IDOKI – A New Food Label

Direct from Euskal Herriko Etxe Ekoizleen Elkartea comes a new food label designed to ensure that you get nothing but the best from the Basque homeland.

The IDOKI complements the existing EU Agriculture Biologique (AB) and Appellation d’Origine Protégée (AOP) labels.

AOP and AB and IDOKIThe IDOKI’s focus is on small manageable farms (taille humaine or human size) that grow and produce products from their farm, managed by themselves, with a focus on local sales (proximité) by selling directly at markets and local venues. The IDOKI label requires certain practices and prohibits other practices, focusing on quality and individual management of the complete operations.

If you have never been to the northern border between Spain and France, the beloved homeland of the Basque people, then you have missed a wonderful culinary delight. The de facto capital of Basque is San Sebastian a modest sized city with more tapas bars then I could count. The local wines are as sturdy and reliable as the Pyrenees, a cuisine dominated by fish, pork, rice, espelette peppers and other local herbs and spices befitting the hard-working lifestyle of the Basque.

One can only hope Catalonia along with the former French counties now called Roussillon (Northern Catalonia) will take up the challenge and create a label that protects and encourages their historic culinary delights. Competition isn’t always destructive. The Catalonian and Basque cuisines at times seem very similar but the differences are worth eating, learning about and celebrating.

It is a pure joy to eat and drink your way along the Spanish/French border; start by going south from Saint Jean de Luz to Banyuls on the French side and then return north on the Spanish side from Figueres or Girona to San Sebastian. You might just decide to stay.

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Economic Development Opportunity for New Hampshire

There is a wonderful opportunity for New Hampshire’s Legislators to create a windfall economic event for the State without having to invest much time, effort or, more importantly, money. Simply propose a special referendum vote for Mandatory Labeling of all products that contain Genetically Modified (GMO) ingredients.

The pro-GM industry has spent more than $25 million to defeat a similar ballot measures in Colorado and Oregon; if those voters side with Big Ag then that would increase the amounts industry giants would funnel into a little State like New Hampshire.

Face it, do we really need to know what we are eating? Hasn’t our Legislature been saving us from reading labels by making them uninformative and ensuring that we continue to have full access to all of those out-of-state raised, produced, and manufactured products? Who still believes that the truth will set you free? It’s all about the money and in the grand scheme of things, Big Ag takes more money out of New Hampshire than it puts in so we have an excellent opportunity to get back some of our money Big Ag is throwing around elsewhere.

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Pollinator Health and Safety Conference

The University of Maine, co-sponsored by The Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation & Forestry is holding an important conference 20 November on Pollinator Health & Safety:


8:00 am- Registration and Check-in

8:30 am- Welcome and Overview
Moderator Jim Dill, University of Maine Cooperative Extension

8:45 am- Factors Affecting Bee Mortality In the US
John Skinner, Professor and Apiculture Specialist, University of Tennessee

9:45 am- Factors Affecting Bee Mortality In Maine Agriculture
Tony Jadczak, Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation & Forestry.

10:30 am- Break

10:45 am- Status of Native ME Pollinators
Frank Drummond, UMaine School of Biology and Ecology

11:30 am- Pesticide Risks
Nancy Ostiguy, Penn State University, Department of Entomology

12:30 pm- Lunch

1:30 pm- Use Patterns for Neonicotinoids and Other Pesticides in Maine
Henry Jennings, Director Maine Board of Pesticides Control

2:30 pm- Best Management Practices For Pollinator Safety
David Epstein, USDA Office of Pest Management Policy

3:30 pm- Panel Discussion-Questions All

4:30 pm- Adjourn Safe Travels!!

*Approved for 7 pesticide applicator recertificaion credits & 6 CEUs (5 IPM and 1 CM)
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Public Food Policy

I am among the first to remind that the devil is in the detail but there is something to be said for simplicity, plain language and perhaps, rarely – from remote time to remote time, a little socialism. The French do seem to get hung up on their government being more for the people instead of corporate interests. On 7 October, the French Minister of Agriculture, Stephane Le Foll outlined their updated Public Food Policy:

The Four Axes of the French Public Food Policy
• Social Justice
The Social Justice axis has the goal of ensuring that everyone has sufficient access to safe and nutritious food. By recognizing and responding to the population’s different dietary needs and preferences depending on factors such as wealth, location, religion and health, this pillar of French Public Food Policy strives to leave no man behind when it comes to leading a healthy and active life.
• Youth Education
Habits are acquired at an early age. That is why the French PPA emphasizes the education of its youth from the time they enter into the school system. This axis of the PPA has spurred the creation of many national school programs for nutrition and general food education. From kindergarten to high school, French youth are taught not only about the culture, variety and pleasure of food, but also about the breadth and importance of the food industry. The introduction and promotion of careers within the food industry to the county’s youth is a great way to raise awareness about the industry as a whole and foster a personal, mutually beneficial relationship between producers, retailers, cooks and consumers.
• The Fight against Food Waste
This axis takes a holistic approach to combatting food waste from producers to consumers and everyone in between. Individual practices for waste prevention retain their importance, but distributers and retailers are also encouraged to contribute through donations of the unwanted, but perfectly sanitary products that are otherwise tossed out or destroyed. The State has committed to the financial and organizational support of associations that work toward renewable solutions with these retailers and distributers all while employing and rehabilitating the marginalized and disadvantaged members of society.
• Reconnecting producers and consumers
The fourth and final axis aims to breach the gap between the agricultural industry and its consumers, with the overarching goal of supporting the French system of agriculture. Local communities and all stakeholders of the agrifood industry have a pivotal role to play in this effort and are called to assist by utilizing and promoting local products with cultural and economic ties to their community. The Ministry of Agriculture places a special emphasis on the incorporation of local and “terroir” (lien) products into the menus of community kitchens, such as school or work cafeterias, expressing its willingness to fund and support local initiatives that work to this end.

A future Agricultural Law will be drafted with the intent of carrying out these four axes of the Public Food Policy. The Ministries for National Education, Justice, Defense, and Health & Social Affairs have all joined in the promotion and implementation of specific policies within their respective departments.

You might find these links interesting as well:

How the French are fighting their growing problem with obesity.

Eating well is everyone’s business.


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Wine Jargon & Acronyms

Do you know the difference between OWC and AOC? When celebrating do you look for a Blanc de blancs, Crémant or Méthode Traditionnelle? Are you at all concerned about SOS or DC?

Like every other industry, the wine industry is replete with jargon, acronyms and specialize lingo. Wine Searcher is an excellent on-line reference source for these various terms and how to read the labels from different countries.

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Live Free or Die

New Hampshire, with the highest Median Average Income in the United States, has redefined miserly, appearing to have found the methods for legally discriminating against retirees on fixed income, homeless, and lower-income wage earners regardless of ethnic origin. Of course, we do know what that really means.

State politicians brag that we have no income tax but the reality is that we have a flat 5% income tax on dividends and interest, to the dismay of retirees who rely on this income. Regressive gasoline taxes, cigarette taxes, hidden liquor taxes, license fees, registration fees, prepared food taxes, and property taxes all contribute to keeping all them folks out and forcing out the ones that didn’t get the message the first time around. Historically, New Hampshire’s approach to welfare is a one-way bus ticket to Portland Maine. School administrators are scrambling to figure how to manage with declining enrollment as families with school age children find it more and more difficult to survive and eventually abandon the State.

For those who still haven’t received the message, one additional cartridge added to the State’s ammo clip, lets starve the children.

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Do You Save?

I always categorized seed savers right up there with hoarders and used parts collectors, harmless but slightly a bubble off plum. My grandfather was a potato farmer and held back enough potatoes each season to satisfy a third of his next season’s seed requirements. I understood that, never thought it odd nor that he was a seed saver, just fiscally conservative and as risk averse as a farmer could be. He didn’t borrow money, he lived within his means, sent three sons through private school and college during the Great Depression, he understood how to thrive in a challenging environment.

I’ve changed my attitude on seed saving and now view it more as a logical extension of a prudent strategy on dealing with an uncertain future. Frankly, in many cases it is simpler than you think. I have been harvesting nasturtium seeds for many years now, they literally fall on the ground in front of you begging to be picked up and allowed to dry on a plate in the sun, a single seed in the spring yields 10s of seeds in the fall. I harvest so many that I have taken to packaging them in seed envelopes and giving to friends in the spring. Burpee sells a package of 50 seeds for $3.95 to $4.95; last fall I harvested enough seed to make over 25 packages of 50 seeds, I actually got tired of counting and packaged 50 grams per envelope.

This year I am starting to save chervil seed, not as easy as nasturtiums but still not difficult. I also let a crop of sorrel get away from me and decided to let them fully mature and harvest the seed which is drying out now. The sorrel seed was pricy, I only found one vendor so saving seed makes a lot of sense. When I run out of bean, pea, squash and cucumber seed I will start to save those as well but that is probably a few years away. Once you begin saving seeds the challenge becomes having enough friends to take the excess off you hands so you can do it all over again next season.

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US Labeling

I briefly described the European Labeling scheme last year, and recently received an update from Slow Food USA Learn the Labels that does a good job describing some of the more important US labels.

Although State and Federal elected officials are still genuflecting for Big AG Lobbyists, I find it humorous that the business channels are all agog over the decline in McDonald, the need for Burger King to merge with Tim Horton, Kellogg buyout of Annies, and the overall slide in fast food. Except of course, for Chipotle, Panera, and other GMO free, organic leaning chains. People are speaking with their wallets with millennials leading the way.  All the while with an election coming, our darling candidates are still stuffing their campaign coffers with Big Ag largess.

The millennials have it right, when you can’t trust government to believe that you are smart enough to understand the truth and Big AG pours money into lobbying then simply turn your back on them until the truth wins out and a rational decision can be made. I must be getting old, I remember when government was for the people. I remember when Nixon started the EPA. I remember too many corporate failures at protecting the people and our environment to believe that my best interests will ever be placed ahead of profits. Will the highly productive corn, soy and wheat fields of Iowa become the next Superfund site?

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Durham’s Budget Challenge

Some have suggested that I was impertinent to challenge the Durham Town Council to a dose of fiscal responsibility, as if a lowly taxpayer has no place at court, and even less right to question their betters. Let me clarify my challenge:

“I challenge the Town Council to set the 2015 Town Tax Revenues (Budget) at no more than $6,300,000 to claw back those excesses*, thereby putting Town’s management on an equal footing with the ORCSD, and for subsequent periods to limit budget growth to no more than the annual increase in Social Security benefits.”
* From the previous post, “excesses” are defined as the actual Town’s growth in tax revenues (budget) over Oyster River Cooperative School (ORCSD) district’s 1.30% annual growth rate from 2010 to 2014.

First of all, I commend the Oyster River Cooperative School District’s Board on holding their annual increase to 1.30% over the last four years, but I am fully aware that starting from a high base, a small percentage increase represents a large sum of money. I don’t believe that a few years of negative growth would degrade the quality of education and would once again serve as proof of the law of diminishing returns. The arrangement with Barrington promises to reduce the ultimate cost to member communities (Durham, Lee & Madbury) and many will be watching carefully to see how this plays out. I believe that the underlying member community costs will continue to increase absent managerial cost control.

Second, I am not draconian. I understand the money pit construct, and how throwing good money after bad is more about face-saving than resurrecting the dead. However, the challenge to “claw back those excesses” was to achieve a 1.30% 5 year growth rate, 2010-2015, and not about the excess spending during 2011-2014.

Adjust Growth Rate to 1.30%

Town's Tax Collection
Actual Increase over Prior Year
Tax Rate Increase Over Prior Year
Growth Rate 2010-20146.67%
2015 - Challenge$6,224,965-$1,331,104-17.62%
Growth 2010-20151.30%

Had I challenged the Town Council to claw back the excess spending from 2011-2014, essentially matching the ORCSD budget growth rate, then I would have challenged them to reduce the 2015 budget by over $3,545,435, see Table below, instead of $1,331,104, see Table above, that is necessary to achieve the average 1.30% growth rate.

Excess Spending over ORCSD Growth Rate 2010 - 2014

Town's Actual Tax Collection
Tax Rate Increased Annually by 1.30%
Excess Spending Over 1.30% Target
2011$6,352,036 $5,911,519 $440,516
2012$6,799,163 $5,988,369 $810,794
2013$6,949,352 $6,066,218 $883,134
2014$7,556,069 $6,145,079 $1,410,990
2015 Challenge$6,224,965 $0

A companion challenge would be to ask Durham’s Town Council to explain what they were thinking when they approved $3,545,435 in spending over a 1.30% growth rate in a time of low to no inflation, in a time when many were without jobs, in a time when many were cutting back to pay their property taxes. This is all before the Town office moves into their new $3,000,000 monument.

Is anyone actually minding the store?

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Analyzing Property Tax Rates

Conventional wisdom has the Oyster River Cooperative School District (ORCSD) as the bane of every Durham taxpayer. They refused to cede budget authority to the Town Council and continue operating as a semi-autonomous taxing authority. Hoots and hollers in a meeting hall packed with teachers, parents and students who steadfastly refuse to take any cost containment steps meet thoughtful taxpayer promoted warrant articles. In an act of solidarity, the ORCSD School Board refused to respond to a taxpayer questioning their training and experience in management operations, accounting and finance. The table below compares the effective per student tuition costs for various local communities:

Comparison of Education Costs

School Tax Rate
State Tax Rate
Town Valuation
Students (ADM)
Durham16.762.45$906,003,460 919.71$18,924
Rollinsford17.672.75$221,987,197 283.6$15,984
Portsmouth5.562.49$4,096,603,575 2095.95$15,734
Kensington16.52.43$297,326,778 379.15$14,845
Stratham12.892.22$1,223,166,918 1283.61$14,398
Greenland9.062.51$653,828,900 528.87$14,304
Newfields16.172.64$239,922,299 318.25$14,180
East Kingston15.962.45$298,935,807 391.47$14,058
Newmarket15.022.35$744,537,983 932.44$13,870
Epping16.662.26$651,392,800 934.33$13,191
Exeter14.682.44$1,606,450,382 2105.47$13,062
Madbury17.012.42$236,728,935 354.02$12,993
Lee18.032.32$414,570,781 678.14$12,441
Brentwood16.772.33$507,147,059 830.37$11,665
Barrington13.042.22$915,099,903 1283.76$10,878
Dover10.542.51$2,649,300,450 3508.71$ 9,854
Somersworth15.392.32$845,720,630 1603.76$ 9,339
Rochester12.192.46$2,021,637,412 4038.05$ 7,334
Calculate tuition costs by adding the School and State Tax rates together and converting them to their decimal equivalents then multiply that sum by the Town’s Taxable Valuation and divide the result by Students. (((School Tax + State Tax)/1000)*Taxable Valuation)/Students

Tax rates are not set, they are calculated. The Town, County, State or School District determine their budgets and those budgets are then divided by the Town’s taxable property valuation to determine the tax rate. As a taxpayer, your property taxes may decline because the Town becomes fiscally responsible, or the overall taxable valuation increased (usually through growth, but sometimes through reevaluation), or more likely a combination of the two. Unfortunately, the normal occurrence is for a Town’s tax component to increase along with the taxable valuation, which generates a larger increase in overall Town expenditures. Growth covers some, if not all, sins.

Many Durham residents believe the solution to our tax problems lies in growth. We are rapidly transforming the Town into commercial student housing complexes and should soon reap increased Town valuation. But the real solution is not growth, rather fiscal prudence. If we add $5,000,000 to the current Town valuation and maintain the existing Town Tax component then the Town receives an additional $41,700 ($5,000,000 * (8.34/1000)) with no additional costs. Prudent action would reduce the Town Tax component to 8.29 ((($7,556,069/($906,003,460+$5,000,000))*1000). But that is a minor savings; if we are to be competitive with Exeter, for example, then we need to reduce our Town Tax component by .53 (8.34-7.81). To accomplish this we would need to reduce our 2014 Budget by either $480,181 ((.53/1000)*$906,003,460) or increase our Town Valuation by $61,482,967 ($7,556,069/(7.81/1000)) or some combination of these actions.  Given our total property tax rate, it is extremely remote that we will achieve that level of growth in Town Valuation.

Frequently we hear about the Town’s Kaisan training sessions and meetings. However, we have not heard what or who they are benchmarking, nor have we seen any tangible, meaningful goals being set. Quality initiatives are rarely, if ever, successful without the most senior officials’ (Town Council) endorsement and active involvement.

Quality management programs preach the mantra You can’t manage what you don’t measure. They also teach that organizations need to identify superior competitors to benchmark their operations against as a way of gauging their efforts to improve processes, customer service and control expenses. Benchmarking is one attribute of goal setting. Durham plans to spend $1,720,413 or 29.5% more in 2014 than in 2010, well above the compounded inflation rate! Other than the Community Center (a.k.a. Library) what service expansions have occurred? Durham has just entered the early phases of budget preparation and the table below is more than appropriate as the Town Council’s benchmark to spur the Town on a path toward taxpayer relief.  Other communities are doing a better job. The Town Council needs to focus on budget reductions and not the tax rate.

Local Tax Rate Components

East Kingston5.291.0615.962.4524.76

Glaringly obvious from the first table, is how far Durham’s cost of education has outstripped the other local communities. The ORCSD desperately needs to align their cost structure with other communities in the area. However, the table below paints a slightly different picture; ORCSD has, at least, tried to contain their cost increases over the last four years and it appears that Durham’s Town Operations (followed closely by the County) is the real cause of our rising tax burden.

Summary of Durham Property Taxes 2010 through 2014

Town Valuation
Town's Tax
Growth Rate0.30%6.67%6.35%5.60%0.99%4.30%3.02%
Calculate Durham’s Town’s Tax by converting the Town Tax Rate to its decimal equivalent and multiplying that by the Town’s Valuation. ((Town’s Tax/1000)*Town Valuation)

Had the Durham Town Council constrained itself to the much maligned ORCSD’s level of growth between 2010 and 2014, namely 1.30% (the combined effect of School Tax Component increase and Town Valuation increase over the 4 years), then the 2014 tax demanded from Durham taxpayers, necessary to support the 2014 Town Budget, would have been $1,400,000 less. I challenge the Town Council to set the 2015 Town Tax Revenues (Budget) at no more than $6,300,000 to claw back those excesses, thereby putting Town’s management on an equal footing with the ORCSD, and for subsequent periods to limit budget growth to no more than the annual increase in Social Security benefits.

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