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Archive for December, 2010

Happy Holidays!

Our featured winery for this holiday is Four JG’s in Colt’s Neck.

The winery has been in operation since 1999 and the family has been involved in Monmouth County farming for several generations. The farm itself dates back to the early 18th century, overlooks Big Brook and was part of the underground railroad. The tasting room sits in a part of the house dating back to the 18th century.

The owners are very friendly and offered impromptu tours and barrel tastings. Their blush wine varietal makes an excellent “adult smoothy” which we’ll be serving at our annual New Years Day open house. I enjoyed their Riesling which stacks up well against the Finger Lakes Rieslings I love. We took a drive over one cold, gray November afternoon when they were open and had a fun time.

Four JG’s a great place to stop by, whether you live in Monmouth County or are just visiting for the day.

127 Hillsdale Road, Colts Neck, NJ 07722
(908) 930-8066

Call first, or check the web site to see when they are open.

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Jill Richardson at La Vida Locavore has a good post up today on her thoughts about the Food Bills that were just passed in the lame duck session. Jill makes an interesting observation that of all the bills passed across the range of policy and budget initiatives, none had real or clearly defined opposition or “enemies” Jill then drills down and looks at how the food bills just passed have ignored three critical issues facing food safety and school/child nutrition:

1.) Exemption of USDA and meat and poultry from this round of reform.
2.) Lack of restructuring of the food regulatory apparatus to make it more efficient and coordinated
3.) Lack of robust funding to really enable increased food safety activities and the implementation of truly healthy food systems within schools.

She’s right, but…and it’s a big but. Over the last twenty years we’ve moved away from what former New Jersey Governor Jim Florio described at the 2009 Blue Raritan conference as “command and control regulations” like the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts to what Mary Graham describes as Democracy by Disclosure. Graham argues that democracy, or regulation, by disclosure represents the emergence of a new regulatory system enabled by advances in technology and networking that allow for increased access to collected data and information. The emergence of these disclosure systems allows citizens, consumers and third parties access to significant amounts of information and data for review and analysis. Governor Florio echoed this in his comments when he stated that a more behavioral approach to regulation had been replacing these older models of enforcement and directives. Like almost everything, there is good and bad with each approach. The Clean Air and Water acts resulted in tremendous strides in cleaning up our waterways and the air we all breathe, however as policy controversies grow more and more sticky or intractable, strong comprehensive measures become more difficult to pass. Disclosure systems that become law, or elements of a policy, enable conflicting stakeholders to move forward on the policy controversy instead of becoming stuck.

The food labeling controversies of the late 1980s and early 1990s are extensively covered by Graham and the compromises required — which reached the desk of President George H.W. Bush — mirror the contemporary compromises Richardson dislikes in her post. The same conflicts between HHS and Agriculture (or more specifically between the FDA and USDA) that Jill cites in her post are the same ones that arose during the food labeling debates.

Fights over food labeling policy in the first Bush administration and the Food Safety & Modernization Act of 2010 both highlight critical issues over structural design within emerging regulatory disclosure systems. Classic issues of federalism such as the appropriate roles of state and federal governments in regulation, commercial speech (based upon free speech protections in the U.S. Constitution), and the complexity and display of disclosed information to consumers and other stakeholders all engendered significant controversy in food labeling policy twenty years ago and in food safety policy this year.

These structural issues represent areas of contention among stakeholders with vested interests in food and nutrition issues. Conflicts between the FDA and the Agriculture Department reflected the different mandates of these two policymakers and the inherent conflict between the needs of consumers and food producers and manufacturers. The broader conflict or frame within these debates is the classic one of a citizen’s republic vs. a commercial republic which has permeated American politics since it’s founding. The conflict over food labeling and food safety gets elevated to the highest realms of U.S. policymaking because it represents core, conflicting frames that get played out in areas like commercial speech, the role of state and federal governments and the display or disclosure of information.

These issues also played out during the progressive era when regulatory systems began to emerge in response to public and government pressures over mass industrialization. Robert Wiebe’s classic The Search for Order” details the ways in which professionals and businesses sought to mediate the multiple pressures being placed on them by attempting to organize policy and politics at the federal level as a way of avoiding more rigorous regulation and requirements at the state and local levels. Conversely, the federal government under Teddy Roosevelt sought to impose federal regulations that protected people from lax or corrupt governments at the state and local levels leading to a political environment where critical business sectors like food and transportation would become regulated at the federal level.

In today’s world, we are replaying many of these same battles, but the difference is that we have more immediate, personal technologies, underpinned by massive amounts of computing power and an emerging mobile communications infrastructure. Blogs like La Vida Locavore help build a conversation space in which ideas, examples and policy alternatives can be explored that contribute to the evolution of food policy over time. Twenty years ago, we didn’t have the ability to our organize our thoughts collectively online and think together about possible policy alternatives and formulations. The Food Safety & Modernization Act of 2010 is the first step in reinventing food policy in the United States for the 21st century. Our next steps are to think about ways of adapting both the Food Safety and Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Acts for bioregional food systems and to monitor the implementation of the act to see what happens in practice. What’s always needed is more conversation, more organizing, more research and analysis and more hard asks.

We need to start thinking now. What do we want to ask of our Senators and Congresspeople on food policy next year, the year after that, and the year after that?

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Overlooked over the last several weeks as fiscal, tax and foreign policy dominated the headlines and the talk shows, were significant advancements in national food policy. The Food Safety Bill is on it’s way to the President’s desk for his signature. For the first time ever, the bill permits the FDA to order food recalls and is the largest overhaul of food safety rules and regulations since the Great Depression. As always, the devil is in the details and the impact of increased regulations, the tracking of food through the supply chain and compliance costs on small farmers and growers will need to be watched. The small producers and sustainable farmers have the best safety records when it comes to food and shouldn’t have to pay for breakdowns in the system at the agribusiness level.

More importantly perhaps is the passage of The Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act which reauthorized funding for Federal school meal and child nutrition programs ($4.5 billion over 10 years) while authorizing the USDA to set nutritional standards for food that is regularly sold in schools. Additional funding is available to schools that meet updated nutritional standards for federally subsidized school lunches.

The Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act also enables farm to school programs, the creation of school gardens and an overall increase of locally produced foods within school environments.

Food Policy may just turn out to be the signature policy initiative of the Obama administration.

Here’s a collection of articles and reporting on the President’s food policy initiatives:

Politico: Food safety bill sent to Barack Obama’s desk

Senate Passes Food Safety Bill

Politico: School-nutrition bill signed

Slow Food USA: Child Nutrition Bill Passes!

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Great column by Mark Di Ionno of the Star Ledger on New Jersey’s diverse landscape. He takes a drive from Union City in Hudson County to Union Township in Hunterdon County on a cold winter’s night to tell the tale of small town Jersey — which exists in more places than you can imagine.

Di Ionno: Regardless of ‘most densely populated’ title, N.J. landscape is diverse

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