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Bills would boost food incentives in the state

By ANDREA LANNOM

The Register-Herald

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The Senate Agriculture and Rural Development Committee Wednesday took up bills dealing with establishing a farm-to-food bank tax credit and setting up a process for vendors to sell home-based foods at farmers markets.

The first, Senate Bill 25, would establish a farm-to-food bank tax credit for farmers who donate produce to food banks and other nonprofit food programs. The bill was referred to the Senate Finance Committee and will then go to the Senate floor with the committee’s recommendation that it pass.

Sen. Robert Karnes, R-Upshur, is the lead sponsor of the bill, with Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, and Dave Sypolt, R-Preston, also signed on.

Noelle Starek, counsel for the committee, said the goal of the bill is to provide incentive to donate to food banks fresh produce that otherwise would be thrown out. This is the same as SB 399 from last year’s session.

“Food banks are lacking in fresh, healthy produce,” Starek said. “And federal tax incentives do not apply to small-scale farmers.”

The amount of the tax credit under the bill is 10 percent of the value of donated produce but would not exceed $2,500 in the taxable year. The bill limits tax credits to $200,000 a year, Starek said. Credits would be allowed on donations after Dec. 31, 2017.

Starek said other states have similar incentives, mentioning this bill is modeled after a farm-to-food bank tax credit program in Kentucky.

Cynthia Kirkhart, executive director of the Facing Hunger Foodbank, said there have been economic challenges throughout the years, especially because of mine closures.

“The demand increases regularly,” she said. “Unfortunately, food resources to meet that demand do not. This bill, working with constituents and neighbors will provide nutritionally valuable food to our families, children and our senior citizens throughout the state.”

The second bill, SB 27, would permit the sale of home-based, micro-processed foods at farmers markets. Karnes is the lead sponsor, with Rucker, Sypolt and Sen. Charles Trump, R-Morgan, as co-sponsors.

The bill will be laid over to the next meeting.

Under SB 27, a vendor could apply for permit to sell home-based, micro-processed foods at a farmers market. To qualify, foods must source 70 percent of produce from the vendor’s own farm or garden.

Vendors would have to attend the Better Process Control School or an equivalent program, courses typically offered during the Small Farms Conference in Charleston. Rucker asked if it would be possible for extension offices to offer the classes. Starek said there are costs associated and offices would depend on grants to do so.

In other states, Starek said, people would have to renew their certification from these classes every three years but there is not such a provision in the current draft of this bill.

The vendor also must meet labeling guidelines, have a food handler’s permit, a U.S. Department of Agriculture approved recipe or test the recipe at West Virginia University.

The fee for the permit would be $50. Vendors would be limited to 750 units a year.

Foods already exempted include canned acidified food like sauces and salsas and non-potentially hazardous foods such as jams, jellies, breads, cakes, tomatoes and fermented products.

Starek said there are many states with cottage food bills and all of them are different. She said North Carolina has a similar process for low-risk processed foods but the state does not allow frozen products. North Carolina also has a rule that there are no dogs allowed in the home doing this micro-processing ever.

Danese resident Pamela Kessler, of the Broken Wheel Farm, addressed the committee to talk about how the bill would help her. Kessler said she and her family started farming four years ago.

“Our daughter had to have a bone marrow transplant and she wasn’t allowed to have fresh veggies from the store because of not knowing chemical-wise whether anything was sprayed on it,” Kessler said. “With that, my husband started doing hydroponics, growing our own lettuce and we started a farmers market stand in our home.”

Kessler said her customers want canned food and said there is a concern that small farmers are not able to use their full potential.

“There is a concern that we felt like we’ve been handcuffed, not able to use the potential of what we are capable of doing,” she said. “This would be good to make a profit not only for our families but the communities. It’s important for the future to be able to move forward.”

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