Guest column: Bill would help small farms
Posted: March 7, 2010 - 12:20am
By Richard Villadoniga
Supporting local farmers by asking Florida legislators to endorse the Florida Food Freedom Act, Senate Bill 1900, will benefit St. Johns Country tremendously.
The Florida Food Freedom Act will allow small family farms to remain profitable and viable by allowing direct sales to consumers. These farms will be exempt from burdensome regulations that the longer, multi-layered industrial food distribution chain should be required to have. The relationship between the small-scale producer and the consumer, including the producer's integrity and the consumer's interest in and knowledge of how the food is raised, harvested, and prepared, provides sufficient oversight.
The Florida Food Freedom Act also opens up opportunities for agritourism and other new enterprises for Florida family farms, especially here on the First Coast, where we are fortunate to have a number of sites that reflect our past and current agricultural heritage. The act sparks the entrepreneurial spirit, rather than squashing it with burdensome regulations and fees. Those new entrepreneurial businesses will make Florida a more attractive place for tourists, as well as residents, and create new jobs.
When consumers are able to shop for food with local businesses and farmers, more of their dollars stay in the local community and help farms and ranches remain economically viable. For every dollar spent with a local company (or farmer), 45 cents stays in the community. For every dollar spent with a corporate chain, only 15 cents is reinvested in the local community.
Even the USDA agrees the biggest threats to food safety are centralized production, centralized processing, and long distance transportation. Small farms and local food processors are part of the solution to food safety. Raising meat, dairy, eggs, fruits, and vegetables as close as possible to the kitchens of the end-user, increases our food security. Lessening the regulatory burden imposed by the State of Florida will enhance the economic condition of family farms, improve public health, decrease environmental degradation and build a sense of community. Local food systems are inherently safer and more traceable.
Preserving farmland and open space helps local governments prosper as well. The cost of public services used by open land or farmland is much lower than the cost of public services provided to land used for residential purposes. The median cost for every dollar of revenue raised (taxes collected) for farm/open land use is just 36 cents in public services. On the other hand, for every dollar residential land use provides in taxes, it uses $1.16 in public services.
Given the economic, environmental, and cultural ramifications of this bill for our county, it just makes sense to take a moment and send your representatives a note letting them know you want them to pass the Florida Food Freedom Act, Senate Bill 1900 into law.
Richard Villadoniga is Leader for Slow Food First Coast (www.slowfoodfirstcoast.com.), a nonprofit organization that works toward creating a food system based on the principles of quality and pleasure, environmental sustainability, and social justice. www.slowfoodfirstcoast.com. He was awarded the Geoffrey Roberts Award (www.geoffreyrobertsaward.com) for 2007 to fund the Endangered Foods Tour project. He previously received two Fulbright fellowships to study in Japan and South Africa.
He is a teacher in the St. Johns County School District and a contributing food and travel writer for The St. Augustine Record.