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

2012 Annual Report for CNE12-094

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

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

Summary

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, Board of Health commissions and staff have broad regulatory leeway at the town level. As a result, local food safety regulations vary widely within the region, impacting 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.

Objectives/Performance Targets

1) Compile information about best practices and model regulations that protects public health and is appropriate to diverse local food and farm businesses (July-November 2012).

Through conversations with other non-profits, government agencies, and some Board of Health officials, CISA staff has identified model Board of Health policies and parallel projects that are focused on different components of public health regulations. We have found that there are very few existing model policies and though several of our partners have some model language in development, but it has not been ready to disseminate. We have also surveyed farmers to identify areas that pose particular challenges, and we will continue to work towards identifying best practices in those areas.

2) Host conversations between local Boards of Health, health officials, farmers, and value-added producers (November 2012-April 2013)

CISA staff surveyed farmers’ market managers and vendors in order to identify towns with challenging Board of Health/farmer relationships, and to identify particular areas of concern for farmers. The information gathered has enabled us to identify the towns in which we will focus our energy this winter. Many farmers have identified the inconsistency between different towns’ regulations as a primary challenge, which is an issue that may be difficult to address through meetings with individual town Boards of Health. We are considering additional tools we could develop to assist farmers in managing the variation in regulation. Many farmers also indicated that they have good relationships with the Health Department officials in their communities, even as they are challenged by the policies enforced by those officials.

3) Update best practice and model regulations based on conversations, disseminate documents to local communities (April 2013- June 2013)

Will begin in 2013.

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)

Will begin in 2013.

Accomplishments/Milestones

1) Compile information about best practices and model regulations that protects public health and is appropriate to diverse local food and farm businesses (July-November 2012).

CISA has been in contact with Northampton’s former Board of Health Director and will be working with him to develop generic model policies around Farmer’s Markets.

We have also coordinated with the Federation of MA Farmer’s Markets which is drafting variance codes and with the MA Farm Bureau Association which is drafting livestock ordinances, however neither of these documents are yet ready for public release.

We will work to address other issues that arise in the survey (see below).

2) Host conversations between local Boards of Health, health officials, farmers, and value-added producers (November 2012-April 2013)

Thirty-seven individuals filled out our survey (many participants wear multiple hats: 15 are farmers, 5 value-added producers, and 21 market managers). Based on their feedback we will ID important gaps for additional model policy development and towns for additional outreach.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

We are still in the early stages, gathering information and identifying target communities and partners. However, we have gotten very positive feedback from farmers about the importance of this work. One quote from a local farmer: “I just wanted to say how TERRIFIC it is that CISA is looking into the relationship. In a Home Rule state I guess the diverse application of public health laws is what we should expect. However, it is a deterrent to marketing for lots on MA farmers.”