California among states selected by USDA for participation in the Pilot Project for Procurement of Unprocessed Fruits and Vegetables

Pilot will support schools’ efforts to procure more fruits and vegetables; Offers new opportunity that supports local producers and local economies.

USDA-FV

WASHINGTON, December 8, 2014 – Today USDA announced the selection of eight states to participate in the Pilot Project for Procurement of Unprocessed Fruits and Vegetables, as directed by the Agricultural Act of 2014, also known as the Farm Bill. Under the pilot, California, Connecticut, Michigan, New York, Oregon, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin will be able to increase their purchases of locally-grown fruits and vegetables for their school meal programs.

USDA Foods – provided by the USDA to schools – make up about 20 percent of the foods served in schools.  States use their USDA Foods allocation to select items from a list of 180 products including fruits, vegetables, lean meats, fish, poultry, rice, low fat cheese, beans, pasta, flour and other whole grain products.  This pilot program will allow the selected states to use some of their USDA Foods allocation to purchase unprocessed fruits and vegetables directly, instead of going through the USDA Foods program.

“Providing pilot states with more flexibility in the use of their USDA Foods’ dollars offers states another opportunity to provide schoolchildren with additional fruits and vegetables from within their own communities,” said Kevin Concannon, USDA Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services.  “When schools invest food dollars into local communities, all of agriculture benefits, including local farmers, ranchers, fishermen, food processors and manufacturers.”

These states were selected based on their demonstrated commitment to farm to school efforts, including prior efforts to increase and promote farm to school programs in the state, the quantity and variety of growers of local fruits and vegetables in the state on a per capita basis, and the degree to which the state contains a sufficient quantity of local educational agencies of various population sizes and geographic locations.

This pilot is designed to support the schools’ pre-existing relationships with vendors, growers, produce wholesalers, and distributors, and increase the use of locally-grown, unprocessed fruits and vegetables in school meal programs. While the pilot does not require sourcing locally grown foods, the project will enable schools to increase their use of locally-grown, unprocessed fruits and vegetables from AMS authorized vendors.  Unprocessed fruits and vegetables include products that are minimally processed such as sliced apples, baby carrots, and shredded lettuce. For more information about the pilot, please visit the Pilot Project for Procurement of Unprocessed Fruits and Vegetables website.

READ FULL ARTICLE HERE.

* via CDFA Planting Seeds Blog
http://plantingseedsblog.cdfa.ca.gov/wordpress/?p=7327

New California Law to Boost Inspections at Farmers’ Markets

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Bringing to fruition a decade-long campaign by farmers market stakeholders, on Friday, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed AB 1871, which for the first time provides what supporters say is adequate funding to ensure that growers at certified farmers markets produce what they sell.

“This is the single-most significant change to farmers market laws since they were established in 1977,” said Ben Feldman, chair of the California Alliance of Farmers’ Markets.

Starting Jan. 1, 2015, the bill will increase the state fee paid by markets for their vendors from 60 cents to $2 daily. Currently only farmers pay the fee, but next year it will extend to all vendors, including food and crafts sellers in non-agricultural sections.

Legislative analysts have estimated that the bill will raise $1.35 million annually, including more than $1 million in new revenues, which will go to the California Department of Food and Agriculture. It will be used chiefly for hiring new state inspectors and reimbursing counties for local investigative work, as well as maintaining a database of markets and growers.

Across the state, consumers should see more inspectors at farmers markets. As cheaters are caught and fined or suspended from participation, shoppers will have greater confidence that the farms they buy from really grew the produce. In the short term, they may also see a reduction in the quantity and variety of produce at certain markets, as cheating becomes more difficult.

Among other noteworthy provisions of the bill, vendors will no longer be allowed to sell “fresh whole fruits, nuts, vegetables and flowers” in adjacent non-agricultural sections of markets.

Noncertified flower vendors are the most common of these. Depending on how state regulators interpret the law, well-known mushroom resellers such as David West and LA Funghi may be excluded from markets, unless they restructure to become growers. Noncertified vendors of juices and dried fruits will not be affected.

Growers will be required to post conspicuous signs with the name and location of their farm, which will be helpful for shoppers. The sign must also state “We grow what we sell,” a declaration that may appear superfluous (vendors in agricultural sections already are supposed to grow what they sell), but is intended to make cheating a more clear-cut violation. The bill creates a new misdemeanor, making false statements about the grower, growing area or growing practices of agricultural products punishable by a fine of up to $2,500 and imprisonment of up to six months.

In late 2012, stung by media exposes of farmers market cheating, Los Angeles County Agricultural Commissioner Kurt Floren boosted enforcement. Since then, inspectors have issued 66 citations for cheating, resulting in multiple fines totaling up to $6,600 per vendor, and 16 suspensions and proposed suspensions, said Ed Williams, deputy agricultural commissioner. This is a huge change from previous years, when only a few citations were issued.

Los Angeles County inspectors will now have a long-term source of funding for enforcement, and when they suspect a vendor of cheating, they will have greater assurance that their counterparts in other counties will have the resources to conduct timely farm visits. A pilot program funded by the state Department of Food and Agriculture between May 1 and June 20 proved effective in coordinating enforcement efforts between Los Angeles and eight other counties, according to a report presented at a farmers market advisory meeting in Sacramento on Sept. 17.

A survey of a dozen farmers and shoppers at markets last weekend found almost unanimous support for enhanced enforcement. As he loaded his cart at the Hollywood farmers market, Daniel Mattern, chef of Cooks County restaurant, said that AB 1871 will “help protect me, because as someone who buys a lot of produce at farmers markets, I like to know that it’s actually coming from the farm I buy it from.”

“The devil’s in the details whether enforcement will be effective, but I’m cautiously optimistic,” said Scott Beylik, a vegetable grower in Fillmore.

* via Planting Seeds CDFA Blog
http://plantingseedsblog.cdfa.ca.gov/wordpress/?p=6984

California drought: $500-a-day water fines passed

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Sacramento

Overwatering your lawn could now cost you $500 a day in parched California.

The State Water Resources Control Board approved unprecedented emergency regulations Tuesday that allow local law enforcement and water agencies to impose a maximum $500-a-day fine on water wasters.

The regulations were approved the same day state data showed water use statewide has increased 1 percent over the past three years, despite calls from Gov. Jerry Brown for Californians to cut their water use by 20 percent during the drought.

The UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences released a study Tuesday that found the drought will probably continue through 2015, regardless of El Niño conditions. Brown tweeted that the regulations and study are a “reminder to Californians that there’s more work to do.”

The new restrictions bar residents and commercial water users from using drinkable water to hose off sidewalks and driveways, water lawns or gardens to the point of causing runoff, wash cars without a shutoff nozzle and using potable water in non-circulating fountains.

Fines for offenses are criminal penalties, similar to a traffic ticket.

The regulations will take effect Aug. 1. State regulators will also be able to fine urban water agencies $10,000 a day if they fail to implement water conservation plans, such as limiting the number of days people can water outdoor landscaping. The state board will require water agencies to track and report water use based on gallons per person per day beginning in October.

“The actions proposed by the board are reasonable and achievable,” said Tracy Quinn, policy analyst for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “We believe the board can go even further in prohibiting wasteful activities.”

B1 percent increase

A recently updated survey by the water board found residents were not cutting back as much as hoped, and some regions hadn’t cut back at all. Statewide, water usage is up nearly 1 percent when compared with the same period in the previous three years.

Board Chairwoman Felicia Marcus called the survey results disappointing and said additional measures may be considered at a later date.

Southern California coastal cities increased water use by 8.4 percent, and the northeastern part of the state that runs from Oregon to Mono Lake saw a 5 percent increase.

Meanwhile, the Sacramento region and northern coastal cities saw the biggest declines in water use, cutting back 13.5 percent and 12.3 percent, respectively. The Bay Area cut water use by 5 percent.

Marcus said too many people in the state don’t realize the impact the drought is having. They don’t see the fallow fields, the loss of jobs and the wells that are going dry, she said. The state’s two largest reservoirs – Lake Oroville in Butte County and Lake Shasta in Redding – are at just under 40 percent of capacity with at least three more dry months remaining.

“This is the prudent thing to do,” Marcus said. “If it rains, it will still be a good exercise. We all will be so happy it rains that we won’t mind if anyone is angry at us.”

Businesses worried

Owners of companies that perform pressure-washing services expressed concern about the effect the regulations would have on their industry if commercial uses were not excluded from the restrictions. Board members changed language so that power-washing streets and buildings are allowed. That alleviates concerns that San Francisco’s current practice of washing streets would be prohibited, while sidewalks could still be washed because of a health and safety exemption.

Some water agencies said they preferred a tiering system to pricing where those who use more are charged more instead of intermittently citing those who are caught breaking water rules.

The proposed restrictions target only outdoor watering – versus indoor showering and toilet flushing – since most Californians use more water outdoors than indoors and it’s easier to enforce and detect.

* via SFGate
http://m.sfgate.com/science/article/State-water-board-expected-to-OK-500-a-day-fines-5623907.php