a future in it. This kind of system can make it viable. Farmers can make retail dollars at the farmers market and sell wholesale without having to drive everywhere.

“Independent farmers are the bedrock of American democracy and tradition. We have to have those independent voices that know what it takes to make a living off the land and supply food to people. Without that kind of link to the land and our tradition, we risk losing something valuable for our culture. The healthy food is part of it but there is a deeper cultural importance to independent farming,” he says.

Local farmers participating include: Lovin’ Mama, Covelo Organic, Irene’s Garden, Sky Hoyt, Fortunate Farm, Black Dog, Seely’s Farm Stand, and more are being added every week.

Buyers so far include Harvest Market in Fort Bragg and Mendocino, Ukiah Co-op, Taste Buds, Saucy, and Patrona. In addition, Lake County Public Health is purchasing through the Hub for its Harvest of the Month program. The number of producers and buyers is expected to climb in the coming weeks.

Link to story

Link to CDFA Specialty Crop Block Grant Page

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What’s better than the Fourth of July? The Fourth at the Fair!

What’s better than the Fourth of July? Spending the fourth at the fair! Marin, Alameda, San Diego and Napa county fairs are all in full swing over the Fourth of July weekend.

Click on these images to go to each fair’s site for details.

Marin

Alameda

San Diego

Napa fair graphic

Fair Fireworks

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It’s the Pollen Nation!

bumble beeThe University of California’s Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources is featuring the Pollen Nation, a web page dedicated to awareness about the many players in the pollination process, from the birds and the bees to the wind, and even us!

Pollinators are essential to ecosystems and life. Without them many plants could not reproduce and survive, and edible plants (fruits and vegetables) wouldn’t have their critical role in the diets of animals and humans.

 

 

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Grill like a pro! Food safety tips from the USDA

Click image to view larger

Click image to view larger

July 4 is right around the corner and for the estimated 80% of households that own grills or smokers, that means one thing – barbeques.  Grill masters can make sure they don’t leave their diners with a nasty case of food poisoning by following USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service food safety tips.

Annually the CDC estimates that 48 million Americans (at least 1 in 6) get sick from food poisoning year, resulting in roughly 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths.  Foodborne illness is more frequent during the warm summer months for two reasons:  1) harmful bacteria multiply faster in warmer temperatures, and 2) more people are cooking and bringing food outside away from refrigerators, thermometers, and washing facilities of a kitchen.

If you can remember four safe food handling steps—Clean, Separate, Cook, and Chill—you can help protect your family and guests from getting sick, whether you’re outside at the grill, away from home, or in your own kitchen.

 One of the most common mistakes is thinking that meat has been cooked enough by looking at its color.  The color of your burger, whether it’s brown or pink, does not indicate that it’s safely cooked. One in four burgers turns brown before it has reached the safe internal temperature of 160°F (according to USDA Food Thermometer Fact Sheet).  Using a food thermometer is the only way to tell if your burger has reached a safe internal temperature.

Some people also falsely believe that the quality of your meat—specifically whether it is organic or grass-fed– may mean that it does not need to be cooked as much to be safe to eat. Don’t let this fool you.  Whole cuts of beef, pork and lamb should be cooked to 145 ˚F and allowed to rest for 3 minutes before eating.  All ground beef, pork and lamb burgers should be cooked to 160 °F before being eating.  All poultry (ground and whole cuts) should be cooked to 165 °F before being eating.

There is no better time than the present to adopt the four safe food handling steps to greatly reduce your risk of foodborne illness:

  • Clean: When grilling, be sure there are plenty of clean utensils and platters. Pack plenty of napkins and moist towelettes for cleaning surfaces and hands.
  • Separate: When grilling, use separate plates and utensils for raw meat and cooked meat and ready-to-eat foods (like raw vegetables) to avoid cross-contamination.
  • Cook: Meat and poultry cooked on a grill often browns very fast on the outside. The only way to know they’ve reached the right temperature is by using a food thermometer. Never partially grill meat or poultry and finish cooking later.
  • Chill: Don’t leave perishable food at room temperature for longer than two hours (or 1 hour if outdoor temperatures are above 90° F) to minimize bacterial growth. If you’re away from home, make sure you bring a cooler to store those leftovers.

By following the four safe food handling steps, you and your family can avoid foodborne illness, especially in these hot summer months when the risk is increased.  So fire up the grill, grab that thermometer, and have a food safe summer!

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Video: Why does half of America’s food go to waste? from NPR and PBS

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USDA Seeks Partner Proposals to Protect and Restore Critical Wetlands

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has announced the availability of $17.5 million in financial and technical assistance to help eligible conservation partners voluntarily protect, restore and enhance critical wetlands on private and tribal agricultural lands.

“USDA has leveraged partnerships to accomplish a great deal on America’s wetlands over the past two decades, Vilsack said. “This year’s funding will help strengthen these partnerships and achieve greater wetland acreage throughout the nation.”

Funding will be provided through the Wetland Reserve Enhancement Partnership (WREP), a special enrollment option under the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program’s Wetland Reserve Easement component. It is administered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). Under WREP, states, local units of governments, non-governmental organizations and American Indian tribes collaborate with USDA through cooperative and partnership agreements. These partners work with willing tribal and private landowners who voluntarily enroll eligible land into easements to protect, restore and enhance wetlands on their properties. WREP was created through the 2014 Farm Bill and was formerly known as the Wetlands Reserve Enhancement Program.

Wetland reserve easements allow landowners to successfully enhance and protect habitat for wildlife on their lands, reduce impacts from flooding, recharge groundwater and provide outdoor recreational and educational opportunities. The voluntary nature of NRCS’ easement programs allows effective integration of wetland restoration on working landscapes, providing benefits to farmers and ranchers who enroll in the program, as well as benefits to the local and rural communities where the wetlands exist.

Proposals must be submitted to NRCS state offices by July 31, 2015. Projects can range from individual to watershed-wide to ecosystem-wide. Under a similar program in the 2008 Farm Bill, NRCS and its partners entered into 272 easements that enrolled more than 44,020 acres of wetlands from 2009 through 2013. Most of these agreements occurred through the Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative (MRBI). Through partnerships, MRBI identifies high-priority watersheds where focused conservation on agricultural land can make the most gains in improving local, state and regional water quality. The new collaborative WREP will build on those successes by providing the financial and technical assistance necessary for states, non-governmental organizations and tribes to leverage resources to restore and protect wetlands and wildlife habitat.

Through WREP, NRCS will sign multi-year agreements with partners to leverage resources, including funding, to achieve maximum wetland restoration, protection and enhancement and to create optimum wildlife habitat on enrolled acres. WREP partners are required to contribute a funding match for financial or technical assistance. These partners work directly with eligible landowners interested in enrolling their agricultural land into conservation wetland easements.

Today’s announcement builds on the roughly $332 million USDA has announced this year to protect and restore agricultural working lands, grasslands and wetlands. Collectively, NRCS’s easement programs help productive farm, ranch and tribal lands remain in agriculture and protect the nation’s critical wetlands and grasslands, home to diverse wildlife and plant species. Under the former Wetlands Reserve Program, private landowners, tribes and entities such as land trusts and conservation organizations enrolled 2.7 million acres through 14,500 agreements for a total NRCS and partner investment of $4.3 billion in financial and technical assistance.

The funding announced today was authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill, which builds on historic economic gains in rural America over the past six years, while achieving meaningful reform and billions of dollars in savings for taxpayers. Since enactment, USDA has made significant progress to implement each provision of this critical legislation, including providing disaster relief to farmers and ranchers; strengthening risk management tools; expanding access to rural credit; funding critical research; establishing innovative public-private conservation partnerships; developing new markets for rural-made products; and investing in infrastructure, housing, and community facilities to help improve quality of life in rural America. For more information, visit www.usda.gov/farmbill.

Visit NRCS’s ACEP webpage to learn more about NRCS’s wetland conservation options.

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CDFA farmers market coupons aim to promote healthy senior eating – from the Turlock Journal

farmers_market_seniors

By Alysson Aredas

To the Stanislaus County Area Agency on Aging, a coupon is more than just a piece of paper.

Rather, the Seniors Farmers Market coupon booklet the organization has distributed to local seniors for over a decade helps promote healthy eating amongst older adults and provides an economic boost to local farmers.

“I think it’s a win-win for us,” said Agency on Aging manager Jill Erickson. “It serves as a farmer subsidy by encouraging people to shop in Stanislaus County and it also helps seniors eat more fresh fruits and vegetables.

“We aim to help seniors with low income especially, since the first thing they often omit from their budget is fresh fruits and vegetables,” added Erickson.

Although the Stanislaus County Area Agency on Aging will be handling distribution, the coupons are made available through the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program.

“The California Department of Food and Agriculture teamed up with the Department of Aging so that they can help promote seniors eating more fresh fruits and vegetables while also promoting farmers markets in order to get more fresh fruits and vegetables at markets,” explained Erickson.

The program provides low-income seniors with check booklets that can be applied towards purchases of fresh fruits, vegetables, cut herb and honey at Certified Farmers Markets. Each booklet contains $20 worth of coupons.

To be eligible to receive a coupon booklet, seniors must be 60 years and older, live in Stanislaus County and have a limited income of $1,800 per month or less for an individual and $2,426 per month or less for a household of two. Only one booklet can be obtained for each eligible senior on an annual basis.

Note – Distribution of coupon booklets has already begun in Stanislaus County and will continue at the Oakdale Farmers Market on July 1 and the Hughson Farmers Market on July 9.  Distribution is also underway statewide.  For more information contact your Local Area Agency on Aging office.

Link to story

 

 

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Drought response efforts making a difference in hardest-hit rural communities

"No Water."

“No Water.”

When you type “East Porterville” into your trusty search engine, it offers a few suggested phrases before you even get to the “-ville” part: “water crisis” and “drought.” It’s no secret that this part of California is feeling the brunt of our drought, now well into its fourth consecutive summer. But nothing can replace witnessing firsthand the impacts of the drought on some of California’s hardest hit communities.

On a tour through the community of East Porterville in Tulare County last week, I was struck not just by the drought impacts that have been so extensively documented in the media, but also by the way this community is working together – neighbors helping each other, local non-profit organizations offering assistance, and government agencies finding ways to soften the immediate impacts while working toward long-term solutions.

The purpose of our tour was to gain better insight into small drinking water systems in the Southern San Joaquin Valley. Drinking water is a top priority in this region, with places like East Porterville home to hundreds of families whose wells are already dry, and more at risk.

We stopped first at a drug rehabilitation center whose staff and clients are using filtration systems and trying other tools to address nitrates and concerns about other possible contaminants in their water supply.

We also talked to residents who have no running water at all now that their wells have run dry. In this community, most residents rely on individual, private wells rather than a central system. We spoke to one woman whose well dried up, so her neighbor hooked up a hose to help out – until that well went dry, too. In many homes in their community, water is a scarce commodity. Of the 1,600 comes in the community, more than 500 are out of water.

A water tank installed in an East Porterville yard provides a temporary solution during the ongoing drought.

A water tank installed in an East Porterville yard provides a temporary solution during the ongoing drought.

What was most impressive to me was how that problem is being addressed – by a tremendously cooperative effort involving residents, non-profits and government. A non-profit called Self Help works with residents to bring in temporary tanks which are then installed by Community Services Employment Training, Inc. (CSET) Sequoia Community Corps volunteers. The tanks are filled with water trucked in by United Way. The expenses incurred by each organization are reimbursed with state disaster funding (California Disaster Assistance Act) through the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES).

This is by no means a convenient or durable solution but, in such an emergency, we have to address the immediate needs of a population that has few other alternatives.

We also visited Iglesia Emmanuel, a local faith community working with the county to provide shower trailers, distribute bottled water and generally figure out what else is at the top of the urgency list. Cal OES and local supporters provide reimbursement for the expense of the showers and volunteers from CSET help hand out water.

Our rural communities in general, and the South San Joaquin in particular, are full of people who exhibit that brand of initiative. So many of these residents have either grown up living or working on farms or in the broader agricultural industry; I truly believe that experience breeds a certain talent or capacity for problem-solving – not in the sense of a test to be passed, but because life “out here” so often involves figuring out how to fix things, how to make them work again.

For the longer term, these communities are devising solutions that range from critical local infrastructure projects to consolidation of water districts, and even legislation to make it easier for the cities, counties, Department of Water Resources, the water boards, USDA and other authorities to work together on future response efforts.

I came away from this experience having learned firsthand what CDFA, industry organizations, water agencies and local authorities can do to help. But what was foremost in my mind on the drive home was how much of the real work is being done by the residents themselves, the local businesses and churches, the volunteers. The knowledge and funding and support that government provides is important, but the communities themselves are the key.

When this drought is over, we must maintain these relationships and partnerships. We have a duty to strengthen and support them, because we know there will be a next drought.

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From USDA: Agriculture Secretary Vilsack Announces $150 Million, New Partnership to Support Water Quality and Quantity in Drought-Stricken California

Resilient Lands and Waters partnership will focus public and private resources towards conserving and restoring the Sierra-Cascade California Headwaters

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today joined Interior Deputy Secretary Mike Connor and California Secretary for Natural Resources John Laird to announce a new partnership focused on conserving and restoring the Sierra-Cascade California Headwaters, as part of President Obama’s Resilient Lands and Waters initiative. Over the next two years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Forest Service (FS) and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) will invest $130 million in the partnership, which also includes the Interior Department, the State of California, non-profits, and private landowners. In total, the partnership will yield a minimum investment of $210 million by all partners. The Sierra-Cascade California Headwaters provides 25 million Californians with drinking water and much of the water for irrigated agriculture in the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys.

In addition to the partnership, USDA is announcing that $13.7 million is available to California producers and ranchers through NRCS’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), and approximately $6 million remains available to drought-stricken communities through Rural Development’s Emergency Community Water Assistance Grants (ECWAG), making nearly $20 million available to drought-affected communities.

“As several years of historic drought continue to plague parts of the Western United States, there is a significant opportunity and responsibility across federal, state and private lands to protect and improve the landscapes that generate our most critical water supplies,” said Vilsack. “Healthy forests and meadows play a key role in ensuring water quality, yield and reliability throughout the year. Looking beyond this particular drought, resources announced today will help us add resiliency to natural resource systems to cope with recurring drought and changing climate patterns.”

The Resilient Lands and Waters initiative is a key part of the Obama Administration’s Climate and Natural Resources Priority Agenda, a first of its kind, comprehensive commitment across the Federal Government to support the resilience of America’s vital natural resources. Through this partnership under the Resilient Lands and Waters initiative, USDA, DOI, the State of California, and local partners will direct a minimum of $210 million in combined resources towards restoration that will help improve water quality and quantity, promote healthy forests, and reduce wildfire risk in the Sierra-Cascade California Headwaters region.

“Climate change affects every corner of our nation from the Sierra-Cascades to the Everglades. The deepening impact of the ongoing drought is just one example of how it influences all of us,” said Deputy Interior Secretary Michael L. Connor. “In collaboration with other governmental agencies and partners, we are taking a comprehensive, science-based long term view of how to best make our treasured lands and precious waterways more resilient to the impacts of climate change.”

The federal partnership dovetails with Governor Jerry Brown’s California Water Action Plan, a suite of short- and long-term goals to put California on a path to more resilient and reliable water systems and healthy ecosystems over the next five years. Over the next year, California will commit as much as $81 million in ecosystem restoration in the Sierra Nevada.

“California’s Cascade and Sierra Nevada mountain ecosystems are the lifeblood of water for 25 million Californians, our agricultural industry, and the health of downstream estuaries and species,” said Secretary Laird. “Trying to maintain this ecosystem health, in the face of a changing climate, requires that all those responsible – especially the state and federal governments –work together to meet this challenge. That is why the California state administration is pleased with today’s announcement, and looks forward to continuing to work with our federal partners.”

Last month, USDA announced the availability of $21 million through EQIP to help farmers and ranchers apply science-based solutions to mitigate the short and long term effects of drought. Today, Secretary Vilsack announced that 65 percent of the available funds, or $13.7 million, are being reserved for California producers and ranchers. Applications are currently being accepted at local NRCS offices.

Vilsack also announced that USDA has provided $2.7 million in ECWAG funds for eight California communities and $1.98 million to the Coyote Band of Pomo Indians of California in 2015. The remaining ECWAG funding is available nationwide, and applications are accepted at any time through USDA’s Rural Development state and area offices.

Today’s announcement builds on the Obama Administration’s commitment to do everything it can to help the farmers, ranchers, small businesses, and communities facing severe impacts from one of the worst droughts in over a century. Currently, 35 percent of the West is facing severe to exceptional drought. In California, the mountain snowpack that supplies most of the water during the summer months is only a trace above zero. Drought threatens multiple sectors of the economy and leads to increased risks to communities on many fronts. That’s why the Administration’s efforts will help to address the drought challenge from all angles, from employing workers and providing food assistance to making long-term investments to support water efficiency and conservation and addressing wildfire. Through the creation of the National Drought Resilience Partnership, launched as part of the President’s Climate Action Plan, federal agencies are working closely with states, tribes and local governments to develop a coordinated response to drought.

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Avian Influenza Update for Backyard Bird Owners, Commercial Poultry Farmers

New Requirements for Bringing Poultry, Eggs, and Related Products into California

chicken-and-egg2-300x225Parts of the Midwest are dealing with a serious and ongoing outbreak of avian influenza, so California is taking extra steps to protect birds here. Poultry farmers, veterinarians and the larger commercial community in general are aware of the additional requirements, which focus on inspecting and testing farms and flocks in the outbreak regions before they can send poultry and products to California. The enhanced requirements will also evaluate the measures in place at the receiving farms and facilities here in our state. Details are available here.

Backyard Poultry

California’s rural communities – and many of its urban and suburban ones as well – are also home to backyard poultry kept by enthusiasts or for small-scale farming. For our backyard bird owners, here’s how you can help protect your flock and our communities:

  • Know your bird’s history – always buy from a certified breeder/hatchery or ask where the source flock came from.
  • Be an Avian Influenza detective – when obtaining birds, ask if they have been tested for avian influenza and if you are having them delivered, make sure that they meet all import/export requirements. For interstate movement within the US, check the CDFA Avian Entry page; for out of country, see the USDA import/export page.
  • Monitor your bird/flock health – isolate and observe new flock additions and returning show birds off-site for 30 days for signs of disease; If you observe signs of avian influenza in your birds, please call the Sick Bird Hotline at 866-922-2473.

To protect California poultry, CDFA personnel will actively enforce the enhanced entry requirements by monitoring border crossing reports, USDA-issued permits, and shipments of poultry and poultry products into California. CDFA personnel will follow up on any shipments of concern. Non-compliant shipments may be subject to fines and/or have poultry and poultry products quarantined, tested or destroyed.

For more information, please visit: http://www.cdfa.ca.gov/ahfss/Animal_Health/Avian_Influenza.html

 

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