Human Resources and Labor Management for Farmers

IMGP2591Every producer knows that their team can make or break their business. In addition to being a critical element of any agricultural business, labor also typically comprises the greatest business expense. However many farmers are drawn to their work because they love the production process, not because they enjoy — or even have experience or skills — managing people. Yet management remains one of the key elements to building a successful business.

NOFA-VT, Vermont Technical College and the Vermont Agency of Agriculture are offering in-depth skill building workshops on labor management and human resources this fall and winter. Farmers and producers will have ample opportunity to consider their approaches to hiring, motivating, communicating and delegating. You wouldn’t run your equipment without regular and necessary maintenance, would you? Well, neither should you continue employing staff without reviewing your policies, leadership style and pay scale, to name a few topics.

Next week, from the Vermont Agency of Ag, is a full-day workshop called “Build a Strong Workforce on the Farm.” This workshop is being held in Burlington on November 10 and in White River Junction on November 12. Click here to view the Agency’s flier.

Starting in January, NOFA Vermont will be offering a series of three half-day trainings on Labor Management and Human Resources for Farmers. Each workshop will be held at two different locations to make them more available to all Vermont producers. We will also be holding two additional workshops at the Winter Conference.

Take the time to invest in your most valuable and expensive tool — your crew!

FSMA Listening Session with VAAFM and NEASDA

Food safety regulations will affect farmers and food processors throughout the country, and NOFA Vermont has been one of many voices calling for these regulations to be amended to be appropriate for organic and small-scale farms. We hope that concerned farmers, processors, and consumers will continue to make their voices heard, as well. This announcement comes from the Vermont Agency of Agriculture.

The Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food, and Markets (VAAFM), in conjunction with the Northeast Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NEASDA), will host an open Listening Session on November 17th, 2014, to offer farmers and food processors an opportunity to provide comment on new supplemental rules proposed by the federal Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).

Attendees will have an opportunity to pose questions to and seek clarification from a panel of subject matter experts from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that will be present at the meeting. The listening session will take place from 9:00am – 1:00pm in the Chase Center located at the Vermont Law School in South Royalton, VT. While oriented towards regional farmers and food processors specifically, this listening session is open to all interested parties from across the northeast.

FSMA, the most sweeping reform of our nation’s food safety laws in more than 70 years, was signed into law by President Obama on January 4, 2011. FSMA aims to ensure the safety of the U.S. food supply by shifting the focus from responding to contamination to preventing it. On September 29th, 2014, the FDA released proposed supplemental rules to four of the seven existing rules, largely the result of an unprecedented level of comments and valuable input received from farmers and others directly affected by these regulations.

The November 17th, 2014, the Vermont-NEASDA hosted listening session will focus on the following three supplemental rules:

1. The Standards for the Growing, Harvesting, Packing, and Holding of Produce rule proposes enforceable safety standards for the production and harvesting of produce on farms. Changes include:

  • More flexible criteria for determining the safety of agricultural water for certain uses and a tiered approach to water testing.
  • A commitment to conduct extensive research on the safe use of raw manure in growing areas and complete a risk assessment. Pending those actions, FDA is deferring its decision on an appropriate time interval between the application of raw manure, the harvesting of a crop, and removing the nine-month interval originally proposed.
  • The FDA proposes eliminating the 45-day minimum application interval for composted manure that meets proposed microbial standards and application requirements.

2.  The Current Good Manufacturing Practices and Hazard Analysis and Risk-Based Preventive Controls for Human Food rule would require makers of food to be sold in the United States, whether produced at a foreign- or domestic-based facility, to develop a formal plan for preventing food products from causing food borne illness.

3.  Current Good Manufacturing Practice and Hazard Analysis and Risk-Based Preventive Controls for Food for Animals would require facilities producing animal food (pet food, animal feed, and raw materials) to have written plans that identify hazards and specify steps to prevent those hazards. Changes include:

  • Requirements that human and animal food facilities, when appropriate, test products and the food facility’s environment, as well as implement certain supplier controls.

A full copy of the proposed supplemental rules is available for viewing through the following links:

All growers, manufacturers, and anyone interested in fresh produce safety and manufacturing of human and animal food are encouraged to comment on the supplemental proposed rules. The comment period will remain open for 75 days until December 15th, 2014. There are two ways to officially submit comments to FDA:

  1. Comment electronically at:
    1. Produce: https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2014/09/29/2014-22447/standards-for-the-growing-harvesting-packing-and-holding-of-produce-for-human-consumption
    2. Human Food: https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2014/09/29/2014-22446/current-good-manufacturing-practice-and-hazard-analysis-and-risk-based-preventive-controls-for-human
    3. Animal Feed: https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2014/09/29/2014-22445/current-good-manufacturing-practice-and-hazard-analysis-and-risk-based-preventive-controls-for-food
  2. Written comments may be faxed to the FDA at 301-827-6870 or you may mail them to:

Division of Dockets Management (HFA-305)

Food and Drug Administration

5630 Fishers Lane, Room 1061

Rockville, MD 20852

For more information about FSMA, visit http://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/FSMA/

Or contact:

Abbey Willard – abbey.willard@state.vt.us or 802-272-2885

Shelley Mehlenbacher – shelley.mehlenbacher@state.vt.us or 802-828-2421

Dr. Vandana Shiva to Speak in VT

vandana_graphic_v5We are thrilled to be welcoming Dr. Vandana Shiva to Vermont for two speaking engagements next week in support of VT’s GMO labeling law.

Her presentation is titled: Food System Transformation and Reversing the Climate Crisis: How Vermont’s GMO labeling law is part of the solution.

Dr. Shiva will speak on Sunday, November 2, 2014, 4:00-6:00PM at the Contois Auditorium in Burlington’s City Hall, 149 Church Street.  This event will be livestreamed at this link beginning at 3:55.

Dr. Shiva will also speak at the Vermont Law School on Monday Nov. 3 at 5:00PM in the Chase Center. This event is sponsored by the VLS Center for Agriculture and Food Systems.

Both events are open to the public, and donations will be welcomed to support the ongoing work of the Vermont Right to Know GMOs Coalition to implement and defend Vermont’s GMO food labeling law. Dr. Shiva’s visit to Vermont is being facilitated and co-sponsored by the Vermont Right to Know GMOs Coalition which is a partnership of Cedar Circle Farm & Education Center, NOFA-VT, Rural Vermont and VPIRG.

Grant opportunities for farmers

Two grant opportunities for farmers!

  • The Rodale Institute has  partnered with Amy’s to give away approximately $25,000 this year to organic farmers (5 grants of $5,000 each). Farms must have at least 20 acres in crop production and be in transition to organic, recently certified (within 5 years), or must show financial need to continue being certified organic. Project-specific (rather than general funding) requests are preferred. Rolling application through December 31. Learn more about this grant opportunity »
  • For the eighth year, the Vermont Farm & Forest Viability Program is pleased to announce that funds are available on a competitive basis for grants to past program participants. The implementation grant program helps Farm Viability Program participants to implement specific aspects of their business plan. This round of grants is available to farm businesses that have completed a full business plan or transfer plan through the Vermont Farm & Forest Viability Program in 2012, 2013 or 2014 (with a business advisor at the Intervale Center, NOFA-VT, University of Vermont Extension, Land For Good or with an independent consultant). Learn more about this grant opportunity »

Farmer input wanted on surveys

Agricultural research done in universities and institutions can have a big impact on policy and funding, as well as the development of practical tools, techniques, breeds, and more for farmers. Often one of the first steps in a research project is a survey – to determine the level of need or interest, or to gather a snapshot of perspectives and information. There are a few surveys out at the moment that could use the input of Vermont farmers, and we hope you’ll take a few minutes out of your busy harvest season to fill out one or more.

Survey on Raw Manure Application and Grazing in Fruit and Vegetable Production

Please complete this survey by October 22.

Under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) the Food and Drug Administration is seeking comments from stakeholders to determine the appropriate interval between application of raw manure/or grazing of animals in certain crops. They are also proposing that farmers who use raw manure to transition to using composted manure. UVM Extension’s Center for Sustainable Agriculture is trying to understand:

  • How farmers who grow fruits and vegetables for sale are using raw manure or grazing animals in fruit and vegetable production areas
  • How these farmers might be impacted if the recommended interval between the application of raw manure (or grazing animals) in areas where fruits and vegetables are grown, and harvesting the produce is extended
  • What barriers may exist for farmers if they were to transition from using raw manure to treated compost

Take the Raw Manure survey by October 22 »

2014 Organic Farmer Seed Survey

The purpose of this survey from the Organic Seed Alliance is to better assess certified organic crop producers’ attitudes and perceptions regarding organic seed. The purpose is also to understand producers’ current use of organic seed and any obstacles that restrict organic seed sourcing. Producers should be prepared to offer best estimates on their organic seed usage or have their seed records on hand. The survey also asks which crops and traits should be prioritized through organic plant breeding programs.

If you are a certified organic crop producer, please take ten minutes to respond to this survey, even if you currently do not use organic seed.

Take the Organic Seed survey »

Survey Regarding the Impact of Regulations on Farming Activities

The focus of this survey from the University of Connecticut is to better understand the state and local regulatory environment for agricultural production within your state.

Take the Farming Regulation survey »

Bio-based mulch approved for organic use (but don’t use it yet!)

Effective October 30, 2014, the NOP has added biodegradable bio-based mulch as an allowed substance for use on organic farms.  This is a great example of the NOP responding to the needs of organic farmers. Farmers and supporters, including VOF, have long been advocating for its allowed use, as benefits include reduced plastic landfill waste, reduced labor costs, and reduced removal and disposal costs.

However, desipite being “bio-based,” the mulch is still considered a synthetic, and so it had to go through a rigorous review by the National Organic Standards Board before its use could be considered acceptable on organic farms. Approved  synthetic mulches must meet strict criteria on compostability, biodegradability, and biobased content. In addition, it must be produced without organisms or feedstock derived from GMOs.

Only generic materials are added to the list of approved substances, therefore currently there is no brand name biodegradable biobased mulch approved for use.  Clarity regarding which specific products will be allowed will be forthcoming.  VOF-certified producers can only use brand name products that have been reviewed and approved for use in organic production by OMRI, WSDA or VOF.  Don’t buy any biodegradable mulch unless and until it is on one of the above “approved” lists. We will keep our farmers updated on this issue as it evolves!

Click here to read NOP Final Rule.

[by Nicole Dehne, VOF Certification Program Administrator]

NOFA-VT hiring Office Manager and Outreach Coordinator

Farmers are the superstars of the local and organic movement, to be sure, but a lot of important work goes on behind the scenes to help them grow and sell successfully. You can join the movement and make a real difference in Vermont’s food system by becoming part of the NOFA Vermont team!

We’re hiring two positions that provide critical support to our on-the-ground programs training farmers, educating consumers, and helping to make local and organic food available to all.  Help us grow local farms, healthy food, and strong communities in Vermont!

Office Manager

The full-time Office Manager is responsible for office administration, membership services, and program staff support.

We are seeking a candidate who is familiar with agriculture, is detail oriented, has excellent organizational and interpersonal skills, is able to juggle many tasks, and has experience with the Microsoft Office Suite. IT experience in a server environment and familiarity with SalesForce a plus.

Marketing and Outreach Coordinator

We’re looking for a candidate with marketing and outreach experience to tell the story of our programs and marketing campaigns, including the promotion of the Vermont Organic Farmers certification brand. This includes coordinating print and electronic campaigns, managing NOFA-VT’s web and social media presence, press relations, event promotion and staffing, and working with our graphic designer to produce a quarterly print newsletter and other material as needed. We are seeking expertise in marketing fundamentals, strong written and oral communications skills, and a creative, energetic individual who can balance many projects. Experience with Adobe Creative Suite and SalesForce a plus. 32-40 hours/week, occasional weekends required.

For both positions, please submit a resume and letter of interest to NOFA-VT, PO Box 697, Richmond VT 05477, or e-mail info@nofavt.org. We will be accepting applications until October 6, 2014. Job training will start in November with employment starting December 1st, 2014.

Share the Harvest on October 2!

STH14-socialYou’re invited! We are pleased to announce our collaboration with approximately 70 restaurants, food markets, and food cooperatives throughout Vermont for the 20th annual SHARE THE HARVEST fundraising event. On Thursday, October 2nd, participating restaurants and food stores will donate a percentage of their sales to NOFA-VT’s Farm Share Program.

Our Farm Share Program is dedicated to working with Vermonters who cannot afford to purchase fresh, local produce on a regular basis. All funds raised on October 2nd will benefit these individuals by subsidizing the cost of farm-fresh produce from local Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farms.

The Farm Share program has been helping limited-income Vermonters purchase food from local farms since 1994. In those 20 years, thousands of individuals and families have benefited from a season’s worth of locally grown vegetables and fruits as well as farm education initiatives. In 2014, we have served over 1,400 individuals and families, leveraging over $73,000 of income for Vermont farmers.

For a listing of participating restaurants, co-ops, and food stores, and to learn more about the Farm Share program visit our website or call NOFA-VT at 802-434-4122.

Sodexo’s local move

At NOFA-VT, we’ve been working with food service giant Sodexo for four years now during the Winter Conference at UVM, and we’ve seen their capacity for and commitment to using local foods improve each year. We’re glad to see the change formalized in the company’s new “Vermont First” campaign.

photo
VT Secretary of Agriculture Chuck Ross applauded Sodexo’s move during a press conference on September 4. Photo by Abbie Nelson, NOFA-VT.

Sodexo is undeniably a multi-national corporation, and the move is certainly based off of market pressure rather than pure goodwill. Rather than seeing that as cause for suspicion, however, it can be considered a victory: Vermont’s support of and demand for local foods is strong enough to sway the purchasing decisions of a company that operates in 90 countries.

And while many Vermont producers do not currently operate at the scale Sodexo requires, an increase in institutional purchasing such as that done by Sodexo represents an opportunity for growth in a state already hip-deep in farmers’ markets and CSAs. New farmers or farmer cooperatives may be able to succeed in areas that otherwise would be saturated or, alternatively, may lack the population to support them through traditional direct marketing means.

Additionally, institutional purchasing makes local food immediately available to more people, including those who may not be otherwise engaged in the local foods movement.

It remains to be seen how much Sodexo will dedicate to the change — according to VTDigger, no official benchmarks have been set, though the company has hired a local foods coordinator. We hope to see real increases in local purchasing, which could fuel both the local and regional food economy. Even an incremental change in Sodexo’s Vermont purchasing habits will show up on 34,000 plates each day. That represents a great opportunity for farmers and consumers alike, as well as a potential model for other institutional buyers.

Farmers interested in selling to institutional markets are encouraged to fill out the Wholesale and Institutional Markets Survey, and to contact NOFA-VT if you would like technical assistance in business planning, creating contracts, or production.

(More information from VPR or VTDigger.)

Direct Marketing workshops to be combined into Winter Conference

As we are gearing up for our winter educational offerings, we wanted to share that we have decided to not host a Direct Marketing Conference in 2015. Instead, based on feedback from past Winter Conferences, we will offer more direct marketing workshops in our commercial farmer track at the 2015 Winter Conference. These workshops will focus on issues relevant to farmers’ market vendors, and CSA and farm stand farmers. We hope that by re-combining these two conferences, more of you will be able to benefit from the workshops that have been spread out between two conferences in the past!

UVM's Davis Center serves as the conference hub. (Credit Elizabeth Ferry)The Request for Proposals (RFP) for Winter Conference workshops is currently open through September 15, 2014.

Even if you don’t have a workshop you would like to present yourself, we are also looking for feedback on specific workshops or presenters that you’d like us to consider for the 2015 Winter Conference. If you have ideas or suggestions, please contact our new Education Coordinator, Rachel Fussell as soon as possible, with a deadline of September 15th.

You may have noticed that I didn’t mention farmers’ market organizers in my workshop audience list above. We haven’t forgotten you! We will be collaborating with the Vermont Farmers’ Market Association (VTFMA) to host a day of workshops and the VTFMA Annual Meeting in March 2015. We will be sending more information later this fall on that event so please be on the lookout!

Lastly, we are looking forward to hearing from you after the Winter Conference about how this new set-up worked for you. While nine years ago we started a separate Direct Marketing Conference in order to accommodate more attendees when space at the Winter Conference venues was our major limiting factor, we are excited to again try to meet your needs by bringing the two conferences back together now that space is not an issue. Your feedback will help us determine if this is the best option moving forward or if we need to look at additional possibilities.

We look forward to hearing from you!

[By Erin Buckwalter,  Market Development and Community Food Security Coordinator]

Local Farms • Healthy Food • Strong Communities • • • the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont

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