by Bernadette Barber
The Food Freedom Task Force was formed after the Food Freedom Act, (HB 135, Del Rob Bell) was introduced in January of 2014. The bill was tabled and Agriculture Subcommittee Chairman, Danny Marshall asked Deputy Secretary Travis Hill to look into the issues that prevent small farmers getting their products to their customers. Bernadette Barber formed a team of leading small farmers and local officials in VA to gather three times in the month of April with members of the Virginia Department of Agriculture, with the leading lobbyists for the largest organizations for dairy interests, agri-business, and Farm Bureau and with Mike Callicrate of Colorado and St. Francis Kansas and the VA Cattleman’s Association.
The purpose of the meetings was to discuss the barriers that prevent food sales within Virginia that are hampering small farmers and food producers and to create a bill to be introduced to the 2015 session of the Virginia Legislative Assembly that will expand food choices and economic opportunity for small farmers and food producers in Virginia. The meetings were held April 9th in Charlottesville, April 15th in Crozet and April 30th in Star Tannery.
Members of the task force included Randall Anderson of Wicked Oaks Farm and Vineyards, Bernadette Barber of Tall Trees Farm and the organization Virginia Food Freedom, Anthony Bavuso of Seaford Oyster Company, Micah Beachy, Dairyman Surry, VA, Ruby Brabo, Dahlgren Supervisor of King George County, Brian Criley of Slow Grown in Virginia Farm, Caroline County, Erik Curren, Staunton City Council and Architect of the Food Policy Task Force, Matthew French of French Family Farm, Bland VA, Betty Grigg of King George County, Dwayne McIntyre, Manager of Roffey Cattle Company, Lois Smith, farmer and president of Virginia Independent Consumers and Farmers Association, and Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm.
The Food Freedom Task Force met on April 9th in Charlottesville VA with Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Travis Hill, Meat and Poultry Program Director Dr. Richard Hackenbracht, David McGreevy, Deputy Director Animal & Food Industry Services and Pam Miles, Supervisor Food Safety & Security Program.
David McGreevy, Dr. Richard Hackenbract, Dept. Sec’y Travis Hill, Pam Miles
The topics discussed were definitions of Potentially Hazardous Foods, VDACS neutrality or active position on proposed legislation, VDACS position on raw milk, “value added” (processed foods), and the federal implementation of regulations on Virginia’s meat processing and sales. On the last subject Dr. Hackenbracht from the Office of Meat and Poultry (OMP) unequivocally stated that the USDA controls meat all the way down to the pot pie. The task force took exception to that and will be looking for written verification in federal regulatory code because there are many Virginia food establishments that process meats through certification by VDACS Office of Dairy and Foods (ODF). Ms Miles suggested that if we want the opportunity to sell our pumpkins pies direct off the farm without government oversight, we should go to the national meetings to voice our opinion to change the rules on the definition of potentially hazardous food so that her office would be amenable to our small share of the market.
The meeting in Crozet on the 15th of April was focused on grounds for compromise with the leading lobbyists of the largest corporate agricultural and food interests in the state. Eric Paulson of the Virginia State Dairyman’s Association, Brad Copenhaver of Virginia Agribusiness Council, and Lindsay Reames of Virginia Farm Bureau.
Lindsay Reames, Eric Paulson, Brad Copenhaver, Randall Anderson, Joel Salatin, Lois Smith
Eric Paulson said there would be zero compromise on any raw milk legislation introduced. Even though he said as a child he used to drink milk straight from the tank, he believes it is dangerous now and all must be pasteurized. Brad Copenhaver would accept no compromise to allow direct farm to consumer sales on any processed “potentially hazardous foods” and Lindsay Reames said the only support Farm bureau would give is if its policy would change. As of right now, Farm Bureau Federation does not support raw milk sales in VA or the sale of potentially hazardous foods.
Front Row: Bernadette Barber, Gina Anderson, Suzi Cores, Lois Smith, Rhonda Anderson,Back Row: Mike Callicrate, Gary Barber, Dr. Richard Moyer, Brian Criley, Matthew French, Dwayne McIntyre, Randall Anderson
The last statewide meeting of the Food Freedom Taskforce was held April 30th at member Randall Anderson’s Wicked Oak Farms and Vineyard Tasting Room. Wet blustery weather welcomed the presence of Mike Callicrate of Ranch Foods Direct, Colorado. Mike has taken on the federal government, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) and also saved a great deal of small ranchers out west by designing the first mobile slaughter unit which brings the slaughter house to the ranch. No representatives from either the Virginia Cattlemen’s Association or the Central Virginia Cattlemen’s Association attended the meeting. Mr. Callicrate gave a power point presentation entitled “The Politics and Economics of Food” with the subtitle “Corporate or Family Farms, Global or Local”
His bottom line to all the cattlemen in the room was ~ Never sell your beef at stockyard prices. ~
Virginia Farm Facts
Much of the cattle in the state are sold at livestock yards as feeder calves to be carried out west to be “finished” on grain in the feed yards for huge “packing” companies. Most Virginia farmers lose a huge profit margin selling wholesale at the stockyard rather than sell direct to friends and neighbors. USDA control of Virginia meat processing and sales since the early 1970s destroyed local infrastructure of slaughter houses and butchering facilities available for small farms. Although it is legal to slaughter and process chickens on the farm, it is illegal for a farmer to slaughter and process the beef he has raised on his own farm to sell direct to consumers.
Currently, there are 649 dairy farms in Virginia that receive millions in subsidies for feed, manure handling, and milk checks. More details of the feed and manure handling subsidies can be found at www.farm.ewg.org Most all of these are Confined Animal Feeding Operations with the numbers averaging from 200 cows to 4,100 and are mostly concentrated in the Blue Ridge area of the state. It is illegal in VA to sell raw milk direct from the farm to a neighbor. One must only sell to a licensed processor.
At this time, the Chinese own Smithfield Foods, the largest pork producing and processing company in the world. The largest permitted warehousing unit of swine has five separate operations carrying 50,000 pigs, it is located in the tidewater area of southside Virginia. Even though for centuries, Virginia farmers raised and slaughtered pigs and sold the pork, bacons, hams and sausage direct to their neighbors- ( so good and safe that it made Virginia Ham a world wide name)- it is illegal for farmers to do that today.