Friedman Policy Corner: Advocate for Sound Nutrition and Agricultural Policy This Spring … and Then Run for Office!

by Alana Davidson

This spring is the end of the 2017-2018 legislative session in the Massachusetts State House. Read about what this means in terms of advocacy and learn about Friedman’s new student-run organization, the Friedman Food Policy Action Council. Finally, consider if a life in public service is right for you and whether you should run for office!

 

It’s a new year and this spring marks the end of the 2017-2018 legislative session at the Massachusetts State House. State legislators have until February 7th, 2018 to rule on all bills in committee, unless they request an extension. That means legislators decide if a bill “ought to pass”, “ought not to pass” or “study order.” Bills that ought to pass continue on through the legislative process and are considered favorable. A study order means the bill needs to be reviewed further, but most bills that are marked this and bills ruled “ought not to pass” die in committee. Then, legislators have until July 31st, 2018 to pass any bills and get them signed into law by the Governor. These next six months are a crucial time for agriculture, food, and nutrition advocates to make their voices heard. There are currently 208 bills in the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources, and Agriculture, and over 6,000 bills filed in total. Many of these bills will not proceed forward and several bills have already passed out of committee. To explore the current bills, visit: https://malegislature.gov/Bills/Search.

 

Examples of bills to follow over the next six months:

S.442 An Act Promoting Agriculture in the Commonwealth

This bill establishes two funds: an Agricultural Resolve and Security Fund and a Massachusetts Veterans and Warriors to Agriculture Program Fund. The second fund will be used to provide competitive grants and loans to educate, train, and retain veterans working in the agriculture sector across the state of Massachusetts.

H.4050 An Act to Promote the Care and Wellbeing of Livestock

This bill establishes a 13 member Livestock Care and Standards Board, that would include a member from the Cummings’ School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University. The board would advise the Commissioner of the Department of Agricultural Resources on humane treatment of animal livestock, including cattle, swine, and poultry. Based on the recommendations the Commissioner can issue any new regulations or voluntary guidance pertaining to the treatment of livestock. This may include comfort of animals, animal health, safety, and the financial impact on farms.

H.2131 An Act Relative to an Agricultural Healthy Incentives Program

This bill establishes a Massachusetts Healthy Incentives Fund administered by the Department of Transitional Assistance and the Department of Agricultural Resources. Through this fund, for every $1 of SNAP spent on fruits and vegetables a person will receive a matching dollar benefit redeemed on their SNAP EBT card.

 

With the current political climate, it is now more important than ever to make your voice heard. What are some ways you can do that this spring? Join Friedman’s new student run organization, the Friedman Food Policy Action Council (FFPAC). This organization is seeking to unite Friedman students interested in policy, advocacy, and research to develop skills in lobbying by investigating current legislative issues at the state and federal level, and advocating in support of sound nutrition and agricultural policies. The group will be meeting bimonthly on Mondays at noon and our first official meeting is February 5th, 2018. If you decide to join FFPAC, you will gain experience writing and publishing op-eds, calling and meeting with legislatures, and working with other advocacy organization across Massachusetts and the country. FFPAC will also be hosting bimonthly Policy Chats in partnership with Professor Jerry Mande this spring to discuss current food and nutrition policy issues. The next policy chats will be February 7th and February 21st 2018.

The only way we are going to make evidence-based nutrition and agricultural policies top priorities at the national and state levels is by having conversations with elected officials and by running for office ourselves. If this past year has inspired you or the recent marches have prompted you to think about your future, consider going into public service. If statements from our elected leaders that it’s time to end the SNAP program angers you, go knock on doors and make calls for candidates who will support these programs. If you are tired of hearing about “fake news” and “alternative facts,” speak out in support of science. As students at a policy-focused school, we gain the skills and knowledge to read and analyze policies. We each must ask ourselves, “If I was an elected official, what proposals would I put forward? What change would I want to see?” We are at a pivotal moment in our country’s history. At the federal level, we have welfare reform and the Farm Bill to look forward to within the next year, while at the same time school meal regulations are being rolled back by the USDA and the Secretary of Agriculture says the SNAP program needs more “state flexibility.” We have to decide what kind of world we want to live in: one in which the government helps provide food to those who cannot afford it, or one that leaves it to charity? One in which consolidated large corporations control the entire food system, from what seeds are planted to what products get the best placement on supermarkets shelves? We as agriculture, food, and nutrition policy students have a unique training that can enable us to be effective change makers in food systems and food justice work.

So to my colleagues, consider this your first ask to run for office! No matter if you start small by joining FFPAC or calling an elected official, or go large by volunteering on a campaign or running for office, there are numerous ways you can make a difference this year. So let’s roll up our sleeves, get to work, and make our voices heard.

 

Alana Davidson is a first year MS candidate in the Food Policy and Applied Nutrition program and one of the founding members of FFPAC. For the last three years she has interned in the anti-hunger field at the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), Share Our Strength, and End Hunger Connecticut!. Her research and advocacy have centered on domestic food insecurity and nutrition-related issues.

 

 

 

Friedman Policy Corner: Massachusetts’s First Farm to School Awareness Day at the State Capitol

by Alana Davidson

October is National Farm to School Month. To celebrate, Massachusetts Farm to School hosted the first Farm to School Awareness Day at the state Capitol on October 26th. Alana Davidson recounts what happened at the event, and details current legislation that is being considered on Farm to School and ways to get involved and support strong Farm to School programs.  

Dozens of students, advocates, and government officials flocked to the state Capitol on October 26th for the first Farm to School Awareness Day, as part of National Farm to School Month. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 spurred the creation of Farm to School programs to provide grants and technical assistance to schools so they can provide more locally grown food in school meals. This State House event reflected on the progress Massachusetts has made in expanding Farm to School programs, as well as what more needs to be done.

The speakers at the event ranged from United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) officials to state senators. The USDA’s Farm to School Director, Erin Healy, spoke about the importance of these programs, and how the USDA 2015 Census of Farm to School found that 68% of Massachusetts’ school districts participated in these activities. That is 828 schools and 422,072 students! Rob Leshin, Director of Food and Nutrition Programs at the Massachusetts Department of Education, added that Farm to School programs have led to the investment of over $10 million in local foods. The locally grown food is not just being used in school lunch, but also in school breakfast, summer meals, and afterschool snack programs. Leshin also described how some schools are including local seafood in school meals. During lunchtime students get to eat Tilapia, the “Catch of the Day” that was caught that morning. Students learn about local fishermen and where and how their seafood is caught. The chairs of the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources, and Agriculture, Senator Gobi and Congressman Pignatelli, also spoke. They expressed their support for Farm to School programs and recognized the importance of connecting local farmers with students and school meals. Having the support of the chairs is important because they can influence what bills ought to pass out of committee and what amendments are accepted or rejected. Also, if the House and Senate pass different bills, the chair is in charge of the committee that combines the two bills into one final version.

Photo: Alana Davidson. Rob Leshin Speaking

There is currently one bill in the Massachusetts congress that affects Farm to School programs (An Act Relative to Healthy Eating in School Cafeterias, H.3549). The bill includes a three-year grant program to fund kitchen upgrades for one school each year, with the goal of improving fresh food accommodation and storage. Additionally, a four-year pilot grant program will provide funds to multiple schools to increase their supplies of locally grown foods in school meals, and improve student education and engagement around healthy eating. Finally, the bill establishes a School Interagency Task Force that will aim to increase the sustainability of Farm to School programs in Massachusetts, and provide guidance for the four-year grant. This bill has been introduced in the Joint Committee on Education and has had one hearing thus far on July 18th. Next, the bill is “reported out of committee”, which means committee members must decide if the bill ought to pass or not. They have until the third Wednesday of March 2018 to do this. If they decide it ought to pass the bill can then be debated and amendments added before the full House and Senate vote it on.

Farm to School programs help increase students’ access to healthy, nutritious food in schools. They also stimulate local economies by directing money to local farms and fisheries. These programs can be expanded by providing more funding to schools to increase educational activities, improve kitchen equipment, and strengthen local food systems through greater procurement policies with local farms.

If you are a supporter of these programs, contact your state members of Congress and tell them to support H.3549 and strong Farm to School programs! To find your legislator, visit: https://malegislature.gov/Search/FindMyLegislator. Also, tell your legislators to maintain the current funding for Farm to School programs ($120,000) in the fiscal year 2019 Massachusetts’s Budget!

If you do not live in Massachusetts, or are interested in federal policy (as opposed to state policy) – the Farm to School Act of 2017 is currently in committee in the House and Senate. This bill increases mandatory funding for the program from $5 million to $15 million due to increased demand. Tell your federal members of Congress to support this bill and strong Farm to School programs! To find your members, call the U.S. Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121.

 

Alana Davidson is a first year MS candidate in the Food Policy and Applied Nutrition program. For the last three years she has interned in the anti-hunger field at the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), Share Our Strength, and End Hunger Connecticut!. Her research and advocacy have centered on domestic food insecurity and nutrition issues.

 

Movie Review: Food Chains

by Rebecca Boehm and Rebecca Rottapel

From the filmmakers of Food, Inc. and Fast Food Nation, this new documentary portrays the struggles of U.S. farm workers who experience conditions from slavery and low-wages to sexual harassment and total lack of legal power. The film focuses on the efforts of tomato pickers in Immokalee, Florida to petition big food suppliers to pay one more penny per pound of tomatoes picked. Food Chains provides a good first look at these important and underreported issues in America.

In the opening scene of Food Chains we are introduced to Immokalee, Florida, a sparsely populated, rural town where people ride their bikes and push strollers in the streets past dilapidated stucco buildings and chain link fences. We meet Lucas Benitez, a farm worker who explains the importance of the farm industry in Immokalee and the plight of the average farm worker there. The scene cuts to a rundown trailer where a group of workers and their families live. Benito Garcia, his wife Carmela and their child are getting ready for work at 4:30 am. Carmela fills a Powerade bottle with milk, packs her son’s lunch into a plastic shopping bag, and hands her son off to Benito. Carmela says to Benito as he walks out the door with their son, “Hurry back so you don’t miss the bus.” Benito pushes his son along the predawn streets of Immokalee to get his son to the babysitter just in time to catch the bus to the tomato fields.

FoodChainsTheatricalPoster-e1409496194559

This opening scene is striking because it provides us a glimpse into the daily life of the average Immokalee farm worker. The living conditions that they endure should pull the heartstrings of any person watching the film. The average American consumer may never have considered the living and working conditions of the person that harvests their food, and this scene alone would be a learning experience.

Hereafter, Food Chains’ thesis is clear: poor working conditions and low pay that U.S. farm workers experience result directly from the downward pressure on food costs exerted by the food retail sector. First-time feature film director Sanjay Rawal and executive producers Eva Longoria and Eric Schlosser have crafted a solid documentary that summarizes why this downward pressure occurs and how it can be remedied so that the standard of living of farm workers can be improved without affecting the price consumers pay for their food.

The film strongly places the burden of the problem, and rightly so, on U.S. grocery stores and supermarkets that exert tremendous market power over the prices that farmers receive for their products. Over the last few decades there has been significant consolidation in this sector, which is most obvious with the emergence of Walmart as a major food retailer. Standard economic theory would confirm that the oligopolistic nature of the supermarket industry does lower the prices farmers can receive for their goods. The film demonstrates this economic theory with a specific example in Publix, one of the largest supermarket chains in the U.S., headquartered in Florida. Publix is also the primary target of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ (CIW) most recent campaign to increase the wage of tomato pickers by a penny per pound.

CIW has already waged campaigns against fast food companies using the same penny-per-pound strategy with great success. Publix, however, seems to be unflinching in its unwillingness to agree to the terms of the CIW campaign for completely unknown reasons. In the film, we see CIW organize a seven-day hunger strike at the Publix Headquarters in Lakeland, Florida, which is just a two-hour drive from Immokalee. Publix allows the strike to continue on its property with only the occasional police or private security intervention. Employees of the company come out to eat lunch on picnic benches just feet away from the strike.

The hunger strike quickly becomes the focus of the film, and as it progresses one cannot help but think about the broader debate currently stirring in the U.S. about the effectiveness of public protests. CIW is a seasoned organization that knows how to utilize protests as an effective tool for promoting social change; it may have employed the hunger strike seen in Food Chains to appeal to middle-aged consumers who remember the hunger strike led by United Farm Workers President Cesar Chavez in 1968. Food Chains captures a peaceful and organized protest taking place on the front lawn of Publix without much excitement or controversy. For the average American, seeing this type of protest may be refreshing and encouraging.

Food Chains should be commended for addressing such an important social justice issue occurring in the food system, and it is one that many food-focused documentaries have for some reason ignored until now. However, the film could have accomplished its job with a bit more depth on the broader policy issues that got us to this point in the first place. The dearth of economic safety nets provided for poor Americans, our completely outdated and dysfunctional immigration policy (including policies for migrant farm workers from Mexico), lack of oversight and enforcement of pesticide regulation, and racism and oppression are all broader societal issues that contribute to the struggles of U.S. farm workers. Yet these issues, especially immigration, are hardly mentioned in Food Chains.

In particular, immigration policy is a key factor in the plight of U.S. farm workers that is touched upon briefly in the film. It is striking to recognize that CIW focuses its campaigns on private companies because many of the workers they represent are undocumented immigrants, making policy advocacy to federal and state governments virtually impossible. The total powerlessness of people who pick our food should be unimaginable in America, yet the film never makes this argument strongly. Similarly, the film could have addressed the serious problem of how volatile food prices could potentially become given lack of government oversight of migrant labor. Food Chains may have avoided these more controversial topics in order to remain accessible and credible for a broad audience.

If the goal of Food Chains is to educate the completely uninformed U.S. food consumer, then it will have done yeoman’s work. But for those of us who are more informed on these issues, we are left wanting a more detailed and investigative story about how injustices like those faced by the Immokalee workers continue to occur. For us, the story of the modern day farm worker seems unthinkable. And we say to ourselves, “Really? It’s 2015.”

Join the Friedman Justice League for a screening of Food Chains followed by an expert panel discussion.  The event will be held on February 5 from 6:30-8:30 pm at Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in ASEAN Auditorium (160 Packard Ave, Medford, MA). While admission is free, we are asking for a $5 donation to go toward the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and Food Chain Workers Alliance. Tickets are available at http://foodchains-fjl.brownpapertickets.com.

Rebecca Boehm is a PhD Candidate in the Agriculture Food and Environment (AFE) program and a long-time member of the Friedman Justice League. Rebecca Rottapel is a first-year MS student in the AFE program. She is also a member of the Justice League and is excited to keep learning about mechanisms to improve social justice and equity in our food system!