A legislative proposal to expand the production and sale of food grown in New Hampshire received a lukewarm reception at a public hearing at the State House this morning.
Senate Bill 141 calls for the creation of a farm-to-table program to promote the economic development of New Hampshire’s farming and fishing sectors, while increasing consumers’ access to locally grown and processed food. The program would be implemented by an advisory council of farmers, vendors and sustainability experts working closely with the state Department of Agriculture, Markets and Food.
The bill’s primary sponsor, Sen. Martha Fuller Clark, told the Senate Executive Department and Administration Committee that the program would help bring together the “disparate groups” who are already committed to the “grow-local, eat-local movement” in New Hampshire.
“There is an ongoing interest throughout all of New England, in fact throughout the country, to look at how we promote and coordinate what really is a major food revolution in this country” Clark said. “This bill is an effort to make sure NH is in the forefront as this food revolution moves forward.”John Carroll, professor of Environmental Conservation at the University of New Hampshire, testified that a farm-to-table program would “rejuvenate” local food production, create jobs and increase the quantity of locally grown food in grocery stores, restaurants and schools.
“To me, the real benefit of this legislation is to free the spirit of our farmers to farm their land the best they can without impediment and to give our local business entrepreneurs an opportunity to grow their local-food and farm-related businesses as they know best,” he said.
But several people who testified, including a representative from the Department of Agriculture, Markets and Food, said SB 141 would duplicate the efforts of a growing, statewide network of local-food advocates.
Testifying on behalf of Agriculture Commissioner Lorraine Merrill, state veterinarian Steve Crawford said the New Hampshire Coalition for Sustaining Agriculture recently completed a plan to coordinate the work of local-food advocates around the state.
He also questioned whether the department had the resources to fulfill the responsibilities outlined by the the bill, which include creation of a strategic plan to guide agricultural development in New Hampshire.
“The department simply does not have the staff or funds to implement the activities described in SB141 as written and introduced,” Crawford told the committee.
State Rep. Rebecca Brown of Grafton read a letter signed by a dozen advocates who supported “the concept” of SB 141, but opposed formation of an advisory council to carry out its goals.
Brown noted that, with funding from a private foundation, the Sustainability Institute at the University of New Hampshire is developing a regional food-system network. She said the UNH initiative “touches on all the issues recognized as needed by SB141 and includes many more.”
She urged lawmakers to support the UNH effort, which she said will “very likely” lead to a separate legislative initiative. “The statewide food system planning effort already underway will receive a great boost by being recognized and endorsed by the New Hampshire legislature,” Brown said.
The bill was also opposed by Rob Johnson, policy director for the New Hampshire Farm Bureau. He said the state’s Division of Agricultural Development already has a “structure in place” to support an expansion of the market for locally grown food.
“This is a laudable goal,” Johnson said, “but we see no need for the bill.”