The Texas Local Food and Farm Coalition’s vision is a local, sustainable, and accessible food system for all Texans.
A wide range of policy reforms is needed to make this vision a reality. Below are specific policies that the Coalition supports in the upcoming 2017 Texas Legislative Session. Stay tuned for information on additional recommendations for future state legislation, as well as legislation at the federal level.
Please note that these policy proposals reflect a general consensus of the Coalition members. Individual organizations place different emphasis on these issues.
Although Texas law provides for “agricultural valuation” of land used primarily for raising food, many farmers across the state have experienced problems in qualifying for such valuation due to bias against sustainable farming methods, urban farms, and produce farmers. This has meant that small, sustainable farmers have often paid thousands of dollars in additional taxes – a significant burden for these small businesses that provide food for local communities.
The Coalition supports a bill (introduced previously as HB 1900):
- To specify that mixed vegetable and fruit production qualifies as “agricultural use”;
- To direct tax appraisers to consider the type of production used, including organic and sustainable methods such as rotational grazing, in determining the degree of intensity of use necessary to qualify;
- To direct the Comptroller to develop guidelines to address under what conditions small tracts and diversified farms qualify for agricultural valuation.
This proposal would not increase the number of landowners entitled to agricultural valuation; rather, it merely ensures that people who should already qualify for agricultural valuation are not inappropriately excluded by local authorities.
In addition, existing law requires that land be used primarily for agricultural use for at least 5 years before it can qualify for agricultural valuation. This waiting period poses a challenge for any farmer who purchases land that is not already in agricultural use, and it is a particular burden on young beginning farmers who often struggle to raise the capital to buy land in the first place. Veterans seeking to transition from the military to farming also often struggle with initial capitalization. Given the problem posed by an aging farmer population (in which over a third of all farmers are over the age of 65), it is vital to remove barriers to young farmers’ entry into this profession.
The Coalition supports a bill to reduce the waiting period for qualifying for agricultural valuation to one year for young beginning farmers and veterans.
HOME BASED FOOD BUSINESSES
Prior to 2011, it was illegal for anyone to sell food that they prepared in their homes. In 2011 and 2013, the Texas Legislature adopted “cottage food laws” legalizing the sale of specific non-potentially hazardous foods, at specific locations, directly to consumers. A 2014 news article estimated that over a thousand new businesses had been established as a result of the cottage food law.
While the cottage food law was an important breakthrough for home-based food businesses, the restrictions on what can be produced and where the food can be sold limits the law’s usefulness for many farmers and food producers. In particular, cottage food producers are not allowed to sell to stores that are interested in their products, nor make perishable baked goods. Vegetable farmers are also limited by the exclusion of most canned and fermented foods from the law.
The Coalition supports the passage of a “Home Processors’ Bill” (previously introduced as HB 2600) that would allow the sale of more types of foods at more locations, with reasonable, scale-sensitive sanitation requirements. This law would be a stand-alone option, not a replacement or amendment to the existing cottage food law.
Inadequate access to healthy foods has been linked to chronic disease and hunger across the state of Texas. Food access challenges exist in both rural and urban areas. The coalition supports improving food access through mechanisms that support local, sustainable food systems.
Water is a basic necessity for human life and for a wide range of economic activity. We cannot assume that some solution will appear in 50 or 100 years to provide the water that is needed for our children and grandchildren to survive and thrive. It is our moral and ethical duty to ensure that this basic necessity is available for the generations to come.
In addition, we must ensure that water is available for food production, now and in the future. Rural communities depend on farms and ranches as the backbone of the economy; if these local businesses are destroyed through lack of affordable water access, the entire community suffers. Moreover, the loss of these businesses will have impacts beyond their local communities, as Texas will become ever more dependent on other states and even other countries for another basic necessity: our food supply. This decision means Texas will become less independent and food secure.
Prioritizing agriculture in water policy has additional benefits. Well-managed grazing and agricultural lands can play an important role in water conservation, aquifer recharge, and water quality for all water users.
It is a mistake to wait for the next drought to implement strong conservation measures. The failure to institute strong conservation measures statewide simply positions our State to experience ever-worsening crises. Every municipality should be directed to identify measures to reduce per capita both during and in between droughts. Similarly, businesses should be subject to basic drought management measures on an ongoing basis. While the specific measures may vary locally, the choice whether to institute conservation measures should not be left to the local government’s discretion.
The Coalition supports policies to protect the long-term sustainability of aquifers, promote strong conservation measures across the board, and provide secure water sources for agricultural use and rural communities. The Coalition opposes relying on water marketing and transfers in the absence of these steps, as unrestricted marketing would by its nature undervalue water in the long term and leave many communities vulnerable.
Licensed farmers can legally sell raw milk in Texas, but sales are limited to on the farm. This marketing restriction does not increase the safety of the product, but rather places unnecessary burdens on both farmers and consumers. Farmers who invest significant resources to become licensed face unfair limitations. Consumers who want unprocessed food must expend significant time, gas, and money on long weekly drives.
The Coalition supports a bill (previously introduced as HB 91) to remove this unnecessary restriction, while preserving the direct-to-consumer transaction between farmers and consumers through sales at farmers’ markets and by delivery.