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tv   Farm Owners Testify on Food Supply Chain  CSPAN  July 4, 2021 5:05am-7:00am EDT

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chair plaskett: this hearing of the subcommittee on horticulture and research entitled supply chain recovery and resiliency, small producers in local agricultural markets will come to order. welcome and thank you for joining today's hearing. after brief opening remarks, members will receive testimony from our witnesses today. and then the hearing will be opened to questions. members will be recognized in the order of scenor alternating between majority and minority members. in order of arrival for those members who joined us after the hearing was called to order. when you are recognized, you will be asked if you are on video to unmute your microphone and we'll have five minutes to ask your questions or make a statement.
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if you are not speaking, i ask that you remain muted in order to minimize background noise. in order to get as many questions as possible, the timer will stay consistently visible on your screen. i want to thank my colleagues and witnesses for joining us today as we host this important discussion on the consequences of recovery from the covid-19 pandemic on small producers serving local markets. i would also like to welcome you-all to the first subcommittee hearing for biotechnology, horticulture and research subcommittee for the 117th congress. i'm looking forward to working with all of you in finding ways to address our shared priorities. such as supporting agricultural research, improving and exspanting the national organic program, and facilitating new developments in agricultural technologies. this subcommittee has jurisdiction over a variety of
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very exciting and important aspects of our food and agricultural sector and it's an honor to serve as chair again. the covid-19 pandemic has undoubtedly had a lasting impact on our agricultural communities around the country. notably impacting small farmers and ranchers, including our small certified organic producers. during the pandemic, producers were required to significantly adapt their business practices and operations to meet the challenges posed by the covid-19 . while shifted how these producers were able to participate in agricultural markets. the pandemic further caused unprecedented interferences within supply chains and challenges to market access from small producers serving local markets, local markets which are becoming increasingly more important as a way for producers to add value to their operations. this is true in my own district
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of the u.s. virgin islands. farmers in the territory are mostly small and local producers who are working to recover from a supply chain disruption. producers from my district are certainly speaking -- seeking all opportunities to strengthen their supply chain while serving the local community. each year consumers across the country purchase more and more product from local markets. the usda reported a farm level value of direct food sales totaling $11.8 billion in 2017. including sales from 18% of u.s. -- 8% of u.s. farmers, confirming significant growth in these local agricultural markets. farmers across the country are taking advantage of this growing demand through a variety of alternative business models and production practices, including direct to consumer marketing, farmers markets, community supported agriculture, community gardens, and food hubs. however, in order to ensure the
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success of our farmers and producers, as demanded for local markets increase, it is vital to exam the im-- examine the impact of covid-19 on our supply chains and facilitate economic recovery. our witnesses today includes some of those farmers and producers who have seen firsthand the impact of covid-19 on small farmers, farms servicing local communities. i'm grateful to hear their experiences which are crucial to advancing our work here today as we look forward to the next farm bill. without objection, i would like to include an op-ed i wrote with the chicago council on global affairs which addresses the need for investment in agricultural research and infrastructure, as well as agricultural innovation to the record. agricultural research and innovation has a far-reaching impact and benefit all producers including our small organic and local producers. i'd now like to welcome the
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distinguished ranking member, the gentleman from indiana, mr. baird, for any opening remarks he would like to give. mr. baird: good morning. thank you, chairman plaskett, for calling this hearing today. i'm excited for our subcommittee to come together for the first official hearing of this congress. and chair plaskett, i look forward to developing a fruitful relationship with you as we serve this subcommittee on the develop important role its jirks diction, especially in the areas of biotechnology, research, and extension plays in the current landscape of the american farm economy. particularly in regard to the sustainability of the industry, the profitability of our producers, and the stability of our national food supply. to the members of this subcommittee, i thank you for committeing to serve on this panel. i value your leadership and expertise and look forward to serving alongside each of you.
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i find today's topic to be of particular importance. we are nearing the end of an indiscriminate pandemic that impacted every corner of our lives. the witnesses before us have an opportunity and an important story to tell. like many of the hearings held thus far in this congress, their stories add to the narrative that we can do better to prepare for future emergencies. i thank our witnesses for their time and participation in today's discussion. of course, i regret that we can't gather in person today, but i appreciate the work that you have done to put into preparing your thoughts and look forward to hearing more about your operations and experiences. our nation is home to a varied yet immensely productive agricultural industry. on one hand we have a group of developed, larger farms that play a most critical role in the
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stability of our food supply chain. operations leverage the efficiencies gained by economies of scale to provide our nation the cheapest, safest, and most abundant food supply chain the world has ever known. they bolster national security and stabilize agricultural markets. on the other hand, we have a group of smaller producers, often they are passionately serves niche markets. in the beginning faces of operations working to build markets and equity. both these groups represent american farmers. both represent a crucial component of our nation's food supply chain and its security. both experience unique challenges that occasionally rely on policy solutions to improve. beginning farmers in the united states face significant challenges in entering production. those without prior experience or land to inherit or large sums of capitol have presented with
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sometimes insurmountable difficulties. to begin their operation. let alone to be competitive after they are established. these obstacles for some small farmers significantly hinder the ability to bring younger generations into agriculture. and to diversify our nation's agricultural production. i also thank -- think there is ample opportunity for the department to improve outreach and engage for those entering into agriculture agriculture. through today's discussion i look forward to hearing more about these producers and how they overcame their myriad of various challenges. including those set on or aggravated by the covid-19 pandemic. i also hope to hear how we as policymakers can better serve small or beginning farmers. what policies we need to work on , where we can start over, how we ultimately can ep sure that
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agriculture remains a highly desired industry. as i said, i'm excited about our work and the work ahead. i sincerely look forward to today's testimony. and thank you, again, madam chair, for calling this hearing. i yield back. chair plaskett: thank you, ranking member. the chair would request that other members submit their opening statements for the record so witnesses may begin their testimony and to ensure there is am time for questioning. i'm -- ample time for questioning. i'm pleased to welcome our distinguished panel today. our witnesses bring to the hearing a wide range of experience and expertise and i thank you for joining us. our first witness today is. mr. dale browne, he and his wife are the owners of sejah farm located on the island of st. croix in the u.s. virgin islands. he raises goats, sheeps, and chickens, and farms a variety of organic producer. -- produce. he's an advocate for locally
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sourced produce and meat and supports educational programs for young farmers, cooking with locally sourced food andagri tourism. he co-founded the virgin islands islands cooperative with his wife. our next witness is ms. perri cooper, the executive director of the georgia organic peanut association. in addition to her work there she is the director of the flint river soil and water conservation district and beginning farmer in sumter county, georgia. she has a degree inagri science and environmental systems and a certificate in local food systems. to introduce our third witness i'm pleased to yield to our colleague on the subcommittee and chairman of the subcommittee on modit exchanges, energy, and credit, the distinguished gentleman from new york, mr. delgado. mr. delgado: thank you, chairwoman plaskett. it's my privilege and honor to introduce our next witness and my constituent, tianna kennedy.
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tianna kennedy is the owner of the 607 community supported agriculture, c.s.a., and owner and farmer at star route farms, one of nearly 5,000 farms in my district. the 607 c.s.a. is mostly farm operation in northern cat skills region. it supports four vegetable farms with 35 additional neighboring farms and food businesses and serves 800 families in the cat skills and new york city. it's a small-scale diversified vegetable, herb, and small grain farm. miss kennedy also serves on my bipartisan locally based agriculture advisory committee. she has an important perspective on the roles small-scale farmers pli in local agricultural markets and supply chain resillency. the covid-19 pandemic has made even more clear that we must empower and support our local producers to prevent supply
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chain disruptions. i'm proud that new york's 19th congressional district is represented here today by ms. kennedy. ms. kennedy, it is good to see you. i look forward to hearing your testimony. and learning more about how congress can best support you and other farmers like you in the future. i yield back. chair plaskett: i thank the gentleman. to introduce our fourth witness i'm pleased to yield to the ranking member of the subcommittee, the gentleman from indiana, mr. baird. mr. baird: thank you, madam chair. it is my distinct pleasure toint dues jonathan and kelly shannon to testify before us today. jonathan and kelly are niche market life stock producers and live on a 10 acre farm in rural montgomery county, indiana, along with their three daughters where they raise cattle, pigs, changens, and goats. jonathan and kelly started shannon family farms in 2006. and have continually changed their commodities that they raise to meet the needs of their consumers. in 2016 they partnered with
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other farm families in the area to form the four seasons local market, located in downtown crawfordsville. they did this to create year-round opportunities to sell local products to their community. in addition to their work on the farm and with the local market, jonathan and kelly both have jobs off the farm and are actively involved in the montgomery county farm bureau anti-indiana farm bureau. -- and the indiana farm bureau. i'm honored to have both of you with us today and look forward to you sharing your story with this committee. with that i yield back. chair plaskett: i thank the gentleman for his remarks. we welcome all of our witnesses today and we'll now proceed to hearing your testimony. you will each have five minutes. and the timer should be visible to you on your screen. and will count down to zero at which time and which point your time has expired. please. so that we can get to the
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questions for so many of our members which are with us both here in the hearing room and with us virtually. mr. brownee, please begin -- mr. browne, pleads begin when you are ready. thank you, sir. mr. browne: good morning. thanks for the invite, chair. chair plaskett: mr. browne, are you visible? mr. browne: i'm visible, but i am doing both screen and phone. chair plaskett: excellent. thank you. mr. browne: good morning again. i thank you, chair, for inviting me to this hearing. my testimony is going to be brief, but punthual. it is my pleasure to be here to testify on the supply chain recovery resiliency small producer and local agriculture
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market. my testimony reflects the impact of natural disaster, covid-19, and programs offered by usda during the pandemic on the islands. and to couple with that the local government leadership not being totally involved or not being involved with our -- any of our agricultural development. the resurgence of agriculture involved in a local food system and ultimately food security is a challenge. however, it is one aim willing to take on and to make sure -- the purpose because of the impact of the covid-19. and this has provided an opportunity for us to bring the awareness of local food in the territory. covid-19 pandemic has negatively impacted and taken a role and operation of the farm. we had to operate in new ways
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and it has created an additional burden to our overhead costs. there has also been a sudden change in sales value, real time decisionmaking, labor productivity, and the trip is true he in all part of it. crop did not get to market as before the pandemic. our farm programs were halted. closure of restaurants, scheduled group dining. all due to the pandemic. livestock sales ceased due -- extended closure due to the pandemic. in addition we see our lifestyle production and sheep and goats was separated to avoid any
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further proceeding production. the farm income generation programs are halted or lower due to pandemic from 2019 until present. our community supported agriculture which actually we have about 20 members who are taking that agricultural program during every season. a culinary event is held on the farm every year. that we could not partake of. our signature contractual program with service over 2,000 employees between all three islands were unable to meet that. and our youth summer program, which is bridging the gap, we were unable to meet that just as well. one thing that we -- i have observed is that the usda programs which we do have, which is n.r.c.s. program, those
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programs were changed after our drought and it even continued during the pandemic. where the changes that was there was that you receive the contract and begin working op the contract for reimbursement. unfortunately after the drought and the hurricane, we have an issue where now we are at -- we are told we have to actually look for own engineers and complete the project at the same time. so reimbursement for excess spending was not involved. in addition, the equip program is 90% reimbursement. the cost of products coming from the mainland is higher than -- by the time it gets here. so there is no mitigation.
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we have to actually foot the cost and remain with the reimbursement we are allowed by contract. to give a simple example, in one of our contracts for waste management facility, $57 was the total amount. and therefore it cost us over $400 to complete it. reimbursement was only $57. other programs available to livestock during the drought, yet there are still some programs that are not most affected for the territory. chair plaskett: thank you so much, mr. browne. during questioning i'm sure we'll be able to understand some additional issues with that. miss cooper, please begin when you are ready.
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ms. cooper: chair plaskett, ranking member baird, and subcommittee members, thank you for allowing me to testify before you today. i'm perri cooper, i'm incredibly lucky to work with a diverse set of agricultural stakeholders. i'm the executive director of the water conservation district in southwest georgia and also the director of the georgia organic peanut association, farmer owned, agricultural cooperative that markets usda certified orr began peanuts and other agricultural products. could he develop has not been without challenges. without a certified organic supply chain, once peanuts -- certified organic production made a.06% of georgia's total peanut production last year, nowhere near the volume to achieve the added value for the shelling, planting, and facilities to go through the certification process. it must be done on a smaller scale. global works with one certified
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shelling facility and certified branching facility. in 2019 when the cooperative formally incorporated, the one certified organic peanut sheller was still operative with hurricane michael. our fir experience with limited supply chain in 2018. this past year, we have only in the past week been able to sell the first part of our 2020 crop. it's a long gap to pay farmers for their crop without the ability to sell it. investment in rural infrastructure to support local supply chains is critical. for certified organic supply chains this includes support for sert fay case. we have been able to tap to several markets within georgia, expanding into small and mid-scale markets in the southeast and outside of peanut producing regions has been an obstacle. last year we were on the plane to california to attend an expo when it was canceled due to covid.
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submitted unsuccessful proposal to explore packaging and marketing to meet these demands. while the positive feedback was hopeful, reviewers didn't understand the supply chain and moditbakse. we have seen this pattern repeat such as another repandemiced l.p.p. grant in georgia. feedback included similar misunderstandings of small rural supply chains. projects focused in rural areas, specific areas of persistent poverty, should be a priority area. geographic transportation and transparency on review panels to ensure there is representation in critical. we have also applied for a producer grant. the reduced requirements through covid-19 relief funding made the opportunity within reach during a time of producing bottleneck. in the regular value added producer, where we have to spend
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money for 50% reimbursement, i urge the subcommittee to consider reduced chair requirements especially for disadvantaged and beginning farmers. it also aims to continue to grow the supply to meet the demand by providing an entry point. my husband and i wouldn't have been able to take the leap into starting our own farm business without the mentorship and market support we found through the network. in 2020 we received a rancher and development grant to provide meantorship model. farmers are resilient. in the face of natural disaster, extreme weather events, fluctuating markets and now a global pandemic, resilience in the supply chain is critical and it starts at the farm level. small, big, conventional, organic, local, global this principle hold true across the board. without steward ship of our natural resources and building
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healthy and sustainable farms, local agricultural economies suffer. supply chains suffer. investing in conservation research and conservation programs is a win for all agriculture. research fund you through conservation innovation grants through nrcs are critical for the development of proven and farmer trusted practices and technologies that promote conservation and improve farm profitability and efishency. programs that offset costs to adopt these practices such as equip, and others are critical. my work through the district has allowed me to see firsthand the direct on-farm benefit of several of these programs. our supply chain should value the environmental benefit of farms and directly reward farmers for conservation and sustainability. if there is one thing i have learned in the last 16 months our supply chains are not virtual. we can't farm from home. i'm excited to be part of a community in south georgia to emerge from these challenges
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stronger than before and enhancing the strength and resiliency of our supply chains. thank you. chair plaskett: thank you, miss cooper. miss kennedy, please begin. ms. kennedy: thank you for this opportunity to share my experiences with you today. i know that you received a copy of the testimony so i'll focus on a couple quick things. i'd also like to just talk about the resiliency, strength, and innovation of all of us small scale producers such as the other witnesses and myself. in order to encourage user to adapt programs to our needs. i'm tianna kennedy, i operate a fuel diet multifarm that last year served 800 families in new york city. we also work with 350 restaurants and 21 countries. also grow mixed vegetables and small grains on 60 acres. farming in delaware and new york
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for over decade. my experience farming has been a shaped like buy a lack of access to secure farmland to grow my business. large special operation for three years, i was burdened by student loan debt and making a farmer's wages so i wasn't able to buy a business right away. i home the second homeowner starts his organic farm, so when he pivoted his business model i lost my job in high home and started from scratch. finally i found a farm partner willing to form an l.l.c. with me and we rented 60 acres and broke ground on our current farm. because we only had a 10-year lease on that farm, we were unable to put in permanent and adequate cooling station. we lose about 30% of our vegetables to deer. this past winter i was able to purchase property with the help of local farm investors.
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but it was an old commercial dairy. it has a collapsed barn and farmhouse. it will take years to rebuild and transition to organic production. however, despite these challenges, and despite access to land and capital until this year, i worked collaboratively with other farms throughout my region to develop creative solutions to these challenges. to mitigate risk, create market advantage, my farmers market buddies joined me in a multi-- it grows 30% to 50% annually t serves as an integral part for an organization that can fill in the gaps. last year before our normal season began we were faced with the covid-19 pandemic. our whole business had to change in an instant. within two weeks we had fully operational businesses, 45 local farms and food businesses delivering home delivering to 40
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datskills homes. i'm proud of the work we did to scale up and support the community. we weren't able to meet the actual demand because we lacked money to purchase emergency relief for our farmers. everyone was volunteering time to drive food to people's homes. i want to offer these recommendations for the committee today. c.s.a. are an important part of the puzzle. it would be great to support beginning farmers. we need strategic planning and identifying new opportunities. congress could help in funged technical assistance, and others. purchase or release a refrigerated truck. this nonusda program allows for infrastructure development beyond microloans. i would love to see things like this included. streamline assets and accessible
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usda programs. the application process is burdensome and extremely academic. applications are oftentimes during our busiest season, june, and require burdensome funding matches. as other witnesses, my colleagues, have indicated. it can also include smaller projects and serve the underserved communities who do not have access to this funding. it helps to have usda prioritize grant applications to targeted communities. to get the word out about usda programs, they need to dedicated outreach staff and enter into more cooperative agreements to do outreach. finally, the farm to familiar food program shows what's possible when they connect farmers with communities with food insecurity. the first rund of funding was successful to small farmers and businesses. in the future more long-term programs like this could be
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created. i suggest if they are, they reserve dedicated funds for nonprofits and food businesses. and publish best practices guides to recruit distributors for participating in the program. i want to note that the usad programs can be harder for people that don't have the resources i do. thank you so much for your time. chair plaskett: thank you. mr. shannon, please begin when you are ready. mr. shannon: chairwoman plaskett, ranking member baird thank you for allowing us to join this discussion today. kelly and i are both fully involved in our day-to-day operations of our small niche livestock market in town. where those products end up in the end consumer's land throughout our community and beyond. we have submitted some written
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testimony and would like to cover some of the highlights from there and tell a little bit of our story. kelly returned to rural montgomery county in 2003 after graduating college. a year later i joined her by purchasing our 10 acre farm, less than one mile from where she grew up. as most farm families, land and profits were too tight to add more family members to the operation, so we both took on farm jobs. as time passed we were forced to find what our niche was to make our farm profitable. at the young age of 26 we began shannon family farms with little knowledge of our local markets or opportunities available through the usda. the goal is to produce proteins for local consumers and buy-in options for the community. a fee few years later, 70 adjoining acres became available to us. as beginning teachers on beginning teacher salaries, many lending institutions will not
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even entertain a conversation about purchasing those 70 acres. so we were not able to obtain that land and had to regroup and decide how will we be most profitable on 10 acres. we had no knowledge of beginning farmers or ranchers loans to the usda at that time. but would self-fund our 10 acres and become profitable. we would become a beef, pork, poultry and egg producer and deal with the end consumer. from 2006 to 2016 we formed our own agricultural market through our on-farm sales, through attending farmers markets and surrounding areas, and working with indiana grown through the indiana state department of agriculture. finally, in 2016 we hit a roadblock with market opportunities. based on this dilemma we can continue to be a small producer or expanding into a year-round retail business model. thankfully there were other like-minded producers in the community that faced some of the
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same barriers and we made an effort to find a solution to those reduced market opportunities. ranking member baird mentioned we started a cooperative of a few small producers for a year-round retail storefront that sits on main street in historic downtown crawfordsville. we offered local produced products from across the state. this is a weekly meeting place of local food consumers who purchase products from local farm families. our official interactions with the usda began in july, 2020 almost 14 years after we began our small operation. the reason for the encounter was for the coronavirus food assistance program during covid-19. why did it take us 14 years to discover some of the economic opportunities available through the usda? we believe that services were mostly offered and benefited
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large crop or livestock operation that is did not help small producers. our experience both through c pap phases at the local f.s.a. office were easy and beneficial. earlier i mentioned partnerships with indiana grown, that include the indiana grown for schools network, a statewide initiative to get products of local producers into the schools. that grant was through the indiana state department of health, indiana state department of agriculture and perdue extension. it funded creation of a peb site and buyers guide so that people would have opportunity to purchase. we have not been able to take advantage of this opportunity as our belief that the usda could be of assistance by incentivizing schools to use more individual ingredients and less prepared and prepackaged foods. as other livestock producers experienced during covid, we had a bottleneck in our processing.
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there are grants that have recently been made available, including the readiness grant, meat and poultry readiness grant. so hope fully -- hopefully -- to hopefully prevent future bottle next. we have been able to give up a few of our staple proteins, grass-fed beef and pasture rated poultry and had to move and change with consumer demand. at this time our increased e-commerce opportunities are there, but as many others found we have not benefited from high-speed internet in our rural area. thank you. chair plaskett: thank you very much to all of our witnesses for those statements. at this time members will be recognized for questions in order of seniority.
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alternating between majority and minority members. you will be recognized for five minutes each in order to allow to us get to as many questions as possible. i recognize myself for five minutes at this time. i wanted to ask ms. kennedy, would you speak to the role that consumers play in local agricultural markets. and how did the change in consumer demand impact farmers' business decision answer drive innovation in local markets during the covid-19 pandemic. ms. kennedy: i'd love to. i think that our ranking member, ranking member baird mentioned small farmers usually have to find niche markets. we are usually trying to fill in the gaps of the big guys. during the covid-19 pandemic when the largest supply chains were threatened and the grocery
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stores -- we became the market. most of my producers did not have -- the restaurant closed so we lost one market. but everybody else that i knew was scaling up and struggling to meet demands. so i feel like we all had to pivot in a moment's notice to try to meet those demands, to try to feed our members, our neighbors and people that we had never worked with before. during emergency moments the small-scale producers take the burden of the whole food system, but lack the support to pivot and to make those changes and take all the risk. then this year once the pandemic sort of easing off, everybody goes back to business as normal and forgets last year they were depending on us. so that is also a challenge because everybody has scaled up and now we have to find other
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avenues for the foods. chair plaskett: thank you. thank you for that. mr. shannon, would you agree with what ms. kennedy has just outlined? mr. shannon: sure. i was sitting here shaking my head on every point ms. kennedy made. we had record sales through the months of march, 2020 and also april 20 -- april, 2020. store shelves were empty. we ramped up. dealing with livestock it's a lengthier process to ramp up. as things came back to normal, sales and those consumers started to disappear out of local foods. yes, we did take the brunt and were able to support our local community and make sure they had proteins in their freezers and refrigerators throughout the pandemic. chair plaskett: thank you. mr. browne, thank you for joining us. can you speak towards the unique market access challenges that come with farming on an island
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off of the mainland? mr. browne: thank you. yes, we are in a most unfortunate circumstance. our import is our most 98 pezz to 99%. so in a time of supply where food was being prior to joining the pandemic, we saw some changes, but we had to make changes as well. and put the protocol in place in order to mitigate what was happening. our wholesale production was lost. and those channels that you use, such as supermarkets and other restaurants were actually not taking anything.
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now, we have actually adopt in a way where we have to serve a certain amount of customers at a time. even though like others testified we had increased sales, but then as we go along we find that the sales are off. we look at over the last six months where it has tapered off where everything seems to be -- back to normal and we are now back at the same place. our local department of agriculture has been closed for the last six weeks. during the pandemic it's been closed for almost a whole year. so we had a situation where we had to stop our--- only able to
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produce c.s.a. and people were asking for protein but we couldn't provide it. we were doing commercial sale of protein and not to go against the -- to have protein produced or processed through some other method. chair plaskett: thank you. i have run out of time. i want to thank you, mr. browne, also for your promotion of local farming and educating young farmers and would love to see your written testimony about that as well. at this time, mr. ranking member baird. mr. baird: thank you, madam chair. mr. shannon, in your testimony you mentioned difficulties you faced of obtaining capital to pursue your business plan. i have seen through my years time and again the near impossibility for a beginning farmer to begin and run an operation that was large enough to support his family. my question to you is, how do
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you suggest and recommend young people go about this process? and what steps should they take to be prepared to try to start their operation? mr. shannon. mr. shannon: thank you, sir. i was encouraged the other day looking through some of the usda programs that there are youth loans available. what popped into my head were my two daughters that have an interest in agriculture and finding out ways of how they could add to the farm that is unique to them. what we were really missing starting out back in 2006 was some succession planning or mentor, some guidance for young beginning farmers on what has worked, what has not worked. so teaming up with that mentor that may be a seasoned farmer, looking to retire eventually, to pass that along, to give advice, and get you going on the
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straight and narrow to be profitability. -- profitable. so i believe finding that mentor, whether that is in your local community, anywhere across the contry, having that network of folks to give guidance. something else we ran into was business essentials. grant writing, legalities with business entities, health departments, accounting, federal tax registration all of that could be part of the usda stepping up and providing those resources and guidance. whether that's through classes, outreach, but having that so that you are prepared early on in your career as a beginning farmer to gain that capital and make those best choices. mr. baird: if i may continue on that conversation a little bit with you. you mentioned the resources of the usda, but you also mentioned that you worked with the indiana department of agriculture and
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many states have departments of agriculture. can you share with this committee how you got involved with the indiana grown and how it helped you enter even more markets? mr. shannon: yes. we were attending a conference at one point early on, and indiana grown was just in its infancy. i believe around 2015 indiana grown began and they came to present, and the goal was to have a network of indiana farmers, indiana produced products and share those successes in open markets. we are in a frozen process meat business. indiana grown worked tirelessly for our producers to get them on the shelves. frozen meet in a grocery store is difficult there. has been much success with other producers getting in grocery
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store. indiana grown has put on events that we were able to attend and get our face, our name, our store in front of consumers. we have benefited from their statewide network, mentoring with other folks later in our career, and being able to, like i said, have that story, have our product in front of larger audience. it's all concentrated at the statehouse and has a good look, good message that goes out to the community and the state. mr. baird: thank you. i only have about a minute left. many states have programs like indiana grown to support state products. so have any of the other witnesses been able to work with their state departments of agriculture to help enter the local markets? and if so, please feel free to comment. we have about 40 seconds. mr. browne: if i may comment.
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that is one of our biggest challenges here in the territory because the virgin islands department of agriculture has to come so much -- it's hard for us to actually use that time or have that engagement with the department in reaching other markets. we are in a catch-22 position. we have to do it ourselves. totally. mr. baird: thank you. i thank our witnesses again for being here. appreciate all of their efforts. i yield back. chair plaskett: thank you very much. our next member is mr. delgado. mr. delgado.
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mr. delgado. if not, we'll move to ms. schrier. of washington state. ms. schrier: thank you, madam chair. and to our witnesses. i want to focus on how federal government can better support small and medium sized family farms. right now we subsidize farm production in a manner that really benefits most. the largest corporate farms in the country. and i have heard from small and medium-sized producers in my district in washington state that significant barriers exist for them to participate in usda purchasing programs and local markets. and these need to be addressed. market access for family farms will help farmers themselves. it will shrink the carbon footprint, reduce transportation needs, and lead to healthier
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diets locally, particularly in our schools. i know that the pandemic dramatically disrupted life throughout the country leaving millions struggle to feed themselves and their families. yet federal -- early federal aid was heavily weighted toward larger farms and corporations because their scale allowed for efishen distribution in a national program. --efficient distribution in a national program. many small businesses and producers suffered tremendously. at a time when more people were facing hunger, small and medium farms had nowhere to send their food. at a time when our food supply chains were collapsing, local family farmers were in many ways left out. that's why i introduced several bills, including the farmers feeding fams coronavirus response act, the food and farm emergency assistance act, and the farming support to states act to assist local growers and producers. these bills aim to move the
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manage. of the food supply chains to the states since state department of agricultures have existing relationships with local, small, and medium sized farmers, provide emergency grants to assist growers and producers in covering significant costs incurred as rault of the effect. and one of the -- one would have provided grants to cover p.p.e. and splice to convert operations like refrigeration or pack anding goods for individual consumers as opposed to restaurants. and i'm really glad to hear that my colleague, mr. baird, brought up this very issue of how state departments of agriculture can help our smaller producers. i was excited to see the recent announcement from the usda it will invest $1 billion to purchase nutritious food for state food bank networks from local and regional producers. this announcement mirrors many of the proposals in the bills i just mentioned. it is vital for those who are administering federal programs to have relationships with local small producers and food banks in order to better support the
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local economies and target distribution. several of you mentioned that the farmers to families food box program did not adequately benefit small producers. ms. cooper, i have question for you. can you tell me about your experience with the food box program and share any insights into how the usda can ensure small farms can able to participate in this latest round of usda funding, as well as future programs. are there some barriers at usda that we, here, should be lookings to to fix? ms. kennedy: thanks so much. in my written testimony i mention add little bit about the food box program and our experience with it and put it into five minutes. but we actually, in southwest georgia, when you think of small food infrastructure, there are some more urban areas in the northern part of our state that were really well suited for
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this. this wasn't true for my area. despite albany, which encompassed georgia being a country hot spot during the pandemic on a per capita basis. through my work with the storm water conservation district, we actually watched our own -- launched our own food box program to supplement federal and in-state efforts. so through the nonprofit arm we worked with local farmers and also with our network of nonprofit community garden spaces to source local produce. then partnered with local restaurant businesses that had been hit by the pandemic and through funds raised here locally purchased hot meals from those locally owned restaurants. so we had both produce boxes and hot meals and delivered them to folks in need. working again with local businesses. ms. schrier: thank you.
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one is the heat wave hitting the northwest that has really worried our farmers about crop losses, particularly the tree fruit industry and specialty crops, second, that labor continues to be a huge challenge for farmers on the pacific northwest. we desperately need reform. i would encourage the senate to pass our farm work force modernization act which i wholeheartedly supported. thank you. i yield back. chair plaskett: thank you so much for that. as we can see throughout our country hearing from mr. browne, you discussing, ms. schrier, farmers are on the frontline of so much of the climate issues that we have in our country. we've got to support them to be able to overcome those and continue producing. they are so vitally important to us. i noted our ranking member, mr. thompson, was with us earlier, right now i would like to call on. mr. scott for his testimony. mr. scott of georgia, but i
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always said the younger scott. mr. scott: fair enough. thank you. i want to talk briefly about the supply chain a little bit. i can't talk about this without reminding the american public that's watching. the american farmer gets a little less of 10 cents every dollar you are spending at the grocery store. probably even less than that. right now. the increased cost of transportation and what is happening with inflation at the grocery store. the american farmers' not seeing that revenue. i went to the local grocery store on this past weekend, i passed over the steak because it simply cost way too much. i looked at the pork, and the pork was unbelievably high. i ended up with $5 worth of chicken i paid $7 or $8 for. when we talk about supply chain, it's not limited to the farmer. the american consumer's feeling
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-- is feeling the brunt of this. when they walk into the grocery store. i want you to know as a consumer that the american farmer is not benefiting from the price increase that is you are seeing. one of the issues -- increases that you are seeing. one of the issues when you talk about supply chain is the issue of boxes. i think about seed, chemicals, transportation. i got to -- i got a call the other day from a farmer saying guess what? we've got a field, a crop growing and we can't get the boxes to harvest it and put it in to transport t i thought i might share with you this aspect of what happens in the supply chain. the size of a box, a text message from a producer to a box supplier. i'll have some in a few days. we are out of boxes and can't get labor. i'm supposed to have some coming in from honduras. at the end of the week. having to source boxes from honduras. what do you have in 11 by 11's? no.
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i'm out of everything right now. we are major supply chain and labor problems. he names another company that i'll skip. all the crate manufacturers are out of crates. this is something that the american farmer is just starting to feel. there were enough to cofert producers i think in florida for their fruit and vegetables, now is the harvest is coming into georgia. the other states. we may very well see a shortage of fruit and vegetables on the shelves because of supply chain issues with boxes. but the american consumers' buy habits have changed. and i want -- buying habits have changed. i want to miss cooper. i spent a lot of time at the farmer's market when i was a younger man. as did most my family. it used to be that you would go to the farmer's market, you would buy your fruit and venltabbles, not fruit but
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vegetables, you would shuck the corn and cut it off the could be and put it in the freezer and everything else. the american consumer has changed. you mentioned programs, not only beginning young farmers in georgia. we have georgia grown, farmers market programs. what can we do to influence the consumer buying acts to encourage them to go to the farmers' markets and otherways they can buy directly from the farmer so the farmer can get more than 10 cents out of the dollar the american consumer is spending. i know farmers from your area that carry their product all the way to the atlanta farmers market because they don't feel like they have the volume of customers at the local farmer markets. looking for your input there. i know do you a lot with organics. that's a specialty market. you have to have to have the volume of customers as well. any input is appreciated. ms. kennedy: you know, i farm in sumter county which is a really
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large green bean producing county in our state. one thing that we observed this past year is that these large green bean packing houses that are sending things up to atlanta to serve larger markets, they started opening their doors for local residents to come in and pick up a couple pounds of green beans from the farmer down the road. this is true for your question, but also for peanuts and some of the commodity supply chains on a small scale and niche market. there needs to be a scale appropriate infrastructure so that farmers don't feel the pressure to go to these larger markets. for peanuts we handle 2,000 pounds which is the industry standard, we get calls and emails from people asking how can i get five pounds of raw peanuts which we can't do because we don't have the proper infrastructure. . mr. scott: this is important to me.
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the supply chains is something we witnessed the fragility of this past year and, madam chair, while i think we did some things to help, i think it's very much still there. i yield. chair plaskett: thank you very much, mr. scott. at this time we call on congresswoman pingree of maine to -- for her five minutes. thank you. ms. pingree: thank you very much, madam chair. thank you to you and the ranking member, both, for your opening remarks, and for having this hearing today. i think everyone before me has said, this is a really timely hearing. unfortunately, the pandemic provided so many challenges, but it really showed us the difficulties with the supply chain but also some opportunities for the very farmers we have with us today in the small to medium size farmers they represent. it's certainly been an issue i focused a lot of my work in agriculture around, and i'm really pleased we have this chance to talk about how we
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support more programs at the usda and think about tailoring programs to the small to medium size farmer, to developing more infrastructure, to support the very concerns that people are talking about, technical assistance, loan availability, more value-added products, getting more from the market, as mr. scott said, making more than 10 cents on the dollar. there's so many things you all have discussed so i thank you to all of the people who are testifying for us today because your personal stories really bring it home, i think, to all the members of the committee. so let me see if i can fit in a few questions here and stop talking. to ms. kenned and ms. koop -- ms. kennedy and ms. cooper, you had not been successful in getting the grants. we are very discouraged when there's not enough money or the programs that we think should be serving the very needs you
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mentioned aren't available. could you talk a little bit about that? before i mention that, i want to say i personally have been operating a small farm that has many of the same challenges that you all do. but in particular, ms. kennedy, if i could get rid of all the deer that interfere with my ability to harvest the crop, that would be my number one pet peeve. you can't buy enough fencing to keep them all out. can you talk about the application process and the challenges you faced so we can make sure that the money gets to the very needs you're talking about? ms. kennedy: sure. i'd love to start, if i may. i'm part of a nonprofit organizations that do regional ag supports here and those are supported by usda grants. the grants are serving our communities. they're just not making all the way to the farmers. so the difference between the board that i'm on, my own farm, the board has dedicated grant
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writers and a staff that's accustomed to the process and knows about all of the intricacies of these grants that as a culture onto themselves, whereas the farmers, competent, educated people. it's not that it's too complicated. we're very, very busy. we're doing 10 jobs as it is. and fitting in that two days of grant writing, you know, it just doesn't happen a lot of the times. so part of it is just lack of time dedicated to the kind of bureaucratic process. and part of it is also just that the reimbursement part is a little bit -- the access -- it's various access. a lot of farms just don't have the cash flow to make those matches or those reimbursements so it's not worth applying. the nonprofit has been i think this year funded by a million
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dollars and my farm last year got $5,000 or something like that. there is a huge discrepancy. i think that -- [indiscernible] ms. pingree: thank you. ms. cooper. ms. cooper: thank you so much for that question. as you mentioned, we applied for some programs. specifically, with grant programming, just one thing that i observed antidotally is that some of the more rural supply chain focused projects, there's just not an understanding on the review side of what those rural economies and supply chains look like. even 30 pages sounds like a lot, it's hard to succinctly describe what is going on in 30 pages to someone who may not be familiar with your rural community or what that supply chain looks like. so i think having a representative review panel is
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important. and also reviewers that can critically look at the impact directly to farmers in a meaningful way from these programs, you know, just to echo what my fellow witness shared. ms. pingree: great. thank you so much. i'm unfortunately going to run out of time. i just wanted to thank jonathan and kelly shannon. i really appreciate your testimony and so many of the things you mentioned having more locally grown foods in our school lunch program. the real challenge people have with lack of slaughterhouses and meat processing capacity, loan access, and i just wish you all the success. i won't here for a second question. but i really appreciated you. you laid out all of the important things. good luck with your flower operation. i know there's opportunity there as well. so thank you for being with us, all of you today. thank you to our friend from the virgin islands, really appreciate it. i yield back, madam chair. chair plaskett: thank you very much, ms. pingree. i note specifically mr. shannon
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as well as well as mr. browne talked about the issues with loan rather than, you know, mr. dale browne talked about reimbursement. i think that's something we really need to work on to provide access to these farmers for the financing that they need to be able to be successful and support our food supply in this country so that we can once again become the number one producers of our own food. at this time i call on congressman davis of illinois, five minutes to you. mr. davis: well, thank you, madam chair, and ranking member baird. i do have to express my displeasure, madam chair. i thought this was going to be a field hearing in your district. but instead we're stuck here in the -- chair plaskett: why don't we do that in february? that's the appropriate time for the committee on agriculture come to the virgin islands. mr. davis: i like that and let's plan that. thank you for having this important hearing today.
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i'm honored to follow my friend and co-chair of the house organic caucus, ms. pingree, on this panel. and, you know, i appreciate the perspective that organic farmers bring to this conversation. as we look to move past the pandemic and overcome obstacles that have challenged and threatened our supply chains, including weather and cybersecurity among others, we must identify solutions within existing programs that strengthen our supply chains and prioritize food security as really a matter of national security. i've been a major advocate of organic farmers, not only because of the consumer choice aspect but to ensure a level playing field for organic farmers and also maintain consumer confidence in the integrity of the organic label. my question is actually for ms. cooper. as an organic farmer what are some of the biggest challenges you face, particularly as it relates to the need for strong
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organic standards in the marketplace to live up to that commitment of possessing the usda organic seal? ms. kennedy: that's a really wonderful -- ms. cooper: that's a really wonderful question and something we've been dealing with locally. the peanut cooperative is the only group of certified organic peanut and other commodity producers in our region. historically, organic peanuts are not produced in the southeast or in georgia. for us, it's been new for the farmers as well as for the certifiers and there's been a learning curve there. i think that having certifying bodies that can work with growers as well as with our respected land grant institutions that provide recommendations for production, both in conventional and in organic production, to understand the system, you know.
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at times there are arbitrary aspects that may work in other regions or with other crops that specifically don't work in the southeast or in peanut productions, in particular. also, i -- it's been very hard for us to incentivize folks to get certified when we can't certify the supply chain. there is just not a scale appropriate supply chain and so our scale appropriate, there's no incentive or support to go through the certification process. it's a huge barrier, you can't grow organic acreage without the organic supply chain that follows. we have premium. there's no incentive. and then lastly, one of the things that the cooperative does in our mentorship is offer the technical assistance to growers that are going through this for the first time. we had both beginning farmers and experienced conventional farmers that are interested in diversifying their market come to us with all sorts of questions and having, you know,
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targeted opportunities for cooperative agreements or technical assistance dollars for folks on the ground familiar with niece systems -- these systems, familiar with the process is critical. we have some of that here but certainly not enough to meet the demand. mr. davis: well, i appreciate your comments. you actually answered my next question about how strong organic standards translate into better resiliency. but we all know the demand for organic products is going to increase in areas mostly where they don't grow organic products or nonorganic products. and due to this increased demand, i know that many that are in your position are worried about foreign products that may come into our country that do not even come close to meeting the organic label standards that are put in place. can you offer just your thoughts on some of those concerns, if you have them? ms. cooper: sure. we face that, certainly, because
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there's not a lot of organic production here. there's just the limited supply. the difference in that supply is coming from international markets that typically can offer things at a cheaper price. and so then those efforts here locally, you know, it can be hard to compete with that. and so, of course, we -- not even specific to georgia or the southeast, just in general, the national production volume is not meeting the national demand. and to really uplift and promote the consumption and purchase of those domestically produced products, those conventional and organic, we have high standards of sustainability across the board. and i think i'm really valuing those domestically produced products. it's very important for the industry as a whole. certainly for organics, specifically. mr. davis: thank you. i yield back, madam chair. chair plaskett: thank you very much.
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at this time we'll call on salud carbajal of california for his five minutes. mr. carbajal: thank you, madam chair. and thank you to all the witnesses that took time to join us today. local and regional food systems are critical for both rural economies in addressing food insecurity in the united states, which skyrocketed during the covid-19 pandemic. in my district, these markets give area residents access to fresh and nutritious foods while supporting the local economy. public investments in local food systems have proven broadly successful and need further upscaling in technical support in order to reach more people. ms. kennedy, what sort of additional investments in the funding, technical assistance and outreach can we include or look into to assist and expand local and regional markets?
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and what lessons can we take from the success and flexibility of smaller operations to apply to the larger food supply chain in the united states? ms. kennedy: thank you. thank you, congressman. i would like to echo my fellow witness, ms. shannon, talking about lack of adequate processing for slaughter and packaging of protein. in our rural and neighborhoods there are few processing centers. it becomes a bottle neck. if we want to scale up at all in anything, whether it's dairy or meat or veggies prepackaged for schools, we need those processing facilities. we also need support in the supply chain in terms of trucking. one of the other congressmen talked about trucking and boxes are expensive.
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we spend about 60% of our growth on trucking. so that doesn't mean a lot for the farmers. so, yeah, the larger ag competitors are getting stuff produced and truck -- they have contracts to provide local school systems with beef. none of us small farms don't have those. we don't have crop insurance. so if we are a smaller farm, we don't get reimbursed if there is a weather event and we lose our crops. so all of these are supports that our larger brethren are receiving. it would be wonderful if that was directed to the small, more resilient, more, you know, flexible farms, such as
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ourselves, that can change our models, work with whatever situation is at hand. that's increasingly important in our climate uncertainty and our current climate. so i think those are some ideas that -- mr. carbajal: thank you, ms. kennedy. certainly, we'd love to start working on the farm bill next year. we certainly need to take into consideration your input. because we should do more to extend those benefits to smaller companies such as the ones that you are referencing, and the need to ensure that you're getting your share of support as well. the organic industry is a central driver in my district. however, i'm aware that farmers face steep challenges and barriers when seeking to transition to organic production and maintain certification. organic farming communities and
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the resulting co-benefits depend on farmers having access to handling, processing, and distribution infrastructure and market opportunities. i'm thankful to see that the usda has recently announced additional grant funding for the value-added products grant program. ms. cooper, as a producer of value-added products, have you been able to take advantage of that program? has it worked for you? ms. cooper: the value-added produce program, in particular, we have a pending application for that. so fingers crossed my answer will be yes in a couple months. originally, it was not something that we were looking at just because of the 50% reimbursement. you know, it's a huge bottle neck this past year. we couldn't make sales because our processing wasn't up, have our products ready to get to market. so we didn't have the cash flow to, you know, spend $10 to get
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$5 back. it didn't work with that. when that covid release came out and there was a 10% cost share requirement, that really attracted us to go for it. hopefully we can tap into some of our untapped markets. mr. carbajal: thank you very much. madam chair, i yield back. chair plaskett: thank you very much. and i'd like to thank and acknowledge the presence of the ranking member of the full committee, mr. thompson, and yield to him at this time for his five minutes. thank you, sir. mr. thompson: well, good morning. thank you, chair plaskett, ranking member baird, for holding today's hearing. incredibly important. i'd also like to thank our witnesses for taking time to be here today and their willingness to share their stories and experiences with us. i think everyone can agree that this past year and a half has been unprecedented, and our small local producers have been on the front lines working to make sure consumers, families maintain abundant access to safe and affordable food.
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the hearing of their stories is important. while we -- and while not the purpose of the hearing, i do like to think we have an opportunity for some oversight. the farm bill includes several programs designed to help beginning and small producers and develop local agricultural markets, including the beginning farmer and rancher development program and the local agricultural market program. you know, the interactions between our witnesses, consumers, communities, and the department will inform where we need to go from here. i think i'm most excited about that. so thanks, again, to chair plaskett and ranking member baird for calling this hearing and to our witnesses for being here. my question is directed to ms. kennedy. thank you for what you do. you talked a bit about the farmers to families food box program. i had a chance to obviously see a lot of that in distribution.
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talking with producers that were providing the foods to include in that, whether it was dairy or meat, fruits, vegetables. usda was able to deliver over 173 million food boxes to families in need before it was abruptly ended by the biden administration. while other pandemic-related assistance programs remain in place. your testimony, you mentioned the need to continue this type of support and provide a few recommendations. i want to check, do you agree with that decision by usda? specifically, i guess by secretary vilsack, to terminate this program? ms. kennedy: i feel like in my experience, i wasn't able to access the food box program. so it didn't affect my business. i am at a scale that's a little bit smaller, so i wasn't considered as a producer. so like ms. cooper, i created my own food box program with my
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local constituency and we supplied our local pantries and our local food relief organizations. i think food relief is still needed. i think a program like the food box program should still exist. i think if i was to create a new program, i would make sure that small scale producers could participate. because right now, because the food box program has ended, small scale producers are picking up the slack, but we don't have the funding to support our efforts. mr. thompson: yeah. the farm to family food box seemed like it was a real win-win, right? first of all, with the disruption of the food supply chain, because well over 60% of meals were eaten in restaurants prior to this pandemic. and all of a sudden, there was a processing, packaging issue. so this allowed, first of all, our families who are most in
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need, economically those -- especially those who were overnight were told by their governors, you're not allowed to go to work. you have to stay in your house. you can't work your job. and for the farmers, too, to be able to have a market really seemed like -- just an effective tool. put on top of that the emphasis was on fresh foods. all nutrition is welcome but certainly when you look at fruits and vegetables and dairy and meat, it was the best of all worlds. i don't know if any of the other witnesses have any experience, any thoughts on farm to family food boxes. certainly the time i have left i'd love to hear from you as well. >> most of these programs are not available to the virgin
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islands. mr. browne: so it makes us harder to participate. so these are actually missed opportunities. and there was nothing coming from usda, whether to rural development efforts, and i suggest that's all the programs we have here. as a reference to the producer grant, that is time consuming for any producer. there's not a collective on the island that can help mitigate that problem. so, therefore, we are totally on the other side as small producers. so our local department of agriculture is practically absent. and during the pandemic, it was even more so. so that in itself has put us at a disadvantage here in the
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territory. and definitely, if usda has some of these programs to contribute to the development of our food boxes during the time of crisis, that would be adequate. however, we are still facing both a cultural and customarily traditional foods that we develop locally. for those programs, what they were absent for and what -- is a program to actually meet this need. thank you. mr. thompson: very good. mr. browne, ms. kennedy, thank you for your time. madam chair, my time has expired. chair plaskett: for the ranking member of the full committee, you get len yhency -- leniency in more ways than one.
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congresswoman kirkpatrick. mrs. kirkpatrick: thank you, chairwoman. i thank you for having this hearing. i have a multigenerational family of ranchers. we had an enormous ranch. and ranched cattle. it would always be there as a kid. it's interesting to me that times have changed. so anyway, my question is for mr. shannon. you know, livestock producers are serving local markets, often have a difficult time getting a market-ready product produced, requiring meat slaughtering and processing as well as aggregation of local meat products for sale at the wholesale market.
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so can you describe some of the challenges facing local meat producers and how that impacts business decisions? mr. shannon: yes. thank you for that question. one of the biggest things that we face at this time -- we've been using a usda inspected processor for many years and had a great working relationship. so through the pandemic, slaughtering spots were not an issue for us. so we had that long standing relationship. where it comes into is adequate storage after that processing. because, of course, we cannot move all that product within a week or so. so that storage capacity needs to be there. and looking through covid-19, nobody in the county or surrounded area had that capacity to store what was being processed to keep up with demand. it's one of the issues we faced.
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another one, i mentioned this in my written testimony. costs have risen because of the supply chain issues and, of course, those costs do not get absorbed by the processors. that was passed right onto the local farmers and producers. we experienced a large increase because sanitation products, p.p.e. was not available, and that price was up. those have been passed onto us and we're still waiting for that to be returned or rewind to pre-covid. so those are some of the adequate, reliable, and economical processing and storage are some of our biggest issues we face. mrs. kirkpatrick: thank you for your answer. ranching is hard enough. [laughter] and so is in the best of
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circumstances. so thank you for staying with it and for what you do. we need you to be in the business, and you've got my full support and any way i can help. i get it. i get it from the bottom of my heart. it's not easy. you know, as we saw with covid-19, the supply chain breakdown occurred through multiple sectors. as this committee works to strengthen the local food supply chain and prepare for future disruptions, what farm bill programs do you think would help you and the farmer members you build resilience and what additional support could help you all strengthen the market access?
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thaz for ms. cooper. -- that's for ms. cooper. sorry. do you need me to repeat that? ms. cooper: i think i got it. so we -- we're really -- our biggest thing right now is the lack the world infrastructure that's appropriate. we're in the breadbasket, the heart of agricultural, there's may mazing -- there's amazing technologies and they are at a scale that's a little bit bigger than where small farmers are, where organic production is. so scale-appropriate, certainly. and then the other biggest challenge for us is, of course, the biggest piece of the supply chain is the supply. and while we have so many farmers that are interested in working with us, and we really see this as an opportunity tore beginning farmers -- for beginning farmers, it's a leap. as a beginning farmer myself,
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i've really been lucky to have the mentorship and the marketing opportunity. but i lease land. it's a year-to-year lease. so it's hard to make the specialized equipment investment. so we're also looking at opportunities like shared equipment and other benefits of cooperative farming that will help bring those farmers along and actually build the supply as well. and that's beginning farmers and ranchers is critical. mrs. kirkpatrick: thank you for that. for my generation, it was hard work. [laughter] we didn't want to do it. so we all went to college and became professionals. my children want to go back into ranching. so we'll see how that all shapes up. i thank you. my time is up. and i yield back. chair plaskett: thank you very much. our next witness is mrs. fischbach. mrs. fischbach, your time.
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senator fischer: thank you very much. -- mrs. fischbach: thank you very much. the hearing has been very informative. i have read in some of the written testimony about the application process for the usda being rather burdensome and very heavy on paperwork, things like that. i wonder if maybe each of the producers could talk a little bit about each of the -- each of the witnesses could talk a little bit about how we could improve that process for them and do a more outreach. i believe the shannons talked about the outreach. if it's something we can do to improve that process. so i don't know who you want to start with, if maybe the shannons would like to start. mr. shannon: sure. thank you for that question. again, our relationship only started last year with our local usda office. that process was easy. but in the past week or two, looking through some of the
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grants and programs, it comes down to a time issue. that's been mentioned before. simplicity of forms, simplicity of getting paperwork back and forth electronically this day and age is essential. we're busy raising livestock, kids, running businesses. there's not time to sit up for multiple hours looking through paperwork, gathering everything. so whether that outreach is having someone come out, visit the farm, fill out that paperwork alongside you while you're working and producing, but, yeah, some simplification through technology and having that paperwork back and forth would be beneficial. mrs. fischbach: thank you. ms. kennedy. ms. kennedy: i agree with the streamline application. also, the timing of the application, as i mentioned before, through maybe winter months when we are less busy, at
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least for vegetable producers. again, just incentive. if we have the reimbursement and matching needs, then people don't bother applying. if you were to eliminate those or decrease those, more people would apply. and i think, also, just making sure there's support for people that don't have the -- that can't go find these online -- we still have rural broadband issues, as been mentioned. so more outreach. more technical assistance on applications. more -- especially for underserved communities. mrs. fischbach: i don't have everybody on my screen so if any of the other witnesses have something they'd like to bring up. ms. cooper: i'd love to also echo the cost share, especially for smaller farmers and in small farm businesses, that cash flow and the cost share requirements can be quite burdensome.
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one thing i would also like to mention very briefly, in georgia, there has been some efforts in different parts of our state and with the support of our department of agriculture to create hubs for small farm businesses to seek some professional services. i think it's really innovative and something that could really benefit small farms and small farm businesses is kind of these incubator hubs that offer some of these services which would be led at a local level but could definitely benefit from federal support. thank you. mrs. fischbach: thank you. mr. browne: dale browne from the virgin islands. most of these programs that are spoken of by the other witnesses are unavailable to the virgin islands. we only have rural development and that requires housing, affordable housing, and the
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small producers. you have f.s.a. that are loans and programs that require disaster. and [indiscernible] so these are the programs that are not available. we are basically two to three miles away from the office itself. and that's an easy trip. however, most of these other programs are not available in the territory. mrs. fischbach: and i think everyone with my input. with my last 30 seconds, i say one of the big things we hear -- and i hear of the regulation with that broadband issue, i think we hear about that in every single committee, every ag committee we hear about because it's so vital. we absolutely need to make sure that we are working on that. but i appreciate all the input from the witnesses. thank you, all, for being here today. and i yield back. chair plaskett: thank you very much, mrs. fischbach. now time to mr. lawson of
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florida. mr. lawson: thank you, madam chair. thank you to you and the ranking member. it's a real privilege to welcome everyone to this committee today. before i ask my question -- i'll go to mr. shannon. do you still use the almanac in determining climate and everything? i grew up in the country. when we were farming, that's one of the things that we used. the almanac. i want to ask you a question. everybody else can respond to that because i think the almanac is still good today. the question is to mr. shannon. anyone may answer this if we have the time. as you know, congress and the usda supported a number of programs to support local agriculture markets and producers.
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however, some farmers have little to no knowledge of these opportunities available there. what are some ways that farmers and usda can better support the outreach to these farmers? the small farmers are incredible, the adjustments you had to make during the pandemic. mr. shannon: yes. to your first question, we no longer use the farmers almanac. it's just more work -- word of mouth from, shall we say, seasoned farmers in the area that have been around. mr. lawon: ok. mr. shannon: we don't have a current paper copy sitting at home anymore. and you're exactly correct. other witnesses here today are talking about programs that i have never heard of in my life before. and we've been at this 15 years.
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so getting that word out that these programs are available, these opportunities are available is the struggle. i don't know if that's starting with the youth loans, reaching out to high school ag classes to show them where that is, see the opportunities there. reaching out to kids in f.f.a. that those programs are available as beginning and young farmers. again, someone in the county, in the local office going out and stopping at farms that they know have -- are producing produce, livestock, whatever it may be in our region and saying, here's a handout what's available to your local area. no, there is no knowledge. again, a lot of these things are being spoken of, i'm going to have to go home and look up and see if those are beneficial to us. that outreach is superimportant in a face-to-face environment.
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mr. lawson: that's amazing. anyone care to comment? because we say we have a lot of programs and so it will be interesting to see -- anyone else on the panel like to comment? mr. browne: dale browne, virgin islands. the farmers, we can actually produce all year-round. so it's not really used by most farmers. for those older farmers, yes. they will use it because there is above ground days and below ground days. if we wait on above ground days to grow above ground, we won't plant anything. if we wait until plant below days and plant below ground, we can't plant. we can plant in any condition whether we have adequate water supply.
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and knowing what the crop takes. mr. lawson: ms. cooper. ms. cooper: representative lawson, i'd like to address your second question. we here in georgia have an outreach arm called team agriculture georgia that's specifically aimed to provide outreach to beginning and underserved producers in the state and convenes various arms of usda, from nrcs to rural development to f.f.a. to engage all of them collectively and provide direct outreach. i think some of the challenges with that are certainly funding. it's not just adding additional work to folks on the ground in a are already working really hard and really dedicating funding to, you know, ensure that outreach is effective. of course, this past year has been really difficult for the in-person engagement.
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those opportunities are really invaluable. mr. lawson: thank you. madam chair, before i yield back, i'll share the almanac with you because it might be before your time. [laughter] chair plaskett: i am not even going to respond to you. [laughter] thank you so much, mr. lawson. ms. cooper, may i ask, the program you talked about in georgia that assists underserved areas, is that an organization that was created by the state or by farmers themselves? and how is that staff funded? ms. cooper: the one i just mentioned? chair plaskett: yes, ma'am. ms. cooper: it is not farmers -- it's a usda outreach arm. i'm trying to think of the technical term for it. one of -- one of the locals is the funding so they've been seeking small grants, cooperative grants with nrcs,
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other opportunities for that. it began just as a coalition of the different agencies talking to each other to identify opportunities. it's really that extra funding, you know, to have someone run outreach programs to ramp up our website, to provide a newsletter with a coming grant opportunity and those sort of things. it's the extra resources that goes into those local projects to have some stand-alone, not become extra work for agencies that has stretched so thin i think has made the difference. if you'd like to look it up it's team agriculture georgia and it kind of spells out the structure and how -- how it operates. chair plaskett: thank you. ms. cooper: it's been beneficial for us to look for that other resource. chair plaskett: thank you so much for that information. our next member to question is ms. let low -- ms. letlow.
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ms. letlow: thank you for taking the time to address supply chain resiliency and focus on our small scale farms. our farmers and ranchers are the cornerstone of food production in america. many are fueled by the perseverance of our local agriculture producers, large and small. however, over the last year, we have all seen and experienced the impact that the covid-19 pandemic had on our essential food supply chain. as discussed here today, the farm-to-market sector faced many challenges presented by the pandemic. small produce and crawfish farmers in louisiana lost access to traditional market opportunities which ultimately left them to explore more avenues for distribution and profitability. mr. shannon, your testimony is one that i've often heard across my district. a young, beginning, small farmer seeking opportunities to grow and expand into new markets. can you further share with the subcommittee how slanon family farms is a -- shannon family
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farms is adapting to cus me demands -- customer demands? and any thoughts on getting to new markets through usda? mr. shannon: i sure can. i'll let kelly talk on this one a little bit here. again, husband and wife team, we each have our own what we're responsible for on the farm. i'll let her go on this one. mrs. shannon: we began to explore new markets starting with the farmers markets and then some direct consumers with people we knew. and then we got together with some other farmers and developed four seasons local market which is where we came together with those other farmers from our community and decided we were going to put together a retail space that would be available to our customers year-round. basically, in indiana, our farmers markets run from, you know, basically may until october. and then close. and the question is, where do our people go after that october time frame?
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and so we're available next may. we found our customers basically disappeared. i assume they go to the basic grocery stores. by establishing four seasons local markets, we were able to draw those customers in year-round and create that space so they could get local foods provided to them without as many restraints as there are like visiting the farm or having to drive multiple places to get things. ms. letlow: awesome. thank you so much for sharing that. this past year, many small businesses were forced to close. some temporarily and some permanently. mr. shannon, you said the four seasons local market had continuous growth each year. how has the pandemic impacted your operations at four seasons local market, and how do you add after the end of the papd? mr. shannon: sure, i can speak on that a little bit. i mentioned before record sales through march, april, may. things started to come back to normal. we did benefit by a lot of those
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customers sticking around. but a majority returned to their normal buying habits as supplies increased at the store. so our focus is, how can we work together, large and small, to give folks options in every opportunity? and that's what we're struggled with. we're kind of starting as an incubator. we stepped out on a ledge, took the risk to put the capital to have a store. so other local producers, very small in our area, are being able to take advantage of putting their product into the store at a very reasonable price to get their name out there and try to grow that next generation of local food producer. so the question of usda, that was all self-funded. but having those opportunities to capital heavy investments, starting that and giving other people options like that would be very helpful.
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ms. letlow: wonderful. thank you so much, mr. shannon and kelly. i yield back the remainder of my time. chair plaskett: thank you very much, ms. letlow. and thank you for getting mrs. shannon to give us some information as well. mr. bacon, you now have five minutes. mr. bacon: thank you. i got to start off by sharing rodney davis' sentiment about the virgin islands. it's -- it's the prettiest place in the world, i think. to the panelists, thank you all for being here. i want to start off by saying, you know, america is a the strongest nation in the world and we have lots of reasons for it. part of it is our energy independence, which we got to protect. but here we just got to restate the fact that we're so blessed to also have agriculture independence. we can feed our entire country and we can feed much of the world. our agriculture is a national treasure that we got to protect. my first question is really to all the panelists or those that want to participate. a few of you mentioned in your
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testimony that you are either utilizing or looking to establish e-commerce as a tool to boost your sales. of course, e-commerce requires strong rural broadband and many of our rural areas lack this connection. can any of you speak to how critical rural broadband is for not only e-commerce but for the rest of your operations as well thank you. ms. kennedy: i live in charlotteville, new york, which is in the middle of nowhere. we don't have broadband internet. we don't have cell phone service. so i'm speaking to you over satellite right now. i run two businesses. my farm and an e-commerce platform via satellite. anytime it rains, it goes down. anytime, you know, the moon -- it's tuesday and the moon is a certain color, the satellite goes down. it's a really huge challenge to
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run both of those businesses on satellite internet. i cannot stress enough how important broadband is for rural areas. mr. bacon: you make a great point. appreciate it. anybody else? mr. shannon: sure. jonathan shannon here. as more programs, anything from our accounting to our inventory, everything is cloud-based these days. the problem is finding the reliable broadband to run those businesses. we were blessed through the covid-19 pandemic that we had an e-commerce site set up to reach those customers that were not getting out and that we could make those deliveries to the doorstep. again, all broadband-heavy requirement that's not available. we're blessed today. we came up to town, per se, and in the city own studio in the chamber of commerce allowed us to have internet because that's not available at home.
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mr. bacon: thank you very much. anyone else? ms. cooper: i'll echo. i also had to come into town to our little -- i mentioned a small business incubator, the only place i can get reliable internet. in addition to some of the e-commerce. something we also face here in my work with the conservation district is implementing on-farm technologies that really improve efficiencies. a lot of those are becoming cloud-based, app-based, require broadband. so in addition to basic communication, serving customers, there's also a missed opportunity for farm efficiency and being able to implement new technologies on the farm as well. mr. bacon: thank you so much. i got a follow-up question for mr. dale browne. mr. browne, in your testimony you mentioned your work with bridging the gap summer program that aims to educate kids between the ages of 7 and 18 about agriculture in the virgin islands. i'm a firm believer in giving our students firsthand
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experiences on the farm. taught to understand where their food comes from. can you talk a little more about your work in this program? thank you. mr. browne: i sure can. bridging the gap has been one of our focus because there aren't any agricultural programs. only up until recently our land grant institutions trying to reinstitute agriculture back into the academic format. now, since 1984, there has been no agriculture centers part of our land grant institutions. so we have taken it on ourselves to actually begin the summer program and through the workforce development from our local department of labor to have students be brought in and be shown different areas on all
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aspects of island agriculture and how we can function as an economic development tool and career building as well. presently, we have 10 students who work in the office on the farm, and eight out in the field. one of the things that we do with these students is actually take them through different career levels at the university of the virgin islands and also teach them the practical and the science of growing food on our farms. now, that's one aspect. the other aspect has been students between 7 and 18, which engage in our summer program, and that is including culinary, working side by side with the older students, and also providing lunches from them that comes directly from the farm. so they are able to actually see
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the different aspects of agriculture, growing, and not all of their food actually comes from out of the supermarket. and giving them that self-value that they can look at and choose a career from that. mr. bacon: thank you so much for your insight. that's outstanding. madam chair, i yield back. chair plaskett: thank you so much. before we adjourn today, i invite the ranking member to share any closing remarks he may have at this time. mr. baird: well, thank you, madam chair. you know, i think we both appreciate all of our witnesses here today as well as our member participation. and i think, you know, consumers are becoming increasingly interested in where their food comes from. and so with the discussions that we've had here, i think we may be shedding some light on an opportunity for young farmers to get involved and bring them in
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to the agriculture industry. so with that, madam chair, i look forward to the opportunity to work with you in the future. chair plaskett: thank you so much, mr. ranking member. as we wrap up the first hearing on biotechnology, horticulture and research, i'd first like to thank all of our witnesses for their testimony and their comments and answers. the expertise and knowledge shared today is invaluable as we work to recover from the covid-19 pandemic and build back better. today, we heard about the importance of local agricultural markets, the role of urban agriculture, special steps that can be taken to improve the resiliency of our local, national, and global food supplies. i think that this subcommittee hearing has shown a tremendous level of bipartisanship. i'm really grateful to the ranking member for facilitating that. all of our witnesses showed even the range of issues, the range
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of locations that they are all share so many similar issues in farming and overcoming the covid pandemic. i want to thank them, all, for that as well. i'm excited to continue to work with our panel of witnesses and the members of this committee to make sure that our small producers and local agricultural markets have the tools they need to best serve their communities. under the rules of the committee, the record of today's hearing will remain open for 10 calendar days to receive additional material, supplemental written responses from the witnesses to any of the questions posed by the members. the hearing on biotechnology, horticulture, and research is adjourned. [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2021] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org]
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