Small farmers, ranchers, horse owners, and backyard livestock hobbyists have a problem with the National Animal Identification System.

The Politics of Food

For years, one of the major topics of this column has been coverage of local farms and food producers, usually good news about products, farmers, sustainable agriculture, farmstands, markets, and events. Recently, however, the weekly "Friends of the Farm" e-mail newsletter from Boggy Creek Farm (3414 Lyons Rd., alerted me to a political issue that is likely to have a serious impact on small farmers, ranchers, horse owners, and backyard livestock hobbyists around the state, and the nation, for that matter. Farmers Carol Ann Sayle and Larry Butler operate a five-acre organic farm on historic property in East Austin where they have a small flock of chickens and sell all the farm-fresh eggs they can produce at their twice-weekly farmstand. They are justifiably concerned about new premises and animal registration regulations (the National Animal Identification System) about to be imposed by the Texas Animal Health Commission. So concerned, in fact, that they joined more than 300 people who showed up at a TAHC meeting on Feb. 16 to demand clarification of the interpretation of the new regulations and to protest mandatory compliance by small producers. Among the speakers at that meeting was Austin attorney Judith McGeary, the operator of a small farm in Southeast Travis county who is also working on an advanced degree in natural resources management at UT. McGeary represents the interests of the Texas Organic Farmers & Gardeners Association regarding this issue in negotiations with the TAHC, and she hopes to reach a compromise wherein small operations can comply voluntarily or be exempted altogether. After a discussion with McGeary and the Boggy Creek folks, it's apparent that this issue is too complex to address in only one column, so a feature about the NAIS is in the works. For the time being, what I would suggest is that if you value the availability of locally produced eggs, dairy products, poultry, and beef raised humanely on small farms and ranches, talk to your purveyors at their farmstand or farmers' market booth and ask them how the NAIS would affect their operation. If you share their concerns, contact your legislators and speak out against the NAIS on their behalf. There is also a wealth of information about the NAIS and its potential ramifications on the TOFGA Web site (, including links to the TAHC and addresses for the appropriate legislators concerned citizens may want to contact. These new regulations are scheduled to become law on May 4, so time is of the essence.

Event Menu :: March 3-8

The very ambitious first annual Austin Chocolate Festival ( offers a weekend packed with mouthwatering festivities benefitting the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. The event takes place at the rural Tuscan Hall (16221 Crystal Hills Dr., and opens with a gala dinner and live auction ($125 per person); continues with two festival days ($20) featuring vendors, demonstrations, and competitions; and culminates with a black-tie dinner ($250) on Saturday evening. Events are priced separately, and tickets can be purchased online ( or at BookWoman. Check the Web site for participating chefs, dinner menus, and an updated listing of festival vendors; 7pm, Friday, March 3; 4pm, Sunday, March 5.

According to a recent column ("Liquid Assets: The Next Napa?," by our wine writer, Wes Marshall, some of the best wines coming out of California these days are produced around Paso Robles. Thanks to the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance and the Wine & Food Foundation of Texas (327-7555,, Austinites will have the opportunity to sample more than 100 Paso Robles wines for a mere $40. The tasting takes place at Green Pastures (811 W. Live Oak), and tickets can be purchased by calling the foundation office. This one is a must for wine lovers; 5:30-7:30pm, Wednesday, March 8.

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