Finding Common Ground to Protect Public Health: Convening Town Board of Health Officials and Local Farmers to Support Direct Marketing and Value-added Production

Project Overview

Project Type: Sustainable Community Innovation
Funds awarded in 2012: $14,999.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2013
Region: Northeast
State: Massachusetts
Project Leader:
Kelly Coleman
Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture

Annual Reports


  • Animals: bovine, poultry, goats, rabbits, sheep, swine
  • Animal Products: dairy


  • Crop Production: food product quality/safety
  • Education and Training: networking
  • Farm Business Management: marketing management, risk management, value added
  • Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems, public participation, public policy

    Proposal abstract:

    The recent increase in local food sales exacerbates a tension between farmers’ efforts to grow, make, and market their products and town-by-town Board of Health regulations. In Massachusetts, home rule remains intact and Board of Health commissions and staff have broad leeway at the town level. As a result, local food safety regulations for value-added processing and direct marketing vary widely within the region. The wide variety of regulations and the restrictiveness of some regulations impact profitability and ease of operation for local farms. This project will pull together and disseminate best practices for regulating the safety of value-added processing and direct marketing, support regional conversations between farmers and local Board of Health officials, and then provide guidance and feedback to farmers. We will work closely with farmers, Boards of Health and CISA’s Public Issues Education Committee to gather information about pressing problems, create opportunities for open dialogue, and support information sharing. The project manager will compile and disseminate the final best practice documents and will summarize what we learn about facilitating productive conversations between farmers, producers, and Boards of Health, making this information available to support replication in other regions. With improved communication and clarity regarding appropriate standards, farmers and Boards of Health can work together to protect public health while supporting and encouraging new marketing opportunities for farmers and local foods businesses.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Methods: CISA will be the lead agency on this project. We will work closely with CISA’s Public Issues Education Committee and will coordinate the participation of Board of Health officials, farmers, and value-added producers. CISA’s Public Issues Education Committee was established in 2006 and has identified Boards of Health/farmer communication as an area where improved policy or communications could have a beneficial impact on the local food system. CISA will convene a project advisory committee through our existing Public Issues Education Committee, including one or more farmers; a non-farm, value-added producer; and representatives from other organizations, such as local farmers’ markets. The advisory committee will be engaged in the design of project activities, outreach to public health officials and farmers, and dissemination of project materials. To complete the deliverables CISA and collaborators will: 1. Compile information about best practices and model regulation that protects public health and is appropriate to diverse local food and farm businesses (July-November 2012): a. Review existing best practices as developed by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and partners and those adopted in other states in the northeast; b. Identify issues for which no best practices or model regulation has been developed and work with advisory committee to develop best practice documents to fill gaps; c. Work with advisory committee to ensure that best practices and model regulations are locally relevant, update and revise documents as necessary. 2. Host conversations between local Boards of Health, health officials, farmers, and value-added producers (November 2012-April 2013): a. With partners, identify towns to prioritize, based on past conflict, potential for future conflict, and level of interest from public health parties and farmers; b. Determine on a town-by-town basis the best forum for a meeting and enlist other partners to facilitate a successful and supportive meeting space; c. Host meetings with 5-10 towns; d. Follow up meetings with additional information and support, as necessary; e. Gather feedback and evaluation from attendees. 3. Update best practice and model regulations based on conversations, disseminate documents to local communities (April 2013- June 2013) a. Revise and update best practices; b. Develop any additional best practices as a result of conversations; c. Disseminate best practices and model regulations on CISA’s website, through public health and farm list serves and newsletters, and through partners. 4. Develop and share lessons learned on hosting conversations and building rapport between Boards of Health and farmers/value-added producers. (May 2013-June 2013) a. Work closely with advisory committee to compile summary of lessons learned. We will also use the evaluations completed by participants. b. Disseminate lessons learned through partners and peer organizations. Measurement/Evaluation This project is designed to improve communication between farmers and local Boards of Health and eventually to improve public health regulations affecting direct-market farmers and value-added producers. Our overarching goal is to increase market options for farmers and to support the efforts of local communities and local farm and food businesses to protect public health. We will monitor our success through a variety of means, both qualitative and quantitative. CISA and our collaborators will use a number of milestones and measures to track the results of this effort, as outlined below. During the course of the project, we will monitor the following: •Three Board of Health or health department staff members, three to five representatives of farm or food businesses, and one to two additional community members (for example, Agricultural Commission member, farmers’ market manager, or local foods advocate) from each of five to ten towns attend meetings. Of the seven to ten attendees from each town, seven complete evaluation forms, which indicate that five better understand the needs of both farm and food businesses and of health regulators and five better understand the availability of regulatory templates and other resources for developing food safety regulations relevant to farms and local food businesses. •“Best practice” regulations, including templates developed by other state-wide organizations and information suggested by town-level meetings, is disseminated to all Boards of Health in our three-county region. •Follow up interviews with local meeting participants, including at least two Board of Health members and two farm or food business owners to assess on-going value of providing information and opening lines of communication • “Lessons learned” document will be available nationally through CISA’s website and will be promoted nationally through list-serves and conferences. After the project is concluded, we will conduct the following verification to determine whether the project has had impact on our overarching goal of increasing market options for farmers and supporting the efforts of local communities and local farm and food businesses to protect public health: •Phone or email follow-up with 10 farm or food business people to discuss their interaction with their local Board of Health and their satisfaction with the regulations governing direct sales and value-added processing. •Five towns clarify regulations or adopt new, farm-friendly regulations.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.