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agriculture Archive

Food Law and Policy Weekly Review, February 9 -13

February 12, 2015
  • Salon.com ran a candid and insightful piece on the financial challenges of starting and operating a small farm. You should read the whole thing – you don’t get too many chances to hear a young farmer talk about how tough it actually is to run these small scale diverse farms everyone seems so excited about. The article provoked some of our thoughts on farm leasing, which we posted to the Food Law Firm Blog yesterday.
  • SrirachaWe were surprised to learn that Sriracha – the original Sriracha – never sought trademark protection for their brand. The owner of the company explains the logic behind this in the LA Times this week, which makes some kind of perverse sense actually: “He believes all the exposure will lead more consumers to taste the original spicy, sweet concoction — which was inspired by flavors from across Southeast Asia and named after a coastal city in Thailand.” Though he seems to be doing quite well, we respectfully disagree considering how relatively cheap it is to seek trademark protection.
  • Chicagomag.com profiles outgoing CEO of McDonald’s, Don Thompson. Thompson will step down as CEO on March 1 after a serious of poor quarterly earnings reports. He seems a decent fellow.
  • QSR.com discusses Chipotle’s recent challenges supplying its restaurants with humanely raised pork. On several occasions during the Carnitas Crisis, we’ve been put-out during our (frequent) visits to Chipotle, having to substitute our first choice of pork with the still delightful chicken or beef alternatives. We therefore remain interested in future stories on Chipotle’s experience with the complexities of hog contracting.
  • A Philadelphia CBS affiliate reports on an FDA study which claims to have found milk in several brands of dark chocolate. Milk is an allergen under the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act, and few of the dark chocolate manufacturers seem to be in compliance with the allergen declarations required by the law.
  • The Environmental Working Group reports on a study indicating that consumers are not “scared away” by a GMO label: “…there was no consistent statistically significant difference in the average level of concern for GMOs expressed by people shown different labels.  That is, the mere presence of the GMO label did not lead to a greater level of concern about GMOs.” Also quoted in the Environmental Working Group Article were two economists with the USDA who hold the opinion that “labels are generally a weak policy tool for changing consumer consumption behavior.” So is labeling an effective way to communicate with consumers or not? In last week’s Review, we linked to a study indicating that affluent consumers are more likely to heed warning labels.
  • Reason.com reports that the U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee will no longer list cholesterol among its “nutrients of concern.”

Smart Leases for New and Beginning Farmers

February 12, 2015

by Jason Foscolo

Everyone interested in becoming a farmer should read this piece from Salon entitled “What nobody Told Me About Small Farming: I Can’t Make a Living.” The author, Jaclyn Moyer of South Fork Farm in Placerville, California, shares some important insights into the financial hardships that are a fundamental part of being a new farmer. As you can tell from the title of the article, she is open and honest about the financial difficulties she and her partner face. This kind of honesty is too rare within the new and beginning farmer movement, and Ms. Moyer should be commended for sharing her insight with such candor.

This bit go us thinking about the importance of good negotiating during the agricultural leasing process:

I didn’t say that despite the improvements we made to the land— the hundreds of yards of compost we spread, the thousand dollars we spent annually on cover crop seed to increase soil fertility, every weed pulled — we gained no equity because we didn’t own the land.

The loss of equity is an astute observation that not many tenant farmers realize, and it’s particularly true for South Fork, which is organic certified according to its website. It is more challenging and expensive to increase soil fertility when working within the restrictions imposed by organic certification. These additional costs do indeed amount to a transfer of equity from the tenant to the landholder. When farm tenants assume costs in order to improve soil quality, we generally recommend negotiating either for:

  • A rebate that returns all or some of the cost of those agricultural practices to the tenant; or
  • A long term lease that enables the farmer to recoup the expenses over several seasons.

Soil fertility is not some switch that can be turned on. Often it takes several seasons for farmers to achieve their desired profile. It is, therefore, important that the farmer gets a lease that allows them to stay on the land long enough to reap the benefits of their efforts. For farms that are converted from conventional to organic production, a year-to-year lease is not advisable.

It sounds like an easy case to make for a farmer, but sustainable lease agreements require sustainable landlords. Private landowners may not always appreciate the additional effort and expense incurred by farmers like South Fork. Land trusts, however, have the nonprofit motive to promote conservation and soil-enhancing agriculture, and are ideally placed to execute terms that recognize the capital contribution some farmers make to their soil.

Road Trip Roundup: Farmer Veteran Coalition Events

November 21, 2014

Normal
I was in Normal, Illinois on November 13, 2014, speaking at the Local and Regional Food Summit. The event was sponsored by the Illinois Farm Bureau, the Illinois Department of Agriculture, and Heartland Community College.

I was there to announce the launch of a partnership between the Illinois Department of Agriculture and the Homegrown by Heroes marketing campaign. Homegrown by Heroes is a trademark that can be affixed to agricultural products grown by farmers who are veterans of the United States Armed Forces. The program is managed by the Farmer Veteran Coalition (FVC) of Davis, California.

Illinois became the very first state in the country to partner with FVC to help promote the mark through its state department of agriculture. Effective immediately, farmer veterans growing within the state of Illinois will qualify to use the Homegrown by Heroes logo in conjunction with the Illinois Product logo. This dual certification will give Illinois retail consumers two compelling reasons to purchase a farm product bearing the mark – it’s local and its veteran-grown.

Special thanks to Cynthia Haskins of Illinois Farm Bureau for the amazing effort to get FVC and Illinois Department of Agriculture together for this marketing program.

This firm created the legal framework for the Homegrown by Heroes program and the licensing required to manage it. I gave the presentation on behalf of the Farmer Veteran Coalition’s Michael O’Gorman, who could not attend due to his presence at FVC’s National Stakeholders Conference in Des Moines, Iowa.

Chaptering

Said Stakeholders Conference was my next destination after Illinois. With the help of Drake University Law School, who hosted the event, FVC brought together various groups from across the country working within the farmer-veteran movement. I was there in part to present the preliminary plans to create statewide chapters of the Farmer Veteran Coalition throughout the United States and its territories.

As a veteran, I get a particular satisfaction out of my involvement with FVC. I get to meet amazing people like Calvin Riggleman of Big Riggs Farm, Mickey Clayton of Dot Ranch, Chris Holman of Nami Moon Farms, and so many more. When I hear how hard these vets work, how much they love what they do, and the extent to which they experience farming as rehabilitative, I cannot help but be inspired by them.

Finally, I passed through Chicago-O’Hare Airport 3 times in 4 days, and each time I absorbed some free Vitamin D by the lights of the indoor edible garden by Gate G.