The early birds get the worm: Breakfast with AZDA Director Killian

By: Kathleen Yetman, ASU Food Policy and Sustainability Leadership Certificate student

Just before we left Tempe to tour farms and ranches in Southern Arizona, we were honored to have breakfast with Mark Killian, Director of Arizona Department of Agriculture. Director Killian shared his passion for agriculture, which stemmed from generations of his family ranching in Arizona. He told us his experiences working for the State of Arizona, first for the legislature, then the AZ Department of Revenue as well as the Arizona Board of Regents, and finally as the Director of the AZDA. Throughout his 36-years in public service, he has continued to stay connected to his roots through his family’s ranching operation.

Meeting Director Killian was incredibly timely for me. The month before, Kim, one of the ranchers who vends at Prescott Farmers Market called me, furious at our county health department. She had been selling beef to two local restaurants for the past year, until a health inspector saw packages of her meat at one of the restaurants and informed her that, without a distributors license, she was not allowed to sell to anyone but the consumer. Prescott’s local food system is small and relationships like the one Kim established with a restaurant can take years to establish. Since the health inspector brought it to their attention, years of building trust and figuring out supply and demand were terminated instantly.

The distributors license that is required to sell to restaurants here in Arizona costs $500 annually. While that might not seem like a lot of money to some, it’s a lot to a small rancher trying to make a living. Kim wrote a letter to several government agencies, including Director Killian, arguing her case. Her biggest argument was that she already holds all the permits and licenses required to sell to the public and follows Federal and State food safety regulations to ensure that her beef is safe for consumption. Her cows are processed at an AZDA-approved facility and her packages have detailed information to make them traceable. How would paying the $500 fee make her beef any safer?

After listening intently to Director Killian’s approach to his work, his own experience as a rancher, he paused for questions. I raised my hand and shared Kim’s story. I was prepared to defend my argument and urge him to take the matter seriously, but there was no need. When I reached the $500 cost, he interjected, saying, “That’s a lot of money.” I hadn’t expected him to take this so seriously and was pleasantly surprised. Director Killian seemed genuinely concerned when he reached into his notebook and handed me his card. “Call my office and we’ll set up an appointment to get this straightened out.” I’m happy to report that Kim and I will be heading to Phoenix next week to meet with Director Killian to see what we can figure out!