Hustling and Bustling this Winter

Posted by Jen O'Brien on February 15, 2013

A letter from Jen O’Brien, Interim Executive Director, FMC

Here we are in the dead of winter, but there’s no off-season in sight. Despite the plummeting temperatures and record snowpville winter storms, the farmers market community is as busy as ever. This year, the USDA reported that the National Farmers Market Directory saw a 52 percent increase in winter listings. Additionally, the FMC listserv has been buzzing with questions from market managers, vendors and volunteers who are busy preparing for winter conferences, reviewing policy proposals, searching for funding opportunities, and revising market governance documents.

The past months have also been brimming with federal policy activity, and FMC has been working closely with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) to ensure that the best interests of farmers markets are taken into account during farm bill negotiations, appropriations, and the release of new food safety rules. Here’s an update on FMC advocacy initiatives in the works:

Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP)

After months of promising negotiations, the 2012 Farm Bill was scrapped, in favor of a nine-month extension of the 2008 Bill. This was a huge disappointment for all of the nearly 8,000 farmers markets across the US. The extension does not provide mandatory funding for a variety of conservation and sustainable agriculture programs, including the Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP). Since 2006, FMPP has received 2,687 proposals, and funded 575 grants in all fifty states.

Many of you participated in our FMPP survey in the fall, which sought to document the impacts of FMPP around the country. While full results of the survey will be released soon, we were blown away by the breadth and creativity of the programs and initiatives funded by past FMPP grants. The preliminary results strengthen our resolve to ensure that Congress understands the program’s importance and includes FMPP funding when crafting the new 2013 Farm Bill.

WIC Farmers Market Nutrition Program (FMNP)

In 2011, WIC FMNP provided fresh produce to more than 1.9 million WIC families, also providing $16.4 million in income for more than18,000 small-scale farmers. Last year, WIC FMNP funding was cut by 17%. While Senior FMNP is funded as part of the 2008 Farm Bill extension, WIC FMNP funding is determined by annual appropriations. The 2013 appropriations process presents an opportunity to restore WIC FMNP funding to $20 million. FMC will be communicating with members of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, to ensure that the impact of WIC FMNP is understood and accounted for when decisions are made regarding the 2013 and 2014 appropriation bills.

FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA)

The Food Safety Modernization Act was signed into law on January 4, 2011. The Act’s two proposed rules—a produce rule and a preventative controls rule—were released to the public on January 16 of this year, with a comment period open until May 16. FMC staff is participating in NSAC’s produce rule analysis committee, where producers, industry specialists, economists, and lawyers have been working together to determine the impact on small and mid-sized farms, sustainable and organic agriculture, value-added businesses, and conservation. The committee is hoping to release the preliminary results of their analysis in early March, at which time, FMC will submit comments, and provide an opportunity for member participation.

We’ll keep you updated as the policy discussions progress. Keep an eye out for FMC action alerts and other opportunities to share your experience and opinions with legislators. Your voice is important, and we want to be sure it is heard loud and clear in DC.

With warm wishes during your busy winter season,

Jen O’Brien

Interim Executive Director
Farmers Market Coalition