I had the opportunity to attend The Midlands food Summit hosted by The Midlands Local Food Collaborative on Monday. When I got the invite I had no idea what the event was, or what it was really about. Nor did I have a clue as to what The Midlands Local Food Collaborative was or what they stood for. Needless to say I was just tickled to be included in something to do with the midlands food movement.
After giving myself a bit of a pep-talk sitting in the car, I headed for the door of the Philips Center at the State Farmers Market. Once inside I quickly tried to find some familiar faces. Seeing a few made me more comfortable and I started to breathe a little bit easier. I found a seat and started to listen to the crowd around the table. I unknowingly sat with a group of Ag Teachers.
About an hour or so into the meeting I had a pretty clear view of who this collection of people are. I was extremely grateful to be present. They are people that work, lead and motivate our actual food system. It was everyone from Non-Profit Food Hubs, The USDA (Natural Resources Conservation Service), Farmers, Lenders (agricultural lenders that help get grants and such), to the consumer. It was a large group of entities and individuals that care about making our food sustainable.
I think I might have actually died and gone to Heaven for the few hours that I was there. Being able to learn about the challenges that our current farmers have was truly an eye opener for me. To realize that for our whole state, we only have two USDA certified slaughtering facilities gave me perspective on what our meat farmers are up against. For me to hear that our schools are not equipped to handle fresh food was another kicker. Are we not building kitchens in schools anymore? Or is it that there are so many regulations in regards to cooking real food, that the system just does not allow real food? I was learning all of this and more while we were brain storming ideas on how to solve such issues.
And that is where the beauty of this whole meeting came together. When a hundred or so people put their minds together to bring positive change, is when change can actually happen. We all understand that in today’s society that what we eat will not be 100 percent local. But to strive towards a goal that will allow more people to actually have access and eat food produced in South Carolina, is a goal all South Carolinian's should be working towards. If we want to avoid major price hikes and not knowing where our food comes from, we might want to take a moment to think of how much food is needed for each person, each day. Then think about how much land is actually being used to raise said food. And then, Think about who will farm that, because as of now the average age of a farmer is 59 years old.
My brain is still reeling from so much information, information such as the Food Safety Modification Act (FSMA) that was signed into law in back in 2011. (http://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/FSMA/ucm247548.htm ) It went into law but the FDA has yet to re-release its guidelines. Guidelines that when first released last year would have cause the organic farmer to be obsolete. Thankfully, the FDA is rewriting the guidelines, but they still expect that a number of small farms to be put out of business.
Whatever the FDA decides is appropriate, we as consumers can make the difference for our state by buying from our local farms, and of course by being active in organizations that lead the way in managing our food rights. I mean, how silly would it be if we could no longer have a farmers market because of regulations?