Athens Food Policy Council Meeting
Wednesday, July 8th 2009
Village Bakery Patio 6:30-8:30
Next Meeting of AFPC: Wednesday Sept. 9 6:30PM Catalyst Cafe, West Union near SR 682.
Policy Council Members & Working Group: Athens Food Policy Council Coordinator Michelle Ajamian, RoseMary Roe & Courtney Denning-Public Land/Community Gardens, Sarah Conley-Ballew-Farmers Market Permanent Site, Bob Fedyski & Christine Hughes-Local/Institutional/School Buying, Nancy Pierce-Urban Agriculture/City Code, Larry Bermeister-Ohio University, Leslie Schaller-State Food Policy Council, ACEnet
Other Attenders: Paul Logue-Athens City Planner, Art Trese- Ohio University, Tom Redfern-Rural Action, Michelle Wasserman-Casa Nueva
Following introductions, working groups present reported.
Project #1: Garden-Friendly City Code update was given by Nancy Pierce. This committee's focus is on changing city ordinances to allow front/backyard vegetable gardening, composting, chickens, native plants, illustrating the important environmental benefits of native plants, allowing more market access for food (small retail establishments, food stands...), etc.
* Questions regarding city code were submitted at June's Town Hall Meeting in Athens. ( Is the city considering changing codes to allow for front/backyard gardens?, Is there a timeline for such changes? How can we (the FPC, citizens...) provide input/suggestions to the city?)
o Athens City officials responded positively to the working group questions. The main concern for an ordinance on vegetable garden is to make sure “garden” isn't a yard full of weeds (no one taking care of the yard). The city welcomed comments/suggestions and said to forward information to John Paskey of Code Enforcemnt, City Planner Paul Logue, and and Kent Butler of Council.
* The committee is currently doing research, looking at other cities with gardening programs as examples. Some cities with a major goal of sustainability have no or very little restrictions on landscaping. Nancy pointed out that the top five most livable cities have very little landscaping requirements
* The committee wants to promote the value of having gardens in front yards, for beauty, improving neighbor/community relationships, healthy environment, teaching kids about gardening, healthy eating, etc.
Michelle A. asked Nancy if she could make a list of links to the information she has researched for the FPC. These sites would be good to use as examples when the council makes recommendations to the city. Michelle will see that those links are posted on Ohio Food Shed.
Question for Paul Logue: How is current code on urban agriculture enforced?
A: Generally enforced based on complaints. The city has has to enforce rules on gardens in front yards when there is a complaint, generally the city does not get involved unless there is a complaint and would prefer neighbors to work differences out between each other rather than having the government get involved. The city wants to encourage these gardening behaviors not discourage them.
An Athens Farmers Market vendor who farms in the city had neighbors complain about the appearance of his garden (2006?). The vendor won the case. Neighbors thought his garden was a nuisance... this example has set a precedent for home owners being allowed to continue vegetable gardening. Positive education for the community via city ordinances change.
Paul suggested this working group and/or FPC get involved with the City of Athens Shade Tree Commission (http://www.ci.athens.oh.us/boards_treelike
). The commission is currently looking into fruit/food trees and rain gardens. Paul said the members of the commission have good backgrounds in forestry, but are less familiar with gardening and current food issues, suggesting the connection between AFPC and the commission would be a good way to exchange information.
Question for Paul: What's the deadline for code change? How long does it take to write an ordinance and make the change?
A: Bring it up at committee – can take about a month and a half. The council is off during August so September would be the ideal time after council takes a break to introduce suggestions.
A working group meeting is set for August 6 with Kent Butler of Council to begin drafting new code.
Ronda Clark, the Executive Director of Community Food Initiatives offered more updates on project #1 (Garden-Friendly City Code) and project #3: More Community Gardens
* A yearlong VISTA has been hired to do policy work concerning school and city code and gardening. Several grants have been applied for, waiting to hear back from them.
* Ronda was recently nominated for and won the 2009 national Garden Crusader award. The award is granted by a garden center and gives $1,000 for gardening supplies. (http://www.gardeners.com/Garden-Crusader-Awards/5549,default,pg.html
* CFI currently has 12 gardens in 2 counties with a grant to create 5 more gardens
* Ronda feels change regarding gardens in front/backyards and chickens won't be hard to pass in the next six to eight months, the city is basically in support of the change, main concern is cleanliness of gardens and chickens.
* Currently working with Kent Butler to guarantee the West State Street gardens are secure for the next 100 years.
* The potential for new food growing sites was discussed including land near the water treatment facility. Land has been offered by the city and the Hocking River Conservancy for gardening. Currently CFI members are not interested in one of those plots because of proximity to the water treatment plant and the smell. (Several council member mentioned the potential for the site to grow staple crops. The land is east of the highway, south of State Street near the new dog park and beyond. Also land immediately west of the treatment facility is available for use, approximately five acres of open space with no current use designation.)
* Current gardens/farmers markets to support: gardens at Hope Apartments, tended by kids and teens who sell their goods at the Athens Farmers Market; Trimble Township Farmers Market on Fridays, have a new sign advertising the market
* CFI is having a film festival, may play: King Corn, The Real Dirt on Farmer John, or The World According to Monsanto, Art Trese also recommended the film The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived the Peak Oil Crisis
* Food Inc. is coming to the Athena on July 24th
* CFI is also hosting their Harvest Dinner this September 25th (Friday evening), tickets are $30 each and CFI grows/makes all food. The event is likely to be held at the Eclipse
Question asked of Art regarding the permanence of the plant biology department's (at OU) gardens at West State Street. Art said they are supposed to be permanent, the University doesn't plan to expand or build on that land; the department has been given permission to do what they want with it. OU stopped mowing/brush hogging the land (without the gardens) and the area is going to weeds.
* Sarah Conley mentioned that the Capstone apartments on US 50 West have recently put in a community garden for apartment renters
* Jill Clark of Ohio State University was mentioned as currently working to identify rural food deserts, creating a database
* Ronda Clark and Lori Gromen are working on a putting Athens fruit trees on Google Maps and persuading the city to promote the planting of fruit trees rather than ornamentals. Would like local companies and businesses to become involved in food production for their employees.
+ This article from the New York Times might be of interest:
* An adopt a tree program with the fruit trees – fruit trees have higher maintenance to get a nice sized crop–was suggested as was looking at cities with similar programs
I have a list of websites for cities with fruit tree programs:
Bob Fedyski, coordinator of Project #5: City Goes Local! (Local & Institutional Buying), gave an update on the committee's progress.
* During research it was discovered that the city does not buy food for events, thus, the city cannot be persuaded to purchase local food for events.
* The Athens Chamber of Commerce has yet to get back with the working group. Bob will recontact them since there were issues with internet at the time.
* Restaurant & school buying- Trimble Elementary School is currently/planning to distribute free food to families who qualify. The working group wants to work for institutional change at all levels (supermarkets, retail, restaurants, schools, day care, nursing homes, hospitals) to purchase more locally grown/produced food.
o Cafeteria workers in schools do not want the extra work required in cooking local foods, processed foods take less work to prepare for consumption. It was suggested that if the schools switched to local food, more jobs could be created during summer months, hiring employees normally laid off for the summer, to do food preservation.
Project coordinator for project #2: City Adoption of Athens Green Guide was not available to give an update of project status.
The update for project #6: A Permanent Home for Athens Farmers Market, was given by Sarah Conley. There are currently no new developments as far as where to relocate. The Farmer's Market Association would like to remain on East State Street, where the market has been located since its inception in the early 70s. It has been at the Market on State since 1999.
* The current concerns for this committee are: is there a suitable location for sale along East State Street? Are there enough funds to relocate the market? Will there be an American reinvestment fund available for the creation of public markets?
* Looking for other funding mechanisms, possibly via a tax increase. The Arts, Parks and Recreation committee is looking at new tax structures to fund an indoor aquatic center with outdoor pool. Concern was noted about taxes being raised for recreation – can a tax be raised to fund food projects? Could we tag our project for the market onto the pool project tax – people recreating and eating in one location? (There doesn't appear to be enough room right now at current community center for the farmer's market to join – might be interested in a whole different property)
* There is a tremendous amount of community support for the Athens farmers market – how can we demonstrate that there are enough voters, residents of the city who would vote for a tax for the market – could we have a table at the farmer's market?
* What's the risk with current location? Currently have a lease agreement with private property owners – if redevelopment occurs, parking would not allow enough space for market to stay – theater parking not supposed to mix with mall parking. Lease is currently based on a month to month basis.
* The committee feels a well planned foundational campaign to fundraise with high target/goal in order to promote relocating the market is necessary. Currently, however, we don't have a fundraising campaign or plan of where to move – need to engage the community so they feel ownership/responsibility for their market. Some association members/vendors are wary about discussing moving the market in public – there is a fear that this could hurt the lease agreement or create disagreement/tension among members. Some vendors plan to not continue with market if location is moved.
* Long term planning has not yet been part of culture of market association – if the city and the market association knew how many people or what percentage of the city would be willing to pay higher taxes, it might make vendors/association feel more secure about a move.
* Data collection in the form of car/people counts, surveys, etc. would be extremely helpful.
* Could the market purchase an “outlot” or buy part of the parking lot for Wednesday and Saturday. It would remain an open air market, essentially buying part of the parking lot and would be in a secure location even if the mall were sold.
Michelle Ajamian and Rose Roe gave the update for project #4: Staple Grain, Bean, & Seed Crops on Public Agricultural Land.
* Rose is currently researching wellhead protection in our area. There are 17 public water systems in Athens Co., most purchase water from Burr Oak Lake which has an on-site treatment plant. The city of Athens is one of the very few areas that owns land with wellhead areas. Nelsonville is working to create their own wellhead protection areas. A wellhead protection area in Washington Co., donated land from the 1930s, have been planting crops around the wellhead and have seen a decrease in nitrates in the water. Nelsonville farmers and other village farmers are not interested in growing crops on wellhead areas.
* The protective structure of Athens wellhead areas is flexible enough to make it possible to farm on the protection areas.
* The Commissioners have applied for a conservation grant for the county farm on route 13, which will mean the floodplain of the farm will return to forest. That same land is under a conservation easement through Soil & Water for which the farmer who had the lease to farm that land (Eric Brooks) is being paid under a contract not to farm. Questions arose about how that contract would be impacted if the grant to return the floodplain to forest is enacted. Areas outside of the floodplain would not be covered by the grant may be a good area for a crop demonstration site.
* Another potential crop demonstration site is the Athens water treatment plant. The area is very visible to the public and easy to get to. A harvest festival was suggested as a way to inform the public about the potential of public lands for growing staple crops locally. The festival could take place on a Saturday when the farmers market is running, visitors would be shown the harvesting and processing of wheat, etc.
* Michelle spoke of a retired engineer, Job Ebenezer of Technologyforthepoor.com with a bicycle powered grain/corn threshing machine he developed for women in India and Africa. The bike used to process the grain is still usable as a riding bike, has a carrier over back wheel to make the bike stationary, shells corn. A demonstration site with the bike could be set up at the farmer's market.
* Update on the efforts to work with local farmers and open a mill is that Brandon Jaeger and Michelle Ajamian arevery close to opening up a milling facility (Shagbark Seed & Mill) at ACEnet. Planning to open August 1st, to mill and clean beans, seed storage, pressing oil for local cooking oil. The grant for this project is for one year, if the project goes well, will be able to continue for more than a year. A family business that has manufactured seed cleaners since the 1920s, small to industrial size, run by motor, is making a machine for the project. Planning to modify the machine to use with a bicycle. Their recent visit to Wooster in Wayne Co. to meet two spelt farmers, buy a dehuller, and visit research plots at OSU run by Deb Stinner.
* All of the research/work accomplished thus far will be presented at the July 30th event, Making a Regional Bean, Grain and Seed Food System at the Eclipse Company Store in The Plains, the event will run from 6:30 – 9:30 PM. Will have food made from amaranth, etc. for sampling.
Highlights from the statewide Ohio Food Policy meeting:
* The Cleveland-Cuyahoga Food Policy Coalition (http://www.cccfoodpolicy.org/
), Michelle posted their powerpoint on Ohio FoodShed. Have a lot of businesses participation – could we get more business participation? Wide array of projects since 2004 creation through statewide agrarian center, health department angle (to end hunger)
* Idea of how to sustain a food policy council in a community, importance of funding somebody to run it, having a budget, working with their OSU extension offices for funding – could we do that here? Can we find a funding source to pay someone to run the council?
* Trying to figure out when/where to have meeting for Southeast Ohio food policy meeting, Athens or Nelsonville? Could use it to promote what the Athens Food Policy council is working on. Need input for time of year, need to be completed this year. October or November was suggested. Please put any input on the Ohio FoodShed site.
Reminders before next meeting:
* Come to the Staple Foods Collaborative event at Eclipse on July 30. Call Michelle at 590-1501 to RSVP so food can be planned accordingly
* Be sure to join Ohio FoodShed. (http://ohiofoodshed.ning.com/
). This networking site is our main form of communication in between meetings. The site is used for sharing events, information, info on all local farmer's markets, community gardens, organizations, farmers, buyers, stores, great resource – it can grow into exactly what we need it to be for regional food security!
* Think about your interest in participating in the food policy council for the next year – still meeting every 2 months – are you interested in joining a subcommittee or creating one?
* Take the survey on Casa Nueva services/products (http://www.casanueva.com/
), so far Michelle Wasserman has received 235 responses and is looking for more feedback!
* Vote for the Athens Farmers Market as America’s Favorite farmers market! Visit http://www.care2.com/farmersmarket
to vote - encourage your friends, families – everyone! to vote! Athens is currently in 7th place with 552 votes. The winning market wins $5,000, every week, a random market wins $250 and the top 20 vote recruiters win $50. The contest runs until September. Sarah would like to set up a table at the market with laptop(s) so market patrons can vote as well. If you’d like to volunteer your laptop and time, contact Sarah
* Please provide feedback on the following documents (to be made available on Ohio FoodShed): Farmers Market Food Safety Policy Statement and the Food Safety Working Group Key Findings. Remember that the food recalls that have made recent news have all been from large multinational food corporations – these changes in code could greatly affect small scale farmers.
The next Athens Food Policy Council meeting will be held on Wednesday evening, September 9th at 6:30 at Catalyst Café on 540 West Union .
We may meet at the Plant Biology Department gardens before the meeting to take a look at the gardens. Stay tuned.