Who Spoke Up for DE Ag?

On Monday, August 13, I attended the public hearing at DE Dept. of Ag (DDA) regarding Executive Order 36. In my previous post, “Speak up on DE Ag Regulations“, I explained this order and announced the 3 hearing dates regarding agriculture in each county. At the Kent County meeting there were 3 public guests. According to Ed Kee, 5 public guests attended the Sussex hearing. The New Castle meeting was last week but I have not heard how it went.

There are several reasons I wanted to attend. The first is because I wanted to see how many others were interested in DE regulations related to agriculture. The second is because I’ve had the opportunity to study public policy and work in state government and I’ve learned that once regulations are put in place, they are very hard to remove. Sure, they can be amended but they are not always evaluated once put in place. So, I’m interested to see how this process works. And the third reason is, I was interested to see if any of the hot topics related to agriculture came up. What are the hot topics? In my opinion, they are Nutrient Management, Animal Welfare, and Food Safety/Food Supply.

Ed Kee, the DE Secretary of Ag, moderated the hearing and had several of his section heads present to address current regs. He opened by reading specifics of the order and stating the Governor’s wishes. He asked that we be specific when addressing regulations; not just to say all regulations are bad. Each agency within the executive branch must conduct a public comment period up until October 1. At the conclusion, agencies will evaluate comments and conduct their own review. In June 2013, the Governor’s office will submit changes made to the General Assembly.

The Secretary then introduced each of his staff members present. Who were the 3 attendees? Pam Bakerian-Executive Director of the DE Farm Bureau, Al Paoli-Director of the Small Business Development Center at DSU, and myself. He asked each of us to introduce ourselves and when doing so we had to sit in a specific chair so our voice could be recorded. Pam went first and complimented DDA for their long-standing committment to farmers. Al was up next and spoke to his small business experience and how we can work to gether to help farmers. He also stated how surprised he was that there weren’t more people in attendance. Ed commented that if it was for topics specifically, such as nutrient management, there probably would be. He said he also expects more attendance at DNREC and DOT’s hearings.

So then it was my turn. I introduced myself, explained my background in ag, and my current involvement-which is basically on the weekends, assisting my parents with picking, farmers markets, and marketing. This led into my comments regarding the increase of farmers markets and how well they have complimented my parent’s retail business. I also explained that it takes many people to make a farmers market successful-market managers, vendors, customers, downtown associations and many more. A change in just one of these can alter the success of a market. We recently experienced a change in management of the Downtown Milford Farmers Market as a newly formed committee took over the reigns. A request went out to vendors early in the season that all vendors must have a certain monetary level of liability insurance, which many vendors cannot afford. As a result, vendor participation decreased significantly. From what I heard, blame was put on DDA. However, the committee changed the requirement soon thereafter. I asked Secretary Kee, “Is this a regulation of DDA?” His response was “No, that it’s up to each individual farmer market”. Good to know. Then he had a question for me. He stated that he has received calls about vendors at markets stating or displaying organic produce when they are not actually certified organic. He asked, “Should DDA regulate this?”. My response? “No.” Even though it is a problem, it is something each market can monitor, just as they do with the insurance issue. How can they monitor it? By requesting a copy of vendor’s certification for organic production, making their own list of organic vendors, and making it public. DDA could help by listing certified organic producers on their public website; not necessarily regulating every market in the state. I also strongly believe each individual market knows what is best for their customers and vendors. Anyone else have ideas? Please let me know (cvanderwende@hotmail.com) or contact the Secretary himself!

If you would like to address current regulations, whether for agriculture or any other state agency, you still have until October 1 to submit a form online or printed. Now’s your chance!

3 thoughts on “Who Spoke Up for DE Ag?

  1. I think I’d want the truth if I was a farmer’s market customer. If you don’t sell organic-certified foods, then you shouldn’t advertise that you do. I don’t have time to check the market’s website or the Dept. of Ag website before shopping at a farmer’s market. I want the truth both in signage and in conversation with the farmer’s I talk to. Anyway, do farmer’s who sell conventionally-produced foods feel guilty or is mis-labeling a marketing scheme to raise prices? Conventional farmers should not bow to peer pressure!

  2. Sure, everyone wants the truth. But there is also a responsibility on consumers to know what to look for and educate themselves. In other words, an organic vendor should have his/her certified license displayed while selling. This is all you need to see or ask for. If they don’t have it, a consumer should not simply take their word. It’s just like the marketing with “trans-fats” vs. “low-fat”. Unless a consumer educates him/herself, he or she may have no clue what the difference is or what to look for and confuse the two terms.

    My dad (Farmer Dan) is a conventional farmer and refuses to bow to peer pressure. He is confident in the food he grows and instead commits to educating consumers that his food is healthy and his practices are safe. I do not think this is an issue of conventional farmers giving in. Instead, I think this is an issue of a few vendors just being dishonest. It is also very expensive to become certified organic. Therefore some farmers may grow pesticide free produce and just not be certified organic because they cannot afford the license (and paperwork!).

  3. Also, just wanted to clarify, Louise…….my thoughts on this issue is to have DDA keep a public master list, then it would be up to the market master or committee that oversees the market to check and regulate that vendors are being honest in marketing, etc. If an organic produce vendor signs up and pays to attend the market, the market master can ensure certification is visible. This alleviates the time and confusion for the consumer. If a vendor decides to verbally say they are organic, then its up to the consumer whether or not they believe them. Most market masters and/or committees are very involved in market processes.

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