Flagler News Weekly welcomes Heather Beaven, Fresh From Flagler agriculture advocate and co-owner of Huckleberry Farms as this week’s guest for The Big Five.
- You’ve been a member of the armed forces, an advocate for education and now an agricultural entrepreneur. What drives you to take on these challenges and what have you learned from your success?
I really, really don’t like inequality. I don’t like it when people are treated unfairly and I don’t like uneven playing fields. I’ve used my professional life to try to right those wrongs. When I was a teenager my mom would say “don’t your arms ever get tired of swimming upstream?” I guess the answer is “no” and I guess I will find out if I made a difference in this world when I leave it. Until then, as you can see from my answers below, I will keep raising hell.
- Since the creation of Huckleberry Farms Equestrian Center, you’ve already begun the process of championing communities in western Flagler County, especially as it pertains to connecting local farmers and underserved families. Why is this important to you? I raised my children East of US 1. Like many other Flagler residents, I didn’t even know West Flagler existed until my daughter fell in love with horses. When we bought Huckleberry Farms, it was just supposed to be a horse barn. But then I started seeing the power of agriculture and the important role it plays in our world – everything from food insecurity to protecting our planet. I just started to become more and more passionate about “Fresh from Flagler” as an idea. I think it’s ridiculous that Flagler County doesn’t focus on agriculture which is our second largest economic driver. Our elected officials, our County Administrator, our tourism board, our parks and recreation department, our AG Extension Office and our Property Appraiser – in my opinion – are doing the area a tremendous disservice by not making sure that locally grown items aren’t every bit as visible and protected as our beaches.
- Talk about the current legislation presented by SB 1294/HB663 and how it can help small businesses. What are the benefits, what are the potential hazards? How is this currently regulated and how would it change if this legislation becomes law? This bill allows Cottage Foodpreneurs to ship their items. Right now they can only sell their items face to face. It also raises the revenue limits. The League of Cities, for example, opposes it because they philosophically believe that it will limit local control. You might remember a few years back Palm Coast tried to put restrictions on home bakers. Even then it didn’t seem fair to me that Palm Coast residents had less right to the American Dream then did the folks who lived in Bunnell, for example. So I support it because I support entrepreneurship and sometimes empires start in a garage or a kitchen. You can meet some amazing farmers, makers, bakers, picklers and artists at our Fresh from Flagler farmers market March 20th. You’ll be shocked at how much talent there is in our County.
- Talk about SB682 and the meat of the legislation. If passed, how will this impact local farmers in a positive way? Will this help standardize oversight and regulation across the state? What are the pitfalls or challenges that need to be addressed to gain support from legislators? Home rule is a big buzzword today. Why is it better for this to be regulated by the state than piecemealed by various municipalities? I am so excited by this bill. You might remember a couple of years ago Governor DeSantis signed a bill allowing Floridians to garden in their front yards, which was until then prohibited by many local municipalities. This bill, to me, is a natural extension of that. It simply recognizes that if you grow food in a more densely populated area and you grow more than you need for your personal consumption, you have the right to sell it like any other farmer. I think it’s exciting for our state because I believe that it will allow people to increase their income, give more people access to fresh food and, in the years to come, help our planet by reducing sprawl and reducing the distance food has to travel. The “home rule” advocates probably see it as an invasion of their ability to govern locally but I don’t think food, income and the environment are local issues.
- In a rural county like Flagler, what impact can this legislation have on our immediate community? Well, and let me be very frank, our County is blind to the power of local agriculture. Our Property Appraiser is ignorant to responsible farming and ranching practices which results in over use of our land if we want to qualify for an Agricultural tax exemption. That needs to be stopped and every small farmer in Flagler County will agree. Our zoning laws prohibit small farmers in the Mondex from selling agricultural items from their property. Addressing that would not only add an income stream for some but also help address the lack of fresh food in the area. Our AG Extension Office doesn’t believe their mission is to promote local farmers. It’s the only AG Extension Office in Florida that doesn’t participate in local food promotion. Flagler County does not have a point person for food insecurity which, if you have ever seen the line at the food bank, is completely irresponsible. Flagler County and our local municipalities don’t have a local agriculture preference in their procurement and, even worse, recently they released a bid for Meals on Wheels that required frozen meals in effect knocking out any local companies from bidding. Florida schools spend $66 million purchasing fresh food for their cafeterias but Flagler County Schools doesn’t have a dedicated Farm-to-School employee. I could go on and on but here’s the point – Flagler County is doing itself an economic disservice by not paying attention to them importance of farmpreneurs, foodpreneurs and micropreneurs.