FDA Presses Pause on FSMA

By Roland McReynolds, CFSA Executive Director

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) made several big announcements recently that will slow the enforcement of rules for safely growing produce under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). These delays are welcome by the entire produce industry, and farmers hope that these are first steps in reforming FDA’s approach to regulating the production and marketing of fruits and vegetables.

On Sept. 13, FDA published a proposed rule that would extend the deadlines for farms to comply with rules about water used in crop production. Although most of the FSMA Produce Rule comes into effect beginning in January 2018, the water standards currently take effect in Jan. 2020 for farms with over $500,000 in produce sales; Jan. 2021 for farms with sales over $250,000; and Jan. 2022 for those with sales less than $250,000 but greater than $25,000. The new proposed rule shifts each of those deadlines another two years down the road, to 2022/2023/2024. FDA is taking comments on the proposed rule until Nov. 15. If the agency’s review of comments goes quickly, the extended timeframe could become official early in 2018.

The day before, in a speech at a meeting of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA), FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb promised that Produce Rule compliance inspections for the largest farms, which had been due to start in Jan. 2018, would now be deferred until 2019. FDA published the final Produce Rule in 2015, but has not yet published promised guidance documents that would help farms and state governments understand how to interpret the language of the rule.  State departments of agriculture have become increasingly concerned that they won’t be able to fairly apply the rule without this kind of guidance and training for their inspection staff.

And finally, FDA issued a fact sheet addressing a major scientific flaw in the water rule that had water quality experts in an uproar. Essentially the agency provided a list of laboratory test methods it will accept, in addition to the one very expensive and rare one it named in the text of the Produce Rule.

These adjustments are important, but by themselves are not enough to avoid the debilitating punch coming for U.S. farms and food makers from FDA’s current FSMA scheme. For example, the water rules are incredibly complex and open to interpretation, with testing targets that are not supported by water quality science. CFSA and dozens of other farm groups, along with researchers and state officials, have been saying since the draft water rules were published in 2013 that the FDA approach needs to be scrapped (an article published in Food Safety Magazine last month ably summarizes the scientific concerns). Simply delaying rules that will be impossible for many farms to comply with forces the inevitable reckoning down the road, but won’t stop it from ultimately happening.

In announcing the proposed water rule extension, FDA stated it “plans to engage with stakeholders to learn more from farmers, state regulatory partners and other stakeholders about the diverse ways water is used and ensure that the standards will be as practical and effective as possible for all farming operations.” Whether that intention includes a genuine willingness to give up the unjustified burdens in the current water rules remains to be seen.

FDA must shift its approach and create a system that supports farms of all sizes to implement realistic food safety risk management, instead of its apparent focus on building legal tools for prosecuting farmers.

Even without interpretation standards, inspector training programs, or approved regulatory training materials written in Spanish, FDA has been moving forward with its plan to start enforcing FSMA. It has doled out millions of dollars to state governments to fund creation of state-based FSMA compliance programs, and has kept representatives from agriculture at arms-length on those plans. As a result there has been poor transparency about what farms can expect, and confusion among states, as the main Produce Rule compliance deadlines loom. And in exchange for its money, FDA has forced states to start compiling ‘inventories’ of all the farms that could possibly grow produce, including so-called exempt farms, raising huge questions about the privacy of farm information and adherence to Congressional protections for farms that were written into FSMA. No one really knows what FDA will do with its new Produce Rule authority when it kicks in, but the examples from the agency’s history in food safety regulation are discouraging.

Certainly putting off the first official enforcement of the Produce Rule makes good sense, and farmers will be glad to take this much progress. But more is needed: FDA must shift its approach and create a system that supports farms of all sizes to implement realistic food safety risk management, instead of its apparent focus on building legal tools for prosecuting farmers.

Any farm that grows crops covered by the Produce Rule needs to start preparing for how to handle the day when a government inspector shows up to do a FSMA inspection. A great place to start is the two-hour workshop on a farmer’s rights and responsibilities in such a visit that we are presenting at this year’s Sustainable Agriculture Conference. And CFSA’s Local Produce Safety Initiative provides a variety of resources to help farms improve food safety practices.

The incredible efforts of farmers and sustainable agriculture advocates have made a difference in shaping FSMA every step of the way, winning important protections for local food and ensuring key parts of the rules are grounded in science. But fixing FSMA is not a marathon, it’s an ultra-marathon. We have to continue to press the states, the FDA and Congress to make the rules sensible, and protect farmers and food entrepreneurs’ ability to bring healthy, sustainable, local foods to more people.

From Weddings to Goat Yoga, It Has Gotten More Complicated to Do Agritourism on North Carolina Farms

By Rochelle Sparko, CFSA Policy Director

In July 2017, Governor Cooper signed into law the Farm Act of 2017. With support from NCDA and Farm Bureau, Senate Bill 615 moved through the Senate and House with relative ease. One provision has captured the attention of small scale farms and beginning farmers. Section 8 of the Farm Act of 2017 restricts the ability of beginning farmers and small scale producers to engage in some types of agritourism on their farms.

In Section I, I take a look at the state of the law prior to July 2017. Section II describes the circumstances that led NCDA and Farm Bureau to engage in a concerted effort to change the law. In Section III, you will learn what’s changed as a result of the Farm Act of 2017. Finally, in Section IV, I offer farmers actions they can take if their farm enterprise is or will be adversely affected by the change in the law.

I. What WAS the law?

The state of North Carolina authorizes local government to enact zoning ordinances. See NC General Statute Section 153A-340. Zoning ordinances set some limits on how property owners may use their land. These ordinances cover property use issues ranging from how close construction can get to the property line, to what kinds of uses happen in particular areas to keep the heavy industrial activity separate from the community swimming pool. Zoning rules also require that people purchase permits in order to build on their property.

A number of years ago, North Carolina decided that farms would NOT be required to comply with zoning ordinances when constructing structures for use in farm operations. This makes it less expensive and less time consuming for a farmer to, say, build a barn for her cattle, a washing and packing shed for his vegetables, or a storage building for their tools.

The state law said that there were five ways that counties could  determine whether a piece of land was a farm, and therefore could use the exemption from zoning law. (1) a farm sales tax exemption number issued by the NC Department of Revenue; (2) a copy of a property tax bill showing that the property was assessed using the present use value of the land; (3) a copy of the farmer owner or operator’s Schedule F IRS form from the most recent tax year; (4) a forest management plan; or (5) a Farm Identification Number issued by FSA.

As more and more people are interested in having farm experiences, some farmers have used this exemption to build structures on their farms for agritourism: a shop or stand from which to sell their products, a dining space and commercial kitchen for hosting on-farm events like weddings, dinners or corporate retreats, a heated space where people can drink cocoa after time spent in a corn maze.

II. Why did public and private agricultural entities lobby for changes to the law?

A couple of conflicts between rural communities and new land owners led to an effort to make the zoning exemption for farms more restrictive. Because there is money to be made from holding events on farms, investors have purchased farmland and constructed expensive venues designed to host weddings or other events. New landowners have relied on one of the exemptions to zoning law, specifically that the land purchased came with a farm identification number issued by the FSA, to construct these venues without complying with local zoning ordinances.

Rural neighbors of these new venues complained that these new venues were being treated as farms despite engaging in very little agriculture because they were able to purchase land that already had an FSA number from a prior owner’s use. The Department of Agriculture heard these concerns, and pressed for a change to the zoning exemption law in an effort to restrict or eliminate use of the exemption by landowners who are not primarily farmers.

III. What is the law now?

The General Assembly passed the North Carolina Farm Act of 2017(Farm Act of 2017) and it was signed by Governor Cooper on July 12, 2017. As soon as the governor signed the bill, the North Carolina law about which farms are exempt from local zoning ordinances changed.

The Farm Act of 2017 limits the ways that farmers can prove that they are operating bona fide farms in order to qualify for the exemption from zoning ordinances. From July 12, 2017 onward, if a farmer wants to construct a farm building on their property, they can no longer use an FSA number as evidence that they are operating a bona fide farm. Farmers are still able to use the other four methods of proof to prove that they are bona fide farms when building buildings for agricultural purposes other than agritourism. As a quick reminder, the four remaining ways to prove a farm is bona fide:

  1. A farm sales tax exemption number issued by the NC Department of Revenue;
  2. A copy of a property tax bill showing that the property was assessed using the present use value of the land;
  3. A copy of the farmer owner or operator’s Schedule F IRS form from the most recent tax year; or
  4. A forest management plan.

The General Assembly narrowed even further which farms can construct buildings for the purpose of agritourism. Only those farms that meet one of two criteria may construct such structures without complying with zoning laws. Those criteria require that the farmer show the county:

  1. A farm sales tax exemption number issued by the NC Department of Revenue;
  2. A copy of a property tax bill showing that the property was assessed using the present use value of the land;
Note that North Carolina law has restricted access to the farm sales tax exemption number to farms grossing over $10,000 since 2014. This means that beginning farmers and farmers who have years with low yield due to adverse weather, illness of the farmer, etc. will not be able to use method #1. Also worth keeping in mind is that present use valuation is only available to farms with at least five acres in horticultural production or ten acres in row crop production, making it impossible for many farms in the state to access the present use valuation program. Thus, a large number of farmers will be barred from using the exemption method #2.

The Farm Act of 2017 defines agritourism as, “any activity carried out on a farm or ranch that allows members of the general public, for recreational, entertainment, or educational purposes, to view or enjoy rural activities, including farming, ranching, historic, cultural, harvest-you-own activities, or natural activities and attractions.” Further, “(a) building or structure used for agritourism includes any building or structure used for public or private events, including, but not limited to, weddings, receptions, meetings, demonstrations of farm activities, meals, and other events that are taking place on the farm because of its farm or rural setting.”

The Farm Act of 2017 addresses what happens should a farm with a sales tax exemption or a present use property valuation build a structure for agritourism and then, within three years of the construction, no longer qualifies for either the sales tax exemption or the present use valuation. At that time, the structure will become subject to the applicable zoning and development regulation ordinances adopted by the county. CFSA expects that the farms most likely to be harmed by this provision will be farms that do not qualify for present use valuation (smaller than 5 acres in production) who experience one or two years with less than $10,000 in income. These farms will be subject to this “clawback” provision in the law, and will, at a time when money is tight, be forced to bring these farm structures into compliance with local zoning ordinances.

CFSA does not know how individual counties will enforce this new law. We have been told by sources at NCDA that structures used both for agritourism AND other agricultural purposes should be considered an agricultural rather than agritourism use, but the law does not clearly state this.

IV. What can I do if the new law is hurting my business?

If your farm business will be hurt by the changes in the law, there are several things you can do. You should call the NC Department of Agriculture and let staff there know what’s happening to your business. Phone calls to NCDA are what put this issue on the Department’s radar in the first place; they should be made aware if the changes they asked for are hurting farmers.

You should also contact both your state senator and representative and let them know that this new law is adversely impacting your business. Tell them that you’d like to see the General Assembly make some changes to the new law in 2018 to help protect farms like yours.

Go to your county Farm Bureau’s policy meeting this fall and make sure to support changes to Farm Bureau’s policy book that will enable farms like yours to get the zoning exemption. Without this change, it is likely that Farm Bureau will continue to support the new law that limit which farms get state support and which don’t.

Let CFSA know how the new law affects your farm. Email CFSA’s Policy Director, Rochelle Sparko, at rochelle@carolinafarmstewards.org or call or text her at 919-410-7645. CFSA needs stories from farmers to convince the General Assembly to make changes to the new law. If you don’t tell us what’s happening on your farm, there’s nothing CFSA will be able to do to try and change this law.

Protecting Pollinators

by Preston Peck, Toxic Free NC

Advocating for Pollinators

Rally outside the NC State Capitol to protect bees from toxic pesticides in September 2015


Many pressing issues facing today’s ever-changing regulatory atmosphere leave consumers, growers, and other “agtivists” questioning, “What is the most important issue facing our food system and how I can make an impact?” The first thing to recognize is something my mentor told me: “Advocacy is an art, not a science.” Nevertheless, I would like to offer some broad suggestions to agtivists on effective issues-based advocacy and communications based on my experience working on Toxic Free NC’s agriculture-related campaigns, especially our fight for the Pollinator Protection Act.


Know your issue and your strategic entry point

Many times people try to know a little about a lot without diving deeply into an issue. I encourage people to learn, research and talk to as many people affected by the issues as possible. Getting a firm grasp on the issues, BEFORE reaching out to decision makers is crucial. Sustainable, effective policy decisions start from the grassroots, and if we are to create policies that benefit our communities, we need to fully understand how policy decisions will impact multiple stakeholders.


Ready to take action for fair food and farm policies? Sign up for CFSA’s Action Alerts.


It is equally important to understand political context. What works in California will not necessarily work for the Carolinas. I saw this most recently through our work with the Pollinator Protection Act (HB 363), introduced this legislative session in the North Carolina General Assembly (NCGA). This bill would restrict the sale and use of neonicotinoid insecticides (neonics) to licensed pesticide applicators, farmers, and veterinarians. Prior to the introduction of this bill, I worked with legislators and other decision makers to educate them on the harmful effects of pesticides, relative to the perceived benefits. Specifically, I concentrated my efforts of neonics because they are the most widely used pesticides in the world. This chemical class was hastily brought to the market in the mid-1990s, so the science is just now catching up to how they are being used.

The bottom line: know your issue and think creatively about how it impacts your community, then leverage that for sustainable policy change.


Pollinators are getting a lot of attention as the USDA continues to publish information about declining honeybee populations. Pollinators (including native bees, birds, beetles, etc.) contribute more than $29 billion to our agricultural system every year. Agriculture was an $84 billion industry in North Carolina in 2016. These factors, along with similar legislation being introduced and passed across the U.S., allowed for a strategic point of entry to engage legislators about the importance of a bill like the Pollinator Protection Act. 


Cultivate champions and know who can give you what you want 

Build relationships with decision makers now.  I cannot stress this enough. The process of getting a good idea into policy is long and arduous, and you will need people directly involved in the decision-making process to help carry your issue. These people may be legislators, council people, agency heads, or others in a decision-making position. If you are unsure where to start, begin building relationships with council people, county commissioners, or state legislators that represent your district. These folks need to hear from you, as they cannot know everything about all the issues that matter to you. Let them know how you feel, that you are paying attention, and holding them accountable.


Preston Peck, Policy Director at Toxic Free NC

Preston Peck, Policy Director at Toxic Free NC, speaks to reporters alongside bill sponsors of HB
363 during the bill’s introduction in March 2017


Equally as important as cultivating champions is to know exactly who can give you what you want. My mentor also used to joke, “Who is your target?” and if anyone said, “government”, then they had to go sit in the corner.


It is extremely important to have a firm grasp on the process of policy development at whatever level you are working, so that you are being efficient and effective with your time. That being said, it is also important to think about secondary and tertiary targets, those who influence your main targets. Think about their golf buddies, family friends, religious leaders, etc. These people are not necessarily involved in government or in a position to make decisions, but they greatly influence the perspectives of those that you are trying to influence.


In the case of the Pollinator Protection Act, Toxic Free NC worked with the NC Pesticide Board, which is the regulatory authority on pesticides in North Carolina, for more than two years, educating those seven members on the impact of neonics on North Carolina’s waterways, aquatic species, and pollinators while simultaneously building relationships with state legislators. When the Pesticide Board refused to take action, the advocacy strategy pivoted and leveraged relationships that were built in the NCGA though years of educating legislators on issues relating to pesticides. This allowed the bill to be introduced with bi-partisan support and 20 bill sponsors during the 2017 Legislative Session.


It’s not just legislators or city council people that you will need on your side. You will also need a strong communications plan to help spread awareness and build support.



Define and build your narrative 

A strong communications plan is essential to any successful advocacy campaign. There is a tool in policy advocacy that was developed by the Center for Story-based Strategy called The Battle of the Story, which forces advocates to think about their issue in the frame of telling a story. This is crucial as most decision makers and the general public will not be as informed as you are on the issue. Telling a strong story is essential to involving your local media. Relationships with reporters and news media can help amplify your story as well as help to define the narrative that you want to tell.


When developing your story, think about your messengers, the spokespeople for your issue. Identify relatable experts that can speak confidently to the issue, but also convey the importance in a way that is digestible and trustworthy. When developing messengers, think about a diverse group of people that can build a case for your policy initiative from multiple perspectives.  You never know what sort of support you will need to garner from decision makers or what their backgrounds might be, so it is important to have a wide array of options in your communications arsenal.


Farmers, beekeepers, health advocates, mothers, children, and many more supported the Pollinator Protection Act and thought it was a reasonable step forward on curbing the unknown, long-term effects of neonics on human and environmental health. Every storyteller played a role in messaging for support of the bill. Also, I worked with reporters at local papers across the state for many months leading up to the introduction of the bill to place editorials, opinion pieces, and other articles in outlets with a wide, diverse readership. This allowed people to become familiar with the issue prior to the bill being introduced. 


Enjoy the process and be creative 

Advocacy can be hard work, no doubt about it. However, the policies that are put into place by the North Carolina General Assembly, or in Washington D.C. affect us on a daily basis whether we notice the direct impacts or not. It is crucial to stay informed and take action on issues in addition to signing online petitions. Although policy development is serious business with serious effects, advocacy efforts can allow you to connect in a meaningful way with your community, bring folks together, and develop sustainable policies from the ground up.


Charles McNair, Program Manager with Toxic Free NC

Charles McNair, Program Manager with Toxic Free NC, addresses a crowd at a Keep the Hives Alive rally in June 2016


Know your issue, know who can give you what you want, passionately tell your story while allowing others to tell theirs, be creative with your strategy, and celebrate your victories, no matter how small you may think they may be!


Editor’s Note: Unfortunately, The Pollinator Protection bill did not make crossover this year, which means the General Assembly will not consider it in this legislative session. But, Toxic Free NC is currently exploring study options within the Environmental Review Commission to be put in the House version of the budget. It’s an up-hill battle, but they are not giving up. To get involved, visit their website: Toxic Free NC.


Preston Peck is the Policy Director at Toxic Free NC, based in Raleigh. Toxic Free NC continues to fight pesticide pollution for over 30 years, working toward the transition to a toxic free society through initiatives that promote human and environmental health.

Plate of the Union

by Robert Corriher, Deputy Field Organizer at Plate of the Union



North Carolina is shaping up to be a pivotal battleground state in this election cycle. Any candidate who hopes to win the White House will need this state and that means everyone is paying attention to what happens here. We need to show candidates that we care about these issues.


Here in North Carolina, we know our state has some of the biggest food system problems in the country. Nearly 24% of children suffer from food insecurity and nearly 160,000 people receive emergency food relief in any given week. There are also more factory-farmed hogs (10.1 million) than people (9.4 million) and this has created huge problems with water quality that disproportionately affect low-income communities. Our policy makers have neglected our food system, and as a result, we have some of the worst rates of obesity and other chronic health problems. We will never see progress on these issues until we address the issues raised in Plate of the Union’s policy platform.

Plate of the Union’s policy platform


Haywood Smith, one of the founding members of the Renaissance Community Co-op in Greensboro. Photo by Robert Corriher


Commit to ensuring that all Americans have access to healthy, affordable food.


Stop companies from marketing junk food to kids and end subsidies that support processed junk food.


Reform agricultural policies, subsidies, and supports to ensure fair markets and pricing for diverse farmers of all sizes. Promote healthy diets and support sustainable, diversified, and organic farming in all communities.


End Fair Labor Standards exemptions for farmworkers, raise the minimum wage for all food workers, and eliminate the sub-minimum wage for restaurant workers.


Ban the practice of feeding antibiotics to farm animals that are not sick.


Plate of the Union's food truck is coming to North Carolina

Plate of the Union’s food truck is coming to North Carolina

I joined Plate of the Union because North Carolina has always been my home, and many of these issues affect my family and my community. Plate of the Union is calling on our presidential candidates to take bold actions to address the problems in our food system. But we need more voices; candidates and voters are discussing pressing issues in this election cycle, but our food system has barely come up in the conversation.  Plate of the Union is working to get people who care about its platform to call on candidates, particularly candidates for president, to put their ideas for fixing the food system front and center. Plate of the Union spent all summer talking to farmers, restaurant owners, food co-ops, and community organizations to find out what’s happening on the ground. And now, we’re coming to hear from North Carolinians.


CFSA works with food councils across the Carolinas to advocate for a healthy, sustainable food system in their communities. Support our work!


Plate of the Union has partnered with food councils in Alamance, Durham and Mecklenburg Counties in North Carolina to put on farm and food themed candidate forums. The food truck will also be traveling to the Environmental Justice Summit, to an event hosted by the Renaissance Community Co-op (RCC) in Greensboro, which will open its doors in November, and to World Food Day events in Wilmington.


Plate of the Union will drive our Food Truck Tour through North Carolina in late October, right before the election, to support and amplify the efforts communities dedicated to building a better food system. Check out our schedule (visit our website for up-to-date information about time and location) and please join us if you’re able; we’d love to see you!


Come to a Candidate Forum!

  • Mecklenburg Co., NC:  October 25 at Midwood International and Cultural Center from 8 – 10 a.m. Hosted by Char-Meck Food Policy Council
  • Durham Co., NC: October 26 at Hayti Heritage Center from 7 – 8 p.m. Hosted by Durham Farm and Food Network
  • Alamance Co., NC: October 27 at The Eddy Pub from 8:30 – 10:30 a.m. Hosted by Alamance Food Collaborative


The Plate of the Union Will Also Visit:

October 22


Environmental Justice Summit

October 24


Food Day Wilmington 2016

October 28


Renaissance Co-op event



Together We Can Build a Better Food System

How the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Food Policy Council is Strengthening Their Community and Working Towards Healthy, Affordable & Sustainable Food For All

by Jared Cates, CFSA’s Community Mobilizer

Raising funds for farmers at a Farm Hands event. Photo submitted by Erin Brighton

Raising funds for farmers at a Char-Meck Food Policy Council Farm Hands event. Photo submitted by Erin Brighton

Farming is a strong economic driver across the Charlotte metro region. Farmers have access to traditional wholesale markets as well as many direct to consumer opportunities through farmers markets and CSA’s. Locally sourced food can be also be found on the menus at many medium and high priced restaurants. But, the recent findings of a large-scale planning effort, CONNECT Our Future, drew attention to big challenges with inequity in the regional food system, low wages for food system workers, and large pockets of food insecurity. There is increasing demand for locally grown food, but farmland continues to be sold off and transformed into subdivisions. There is plenty of local produce grown in the region; however little of it is making its way into local school cafeterias. These are the types of issues that the Char-Meck FPC has been tackling. And they’ve been doing it in a variety of ways.


The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Food Policy Council (CMFPC or Char-Meck FPC) has been very busy over the past several years. Under the leadership of Executive Director, Erin Brighton, and Board Chair, Young-Sun Roth, the council has hosted a number of events and supported many initiatives concerned with healthy eating and local food. As North Carolina’s largest city continues to expand, CMFPC’s work is appreciated by more and more people who want to know how their food is grown and who is growing it. The Council connects people from all over the county, encouraging them to work together to create a more robust and sustainable community food system in Mecklenburg County.


Recent estimates put the county’s population at around 1 million people. The Charlotte-Concord-Gastonia, NC-SC Metropolitan Statistical Area, which is defined as seven counties in North Carolina and three counties in South Carolina, has a current population of around 2.5 million. Estimates predict that this region will grow 47% between 2010 and 2030. This increasing concentration of people and economic activity has created challenges and opportunities for the regional food system. CFSA recently worked with multiple partners on the food systems portion of CONNECT Our Future. This multi-faceted planning process identified supporting local farms as a regional priority, assessed the regional food system and made recommendations on actions to take to strengthen that system.


Better Together

Established in 2010, the Council was formed to advocate for policies that build a more sustainable, equitable and healthy local food system. Marilyn Marks, a food system activist, took a lead role in developing the Council after being inspired by a Farm to Fork Initiative summit back in 2009. This event brought together approximately 400 stakeholders from across the state for the purpose of developing a Statewide Action Plan about food and farming.


Photo submitted by Erin Brighton

Photo submitted by Erin Brighton

After attending the summit, members of the Charlotte community came together to discuss what could be done in their region. One of the common concerns was that there was no place for the group to go to talk about food system issues in the way that they were discussed at the state-wide forum. They realized that they all had a vision for an improved food system for Charlotte that was bigger than what any single member of the group was currently doing – and bigger than what any of them could do on their own. Creating a way to come together and hash out these big ideas to move their community forward was appealing. So, they formed Char-Meck FPC as a way to institutionalize this type of collaborative space.


Your gift to CFSA today will help create local food councils across the Carolinas which build the healthy, sustainable food systems all of our communities need to thrive. Every donation matters. Give today.



The goals of the Council are to enhance the health of Mecklenburg County citizens, to strengthen local economies and market opportunities, and to reduce hunger and food insecurity. Their mission is to strengthen the community by serving as a forum for discussing food issues, building relationships in the food system, educating, advocating for, and communicating policy issues, and acting as a primary information source for food related issues. The Council consists of a 10-member Board of Directors that has representatives from the community, Bank of America, Food Buy, Compass Group, Mecklenburg County Health Department, UNC-Charlotte, and Charlotte Center City Partners. The Council also has an Experts Panel made up of professionals from the farming, public health, hospitality, education, food distribution,government and retail sectors. CMFPC meets with the Panel regularly and consults with them on their work.


State of the Plate

Over 72,000 residents in Mecklenburg County were living in food deserts.

When the Council was first founded, the group knew that they first had to learn about food and agriculture in their community to understand what they could do to improve the community’s food system. CMFPC partnered with UNC-Charlotte to perform a food system assessment that  focused on healthy food access. They found that over 72,000 residents in Mecklenburg County were living in food deserts. The authors defined a food desert in this study as any low income census block groups that did not contain a full service store. The assessment has been used by over 50 organizations in the community to apply for grants and projects related to food access issues.


After five years of work, the Council decided to check back in on how the food system changed since the original assessment . Not only an update, the 2015 State of the Plate assessment also offered new information to CMFPC about how county residents make decisions about food. Based on their findings, CMFPC sees opportunities to expand access to fresh, healthy foods by creating new retail opportunities, enhancing existing retail establishments, working towards 100% availability of SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and WIC (Women with Infants and Children) at full-service groceries, developing innovative programs that increase distribution of high quality produce, and continuing or expanding programs that educate youth and adults on healthy eating.


Bringing Farmers to Food Deserts

After CMFPC and their partners at UNC-Charlotte presented their 2010 assessment to the Charlotte City Council, the Council invited CMFPC to present their findings to their Economic Development group. CMFPC presented at two sessions with the group and told them about their process, what they learned and ideas for improving food access in the community. One idea that the Economic Development group strongly supported was mobile farmers markets as a way to increase access to fresh, healthy food in neighborhoods and areas that were designated as food deserts.


But there was one major obstacle facing mobile farmers markets who wanted to sell to consumers in the city: zoning prohibited any mobile farmers market from setting up in residential areas. The City Council instructed the Zoning Administration within the Planning Department to create a citizen’s advisory group to work to amend the zoning language.


With lots of input from the food council and from the Charlotte Planning and Health Departments, this advisory group created language that was used as a zoning text amendment. The amendment lays out simple regulations and creates a permitting process with a nominal fee for mobile farmers markets. When asked about lessons learned throughout the process that they went through working with city government, Erin Brighton stated “Understanding the political process and figuring out the schedule was a process itself. For us, finding a strong champion in our City Council was critical in getting the zoning changes that we wanted.” CMFPC sees mobile markets as just one piece in their work of the supporting food access and local entrepreneurs.

“We definitely would not have been able to accomplish so much in the past few years without all of our partners in city and local government, the school system, and with the many local and regional organizations working to support farmers and access to healthy foods.”


Lending Farmers A Hand

Another aspect of the work of the Council has been supporting is a series of events that crowd-sources money directly to farmers. Farm Hands is a micro-funding program, sponsored by CMFPC and and other local partners, that is dedicated to supporting the growth and vitality of Charlotte’s agricultural community. It is a collaborative concept aimed at creating opportunities for Charlotte area farmers while also fostering community and building awareness of the challenges that farmers face.

Now in its third year, Farm Hands raises money by hosting a ticketed community dinner. Farmers submit applications detailing a “big idea” that will help their business. A group of farmer applicants are selected through a blind review process to become finalists who then present their idea at the dinner. The finalists give a short presentation on their project and winners are then voted on by dinner attendees. Proceeds from the event ticket sales are awarded to the winning finalist to fund their “big idea” and support them in developing some part of their farm business.


Todd from Birdsong Farm, one of the finalists in Charlotte’s inaugural Farm Hands event. Photo submitted by Erin Brighton.

The food council and its partners plan on holding this event twice a year to connect local farmers with the community and to raise critical funds to keep the local food economy growing. So far, they have hosted three events, all at local breweries. The first event was in collaboration with CFSA and Slow Money NC. Over $5,000 has been raised and awarded directly to farmers. The next event will be November 13, 2016 at Free Range Brewery in Charlotte.


Putting Local on the Menu in School Cafeterias

In 2015, CMFPC worked with the Mecklenburg County Health Department to lead a coalition of partners to organize another event – A Fresh Look at School Food – which was held at Johnson & Wales University. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools serve 38,500 breakfasts and 83,000 lunches a day. This event created an opportunity for community members to come together to discuss ways to help students choose tasty and healthy meals at school.


The event featured many of the efforts underway in the community to make school meals fresher and healthier. The coalition partnered with MomsRising, a group working to support women, mothers and families, to screen “Cafeteria Man,” a movie about ambitious efforts to ‘green’ the public school diet serving 83,000 students in Baltimore and over 200,000 students in Memphis. Following the movie, staff members from school cafeterias went head to head in a cooking competition assisted by local chef, Clark Barlowe, of Heirloom and Chef Megan Lambert, a Johnson and Wales Professor. Students participated in a panel discussion with the audience about different topics related to school food and then judged the meals created by the teams. A few weeks after the Fresh Look the event, the chef featured in the movie, Tony Geraci, participated in a national Google hangout with Fresh Look attendees and the CMFPC director.


From left to right Char-Meck FPC Board Members Kathy Metzo, Young-Sun Roth, and Executive Director Erin Brighton

The Council and its partners feel that the event helped to create an ongoing dialogue on the importance of healthy food at school – not just school lunches – that continues today. One exciting outcome was a coalition of groups working together to get the gardens at Garinger High School a USDA GAP (Good Agricultural Practices) certification. This project, led by CMFPC’s FoodCorps service members, was a great way to learn from local farmers who had gone through the GAP process themselves. James Cooper, CFSA’s Food Safety Coordinator, worked with the group to make their food safety plan for the certification process. This certification now allows the school to actually serve food grown in the school garden in the school cafeteria. GAP is one of many barriers that makes it difficult for public school systems to procure local products to serve in their cafeterias.


There was a strong turnout and interest in the Fresh Look at School Food Event. Photo submitted by Erin Brighton.


Bringing Attention to Food and Farm Issues

The next event CMFPC has on the calendar is a  “2nd Annual Meet the Candidates: Let’s Talk About Food” gathering in partnership with Community Food Strategies (of which CFSA is a team member), and Plate of the Union. The event will take place on October 25 at Midwood International and Cultural Center from 8 – 10am. This will be an opportunity for community members to have informal discussions with elected officials and candidates for public office about food, health and agriculture. There will also be a moderated discussion with officials and candidates from state and federal-level offices. Please check out the CMFPC website to learn more about this forum. Please consider attending if you live in the Charlotte region! To learn about the First Annual Meet the Candidates event, hosted by CMFPC in 2015, please check out this blog on the Community Food Strategies website.


A Lot on Their Plate

If there’s one thing that the members of CMFPC have learned during their six years as a food council, it is that partnerships and relationships are essential to improving their community food system. “We definitely would not have been able to accomplish so much in the past few years without all of our partners in city and local government, the school system, and with the many local and regional organizations working to support farmers and access to healthy foods. Those relationships have been critical to our success. Working together is the only way forward if we are going to create more food and agricultural opportunities for the greater Charlotte community,” says Erin Brighton.


CMFPC has lots of work on their plate for the last quarter of 2016 and moving into 2017. They have two FoodCorps service members that are beginning their third year working within the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system, they are hosting the candidates event, they are hosting another Farm Hands event, and they are gearing up to work on all of the goals outlined in the State of the Plate report. As a team member of Community Food Strategies – who works across NC to support the whole network of food councils – CFSA is excited to remain a part of this work and to support CMFPC in creating a Charlotte food system that provides access to healthy, affordable food for all, that is fair to food system workers, that is good for the environment, and ensures that Mecklenburg county farmers can keep farming.

Learn more about food councils and CFSA’s work with other food councils across the Carolinas by visiting our website or emailing Jared at jared@.


Recipe for Change

by Rochelle Sparko, CFSA’s Policy Director

recipe-for-change-longRather than providing your standard recipe, this month we’re trying something new: an easy recipe you can follow to help change food and agriculture policy in your town, your state or the United States. Give it a try and see how many people benefit from the fruits of your labor!


Step 1. Marinate on some policy publications. Digest CFSA’s Questions for Candidates, and stir in  the Policy Team’s monthly ag policy news round up, The Buzz, for the most robust flavor.


Step 2. Sprinkle with membership in your county or region’s food council. If your community  doesn’t have one, substitute starting a local food council in your community.


Step 3. Bring candidates for public office and elected officials to a low boil for one minute by sending them an email or by calling them about an agriculture policy issue you care about. If you’re not sure how to do this, or what to say, check out this video and sign up for CFSA’s Action Alerts to hear about timely ag policy actions you can take.


Step 4. Increase heat and whisk in an office visit to an elected official to talk face to face about an agriculture policy that affects you. This step adds intense flavor to the recipe for change; use it often!


Step 5.  Garnish with your vote. Find out where candidates stand on the agriculture policy issues that matter to you, and make sure you tell them that their positions on these issues influence how you vote. If candidates know you care about ag policy, this recipe set up just right!

Don’t forget to register to vote! The deadline to register to vote in SC is October 8, and the deadline in NC is October 14. Note that in NC, you may REGISTER TO VOTE AFTER THE DEADLINE by voting early. 


What’s a Non-Profit to Do? Advocacy in an Election Year

Vote Sticker

By Rebecca Eskalis, NCSU Class of 2018 and CFSA’s Adolph Warren Family Leadership Program Intern

Disclaimer: This article is for informational and educational purposes only; it is not legal advice. If you have questions about how the IRS will treat a particular activity conducted by your non-profit organization, consult an attorney.

If you are a leader, manager, or member of a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that works on food or farm policy, listen up! I’m going to guide you through the ways non-profit organizations like yours can advocate for farms and food in an election year without running afoul of the IRS’ rules limiting advocacy work by organizations like yours.

501(c)(3) organizations are eligible for certain tax exemptions, tax-deductible contributions, and grants from private foundations. In exchange for these boons, federal law imposes restrictions on the activities of non-profit organizations. Today, we’re going to take a look at the restrictions the IRS puts on election-related advocacy, since we’re in a big election year.

This piece addresses five ways non-profits might want to get involved in an election and how much or how little of this work runs afoul of the IRS’ rules.

  1. Issue advocacy;

  2. Candidate education;

  3. Voter education and outreach;

  4. Ballot measures; and

  5. Individual partisan electoral activities.

Issue Advocacy

Non-profit organizations sometimes work on issues that are the focus of policy debate. Let’s take, for instance, farmland preservation. You may work to ensure that land trusts preserve working farms, or that farms’ property tax bills are based on the present use of the land rather than the highest use, or to connect aging farmers who want to retire with young farmers in need of land. All of these issues come up in local, state and federal policy debates from time to time.  And guess what?!  Even if these things become campaign issues, your organization has every right to advocate for them!

Your organization does not have to stand mute during an election season if candidates are discussing a policy issue that your organization cares about. Some rules of thumb: talk about the issue, not the candidate. Just avoid mentioning politicians as candidates or discussing the election at all. A disclaimer explaining that your organization is a non-partisan, 501(c)(3) may help demonstrate that it is the POLICY, not the CANDIDATE, that your organization supports/opposes.

Can your nonprofit organization criticize incumbents who have voted for policies your organization opposes? Maybe. The IRS considers it a non-partisan activity to criticize incumbents as long as your organization is talking about the policy and the politician is not a candidate for office.

Sometimes, issue-based non-profit organizations develop legislative scorecards, which show how elected officials voted on issues of importance to the organization. Scorecards are a great way to make your organization’s values and views known. There are two types of scorecards the IRS says 501(c)(3) organizations may distribute:

  1. Scorecards sent to the public; and

  2. Scorecards sent to members.

Scorecards sent to the public must:

  1. Be published regularly;

  2. List the votes of all legislators in the state or region;

  3. Score votes on a wide range of issues (partner with other organizations when issuing to make sure it’s not just food/ag related); and

  4. Avoid commentary.

Legislative scorecards that are sent to members:

  1. Must be published regularly;

  2. Must include all legislators in the state or district; and

  3. May focus on a narrow range issues of importance to the organization.

Scorecards sent to members, unlike those distributed to the public, may include commentary as long as it is non-partisan. Some words of caution: avoid publishing a scorecard for the first time in an election year, and do not put scorecards intended for members only on your website (using the internet makes the scorecard available to the general public).

Candidate Education

Your organization should endeavor to treat all candidates equally in the midst of an election. If you provide resources (like data about food and farming in your community) to one candidate, you must provide the same information to all candidates for that office. Beware of doing research upon request of any candidates. The only information you should be sharing, as an organization, is information gathered before the candidacy, or information that was developed without a request or input from any candidates.

Voter Education


If your non-profit organization wants to educate voters about where candidates stand on food and farming issues, you can send candidates a questionnaire.

  • Send the questionnaire to ALL candidates for a particular office if you’re sending it to one candidate.

  • Questions must be politically neutral.

  • Questions must cover a broad range of issues.

TIP: One way to cover a broad range of issues is to partner with another organization that works on issues not related to food and farming when drafting the questionnaire.

  • Ask only open-ended questions.

TIP: Do not attach a pledge to your questionnaire (e.g. “if elected, do you pledge to support legislation to fund a healthy corner store initiative”); a questionnaire is an opportunity for you to learn more about a candidate, not make them look good or bad.

  • Share all the responses to the questionnaire.

  • List the candidates fairly (e.g. alphabetically).

  • Do not make any changes to the responses before posting/publishing.

  • When posting/publishing responses to the questionnaire, it’s a good idea to include a disclaimer stating that the responses are being published by a non-partisan, 501(c)(3) organization.

Candidate Forum


If your organization plans to host a debate or candidate forum, here are some guidelines:

  • Invite all of the candidates for a particular office if you invite one candidate. This way, if not all candidates choose to attend the event, your organization is not responsible for the bias inherent in providing a forum for only a selection of the candidates for a particular office.

  • Include audience members who are not solely from one particular political party.

  • Select a neutral person to serve as the moderator for the event.

  • Provide the moderator a broad range of questions that cover several issues.

  • Avoid asking questions that indicate bias in favor of a specific candidate or party.

  • Make sure the rules are fair to all candidates (e.g. time allotted to answer questions, each candidate has an equal opportunity to speak).

Voter Outreach/Registration

Is your organization thinking about reaching out to voters to remind them to vote? Make sure to follow these guidelines:

  • Do not make reference to a specific party or candidate.

  • If your organization is involved in registering voters, be sure it is clear that you will help anyone register regardless of party affiliation or candidate preference (any mention of a particular party or candidate could penalize your 501(c)(3) designation).

  • No one–staff or volunteer– at the voter outreach event should an suggest who or what to vote for.

TIP:  signs such as “VOTE Pro-Choice” can put your organization’s tax exemption at high risk. Whereas signs such as, “VOTE. It’s Easy!” are unbiased and have little to no risk.

Ballot Measures

Non-profits may take a position supporting or opposing ballot measures–including bonding issues and constitutional amendments. The IRS considers work on ballot measures to be lobbying (which nonprofits may do, subject to certain limits that we’re not going to discuss here), not electioneering (which nonprofits may not do).

To learn more about how your 501(c)(3) organization can participate in election-related lobbying and advocacy, click here or visit “The Rules of the Game: A Guide to Election-Related Activities for 501(c)(3) Organizations” at bolderadvocacy.org

Individual Partisan Electoral Activities

Your organization may NOT support or oppose candidates for public office.

Who is a candidate for public office?  We know that presidential candidates are candidates for public office. So too are candidates for state or local offices like the mayor and local sheriff.  A few characteristics of a public office include:

  • Office created by statute;

  • On-going position;

  • Fixed term;

  • Requires oath of office; and

  • Includes school boards.

To maintain your non-profit status, your organization should take care not support or oppose candidates for any local, state, or federal positions.

Just because your non-profit organization isn’t permitted to express a view on a particular candidate doesn’t mean you can’t have a personal opinion. Just be careful; when you are expressing your personal views, be sure it is very clear that you are expressing your opinion and not the opinion of your organization. Don’t use any of your organization’s resources when expressing your opinion. This applies to print, verbal, and online communications.

Some examples: while at work (or being paid even if you’re not in the office), be sure to NOT electioneer for your candidate, don’t wear your non-profit’s buttons, shirts or display other regalia at electioneering events (like candidate rallies and fundraisers, etc.), don’t use your work email in a way that suggests you support a particular candidate, and don’t make voting suggestions to anyone. If you pick up a bunch of yard signs for a particular candidate and want to offer them to your co-workers, don’t use your or their office email to extend the offer.

The IRS will consider all the facts if there is a suggestion that your organization violated the rule against electioneering.  It’ll look at blogs, emails, newsletters, social media posts, etc. Avoid talking about candidates at work, or representing your organization at election-related events, and you’ll avoid putting your organization’s non-profit status at risk.

Showing Up and Speaking Up – CFSA Advocacy Work Makes a Difference


By Stephanie Campbell, CFSA’s Outreach Coordinator

Kat Spann of Prodigal Farm in Rougemont, NC, knows first-hand how important it is for our legislators to hear our stories and see the direct impact their policies have on their constituents and the communities they represent.

“We all need to work as a team with CFSA,” she says, “being willing to step up and do something – attend Ag Day and other local, county and state agricultural gatherings, send an email, make a phone call, and, sometimes, show our face.”

Kat encourages us all to “be authentically yourself and tell your own story.” She tells her own story of the day she was all dressed up to speak before the Durham County Commissioners about zoning ordinances for farmers markets. While waiting for their issue to come up on the agenda, she was called back to the farm to care for a doe having trouble delivering her kids.

A couple hours later, after suffering her only loss of a doe during birthing, she checked back in and found that the Commissioners had not yet gotten to her item on the agenda. She decided to head back to the meeting and speak, covered in manure, urine, placenta, and her own tears because “this is what farmers look like.”

Spann-EOY-2015 - GIVEIt was a powerful image. Farmers are often out of sight and out of mind for elected leaders. It is up to us to put a face on the issues that affect farmers. Many elected officials don’t know a farmer, but we can change that.

CFSA staff, members, partners and friends work together to advocate for fair farm and food policies. We work to change agriculture laws and regulations to benefit local and organic small and mid-sized farms.

Kat’s advocacy work isn’t new for her. When Kat and partner, Dave Krabbe, moved to the farm from New York City, they learned that a biocontainment laboratory for the study of diseases that threaten both America’s animal agricultural industry and public health was planned to be built down the road from the farm. This was alarming since it would put research on diseases which have no current cure or treatment right in their community. Plans for the farm were put on hold as they spent more than a year in full-time grassroots advocacy and lobbying. Some of the lessons learned were how important research, verification and credibility are for successful opposition as well as showing legislators the real impact of an action on the constituency they serve.

Prodigal Farm was established by Kat Spann and Dave Krabbe in 2007 and has grown toProdigal Farms (21) become an Animal Welfare Approved goat farm and licensed farmstead cheese dairy. Kat names each of their kids each spring – 175 this year – and knows most of them by name and personality. Building and licensing their milking and production facility was another opportunity for policy, advocacy and lobbying work, this time on issues of appropriate dairy waste systems. Kat eventually spoke before the House and Senate Ag Committee which resulted in the introduction of a scale-appropriate law which now is beneficial to goat and cow dairies, as well as wineries, pickle making, and other value-added farm businesses.

“We all need to work as a team with CFSA,” she says, “being willing to step up and do something – attend Ag Day and other local, county and state agricultural gatherings, send an email, make a phone call, and, sometimes, show our face.”

Kat, along with her senior farm hand Will Bahr, Genell Pridgen of Rainbow Meadow Farm, and Suzanne Nelson of Haw River Ranch, were recognized by CFSA this year for hand-delivering a letter signed by 40 farmers to Gov. McCrory in opposition to House Bill 405 (known as the Ag Gag bill). Kat insists that she didn’t “do much” in this case but again emphasizes that each farmer must be willing to step up and do something.

For Kat, CFSA is an essential part of the team farmers need. Farmers have little time to read the full legal briefs and parse the nuances of the regulations but they do care passionately about the outcomes. So does CFSA.

CFSA staff can do the research, develop the connections, and build the relationships to provide the strong foundation farmers need on which to do their part. Kat reminds us “CFSA knows when our stories need telling – and our role is to show up and speak up!”

Prodigal Farm is a finalist in the national Good Food Awards – read more here.

Read more about the advocacy work of CFSA at www.carolinafarmstewards.org/advocacy/

Your gift to CFSA is one of the best ways you can support local farmers and champion food that is good for consumers, good for farmers and farmworkers, and good for the land.

Please give today.

You can donate online at /give

or mail a check to CFSA, PO Box 448, Pittsboro, NC 27312