Too Good to Waste

Too Good to Waste

Food is wasted along the many routes in our food system as it is grown, processed, transported, sold, stored, and prepared. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. generates more than 37 million tons of food waste annually, 95 percent of which ends up in landfills or incinerators. That amounts to over 200 pounds of wasted food per every American every year!

Food waste in landfills combines with anaerobic conditions (lack of air) to create methane, a powerful greenhouse gas 25 times more harmful than carbon dioxide. Landfills are responsible for 18 percent of total methane emissions in the U.S., which contributes significantly to climate change.

Waste waiting for the landfill. Ninety-five percent of the 37 million tons of food waste we produce annually ends up in landfills, when combined with anaerobic conditions, generates methane. Photo by Heidi Copeland.

Nationally, we can prevent and recover food waste by implementing techniques such as standardized food labeling, streamlined donations to foodbanks, the creation of secondary grocers, industrial composting, clean energy creation through treatment plant digestion, business and consumer education, and changing overall food policy.

But as a gardener, what can you do to help? If you grow fruits and vegetables, you are already helping, as this means the food from your garden did not have to travel long distances to get on your dinner table. If you actively compost your kitchen scraps, you are also helping, as Americans throw out nearly 40 percent of food purchased. Here are a few other simple life-style changes you might want to try:

  • Purchase more locally produced food. Buying local not only supports local farmers, but the food most likely used fewer resources than non-local food on its way to market.
  • Learn canning and pickling techniques. Homegrown fruits and vegetables are as fresh as you can get, and canning can then preserve this food for months.
  • Store food properly and keep perishables and leftovers in plain sight in the refrigerator so you see them every time you open the door. Investing in a good set of clear glass reusable containers can securely store leftovers, make them easier to identify, and can be safely heated for quick consumption.
  • Don’t throw out something just because it is past the date on the label. Unless it is baby food or formula – which federal law mandates be dated to ensure consumption when most nutritious – these dates refer only to peak quality. If the items do not show signs of spoilage, such as an off odor, texture, flavor, they are safe to consume.

Still Time to Register for the Panhandle Fruit & Vegetable Conference!

Register today for the 2018 Panhandle Fruit & Vegetable Conference!  The Panhandle Fruit & Vegetable Conference is scheduled for February 19th & 20th.  On the 19th we will go on an afternoon farm tour in Baldwin County, AL that will end with dinner (included) at Auburn University’s Gulf Coast Research and Extension Center in Fairhope.  Educational sessions with guest speakers from University of Florida, Auburn University, and Texas A&M University will be held on February 20th where topics will include Citrus Production, Vegetable Production, Protected Ag Production, Marketing/Business, Food Safety, and Fruit & Nut Production.  A full list of topics can be found here.  Fifty dollars (plus $4.84 processing fee) covers the tour and dinner on the 19th and educational sessions, breakfast, and lunch on the 20th!  The complete agenda is now available.  Use your mouse or finger to “click” on the image below for full screen viewing.

Make sure to register by Wednesday, February 14th! – Registration Link

Meet the Panhandle Fruit and Vegetable Conference Keynote Speaker

Every gardener should know a thing or two about farming. Join UF/IFAS Extension at the 2018 Panhandle Fruit and Vegetable Conference to not only learn about market vegetable production, fruit and nut production, and much more, but also to attend the pre-conference farm tour and listen to a speech by the Keynote Speaker, Dr. Joy Rumble, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Agricultural Education and Communication at the University of Florida.

Dr. Joy Rumble, the 2018 Panhandle Fruit and Vegetable Conference Keynote Speaker.

Dr. Rumble is originally from Mount Gilead, Ohio. She earned a bachelor of science degree from The Ohio State University, majoring in animal science. During her undergraduate studies, Dr. Rumble raised livestock, worked as an intern on two large swine operations, and served as a summer intern for the USDA Farm Service Agency. She earned a master of science degree in agricultural communication and continued her education at the University of Florida, where she graduated with her doctorate in agricultural education and communication in 2013.

Dr. Rumble is now an Assistant Professor and Extension Programming Coordinator with the University of Florida. Her research focus is effective communication and raising awareness of agricultural and natural resources issues within the agricultural industry. She concentrates many of her outreach initiatives at the UF/IFAS Center for Public Issues Education in Agriculture and Natural Resources (PIE Center).

At the PIE Center, Dr. Rumble strives to measure knowledge, behaviors, and perceptions of agriculture of Florida constituents and responds to the many economic, environmental, and social challenges we face within the state. She often shares her findings through the Easy as PIE webinar series to allow both the public and Florida’s policymakers to make informed decisions to preserve the assets of the state’s agricultural and natural resources. Most recently, Dr. Rumble was a speaker for an Easy as PIE webinar to discuss a statewide strategic plan for agritourism.

Dr. Rumble’s service as the UF/IFAS Extension Programming Coordinator creates improved citizen awareness of agriculture and natural resources through UF/IFAS County Extension Offices.

Dr. Rumble assisting with a UF/IFAS campus tour for Florida Senator Bill Nelson’s staff on October 18th, 2016.

Make plans to attend the 2018 Panhandle Fruit and Vegetable Conference on Tuesday, February 20, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., at the University of West Florida Conference Center (11000 Conference Parkway, Building 22) in Pensacola, Florida. You will learn about the importance of agricultural communication from Dr. Rumble directly, and attend conference educational tracts on North Florida Citrus Production, Fruit and Nut Production, Vegetable Production, Marketing, Food Safety, and Protected Agriculture. The conference will also provide an opportunity for networking and give you a chance to meet farmers from across our region.

Also included in the conference ticket price is the pre-conference “Buy Local” farm tour on Monday, February 19, 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. Tour buses will start out at the University of West Florida and will make three stops, traveling to the Gulf Coast Research and Extension Center in Fairhope, Alabama, a hydroponic vegetable farm in Daphne, Alabama, and the Allegri Farm Market, also in Daphne, Alabama.

For more information and registration visit https://pfvc2.eventbrite.com. Early bird registration is $50 (+ service fee), before February 1, 2018. Your registration includes continental breakfast, lunch, refreshments, educational materials, and transportation to the farm tour locations. We look forward to seeing you there!

Farmers Prepare for the New Food Safety Standards

If you are a farmer, you have most likely heard about the Food Safety Modernization Act, or FSMA, by now. If you are not a farmer, you probably do not know that food safety regulations are going through a big change. The FSMA, which was passed in 2011, is considered the largest update to food safety regulation in over 80 years.

The proposed produce safety rule under the FSMA is very robust, establishing the minimum standards for worker training, health and hygiene, agricultural water use, animal soil amendments, on-farm domesticated and wild animals, equipment, tools, buildings, and sprout production.

But this new rule will not apply to all farmers. The commodities they produce and the value of their produce sold will ultimately dictate whether they will need to comply.

First, the rule does not apply to produce that is not a raw agricultural commodity, or commodities the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has identified as “rarely consumed raw.” Secondly, if a farm has an average value of produce sold of $25,000 or less within the previous three years, they are also exempt.

If the farmer produces an agricultural commodity in which the rule applies and the value of their produce sold is over $25,000, it is still possible the farm will be exempt from most of the requirements.

Fresh cucumbers, for example, are considered a raw commodity. But cucumbers that will undergo further processing, such as for pickling, would be eligible for exemption from the produce rule. Photo by Molly Jameson.

For instance, if the average annual monetary value of food sold directly to qualified end-users was more than the average annual value of the food sold to all other buyers within the previous three-year period, the farmer would meet the first half of exemption eligibility.

What is a “qualified end-user”, you ask? They are considered the consumers of the food, or restaurant or retail food establishment, located with the same state as the farm that produced the food (or no more than 275 miles).

But even if farmers meet the above exemption eligibility standards, they must also meet the second requirement. That is, the average annual monetary value of all food sold during the three-year period must be less than $500,000, when adjusted for inflation.

If this all sounds confusing, you are not alone! This is why the FDA developed a chart to help farmers determine if they will be exempt: Standards for Produce Safety – Coverage and Exemptions/Exclusions for Proposed 21 PART 112.

Whether farms will be exempt from the FSMA produce safety rule or not, it is always a good idea to follow good agricultural practices and to have a farm food safety plan. To learn more about food safety on farms, view the EDIS document Food Safety on the Farm: An Overview of Good Agricultural Practices.

If you are a farmer, or know someone who would benefit from having a food safety plan, the UF Small Farms Academy Extension Agents are offering a Building Your Own Farm’s Food Safety Manual Workshop in Tallahassee to help growers develop their own food safety manuals.

The workshop is tailored to fresh fruit and vegetable farms, fields, or greenhouses and is partially supported by a grant through the Florida Specialty Crops Block Grant program from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Service.

The registration fee is $35 for the first person representing a farm and $15 for an additional attendee from that farm. The workshop is limited to 20 farms on a first come, first serve basis.

The workshop will take place at the Amtrak Station, County Community Room, 918 Railroad Ave, in Tallahassee, FL, on Tuesday, May 23, 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Register on Eventbrite by following this link: https://farmfoodsafetymanualworkshop.eventbrite.com

Please note, this class will help farmers develop their farm’s food safety manual, but it does not fulfill the new FDA FSMA one-time training requirement.

So You Want to be a Farmer? Workshop Series

So You Want to be a Farmer? Workshop Series

Are you an avid gardener and looking to step it up a notch? Are your gardening eyes bigger than your dinner plate? If you have ever considered selling your bounty for market, you will certainly need to do your homework! One such step you can take is to attend the UF/IFAS Panhandle Extension Team’s So You Want to be a Farmer? Workshop Series.

There’s a lot to know if you want to get into this business! This series aims to introduce new or potential farmers to innovative and environmentally safe production practices, concepts of soil and water management, integrated pest management, how to grow for a farmers’ market, and farm financial management.

Agricultural professionals are actually in high demand. There is an estimated 60,000 highly skilled jobs in agriculture available annually, but only about half of these positions are being filled by graduates in agricultural fields. Additionally, Florida’s farmers are an aging group, and there was an 8% decrease in the number of farms and 26% decrease in acres of cropland from 2002 to 2012.

Fortunately, demand has greatly increased in recent years for locally produced specialty crops, meats, and dairy. There has also been an increase in the number of direct marketing opportunities and small farmers have been able to adopt new technologies, such as season extension techniques and local online marketing, to generate more revenue on small acreages.

The UF/IFAS Extension Panhandle Agriculture Team is hosting the So You Want to be a Farmer? Workshop Series to assist beginning or novice farmers as they navigate the many challenges of getting started.

If you are interested in attending, please register on the So You Want to be a Farmer? Eventbrite page. The cost is $10 per session, with sessions at multiple locations within the east Florida Panhandle.

Please see workshop dates and further details below:

Support Your Local Growers’ Markets

Support Your Local Growers’ Markets

Carrots and squash at the Lake Ella Growers' Market. Photo by Jennifer Taylor.

Carrots and squash at the Lake Ella Growers’ Market. Photo by Jennifer Taylor.

When you think of farmers’ markets, what is that comes to mind? Is it the customers perusing the tables, the vendors organizing their displays, the variety of colors of the fruits and vegetables, the aromas of many types of baked breads, the pop-up tents forming a loose circle…? Or is it all of these things wrapped up in a sense of community?

Lake Ella Growers Market - honey 1

Honey from Mac’s Honey and Bee Farm. Photo by Molly Jameson.

If you have not experienced a farmers’ market that evokes such senses, then you should stop by one of the farmers’ markets where vendors selling the produce actually grew it themselves. These markets are often referred to as growers’ markets.

Still not convinced? What is it that you are looking for? Liven up your summer dinner table with fresh blueberries grown in Monticello, sweet corn that hardly needs cooking, flavorful heirloom tomatoes, freshly dug potatoes, lime-green field peas, cucumbers with a crunch, sweet yellow onions, multi-colored oblong peppers, juicy garlic, yellow crook-neck squash, dark green zucchini, shitake mushrooms harvested off oak logs, herbs just picked that morning, edible flowers….

The adjectives used to describe the produce may seem like an exaggeration until you really dive into these flavors and learn about how they were grown, where they were grown, and why the farmer decided to concentrate his or her efforts on the particular varieties. And when you are at a growers’ market, don’t be shy! Ask the farmers what they are growing and the methods they use for farming. What has gone well, what has not. They very well may tell you it’s all in building the soil, conserving the water, and supporting diversity.

Jack from Crescent Moon, selling fresh baked bread. Photo by Molly Jameson.

Jack from Crescent Moon, selling fresh baked bread. Photo by Molly Jameson.

And don’t just come for the produce. At many growers’ markets, there are so many types of fresh-baked breads and cookies, local wildflower honey, local eggs, grass-fed meats, fruit preserves, hand-made soaps, and dried vegetables and powders.

Some growers’ markets in the Tallahassee area include the Lake Ella Growers’ Market, the Red Hills Online Market, the Frenchtown Heritage Marketplace, and the Sunshine Growers’ Market. If you do not live in the Tallahassee area, visit the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Community Farmers Markets locator to find farmers’ markets near you. Take some time to explore your farmers’ markets to see who is growing their own and what markets are growers’ markets. In this way, you can help support local farmers!