The Food Safety Bill Passes the Senate, Small Farm Protections Intact

Update, 12/6/2010: While consumers everywhere should be glad that this bill passed with all small farm protection amendments intact, there is still a lot of steps for it to become a law in this lame duck session of Congress, and time may run out before it happens. National Sustainable Ag Coalition explains.

SB 510, the Food Safety and Modernization Act has just passed the Senate.  In the deliberations leading up to this vote, sustainable farm activists were concerned that small scale farmers would be over-burdened by regulations that were actually meant for larger agribusinesses, not your local farmer selling directly to consumers at the farmers market.

A few amendments, most notably the Tester-Hagan amendment, leveled the playing field for farms doing under 500k in business a year by requiring less stringent tracking of goods that were sold directly to consumers.

As Michael Pollan (celebrated food writer) and Eric Schlosser (Producer of Food Inc.) wrote in an Op-Ed in the NY Times in the days before the vote, the passage of this bill should be seen as a step forward.

“This legislation is by no means perfect. But it promises to achieve several important food safety objectives, greatly benefiting consumers without harming small farmers or local food producers.”

The bill now faces reconciliation between the House and Senate versions, it is unclear if this will take place in time for the end of the lame-duck session.

Thanks to all those that called their Senators on this bill.

The Reserve: Critical Habitat to Many Animals!

Did you know…

The Reserve is home to many animal species, including:

Wild Turkey

Black Bear




Bald Eagle

Red Fox

Grey Fox

River Otter


Snapping and Box Turtles

Deer (of course)


Several large cat species have also been spotted, including:

Mountain Lion

Eastern Lynx or Bobcat
Let us know of any cool sightings!

Action Alert: Tell the BOE We Need a Rural Schools Policy

Time for Rural School Policy that Supports the Ag Reserve!

Montgomery County’s rural public schools “will never see the kind of increased enrollment that we see in neighborhoods that are planned for future growth” and are “also not served by the Recreation and County Services Centers that are located in other parts of Montgomery County; as a result, the local schools and libraries must provide the gathering places and meeting rooms that are otherwise unavailable.”

-Dr. Royce Hanson, chief architect of Reserve
Letter to Superintendent Weast Nov. 18, 2009

A few minutes of your time will matter greatly to the ongoing preservation of Montgomery County’s Ag Reserve and its farming/rural communities. Whether you are a parent with children in the Poolesville or neighboring school cluster, or a Reserve resident or a County resident that supports the Reserve, natural resource protection and the production of local food: We ask that you send a brief email to the Board of Education and the County Council.  (contact info below).  Your email should:

~Thank the Board for their support of our rural schools by keeping Monocacy Elementary School in Barnesville open.

~Ask the Board to recognize the work of the Roundtable held last spring, and develop a policy for the four schools (Poolesville Cluster)located in the Agricultural Reserve that recognizes their special status and accepts lower enrollment levels at those schools than in other downcounty public schools.

~Ask the Board to keep in mind that the roundtable also recommended the liberal transfer of students into Monocacy, as the Board explores changes in the transfer policy.

~Ask the Board to act now, ask the County Council to press for the Board to establish the policy so that Montgomery County’s rural communities do not continue to suffer from lingering questions about their schools’ future.

Click Here for more background information
Help give voice to our rural communities:
Please send a quick email today!
As always,
We thank you for your continued support!

Please contact Members of the  Montgomery County Board of Education and County Council by cutting and pasting the addresses below, please also cc any emails to


Board of Education Members-
County Council Members-

Sustainable Ag and Food Safety, 16 Tenets for Food Safety

“Everyone who lifts a fork has a right to safe and healthy food”

So begins the first Food Safety Tenet laid out by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition in a new report on Sustainable Agriculture and Food Safety. The Coalition released this report to in anticipation of the debate and vote on SB510, the Food Safety and Modernization Act.

The Tenets address a few of the provisions in the bill that would impact small scale sustainable farmers. Taken together, the report advocates for safety as the prime goal at every step of the food system but advocates against a one-size fits all approach that puts inordinate burdens on small scale farms.

Read the Full Report Here.

MCA is working to support a more vibrant local food system and get more farmers on the ground in our region. When there are fewer barriers (and miles) between you and the origins of your food, it is easier to ensure you are getting the best food available.While tighter government regulations are certainly necessary to keep our food system safe, when you know your Farmer, it is easier to know your food is safe.

Recently there have been a number of food safety scares involving food production at large companies that seem to have outgrown their ability to properly ensure food safety. In each of these instances we have pointed to how small scale farmers in and surrounding the Ag Reserve have been farming with the consumer’s safety in mind even when these giants of food production fumble. Read on..

Know your Farmer, Know your Eggs are Safe

Arsenic in Chicken Feed

MCA Testifies at the BOE, Time for a Rural Schools Policy

With the Recommendation that Monocacy Elementary School in the shadow of Sugarloaf Mountain stay open, MCPS Superintended Weast gave us a reason to celebrate but more still has to be done.

Monocacy was slated for closure because it had fewer students than non-Reserve schools. This policy ignores the fact that the rural area feeding the school has limited development and population by design. There is no way for these rural cluster schools to keep up with enrollment standards that govern the rest of the County. More than a resource for students and parents, in the County’s rural areas schools are often the only public meeting areas, hosting meetings, events and generally serving as a community center. Having these buildings serve double-duty this way saves the County money.

MCA joined with our partner the Audubon Naturalist Society to push for a rural school policy that would protect these lower enrollment schools from closure resulting non-applicable standards for enrollment at the most recent BOE meeting.  All testimony, a letter from Dr. Royce Hanson (Former Planning Board Chair and Architect of the Reserve) and MCA’s position paper on Rural Schools are below.

We are currently working with County Council members, including newly elected Reserve District 2 member, Craig Rice and staff to move forward with establishment of a policy that will better manage the County’s rural schools.  The Towns of Barnesville and Poolesville are joining the quest.  Please support our efforts by writing in.

MCA BOE Testimony November 11, 2010

Audubon BOE Testimony November 11, 2010

Ag Reserve Schools Position Paper

Dr. Royce Hanson’s Letter to BOE on Rural Schools

Town of Barnesville BOE Testimony

Town of Poolesville BOE Testimony

Letter to the BOE from a Poolesville Parent

Gazette Story on Mobile Slaughter, Rocklands Farm

A great story about Mobile Slaughter moving ahead in Montgomery, Frederick and Washington Counties with a focus on the Reserve’s Own Rocklands Farm.

“Yikes! Of All the Things to Put in Chicken Feed, Arsenic?!”

photo by Dieter Haeussler of Arsenic Free Chickens at Rocklands Farm

The above quote is from MCA’s Executive Director Caroline Taylor at the Food and Water Watch press conference this past week on banning arsenic in chicken feed .Read MCA’s press conference statement here.

Perhaps, like Caroline you were also surprised to learn this, but over the last 60 years arsenic has become a routine part of a chicken’s diet. Originally it was used to treat intestinal disease in broiler chickens, but now it is added to feed to promote growth and improve meat pigmentation.

Arsenic is a serious toxin. Elevated levels of exposure can lead to a number of different kinds of cancers and also neurological effects. The posion does not just stay in the chicken’s body however, it ends up in chicken waste and subsequently in groundwater and eventually in the Chesapeake Bay.

According to Scripps news service, the EPA has baned arsenic in pesticides and wood perservatives and drastically reduced the “safe” levels of arsenic in drinking water to protect human health.  Despite this, a bill in the Maryland Legislature that would ban arsenic in livestock feed has been tabled until next session. Poultry producers continue to say that the arsenic compound in feed is safe. However, the independent Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy has found that detectable arsenic levels exist not only in all fast food chicken samples tested, but many supermarket samples as well, even organic chicken, even in higher end health food grocery stores. Two children in Utah that eat a lot of eggs from their backyard chickens were sickened with high arsenic levels.

Yikes is right.

Click Here to Sign the Food and Water Watch Petition.

This petition will be delivered to Maryland lawmakers in an effort to move this common sense ban along.

Until arsenic is banned in livestock feed, local eaters do have other options. There are farmers in our area who are committed to feeding their animals a poison free diet. We contacted Shannon Varley of Bella Terra Family Farm on Old Hundred Road in the Ag Reserve to see what her chickens were eating:

“We used to feed our chickens conventional feed but we have moved over to a diet with a base of soaked organic

Shannon, Maeve and Luke at Bella Terra Family Farm

wheat and corn (soaking makes it easier to absorb the nutrients from the grain), then we add in pulverized oyster shells, kelp meal and fish meal. We want to make sure good food is going into our chickens so they make the best eggs possible for the people who consume them.”

Want eggs or meat from chickens with a diet full of things you can pronounce? Check out our local food page or visit

For More information, see the Food and Water Watch Report.

Royce Hanson Award and Fall Fundraiser, A Big Success, Thank You!

It was a chilly but fun day on Button Farm on Sunday. All those gathered to Celebrate Tony Cohen and the Ag Reserve stayed warm with acoustic sets from Dale and Eleanor Kotler and Emma’s Revolution and food from Whole Foods Market and Common Market.

Most of all, we got a chance to celebrate Tony Cohen of Button Farm, pictured (right) here receiving the 2010 Royce Hanson Award with (from left) Caroline Taylor, Executive Director of MCA, Diana Conway, MCA President, Dr. Peter Eeg, MCA Board Member, and Dr. Royce Hanson,Architect of the Reserve and namesake of the Award.

MCA would like to thank everyone who came out and made this day a success, including all our artisans and others who donated to the silent auction, Dale and Eleanor Kotler for their music, Concerts in the Country who provided Emma’s Revolution, the Spirit Bottle Workshop and an Historical Reenactor, our board members and other event volunteers, the food sponsors: Whole Foods Market, Common Market, MOM’s Organic Market, Kingsbury Orchard, Comus Market, Lewis Orchard, and Rock Hill Orchard. Also thanks to Jessica Weiss of GrowingSOUL for helping make our event waste free, with Jessica’s help we are composting all waste from the event!

Check out the Patch article on the event. See the slideshow below for some pictures from the day…

MoCo Watersheds and the Bay (Video)

Cheers to the Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection for creating a great online watershed resource.

Local streams are not just important for the communities they flow through or the wells they fill, they all lead to the Chesapeake Bay. Check out the video below: