Tuesday was Local Foods Day at the Legislature, and it kicked off a week of activity around local food-related bills at the Capitol.
Rulemaking for Farmers Market Vendor Permit Moves Forward
The West Virginia Farmers Market Association (WVFMA) succeeded in passing a bill last year to make a single statewide permit for vendors to sell at farmers markets. The bill required the Department of Agriculture to promulgate rules to set up the permitting program.
These rules were drafted by the Department in the summer and submitted to the Legislature for acceptance during the 2016 session. In a sense, when you pass a bill that includes a rule-making provision, you have to pass two bills for that issue: the original bill and your rules bill.
The rules bill for the vendor permit took a step closer to passage on Tuesday in the House Agriculture Committee meeting. The committee amended the rule to change the date that the permit has to be renewed from June 30 to December 31. This was the main change the Farmers Market Association was seeking in the rule. Many vendors had been concerned that a June renewal date would be difficult to keep up with, as that time is the height of the vendor season.
The amendment rule passed out of the Agriculture Committee and now moves on to the Judiciary committee for final passage before going to the House floor. The rule is one step further to passage, but still has quite a few steps to go before March 13.
Local Procurement – a WV Food & Farm Priority
The West Virginia Food and Farm Coalition (WVFFC) identified three top legislative priorities for this session.
The first bill to be introduced to support these priorities was introduced in the Senate on Tuesday. SB 390, sponsored by Agriculture Committee Chairman Senator Robert Karnes, provides for bidding preferences for local farm vendors in West Virginia.
The bill expands preferential bidding in state purchasing to include resident farm vendors, in addition to resident veteran vendors, nonresident vendors who employ 100 or more state residents, and other special groups.
The bill also sets out an aspirational goal of at least 15 percent of all state procurement being sourced from West Virginia farm vendors by 2025.
SB 390 is single-referenced to the Senate Government Organization Committee. If you care about this bill, call the Senate Government Organization Committee chairman, Sen. Craig Blair and ask him to put it on the agenda so it can move to the Senate floor for a vote. Senator Blair can be reached at 304-357-7867.
Joey Aloi, with the Kanawha Institution for Social Research and Action (KISRA), wrote an Op-Ed advocating for this bill in the Charleston Gazette-Mail in November.
Farm to Foodbank – Increasing Fresh Produce Donations
In 2015 the Mountaineer Food Bank moved more than 11 million pounds of food to food pantry and other donation sites within 48 counties in West Virginia.
More than 6 million pounds of fresh produce goes unharvested or unsold across America each year. West Virginia’s foodbanks and food pantries noticed this disconnect in 2015, and have been advocating for a legislative solution to try to capture some of that wasted produce and send it into the homes of the most needy West Virginia families.
SB 399, the Farm to Foodbank bill (or as it’s known in the more long-winded Senate, the “Establishing personal and corporate income tax credits for farmers donating edible agricultural products” bill), would provide tax credits for farmers who donate or sell fresh produce to food banks.
Modeled after similar legislation in Kentucky, the bill would serve to incentivize farmers to ship that unharvested and unsold produce to food banks.
This type of tax incentive is useful because there are barriers to getting fresh food into foodbanks – most immediately the transport costs that farmers bear to move their produce to centralized food donation sites.
This bipartisan bill, sponsored by Senator Karnes and Senator Miller (the Democratic Agriculture Committee chair in 2014), was introduced on Wednesday and is headed to the Agriculture Committee first. Keep an eye out for it when the committee meets next Monday at 1 p.m. You can listen to that committee meeting at West Virginia Legislature Live.
Expect To See This In The Days Ahead…
The WVFFC and WVFMA are working on additional bills to move forward local industries around home-based processing (the “Pickle Bill”) and to support the work of the West Virginia Surface Owners Rights Organization (SORO).
In 2015, WVFFC partnered with the WVU College of Law to produce a primer on mineral severance for WV farmers. That work, and the prioritization of land ownership issues identified by WVFFC members, led to the organization supporting the work of SORO to protect surface owner rights relating to mineral activity, particularly natural gas drilling.
Those bills are still in the works, and we will give an update on them next week…