Stand Up For Your Local Farmers

Support local food sources!

Support local food sources!

When the conventional food system showed its fragility during the COVID shut-downs, local producers kept feeding their communities with high-quality meat, eggs, dairy, and produce.  Artisanal small businesses provide fermented foods, kombucha, and many more foods vital for nourishing our communities.

Yet these local farmers and artisanal producers all too often face unnecessary difficulties created by government regulations, policies, and programs.

Now we have a rare opportunity to urge USDA to change!  The disruptions in the food system over the last year have led President Biden to direct the USDA to submit a report that assesses the supply chains for the production of agricultural commodities and food products.

As part of developing that report, USDA is accepting public comments on “Supply Chains for the Production of Agricultural Commodities and Food Products” until June 21.  The agency will also consider the public comments in its decision on how to spend stimulus funds, since it has been directed to increase durability and resilience within the U.S. food supply.

This is an important opportunity to talk about the significance of localized, decentralized food systems – and to give the agency specific action steps that would help move us to those systems!

In writing your comments, please try to include (1) examples of the challenges farmers and other food producers face in raising, processing, and marketing their products; and (2) specific action items that would help small-scale and diversified producers to build resilient, diversified systems.

Note that the USDA cannot change statutory law.  So issues such as the requirement that meat be processed in an inspected slaughterhouse are outside the scope of this comment period.  But the agency can change its own regulations, policies, and where it directs funding – so there is a lot that it can do to address problems with that meat inspection program, for example.

Topics to consider including in your comments:

  1. Meat processing: USDA should take steps to support the continuation and establishment of new small- and mid-sized operations.
    1. Share your own story about meat processing. Farmers: Were you able to provide meat during the meatpacker shutdowns last spring? Or have you been unable to because of a lack of processing? Consumers: What did you see during the pandemic? From whom did you get meat?
    1. As a small farmer or processor, what changes do you think are needed? Remember to focus on things that are in the regulations and policies, as well as direct relief funding for financial support, not statutory changes that are beyond the agency’s ability to change.
    1. Consider expressing support for these policy changes:
      1. Revise USDA’s policy governing multiple owners of animals that are processed in custom-exempt slaughterhouses. The USDA currently requires that the custom slaughterhouse record each owner and do the division of the meat, which makes it impractical for more than 4 people to co-own an animal. But the statute and regulations merely provide that the meat must be for the personal or household use of the owners. If USDA modified its policy, then “animal shares” could be far more flexible, allowing farmers and consumers to agree to use custom processors.  In effect, we could implement the Wyoming herd share law without the need for new state statutes if USDA makes a simple policy change.
      1. Reform the scale-prejudicial regulations and policies on small-scale slaughterhouses, including: (1) prioritize inspector availability for small-scale processors and provide training specific to small-scale processors; (2) revise the pathogen testing and process-control testing to ensure that small plants are tested proportionally to large plants; (3) reduce the difficulty and expense in developing HACCPs by providing model HACCPs, posting applicable peer-reviewed research, and identifying the control points for different types of products.
  • The agency needs to stop adopting regulations and policies that are scale-prejudicial.  For example, electronic animal ID is much more expensive for small-scale producers, yet the benefits flow to the large players and exporters.
    • Share your concerns about electronic ID, both its impact on you and on others in the industry. Do you run your animals in pasture conditions where they are more likely to lose tags, increasing the time and monetary expense? Does your local sale barn have infrastructure for running all electronic ID or would it be forced to spend tens of thousands of dollars to install it? Would your veterinarian have to buy new equipment to deal with an electronic system?
  • Other areas of needed infrastructure, whether physical (such as commercial kitchens and storage) or logistical (support for food hubs, farmers markets, etc.): What do you see as needed to build resilient, vibrant local food systems? Again, this can involve changing regulations, policy and guidance documents, or providing funding through USDA programs.

You can submit your comment online at

DEADLINE: Monday, June 21


Questionable Imported Foods – Best option – Buy Local

Disease Outbreaks Tied to Imported Foods Increasing according to the CDC

By Dr. Mercola

The more steps your food goes through before it reaches your plate, the greater your chances of contamination becomes.

If you are able to get your food locally, directly from the field or after harvest, such as directly from a farmer or farmer’s market, you knock out numerous routes that could expose your food to contamination.

So it is not surprising that new research released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that foodborne disease outbreaks linked to imported foods are on the rise.

As Food Imports Rise, so do Foodborne Disease Outbreaks

Foodborne disease outbreaks linked to imported foods rose in both 2009 and 2010 (data for 2011 is still being analyzed).

In all, 39 outbreaks and 2,348 illnesses were linked to imported foods from 15 countries.

However, nearly half of the outbreaks occurred in 2009 and 2010 …

Most of the outbreaks were due to fish (17 outbreaks) and spices (particularly fresh or dried peppers), which are also among the most commonly imported foods.

For instance, data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) Economic Research Service (ERS) reveals that 85 percent of seafood eaten by Americans is imported! As rates of food imports rise (ERS data shows that U.S. food import has nearly doubled from 1998 to 2007), it’s likely that disease outbreaks will become increasingly common. As it is, the numbers are thought to be a serious underestimate, as food-borne disease outbreaks are commonly under-reported.

Nearly Half of the Tainted Foods Came From This Region …

The data shows that more types of food, from more different countries, are being linked to disease outbreaks. However, one region still takes the “prize” for the most tainted food … Nearly 45 percent of the foods linked to outbreaks came from Asia.

This may be because this region is also a major exporter to the United States, so the sheer numbers of imports would increase the chances. China is the largest exporter of seafood to the United States. (They’re also the largest U.S. supplier of canned vegetables, fruit juices, honey, and other processed foods.) Wal-Mart, in particular, is one of China’s largest trading partners. However, there are problems with food quality in the region as well.

According to a 2008 Congressional testimony by Don Kraemer, deputy director of the Office of Food Safety at the FDA:i

“In the past, [the] FDA has encountered compliance problems with several Chinese food exports, including lead and cadmium in ceramicware used to store and ship food, and staphylococcal contamination of canned mushrooms. While improvements have been made in these products, the safety of food and other products from China remains a concern for [the] FDA, Congress, and American consumers.”

Since that testimony, a variety of Chinese exports have come under fire for being dangerously contaminated with one poison or another, and in some cases with deadly consequences. This includes:

  • Pet food ingredients laced with toxic melamine
  • Imported livestock quarantined for disease and banned chemical contaminants
  • Catfish filets from Chinese aquatic farms tainted with bacteria and heavy metals
  • Dried apples preserved with a cancer-causing chemical
  • Mushrooms laced with illegal pesticides

Another Asian country, Taiwan, has also made headlines because of the contamination of numerous foods and beverages withplasticizer chemicals like DEHP. More than 1 million sports drinks, fruit jams, instant noodles containing sesame oil packets, cookies and other food products were taken off shelves due to the toxin. It appears that the chemical was added to foods as a substitute for more expensive ingredients like palm oil, and it’s unclear how long this had going on or whether most manufacturers were aware of the contamination.

Our global food system makes it so Asian foods (and those from many other regions) are easily obtainable at your local supermarket … but when food is produced and distributed on such a massive scale, contamination often occurs on a massive scale as well.

Food Infections Common from U.S. Foods Too

An estimated one in six Americans gets infected every year from consuming contaminated food. Sometimes this results in a 24-hour bout of diarrhea and vomiting that clears up on its own, but in other cases foodborne pathogens can lead to organ failure, paralysis, neurological impairment, blindness, stillbirths and even death.

Over 100,000 people are hospitalized from foodborne illnesses each year in the United States, and 3,000 die. This is not only from imported foods, but from those produced right here in the United States.

You see, just because a food is manufactured on U.S. soil does not guarantee its safety. Most of the meat sold in U.S. grocery stores and restaurants come from confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs), which can house tens of thousands of animals (and in the case of chickens, 100,000) under one roof, in nightmarish, unsanitary, disease-ridden conditions. It’s under these conditions that foodborne pathogens flourish, and indeed studies have shown that the larger the farm, the greater the chances of contamination.

In one study, more than 23 percent of CAFOs with caged hens tested positive for Salmonella, while just over 4 percent of organic flocks tested positive. The highest prevalence of Salmonella occurred in the largest flocks (30,000 birds or more), which contained over four times the average level of salmonella found in smaller flocks.Organic flocks are typically much smaller than the massive commercial flocks where bacteria flourish, which is part of the reason why eggs (and other products, like meat) from truly organic, free-range sources are FAR less likely to contain dangerous bacteria such as Salmonella.

If you still buy your meat at your supermarket, even if it’s U.S. raised, you should know that you are directly supporting a food system that typically promotes widespread contamination.

And you can bet that as long as there are people willing to buy cheap, contaminated meat, the industry will continue to produce it.Consumer Reports tests indicated that 83 percent of fresh, whole broiler chickens bought at supermarkets nationwide harbor Campylobacter or Salmonella.ii This is clearly unacceptable, and if you start to demand more — meat that is raised in a healthy, humane way, free from toxins and disease — producers will have no choice but to listen.

Buying Local is One of the Best Ways to Avoid Food Poisoning

I encourage you to support the small family farms in your area, particularly organic farms that respect the laws of nature and use the relationships between animals, plants, insects, soil, water and habitat to create synergistic, self-supporting, non-polluting, GMO-free ecosystems.

If you value food safety, you’ll want to get your meat, chickens and eggs from smaller community farms with free-ranging animals, organically fed and locally marketed. This is the way food has been raised and distributed for centuries …

If you opt for imported foods, or those from U.S. CAFOs, your food will go through upwards of 9 steps before it reaches your dinner plate. Public health agencies like the FDA use the term “field-to-fork continuum” to describe the path any given food takes on the way to your plate, and during any of the following steps, contamination is possible:

  1. Open field production
  2. Harvesting
  3. Field packing
  4. Greenhouse production
  5. Packinghouse or field packing
  6. Repacking and other distribution operations
  7. Fresh-cut/value-added processing
  8. Food service and retail
  9. Consumer

I personally purchase my whole chickens from a health food store that gets them from a local farmer and they are grown organically and humanely. They cost a bit more but they are worth it — and when you consider that most of us only spend around 10% of our income on food, it is a bargain to get high-quality food. In most countries and in previous generations in the US, up to 25% of income was spent on food.

If you are able to get your food directly from the farmer, you knock out five potential operations that could expose your food to contamination. The closer you are to the source of your food, the fewer hands it has to pass through and the less time it will sit in storage — so the better, and likely safer, it will be for you and your family. Plus, when you know the person who grows your food, you can ask questions about its growing conditions — an impossibility when you buy food from CAFOs or other countries. If eating locally is new to you, rest assured that you can find a source near you, regardless of whether you’re in a remote or rural area or a big city.

Here’s a list of helpful resources:

  • For a listing of national farmer’s markets, see this link.
  • Another great web site is There you can find farmers’ markets, family farms, and other sources of sustainably grown food in your area where you can buy produce, grass-fed meats, and many other goodies.
  • Subscribe to a community supported agriculture program (CSA). Some are seasonal while others are year round programs. Once you subscribe, many will drop affordable, high quality locally-grown produce right at your door step. To find a CSA near you, go to the USDA’s website where you can search by city, state, or zip code.
  • Eat Well Guide: Wholesome Food from Healthy Animals is a free online directory of sustainably raised meat, poultry, dairy, and eggs from farms, stores, restaurants, inns, and hotels, and online outlets in the United States and Canada.
  • Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA) is dedicated to sustaining agriculture and promoting the products of small farms.
  • FoodRoutes. Their “Find Good Food” map can help you connect with local farmers to find the freshest, tastiest food possible. On their interactive map, you can find a listing for local farmers, CSA’s, and markets near you.
  • For an even more comprehensive list of CSA’s and a host of other sustainable agriculture programs, check out this link to mySustainable Agriculture page.



Wal-Mart Eyes Sustainability

Wal-Mart Takes Another Step Towards Food Sustainability

 By RP Siegel | August 29th, 2011

It appears that retail giant Wal-Mart is ready to take another step on its sustainability journey. Sourceswithin the food industry are reporting that Wal-Mart is planning to begin collecting data from its fruit and vegetable vendors in order to assess the sustainability of their operations.

This is a continuation of Wal-Mart’s initiative rolled out last fall in which they pledged to support farmers and their communities by selling $1 billion worth of food from one million small and medium farmers who will be trained in sustainability practices. This move will effectively double the amount of locally grown food they sell in the US, while increasing revenue to smaller farmers by 10-15%.

They also pledged to produce more food with fewer resources and less waste by investing over $1 billion in their food supply chain over the next five years and reducing food waste in their stores.

Furthermore they pledged to seek more sustainable sources for foods such as palm oil for all of their private branded products and beef from sources that do not contribute to rainforest deforestation.

The metrics announcement stems from the 2011 Sustainable Food Lab Leadership Summit which met in late June. Wal-Mart is working with and seeking input from the Sustainability Consortium which is jointly administered by the University of Arkansas and Arizona State University. A substantial portion of the metrics they will use were developed by the Stewardship Index for Specialty Crops (SISC), which was also mentioned as part of last fall’s announcement when the company pledged to “accelerate the agricultural focus of the Sustainability Index, beginning with a Sustainable Produce Assessment for top producers in its Global Food Sourcing network in 2011.”

SISC is a multi-stakeholder initiative to develop a system for measuring sustainability performance throughout the specialty crop supply chain which includes fruits, vegetables, nuts and horticulture. In addition to retail food buyers such as Wal-Mart and Wegmans, other stakeholders include growers and their representative associations, large food producers such as Heinz and Del Monte, packers, shippers, distributors, government agencies, academics and NGO’s including Defenders of Wildlife and the World Wildlife Fund. More than 400 representatives of these groups have joined the effort since its inception.

SISC’s core operating principles include:

  • Avoiding duplication of efforts
  • Realizing that we will achieve more through a collaborative effort that includes all supply chain stakeholders
  • Creating metrics that are performance-based, non-prescriptive, allowing individual operators to innovate
  • Maintaining an open and transparent process