Emily Broad Leib talks Food Law and COVID-19

Originally published by Food Tank.


 

Today on “Food Talk with Dani Nierenberg,” Dani interviews Emily Broad Leib, Clinical Professor at Harvard Law School & Director of Harvard Law School’s Food Law & Policy Clinic, about protecting and promoting better wages for food workers in the COVID-19 crisis. “If part of what comes from this is that we realize all the people who are handling the food from the beginning on the farm to the end of the chain are really vital. We need to treat them better, pay them better, give them benefits,” says Broad Leib. 

You can listen to “Food Talk with Dani Nierenberg” on Apple iTunesStitcherGoogle Play MusicSpotify, or wherever you consume your podcasts. While you’re listening, subscribe, rate, and review the show; it would mean the world to us to have your feedback.

Food waste impacts emerging as coronavirus shifts life from commercial to residential

Originally published on March 25, 2020 by Waste Dive. Written by E.A. Crunden.


Dive Brief:

  • Food waste experts are slowly assessing the short and long-term impacts of the new coronavirus, which remain murky. With the fallout likely stretching into coming months, some are worried about supply chain impacts — including food recovery for donation — as well as a future uptick in waste amid dramatic lifestyle alterations. 
  • Initial volume shifts are unclear at the moment, but a major surge in grocery purchases appears to be driving a decline in food waste associated with retail. Higher education and entertainment venue closures, however, are generating greater amounts than usual, while the shuttering of farmer’s markets is also expected to drive an increase in discarded products.   
  • One concern is public demand for food may lead to an uptick in waste, not only through organics, but through packaging as people shift to takeout and delivery. “I think waste is very low priority [for people right now], but food is very high priority,” Dana Gunders, executive director of ReFED, told Waste Dive. Her organization and the Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic (FLPC) are sharing resources aimed at connecting those issues.

Dive Insight:

As with other parts of the waste and recycling sector, experts say it is difficult to assess at this early stage how the pandemic will ultimately impact food waste volumes as people adapt to dramatically new systems. 

“​Now more than ever, one of the concerns I’ve had is making sure that as much food as can be donated gets there first, before we compost [or throw it out],” Emily Broad Leib, FLPC director, told Waste Dive. 

In an effort to stem the spread of COVID-19, a number of cities and several states are recommending everything from basic social distancing measures to wide-scale orders to stay at home. While officials have underscored there is no current concern about food insecurity, people have largely been clearing out grocery stores, sparking a reduction in food waste from retail, according to Leib. 

That sudden dearth of supply is impacting systems created to channel discarded food items towards those in need, through outlets like food banks and other recovery organizations. Gunders said ReFED was still in the process of obtaining numbers around decreased volumes, but shared anecdotally many groups are having to rethink the logistics behind their work.

“They are concerned about a shortage of food,” she said. “A lot of them are just buying food [from stores], and they’ll need to do more and more of that as times goes on. They’re pretty nervous.”

With unemployment spiking dramatically and income concerns rising, these issues could be compounded in coming months. Other sources of concern are also emerging, including farmer’s markets. While officials in areas including Washington, D.C. and New York City have exempted farmer’s markets from bans on public gatherings due to their function as food retailers, a decline in patrons is forcing their closure regardless, as is a reliance on often elderly volunteers. Those decisions are leaving farmers without a common outlet for income, while potentially driving up waste as a result when they cannot sell their products. 

Even as supply chains collapse in some areas, they are momentarily appearing elsewhere. Many schools have closed and sent students home, as have corporate campuses and similar spaces. Some of those closures have come coupled with efforts to reduce food waste. Disneyland, for example, closed last week and said the theme park would donate its excess food to the Second Harvest Food Bank in Orange County, California. Both Gunders and Leib also said universities have reached out to food waste organizations in some cases to assist with overflow.

But other longer-term issues are looming. While cities including San Francisco and New York told Waste Dive their curbside organics collection programs remain ongoing, small-scale organics collection companies in areas such as Boston and New Orleans are suspending or scaling back operations. That means a decline in access to resource recovery efforts, likely spurring an uptick in MSW at the residential level.

Meanwhile, an abrupt shift to takeout from otherwise shuttered restaurants could offer competing advantages and disadvantages for those seeking to curb waste volumes. “I think we’re going to move to a lot more food being delivered to homes,” said Leib. “In a way, it may lead to increased efficiency … if people are ordering, you can plan better.”

However, that pivot could also generate an uptick in packaging waste outside of food volumes.

“I imagine all of this is going to have a long tail in terms of some of those effects,” said Gunders, noting decisions made now could have a severe impact in the months to come.  

She hopes answers will come sooner rather than later. ReFED is waiting on the results of survey data offering an idea of food waste shifts and volumes. Gunders said she is optimistic those numbers will become available in the next week or two.

Feeding People in their Homes: Opportunities to Bolster Home Food Delivery for Vulnerable Communities

This post was written by FLPC staff.


Across the United States, individuals are being told to implement social distancing protocols to slow the spread of novel coronavirus (COVID-19). Cities and states are issuing shelter in place orders to keep individuals in their homes. Recognizing that food is essential, these orders generally allow for individuals to leave their homes to gather food and other household supplies. However, seniors, individuals with compromised immune systems, and individuals experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 are being advised to stay at home. These individuals need access to food delivery. Further, areas hardest hit by COVID-19 have a vested interest in making it easy for people to stay at home and avoid crowded grocery stores.

Many restaurants and grocery stores are still engaging in home delivery. While purchasing these products does not pose a problem for those with stable incomes, vulnerable individuals and families are in need of free or low-cost home food deliveries.

The Food Law and Policy Clinic today released an issue brief detailing opportunities in non-crisis food assistance programs, disaster programs, and food donation programs through which the federal government and state governments could facilitate food delivery during the COVID-19 pandemic. The brief analyzes places where modifications are needed to allow food delivery, where existing programs could be bolstered, and where there are opportunities for new programs. Recommendations include:

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

  • Roll out national online purchasing option as quickly as possible (USDA)
  • Remove the SNAP restriction on payment prior to delivery (Congress)
  • Pay for delivery fees, to ensure SNAP recipients have equal spending power whether ordering online or going to stores (USDA or state governments)

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)

  • Implement home delivery programs as a food delivery method (state governments)
  • Allow for online purchases (Congress)

National School Lunch Program

  • Eliminate the 50% free/reduced price recipients threshold for food service in places where schools are closed (Congress)
  • Approve school food authorities to home deliver meals (states governments)

Facilitate delivery of foods from food banks and food donations

  • Further increase the administrative funds available within The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) to support home delivery of TEFAP foods (Congress)
  • Provide tax benefits to incentivize volunteer drivers to deliver foods (Congress)
  • Offer funds to community based food delivery organizations and food recovery matching technology organizations to pay for vehicles, drivers, and technology expansion (Congress)

Visit our issue brief to learn more about each of these actions. These measures are by no means comprehensive. FLPC remains committed to working with nonprofits, community members, and policymakers to find innovative solutions to ensure free and low cost home delivery of foods to vulnerable individuals and families during this unprecedented crisis, and welcomes feedback on these proposals.

Applying Lessons Learned from the AIDS Epidemic to the Fight Against COVID-19

letter to Governor Charlie Baker from CHLPI’s Faculty Director Robert Greenwald. 


March 20, 2020 

The Honorable Charlie Baker  
Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts  
Boston, MA 02133  

Dear Governor Baker, 

I greatly appreciate your leadership in marshalling a strong response to COVID-19 here in Massachusetts. I know that you and the senior members of your administration are working hard to mitigate the inevitable harms that we are facing as a result of the pandemic.  

I am writing to point out one emergency order that was recently issued that is misguided and will, in fact, undermine both individual and public health. Requiring local boards of health to disclose the addresses of people who have tested positive for COVID-19 to officials administering the response to emergency calls and, in turn, to first responders, is not sound public health policy.  

Our first responders must treat everyone as if they potentially have COVID-19 and use universal precautions on all calls. Relying on information provided by state health officials is not helpful. There will be no effective “list” as the overwhelming majority of people who are infected with COVID-19 do not know it. And sadly, over time, more than half the addresses in our state will likely end up on the list. Given this reality, sound public health policy during this pandemic dictates that first responders treat everyone as if they were infected with the Coronavirus.  

Screening is critical to addressing this pandemic and is the front line of slowing the spread of this disease. Once we have an effective testing and screening system in place, we must reduce all barriers to screening. Given the stigma and discrimination surrounding any infectious disease, the idea that our addresses will be disclosed to local officials and first responders will likely deter some people from being screened – particularly immigrants and other vulnerable populations who already live in fear and in the shadows because of the Trump administration’s policies.  

For those of us who lived through the start of the AIDS epidemic, the similarities with COVID-19 are apparent. I know first-hand as I have been working in health and public health law and policy for over 30 years. I was the original director of law and policy programs at the AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts, and served in that role from 1987-2000. I am currently a clinical professor of law at Harvard Law School, teaching public health law and serving as faculty director of the Law School’s Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation.  

As we were at the start of the AIDS epidemic, everyone is frightened. Everyone wants to feel safe and protected. And, of course, we all want to protect our first responders. One important lesson we learned from the AIDS epidemic is that a solution to addressing the legitimate concerns of first responders is not to identify those living with the disease – for the reasons articulated above, it will not make anyone safer and may actually put first responders at greater risk.  

What we need right now is to ensure that our first responders have up-to-date training on COVID-19, the protective equipment they so desperately require, and other supports that make it possible for them to do their job – such as providing child care for their children (given that our children are not in school), and priority screening to protect themselves and others.  

We need sound emergency orders. Free and universal testing must be made available to everyone. Resources must be committed to help address shortages of medical supplies, such as respirators. Medicaid and other safety net programs must be flexed to live up to their full potential. We should focus on these important objectives, and avoid invoking emergency orders that undermine individual and public health. 

Sincerely,  

Robert Greenwald 
rgreenwa@law.harvard.edu  

CC:     Secretary Marylou Sudders, Executive Office of Health and Human Services  
            Commissioner Monica Bharel, Department of Public Health  
            Undersecretary Lauren Peters, Executive Office of Health and Human Services 


 Tell Governor Baker that you are concerned about this emergency order.  

To share your concerns regarding the recent emergency order with the Office of the Governor, send an email to Governor Charlie Baker (constituent.services@state.ma.us) with the following staff CC’d: Secretary Marylou Sudders (marylou.sudders@state.ma.us), Commissioner Monica Bharel (monica.bharel@state.ma.us), and Undersecretary Lauren Peters (lauren.b.peters@state.ma.us).  

Additionally, spread the word on social media and tag @HarvardCHLPIWe welcome you to use this sample tweetGovernor Baker’s recent emergency order to share the addresses of confirmed #COVID19 cases with first responders undermines both individual and public health. @HarvardCHLPI’s Faculty Director Robert Greenwald explains why in a letter to @MassGovernor: https://www.chlpi.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/Greenwald-Response-to-Massachusetts-First-Responder-Order.pdf 

Celebrating 10 Years of the Affordable Care Act

Today marks 10 years since the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was signed into law.  The ACA has benefitted millions of Americans by expanding access to high-quality, affordable health care coverage.  The law has been especially impactful for people living with HIV, hepatitis C, and other chronic conditions by bringing necessary reforms to our health care system.  Some of these include: 

  • Stopping insurers from denying health care coverage to people due to pre-existing conditions; 
  • Requiring health insurance plans to cover essential health benefits, including prescription drugs, maternity services, and inpatient and outpatient hospital care; 
  • Offering enhanced funding to state Medicaid programs that increase their income eligibility to 138% of the federal poverty level (around $17,600 for an individual); 
  • Providing financial assistance to low to middle income people buying private health insurance on the Marketplace; 
  • Requiring new plans to cover certain preventive care benefits (like HIV screening, hepatitis C screening, and birth control) without cost sharing; and 
  • Prohibiting health programs and activities that receive federal financial assistance from discriminating on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin, age, and disability. 

While we celebrate a decade of progress, we recognize that people continue to face barriers to health care.  Fourteen states have not expanded Medicaid eligibility and many are applying for federal waivers to place harmful restrictions on their Medicaid programs  The federal government is continuing its erosion of certain ACA provisions (such as the non-discrimination protections) and has failed to defend the law in the courtroom. Advocates continue to work day and night to ensure that the law is faithfully implemented and that vulnerable communities can continue to benefit from the ACA’s many reforms for years to come.  

 

Stay up-to-date about health care policy developments by subscribing to our Health Care in Motion digests here. 

COVID-19 Relief Package Needs These 15 Elements, Say HIV & LGBT Groups

Originally published on March 17, 2020 by POZ.com.


“A large swath of the U.S. population living with HIV is at great risk,” reads their open letter sent to every member of Congress.

Below is the complete text of an open letter sent to all members of Congress by AIDS United and 90 leading HIV and LGBT organizations (the complete list of signees is included). The letter underscores the unique risks the novel coronavirus presents for people living with HIV. For example, only 53% of people with HIV in the United States have an undetectable viral load, and 60% of people with HIV are 50 or older. To read a PDF of the letter, including footnotes, click here.

As the spread of the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV -2, which causes the disease COVID-19, continues across the country and around the world, many people living with HIV are understandably concerned about how this virus may affect them and the communities they call home. The populations most at risk of serious complications from COVID-19—including death—are older adults and individuals with chronic health conditions, including compromised immune systems. The undersigned 90 organizations engaged in the local, state, and national response to HIV call on federal decisionmakers to acknowledge the increased risk of COVID-19 illness and death faced by many people living with HIV and to craft a relief package that takes the unique needs of this population into account.

During a presentation about COVID-19 at the 2020 Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections, Dr. John Brooks, Senior Medical Advisor for the Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said that people living with HIV who have a low CD4 count and/or a detectable viral load are at potential higher risk of developing more serious illness from COVID-19 as a result.

Given that only 53% of people living with HIV in the United States have an undetectable viral load and that 60% of the people living with HIV in the United States are age 50 or older, a large swath of the U.S. population living with HIV is at great risk during the rapid spread of COVID-19. Ensuring the health and safety of people living with HIV in the United States goes beyond providing universal access to health care. Housing is one of the strongest predictors of their access to treatment, their health outcomes, and how long they will live. To obtain and benefit from life-saving HIV treatments, people living with HIV must have safe, stable housing. Food insecurity has been associated with increased HIV transmission risk, inability to maintain regular medical appointments, poor antiretroviral therapy (ART) uptake and adherence, poor immunological and virological responses, lower efficacy of ART, and high mortality.

When crafting a relief package in response to COVID-19, Congress must take into account the unique needs of people living with HIV to ensure their continued safety, health, and well-being.

We support the current relief package proposed in the U.S. House of Representatives, H.R. 6201, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act—free coronavirus testing for everyone who needs a test, including the uninsured; paid emergency leave with both 14 days of paid sick leave and up to three months of paid family and medical leave; enhanced Unemployment Insurance, a first step that will extend protections to furloughed workers; strengthened food security initiatives, including SNAP, student meals, seniors nutrition, and food banks; clear protections for frontline workers, including health care workers and other workers who are in contact with those who have been exposed or are responsible for cleaning at -risk places; and increased federal funds for Medicaid, as states face increased costs—but it doesn’t go far enough.

Missing from this package and what must be included in relief considerations going forward are:

  • Mandated public, daily reporting on COVID-19 testing, incidence, prevalence, and related death;
  • Accessible and scaled testing measures in order to provide sufficient surveillance; explicit, universal protocols for presumptive positives awaiting confirmatory tests; and reporting on the number of presumptive positives;
  • Waivers of refill limits on maintenance drugs, inclusive of antiretrovirals, for people with chronic conditions like HIV and hepatitis;
  • Explicit authorization for and coverage of telemedicine for COVID-19 care;
  • Flexibility with funds and associated deliverables for recipient organizations of federal grants, cooperative agreements, and other awards;
  • Rental and mortgage assistance for workers whose income streams are diminished or eliminated by mandatory closures;
  • Suspensions on utility disconnections and eviction and foreclosure proceedings;
  • Suspension of student loan debt payments;
  • Prevention of overcrowding in public institutions, including the release of all individuals currently in jails, prisons, pretrial holding facilities, and immigration detention who have not been convicted of a crime involving physical or sexual violence;
  • Moratorium on implementation of the public charge rule so immigrant communities aren’t discouraged from accessing COVID-19 testing and care;
  • Incentives for banks, debt collectors, and other financial institutions to cease collections activity and interest accrual until epidemic control is achieved;
  • Use of the National Disaster Medical System to cover uninsured people with Medicare for any recommended care;
  • Temporary increase of the Federal Medicaid Assistance Percentage;
  • Additional and accelerated funding for treatment and vaccine research; and
  • Commitment to free access to treatment and vaccination, once identified.

A pandemic with the scope of COVID-19 requires a decisive, robust response, and the recommendations above will move the United States closer to epidemic control and containment at an accelerated pace, avoid potentially millions of cases of COVID-19, and prevent hundreds of thousands of deaths. The continued safety, health, and well-being of everyone in the United States, especially those living with HIV, rests in the hands of a comprehensive response, and the time to act is now.

Please reach out to Alex Vance, Senior Policy Manager, at avance@aidsunited.org

with any questions.

Signed,

Carl Baloney, Jr.

Vice President for Policy and Advocacy

AIDS United

ADAP Advocacy Association

Afiya Center; TX Black Women’s Health Initiative;

African American Health Alliance

AIDS Action Baltimore

AIDS Alabama

AIDS Alliance for Women, Infants, Children, Youth & Families

AIDS Foundation of Chicago

AIDS Project Rhode Island

AIDS United

American Academy of HIV Medicine

APLA Health

Black AIDS Institute

Black Women’s Health Imperative

Callen-Lorde Community Health Center

CARES of Southwest Michigan

Cascade AIDS Project

Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation

Cero VIH Puerto Rico

Christie’s Place

Clare Housing

Collaborative Solutions

Community Access National Network (CANN)

Community Education Group

Counter Narrative Project

CrescentCare

Delaware HIV Consortium

Desert AIDS Project

END HIV Houston

Equality California

Equality Federation

Equality North Carolina

Equitas Health

Equity Forward

A Family Affair

GLAAD

GLMA: Health Professionals Advancing LGBTQ Equality

Global Justice Institute

GMHC

God’s Love We Deliver, Inc.

Harm Reduction Coalition

Health Services Center, Inc.

HealthHIV

Hispanic Health Network

HIV + Aging Research Project—Palm Springs

HIV AIDS Alliance of Michigan

HIV Medicine Association

HIV Modernization Movement-Indiana

HIVenas Abiertas

Housing Works

Howard Brown Health

Human Rights Campaign

Hyacinth AIDS Foundation

iHealth

Latino Commission on AIDS

Legacy Community Health

Los Angeles LGBT Center

Movimiento en Respuesta al VIH

My Brother’s Keeper

NAHEWD

Nashville CARES

NASTAD

National Center for Transgender Equality

National Coalition for LGBT Health

National Coalition of STD Directors

National Working Positive Coalition

NMAC

North Carolina AIDS Action Network

Paciente de SIDA pro Politica Sana

PFLAG National

Positive Women’s Network-USA (National)

Positive Women’s Network-USA: Ohio Chapter

Prevention Access Campaign

Pride Media, publisher of Out, The Advocate, Plus, Pride, and OutTraveler

Puerto Rico CoNCRA

San Francisco AIDS Foundation

Silver State Equality-Nevada

SisterLove

Southern AIDS Coalition

Tennessee AIDS Advocacy Network

The AIDS Institute

The Professional Association of Social Workers in HIV/AIDS

The Well Project

TPAN, publisher of Positively Aware

TRANScending Barriers

Treatment Action Group

U.S. People Living with HIV Caucus

UNIFIED-

HIV Health and Beyond

Vivent Health

Waves Ahead Corp

Whitman-Walker Health

The Fight to Keep Farmers’ Markets Open During Coronavirus

Originally published on March 19, 2020 by Civil Eats. Written by Twilight Greenaway.


Alexandra Jones contributed reporting from Philadelphia.

At the downtown Berkeley Farmers’ Market last Saturday, shoppers showed up in droves, despite the cold, rainy weather. There were no samples, no musicians, and most vendors were wearing gloves. Many sold everything they had, which is unusual for March, when the fruit is scant and many of the farms bring the same arrays of greens, root vegetables, and onions.

“It’s a good thing we’re busy, since this could be the last market for a while,” a Riverdog Farm cashier told a customer draped in rain gear.

And his fear was not unwarranted. Just the day before, the city of Seattle—where the spread of coronavirus began earlier and is further along than in most other parts of the U.S.—had announced that all farmers’ markets would close for at least a month. Seattle suspended all large gatherings and the markets have been lumped together with parades and public parties.

As the Neighborhood Markets Market Alliance, a nonprofit that runs seven markets around Seattle, wrote in their announcement to customers: “Farmers’ markets are frequently caught in loopholes—neither retail nor gathering, neither business nor building—which made waiting for this guidance essential to verifying our closure.”

Jennifer Antos, the organization’s executive director, had fielded multiple calls from reporters that week, as she waited for the decision to come down. “We really believe that farmers’ markets are an essential food source for the community. And we have a commitment to keeping them open as long as possible,” said Antos at the time. Not only was she carrying the weight of her customers’ needs on her shoulders, but she also had hundreds of farmers’ livelihoods in mind.

As the growing season in Washington is just preparing to ramp up, Antos knows that growers are in the midst of buying and planting seeds, and planning for their busy time of year. Losing the opportunity to sell at farmers’ markets, on top of loss of sales to restaurants and institutions like schools, could be a devastating blow.

Antos is just one of thousands of market managers around the country who have been pushing to keep their markets open as state, city, and county lawmakers across the nation weigh the pros and cons of doing so. At the heart of the matter is the question of what exactly a farmers’ market is, and—perhaps more importantly—what it can be for a community.

While many markets have cultivated the look and feel of an outdoor event—especially in the summer months, when the weather is warm and families often linger to eat lunch, enjoy music, learn about their local farmers, or take cooking classes—many advocates say that fact shouldn’t limit their current function.

“[Bringing people together] has traditionally been part of what’s great about farmers’ markets. But what’s also great about farmers’ markets is their flexibility and their nimbleness. So, now they can become emergency food access points,” said Wes King, a senior policy specialist at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC).

Do Farmers’ Markets Provide Essential Services?

Over the weekend, when California Governor Gavin Newsom announced that all bars and restaurants in the state were set to cease in-house services to help prevent the spread of the virus, Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF) called on Newsom to declare farmers’ markets essential services, support new systems to allow direct-to-market farmers to access new distribution opportunities, and offer disaster assistance to small food hubs that provide critical aggregation and distribution services for those same farmers.

Evan Wiig, director of communications at CAFF, said, “Unless you’re going to enact the same restrictions on Trader Joe’s [and other grocery stores], it doesn’t make sense to close farmers’ markets.” (CAFF is currently surveying farmers in the state about the impact of coronavirus.)

Since Monday night, Bay Area residents in eight counties have been directed to shelter in place, and the question of farmers’ markets role has been critical. People have been told to stay in their homes except when accessing “essential services,” and market managers and farmers were relieved to see a handful of those counties, including San Francisco, Alameda, and Santa Mateo (the epicenter of Silicon Valley) include farmers’ markets alongside grocery stores, food banks, and corner stores as places deemed essential.

That same day, the California Alliance of Farmers’ Markets sent the California Department of Public Health and Governor Newsom a letter signed by hundreds of farmers, organizations, and other concerned citizens urging the agency to issue “a statement affirming the essential role Certified Farmers’ Markets play for California’s farmers, economy, and communities across the state, and equating Certified Farmers’ Markets with grocery stores and other retail outlets for the purposes of COVID-19 containment policies.”

The letter argued that farmers’ markets are the product of a shortened supply chain, meaning the food passes through far fewer hands than at other retail outlets, markets take place in the open air with space to move away from people if needed, market trips at this time can be brief, averaging around 20 to 30 minutes, and that the temporary nature of the booths allows for easy cleaning and less contact with people.

Carle Brinkman, who directs the food and farming program at the Berkeley-based Ecology Center (which runs three year-round markets) and oversees the California Alliance of Farmers’ Markets, says farmers were by far the largest group to sign the letter.

“It was pretty inspiring to see that,” said Brinkman. “For many of the farmers who sell at the farmers’ market, it’s their main source of income.” As restaurant sales disappear and many look to boost their community supported agriculture (CSA) business for people practicing social distancing, the presence of a market, “could mean the difference between surviving as a business and not.”

At a time when many low-income and newly unemployed people will likely be struggling with food access, farmers’ markets are also seen as one of a small number of places to buy affordable fruits and vegetables.

In California that need is met by Market Match, a program offered at almost 300 sites that provided $5 million dollars of funding at farmers’ markets by low-income consumers last year. But many cities and states have their own version of produce matching programs for low-income populations.

“Over the last 15 to 20 years, farmers’ markets have been at the forefront of ensuring healthy food is available to all Americans and piloting innovative projects to make sure that happens,” said Ben Feldman, executive director of the Farmers Market Coalition (FMC), which works with markets around the country. “We’d hate to see that important work undermined by lack of clear guidance for farmers’ markets in terms of when they can be open and when they can’t.”

Brie Mazurek, communications director for the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture (CUESA), the organization that runs San Francisco’s Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, also points to the way farmers’ markets stand to fill much-needed gaps in our food infrastructure in the coming months.

“There are a lot of empty shelves in grocery stores right now, and when you think about community food resilience, farmers’ markets are so important,” said Mazurek. “We definitely don’t want any of that food getting wasted in the field at this time when people need to access healthy food.”

Ever-Shifting Ground

The same day the shelter-in-place order dropped in the Bay Area, the California Department of Food and Agriculture issued guidance for farmers’ markets operating during COVID-19, and the state’s department of public health did the same. But leaving the decision to keep California markets open to the city and county level has resulted in a patchwork of different approaches. In Petaluma, north of San Francisco, and several other locations, for instance, there is a cap on the number of people who can attend the market at one time.

Many markets are on public property, as well as on university or college campuses have been closed.

In Southern California, San Diego Markets, a company that runs three markets around the city, was told its permits had been cancelled. On Tuesday, Catt Fields White, the company’s CEO said she was having a hard time getting a response from the city as to why exactly they couldn’t open the markets. At the time, she responded to an emailed request for comment by saying: “This is hurting the public. We are talking to people who are frantic to obtain fresh food. People with already compromised immune systems are nervous about the lack of availability of food they rely on to stay healthy in the best of times.”

Then, on Wednesday, the city reversed course.

Fields White said having guidelines from the state department of public health that listed farmers’ markets right beside grocery stores most likely helped matters.

“Our county followed that by putting out some official guidelines late yesterday that helped give the Mayor’s and Special Event offices a path to allow modified markets. They’re watching very closely as we operate the first one on Saturday, with [local police and environmental health department] inspectors on site to monitor compliance,” she said, adding that there would be “big penalties if we can’t control the crowd.”

In the Philadelphia area, the ground was also shifting fast. The farmers’ markets run by Food Trust have remained open, but Farm to City, which runs five year-round markets in the city and suburbs, has closed theirs. Last Wednesday, farmers’ market program manager Jon Glyn felt comfortable moving forward with weekend markets on the guidance of Philadelphia Department of Public Health officials as long as vendors followed guidelines. But on Monday, Farm to City sent an email notifying vendors that the markets on Saturday, March 21 would be cancelled.

“Our decision was based on the general directions we’re all hearing from the local governments and the federal government, based also on our observations over the weekend of customers not practicing social distancing, and our own general wishes for the good health and well-being of our producers and shoppers,” Glyn wrote in an email on Monday afternoon. Like many of the organizations that have closed markets, Farm to City is exploring using market staff and locations as drop points for farmers to get their products to customers.

Then, on Tuesday afternoon, the City of Philadelphia issued clarifying language around what constitutes an essential food business, with farmers’ markets explicitly listed among businesses that would be allowed to operate during the lockdown. It’s still not clear whether Farm to City will reopen their markets, however.

“It feels like an important part of the community to keep going through this kind of event.”

“People need to eat, and this is our produce,” said Taproot Farm owner Ola Creston, who farms 25 acres with her husband, George Brittenburg, about 90 minutes outside Philadelphia. “You know where it comes from, it’s traceable, and we follow food safety protocols. It feels like an important part of the community to keep going through this kind of event.”

“Sales were great [over the weekend], but boy are we worried,” she said. “George and I keep trying to work through a Plan B, but it’s like we need a Plan F.”

The Need for Federal Support for Farmers’ Markets

In addition to Pennsylvania, lawmakers in Maryland, New York, Connecticut, and Minnesota have all made statements asserting that farmers’ markets are essential services, which bodes well for markets in those states. (New York’s Green Markets have managed to stay open for instance). But what’s needed, say sustainable food advocates, is broader federal support for farmers’ markets and the farmers they support.

According to Feldman at the Farmers Market Coalition, federal guidance to affirm that farmers’ markets are essential services—“in one fell swoop across the country”—is still needed.

And although the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has shown interest in supporting local food efforts in the past, it doesn’t appear to see the current farmers’ market discussion as one it should influence.

“USDA does not have authority over market entities,” a spokesperson fro the agency told Civil Eats. “Local governments will determine whether to open or keep a farmers’ market open based on its coronavirus response and what it considers essential services.”

FMC, NSAC, and the Harvard Law School Food and and Policy Clinic have released a number of suggestions to support farmers’ markets nationally as part of a larger set of recommendations aimed at influencing lawmakers to step up and support small producers as they consider passing another set of stimulus packages.

In addition to provide emergency disaster payment to small and beginning farmers selling direct to consumers, advocates also hope to see the matching fund requirement removed for several federal programs that make farmers’ markets more accessible to seniors and low-income consumers, among other things.

Feldman says Representatives Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) and Antonio Delgado (D-New York) and Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) all expressed initial interest in supporting such an effort in Congress.

“[Small farmers] are impacted by coronavirus, but they’re also a big part of the solution,” said NSAC’s King. “This is part of what the value in some of the resilience built into local and regional food systems is. So we’re working on trying to influence the narrative in a positive direction.”

One of King’s chief concerns is that not everyone writing federal policy will understand that, by and large, the farmers who sell in farmers’ markets are not those who received recent government payouts.

“Most commodity farms have access to a whole host of different safety net programs and emergency programs. But there really is very little [safety net] available to the type of farm that selling at farmers’ markets, restaurants, and schools,” said King. If the unique needs small farmers selling direct to consumers aren’t considered, he added, “this could be a moment that we look back on years from now as a crippling blow to farmers’ markets, and local food in general.”

King and others also have their eyes on the larger patterns of consolidation in the food system—along with just about every other industry—that many worry is likely to pick up speed in the wake of the coronavirus. As many farmers are nearing retirement age, it may be more feasible for many of them to sell their operations to larger farms than to stick it out through the remainder of the pandemic, which could last over a year, some experts have said.

“Crisis can be opportunities to do creative and innovative, progressive things,” said King. “They can also be the opportunity for consolidation. And we’ve already seen so much consolidation within the food and farm sector. The worry is this crisis will create an opportunity for more.”

Demand and Gratitude Are Constants, Despite Flux

Everyone Civil Eats spoke to agreed that demand for farmers’ markets and local food in general probably isn’t going anywhere, despite all the other things that the coronavirus has changed so quickly for people around the U.S. and beyond.

For this reason, many market organizations are helping farmers quickly pivot—whether that means replacing markets sales or supplementing them. Whether it’s creating new opportunities for curbside produce pick-ups, helping producers find ways to sell their crops online, or offering their own aggregated online sales, farmers’ market organizers clearly have their hands full.

But the recent crowds at many markets around the country illustrate that localized food distribution has a role to play in this current moment—however it gets to consumers. And it’s also possible that many consumers will emerge from the coming months with a newfound appreciation for farmers’ markets and their role in feeding people and supporting small-scale farmers.

“Many of our dedicated shoppers tell us this is their main way of accessing food,” said CUESA’s Mazurek. “And for the last few weeks, [as other businesses have closed] we’ve been getting a lot of feedback about how grateful they are that we’re still open.”

As Senate passes coronavirus relief package, farm groups call for support in next round

Originally published on March 18, 2020 by The Fern. Written by Leah Douglas.


The Senate voted on Wednesday to pass an emergency aid package that will, among other provisions, expand funding for nutrition programs as the nation confronts the economic toll of the spreading coronavirus. As the bill heads to President Trump for a likely signature, farm and food groups are urging Congress to include the agriculture sector in forthcoming relief efforts.

Senators voted 90-8 in favor of the “phase two” stimulus measure, which the Joint Committee on Taxation estimates will cost more than $100 billion. Officials and lawmakers are already discussing a third relief measure that could total $1 trillion.

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act includes an additional $1.25 billion for nutrition programs, including $500 million for WIC. It also suspends controversial work and job training requirements that dictate who is able to access benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Now groups that represent farmers and farmers’ markets are asking to be included in the next anticipated federal relief package, which is expected to focus on small businesses.

Groups that work with farmers who sell directly to consumers, either through farmers’ markets or community-supported agriculture, are particularly concerned. Those farmers face a potentially devastating loss of income if public markets are forced to close as cities restrict public gatherings to limit the spread of Covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.

“Farmers’ markets deserve to be included in the federal aid package,” said Ben Feldman, executive director of the Farmers Market Coalition in a press release. “Unfortunately, neither of the first two packages are guaranteed to provide aid to American farmers who sell directly to the public, nor to the community-based organizations who operate farmers’ markets. Farmers are America’s original small businesspeople, and farmers’ markets are an essential food access point for communities seeking fresh, healthy food — in particular for low-income families who are able to access the freshest fruits and vegetables through markets’ SNAP EBT and WIC programs.”

Advocates say young and beginning farmers face particular risk from the economic uncertainty caused by the pandemic, as they typically have smaller cash reserves than more established farmers. A majority of them sell directly to customers through outlets like farmers’ markets and school cafeterias, said Sanaz Arjomand, policy director for the National Young Farmers Coalition.

“We need Congress to add funding and flexibility to programs that support direct-to-consumer outlets so that young farmers and ranchers can keep their small businesses going and so that local communities can continue to have access to the food that they depend on,” Arjomand said.

The Farmers Market Coalition suggested several ways that Congress and the Trump administration could help local and regional farmers, including by removing matching fund requirements and introducing more deadline flexibility for several federal local food programs. A brief co-authored this week by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and Harvard Law School’s Food Law and Policy Clinic also suggested using federal authority to buy farm goods to supply emergency food programs.

But not all farm groups know exactly what they’d like to see from Congress. On a call with reporters Wednesday, officials at the American Farm Bureau Federation said it would take time to assess the economic impact of the pandemic on agriculture and figure out what federal relief would help.

“I would say at this point, we do not have a specific number to ask them for,” said Farm Bureau executive vice president Dale Moore, when asked what stimulus the organization might request from Congress. “It is almost impossible to put our finger on and say, well, we need X amount of dollars to provide assistance.”

The Farm Bureau emphasized that its focus right now is on finding a solution to labor issues presented by the State Department’s decision to suspend visa processing in Mexico, where the majority of seasonal farmworkers are from. FERN broke news of the visa issue on Tuesday.

Donating Excess Food During the COVID-19 National Emergency

 


Many universities, venues, and other large institutions are being left with excess food as they close or significantly reduce operations. Donating this food to emergency food assistance institutions can go a long way toward supporting their increased needs at this time. Already, companies such as Disney Resort in California and Houston Rodeo operator RCS Carnival Group, and universities such as Harvard, Tufts, and Boston College have begun donating their surplus food to local food banks following recent closures. More institutions can and should help provide food for those in need by donating their excess food! See our handout below to learn more:


Actions for Congress and USDA to Support Local and Regional Food Systems During COVID-19

This post was written by Chris Mawhorter and Brianna Johnson-King


As social distancing measures close schools and public gatherings nationwide, farmers markets closures reveal a difficult reality for a particularly vulnerable segment of the food system: local and regional farmers and ranchers. Estimates indicate that direct-to-consumer markets and institutional purchases, such as farmers markets and farm-to-school programs, account for upwards of $12 billion in income for small-scale producers. Farmers selling into these markets stand to lose much or all of their revenue due to the COVID-19 crisis, and tons of produce may go to waste, all while economic downturn and job losses lead to stretched food banks and increased food insecurity.

To help policymakers consider measures to respond to the crisis, FLPC and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition released this issue brief highlighting several legislative and administrative actions that Congress and USDA can take. These changes can unlock already-appropriated funding to ensure that the local and regional food system is supported amidst the public health response. These proposals redirect funds that will go underutilized, supplement funds to help farmers cover the gap, and allow existing programs greater latitude to adapt to the evolving situation, including:

  • The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP):
    • Retooling and augmenting the TEFAP Farm-to-Food-Bank program (FY2020 funding: $4 million) to divert product from small farmers into the emergency food system.
    • Utilizing USDA budget authorities to target purchases for the emergency food system to support local producers.
  • Local Agricultural Market Program (LAMP): removing matching requirements, relaxing program requirements, and speeding approvals to free up grant funds under the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program ($27 million) and Value Added Producer Grants ($37 million).
  • Seniors and WIC Farmers Market Nutrition Programs (SFMNP and FMNP): using existing authority under SFMNP ($21 million) to encourage states to directly purchase and deliver locally produced foods to vulnerable seniors and extending the same authority to WIC FMNP ($18.5 million)
  • Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentives Program (GusNIP): removing match requirements and augmenting delivery services to allow local producers to serve SNAP recipients unable to purchase at farmers markets ($41.5 million)

Visit our issue brief to learn more about each of these actions. These measures are by no means comprehensive. FLPC remains committed to working with advocates and policymakers to find innovative solutions to support our local and regional food producers and address rising food insecurity during this unprecedented crisis, and welcomes feedback on these proposals.

For consumers, we also recommend contacting your local farmers market, CSA, or farmers to see if alternative options are available to purchase their products and support their businesses in the wake of market closures. Eating healthy, delicious local foods is a great way to support local agriculture and avoid shortages at retail outlets! 

 

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