Farm to School Subcommittee
Farm to school programs take many different forms, but the primary goal is to connect local producers with schools so that the schools can have access to fresh, local food and can also help to support local growers and the local economy. The Farm to School Subcommittee seeks to promote and expand Farm to School throughout the state and to provide resources to farmers, food service directors, educators and other Mississippians interested in the program. During the summer of 2011, the Subcommittee conducted a survey of food service directors in order to identify food service directors’ interest in, and opportunities and barriers to, implementing farm to school programs. Subcommittee members are currently working with the Food Policy Initiative of the Harvard Law School Health Law and Policy Clinic and stakeholders across the state to identify actions that the Mississippi Legislature can take in order to make state policies that are more conducive to Farm to School.
In-Home Food Processing Subcommittee
With the recent growth in farmers markets and the demand for local, fresh foods there has been a push to allow individuals to produce and sell foods made in their own homes. Research conducted by the Food Policy Initiative of the Harvard Law School Health Law and Policy Clinic on behalf of the Mississippi Food Policy Council found that 31 states allow in-home production and sale of certain low-risk or non-potentially hazardous foods like baked goods, jams, jellies, and dried herbs. The In-Home Food Processing Subcommittee was created in order to advocate for new regulations or legislation that would permit home processors to sell their non-potentially hazardous foods to the public. After meeting with members of the Subcommittee, the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce and the Mississippi Department of Health took administrative action allowing Mississippians to be able to process low-risk foods at home if they take certain food safety courses. The Food Policy Council is working with stakeholders from around the state to ensure that this new rule is implemented in a way that allows this beneficial economic activity for small food producers.
Legislative Task Force Liaison Subcommittee
House Bill (HB) 1170 was passed and signed into law during the 2011 legislative session, creating a six-month task force comprised of 15 members that will study access to healthy foods in low-income communities throughout Mississippi. The Legislative Task Force Liaison Subcommittee was created to convey the Mississippi Food Policy Council’s policy priorities to the Task Force and to assist the Task Force in its research. The Food Policy Council’s Board Chair at the time, Roy Mitchell, served as a member of the task force committee and works on several of the subcommittees.
Farmers Markets Subcommittee
The Farmers Markets Subcommittee works to promote and support the growth of farmers markets around the state through training, education, and policy development. The first activity of the subcommittee (throughout 2011) focused on facilitating and promoting the use of SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) at farmers markets. In most states, wireless Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) machines are given to farmers market managers, allowing SNAP recipients to purchase any eligible products at farmers markets. The Mississippi Department of Human Services (MDHS), however, initially said that only individual farmers and vendors would eligible to use wireless EBT machines and that market managers could not operate a machine for their whole market. After meeting with representatives of the subcommittee, MDHS changed its position and agreed to allow market managers to use the machines. MDHS first began to distribute wireless EBT machines to farmers and farmers markets in May of 2011. As of June 2011, sixty-seven EBT machines had been given out to farmers and seventeen had been given to farmers markets. The Food Policy Council is working with farmers and farmers market managers to make sure the machines get out across the state as efficiently as possible to help provide access to healthy foods for Mississippi consumers of all income levels. The subcommittee also worked to draft and promote legislation to ensure that city and county governments are authorized to make donations to local farmers markets (legislation pending in 2012) and has been working to survey farmers markets about their legal and policy concerns in order to provide targeted assistance to them.