Tag Archives: certified organic

New videos address the question, ‘Why Organic?’

Vermont Organic Farmers releases videos and brochure to convey the benefits of buying organic, and growing organically
Vermont Organic Farmers (VOF) has developed a collection of outreach materials that explain and support the organic certification process, and promote organic products. The materials include a series of short videos for consumers that convey the benefits of buying organic products, a longer video that explains the certification process, and a beautifully designed brochure that addresses the reasons for farmers and processors to become certified. These materials can be used and shared by anyone interested in promoting organic agriculture.
In response to requests from certified organic producers to help increase demand for organic products in the marketplace, Vermont Organic Farmers (VOF) developed five consumer-focused video clips, designed for easy sharing online, to show the importance and value of organic production. Each video features one benefit, or value, of buying organic products: “No GMOs”, “Taste, “Stewardship”, “Community” and “Integrity”.  These values are articulated by organic growers in Vermont, and were filmed on-farm, providing an intimate glimpse into the world of sustainable agriculture. (All the videos can be found on the NOFA Vermont YouTube channel here: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLwGgmXsdmFP45nSGt-Bx0gbj8hRRLbwfE)
“We are really excited for consumers to get to know the growers of their food better,” said Nicole Dehne, who directs the VOF certification program. “This is a chance for folks to hear directly from the farmers about why they feel it is important to farm organically.”
VOF has also produced a longer video that demystifies the organic certification process for farmers interested in pursuing organic certification. This film will be used as mentoring support and motivation for producers who are interested in learning more about the process. Through various outreach efforts, the video will reach a broader consumer audience and  build confidence among buyers that the certification process is meaningful.  Viewers will hear directly from organic growers, why they certify their farm as organic and what that process means to them and to their market.  After watching the film, viewers will better understand the annual inspection process, the record keeping requirements, and the benefits of organic certification for their business.

As a companion to the videos, VOF has created an brochure for farmers interested in pursuing organic certification (http://www.ams.usda.gov/sites/default/files/media/NOFA-VTBrochure.pdf), which outlines five benefits of  becoming certified organic and also addresses concerns, such as the burden of record keeping and the cost of certification.

The project was funded with support from the USDA National Organic Program’s “Sound & Sensible Initiative,” a campaign that aims to make organic certification more accessible, affordable and attainable. Other resources from the campaign can be found on the USDA website: http://blogs.usda.gov/2015/11/09/organic-sound-and-sensible-resources-why-go-organic-and-where-to-start/ 

 

Keeping the Soil in Certified Organic

A Conversation with Dave Chapman of Long Wind Farm

DAVE CHAPMANDave Chapman is the owner of Long Wind Farm in East Thetford, where he grows certified organic greenhouse tomatoes. For several years, Dave has been speaking out strongly against USDA’s decision to allow hydroponically produced vegetables in organic certification. Although USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP) has allowed some hydroponic operations to be certified organic, Vermont Organic Farmers (VOF) does not certify hydroponically grown produce.

With this year’s National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) meeting in Stowe approaching, I asked Dave to share some of his thoughts on why hydroponics should not be allowed in organic certification and the implications of this issue for organic producers and consumers.

MM: Tell us how you got involved with the issue of hydroponics being allowed in certified organic. Can you summarize the problem as you see it?

DC: I got involved back around 2009 when the NOSB was having public hearings on whether or not hydroponic growing should be allowed for organic certification. Then, about three years ago I began to see a LOT of hydroponic tomatoes pouring into the organic wholesale market. Many of my customers were cutting back their orders, as the low priced hydroponic tomatoes came in. Of course the hydroponic stuff was cheaper than real organic tomatoes. This had a pretty strong effect in Vermont, where Deep Root lost Whole Foods as a customer for their tomatoes. Whole Foods is divided into different regions, with each region having a separate buyer. The buyer for southern Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York decided to drop the soil grown organic tomatoes and go exclusively for Mexican hydroponic, based entirely on price. As a result, all the New England organic tomato growers lost that account.

Organic certification was created to help eaters know what they were buying, and to make an open pact between the people who wanted to buy organic food and the farmers who wanted to grow and sell it. BUT we are now at a real crossroad. Certainly most organic growers would not consider a tomato grown on a little bag of coconut husk suspended 3 feet over the ground and fed entirely through an IV drip system to be organically grown. Nor would most organic consumers, if they were given a tour of a large glass greenhouse with thirty acres of suspended plants and not a speck of soil in sight. This is all so far from the ideals that organic farming was built on. Organic is based on protecting and enhancing the health and vitality of the soil.

The problem is that organic consumers are mostly pretty far removed from how their food is grown. Go into any supermarket on the east coast. Most of them will have an organic section now. Even Walmart has an organic section now! That should be a wonderful thing. But virtually ALL of the “organic” tomatoes in any of these thousands of stores will be hydroponic tomatoes from Mexico. So if people are buying organic tomatoes in a supermarket, they could be buying factory food that has never touched the soil.

MM: Can you explain the National Organic Standards Board’s (NOSB) 2010 recommendation on hydroponics and the findings on which that recommendation was based?

DC: The NOSB spent several years really exploring this issue. They had heated debates, and they had public hearings. In the end an overwhelming majority of the advisory board voted for the recommendation, which clearly called for keeping organic vegetables growing entirely in the soil.

This is not a debate about scientific studies on nutrition. This is about the core beliefs of organic agriculture. Feed the soil, not the plant. It sounds simplistic, but it is not naive. It is a profound alternative to what has come to be called “conventional agriculture”.  I am not saying that all of the many alternatives to organic farming are bad or worthless. I am saying that organic farming is based on a particular “systems thinking” about problems and solutions, based on healthy soil.

MM: Why has this issue resurfaced recently in the national conversation after being somewhat under the radar for a while?

DC: The main reason this issue got passed over is that there was almost no hydroponic produce being sold as organic. The hydroponic growers accepted that organic certification was not available to them. In the last five years hydroponic organic certification has resurfaced in a big way. A small group of hydroponic growers, who had no interest in converting to real soil grown organic practices, suddenly realized that they could “become organic” by simply switching what fertilizers they dumped into their fertilizer tanks. It took the real organic farmers a few years to realize what was going on. In fact, most of them still don’t realize what is going on! Unfortunately by the time everybody gets it, “organic” might be reduced to “SORT OF organic.” In the end it is about how we farm, not about what we call it, but I am not thrilled with the idea of giving away something that we all worked so hard to build for so many years.

MM: Do other countries certify hydroponically grown vegetables as organic?

DC: A very few countries will certify hydroponic organic. But Mexico, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, and 24 European countries, (including Holland, England, Germany, Italy, France, Belgium, and Spain) all PROHIBIT hydroponic vegetable production to be sold as organic in their own countries. The USDA is almost alone in their reinvention of what organic means.

MM: Why should consumers care about hydroponics being allowed in organic? What can people do to voice their thoughts or concerns on this issue?

DC: That is the big question. Why should people care about real organic? That isn’t a five word answer. Organic farming is based on enhancing and cultivating the wonderful balance of the biological systems in the soil. It isn’t just about replacing chemical fertilizers with “natural” fertilizers. What I care about is learning to work with these infinitely complex biological systems. I think there is such a beauty and grace to organic farming. After 35 years as an organic farmer, I still know very little. I have been to many organic farms, and to many hydroponic farms. I greatly prefer the organic farms. That is what I want to support. This is where I want to work. This is who I want to live next to. This is who I want to buy food from.

The organic I am interested in includes healthy soils, healthy food, healthy eaters, and healthy farmers. One of the great questions is “Can we move towards greater health in these systems and still have the farmers make a living?” The truth is that I don’t think organic food is more expensive, if we factored in things like health costs, which we all pay for. But the truth also is that health costs are not included at the supermarket cash register. Nor are government subsidies. Nor many other hidden costs of industrial farming.  So organic food “costs more”.

I see that people ARE willing to pay more for food that tastes good, that is grown safely for fair pay, and that will help them to stay healthy. We make these choices in our lives. We decide what is important to us. Most people now choose to pay a large monthly fee to be connected to the internet. No one imagined that 30 years ago.

People are making choices to buy local organic food. They are voting with their wallets. The challenge is making that as easy as possible, WITHOUT compromising on what organic means. People don’t want to just buy a label as a placebo. They want to support a system. They want to find connection to that system, and the people involved in growing food in that way.

I don’t know if we can save the word “organic”. But we can try. Sign the petition. Write to Miles MacEvoy and tell him you care. If enough people write letters to the USDA, they will have to respond. Write to your Senators and Representative. Tell your friends. Ask your produce managers where the “organic” food comes from, and how was it grown. Write the newspaper. Blog about it.

In two years we have created much greater awareness. Let’s keep going. Only we can do it. No one else is going to fix this.

If you believe soil is essential to organic systems, email Miles McEvoy, Deputy Administrator of the National Organic Program (NOP) at miles.mcevoy@ams.usda.gov and let him know.  You can also sign the petition to Keep the Soil in Organic at http://www.keepthesoilinorganic.org.

USDA Accepts Proposals for an Organic Check-Off Program

Got Milk?
The “Got milk?” campaign has over 90% awareness in the United States and the tag line has been licensed to dairy boards across the United States since 1995.

Whether you know it or not, you have probably seen marketing campaigns run by commodity research and promotion or “check-off” programs.

Remember “Got milk?” and “Beef – It’s what’s for dinner”? Each of these marketing campaigns was created through what is commonly called a commodity check-off program. Currently, there are check-off programs in place for all sorts of commodities, from pork to popcorn, which are funded by producers and run by boards made up of industry stakeholders.

In May, USDA began accepting proposals for a check-off program that would cover all organic commodities and require organic producers, importers, processors, and handlers above a certain income threshold to pay in to fund the program.

The first proposal, called GRO Organic, was submitted by the Organic Trade Association (OTA) on May 12th of this year. It would raise an estimated $30 million annually for organic research and promotion. While $30 million per year sounds like a boon for the organic community, the idea has been met with resistance by some stakeholders. For example, some organizations claim that conventional check-offs have disproportionately benefited large processors and manufacturers at the expense of small and mid-sized farms. In fact, some feel that check-offs have directly contributed to the decline of small farms.

Ineffective marketing is another concern. Because they fall under the USDA’s umbrella, check-off programs tend to restrict the language and claims used in promotion, which can result in painfully generic marketing. On the other hand, more funding for organic research is sorely needed and a check-off program could help increase the capacity for domestic organic agriculture.

Will an organic check-off prove to be a boon or a burden on Vermont’s organic farmers? If you have thoughts, please be sure to share them with us by emailing Maddie Monty, NOFA-VT’s policy advisor or calling (802) 434-4122. In the meantime, we will be following the process every step of the way and will be asking for your input to help us inform our actions on this and other key policy issues.

Farmer Profile: Benjamin Pauly of the Woodstock Inn and Resort Farm

Ben Pauly
Ben Pauly

By Johanna Setta, Certification Specialist Assistant for Vermont Organic Farmers


Benjamin Pauly of the Woodstock Inn and Resort Farm grew up on a diversified homestead with his family, farming a one acre plot. While working on this small farm, the family focus was vegetable and fruit production. To this day Ben still works in agriculture, but his work has taken on a different scope – he is actually a trained architect. The combination of his past and present specialties has allowed him to excel at directing landscape design and high yield and variety crop cultivation.
Ben started working at the farm in 2009 and is entering his third season of growing on the property, and his second season being certified organic by Vermont Organic Farmers, the certification program of NOFA-VT. Ben’s job extends beyond farm manager into landscape architect and florist. He is passionate about growing flowers that he can then arrange for guests and public space at the Inn.

Once you start farming organically, you realize the soil is healthier and the output will be better and more nutritious.

Everything Ben grows is for the Woodstock Inn and Resort restaurant. The kitchen likes to think of itself as “farm inspired,” as the chefs source everything they can from the farm during the growing season and adjust menus based on what is available for harvest. In order to keep up with the demand of the kitchen, the farm will be expanding its facility with the construction of a high tunnel this season. Ben works closely with the chefs at the Inn to discuss which vegetables and fruits they are interested in utilizing during the upcoming season. He chooses a wide seed variety to allow for creative menu options. He makes sure to throw in some uncommon produce that might not be available wholesale like lemon cucumbers and malabar spinach. Malabar spinach is an all-time favorite of Ben’s; this heat loving vining plant can grow up to eight feet and is great for cooking with its thick fleshy leaves. In the 2015 growing season, the guests at the Inn can look forward to baby ginger and hops!

The Woodstock Inn and Resort Farm chooses to be certified organic because it forces them to be acutely aware of their growing practices and the condition of their soil. Although they would be growing in this manner regardless of certification, the organic certification process allows them to keep checks and balances on their practices.

“Once you start farming organically, and realize the soil is healthier and the output will be better and more nutritious, then it’s a no brainer,” says Ben. “You would never want to do anything that’s not organic.”

He feels organic certification helps tell a story about the farm; where they grow and how they grow. The Inn knows that is has a large presence in the village and feels that it is a huge accolade to show the community they are certified organic by Vermont Organic Farmers. It is not only a source of pride for the Farm, but for the community as a whole. Although Ben enjoys explaining his farming practices while leading guest tours, being certified organic is an easy way to market the farm prior to guests arrival.

Ben Pauly
Ben Pauly

Ben has worked carefully on the design of the Farm’s two-acre plot and all of its steep slopes to create a space that is versatile. It is a multi-use farm in the sense that it is for production as well as a functioning educational space. On any given day in the summer you may find Ben giving tours of the farm to guests, hosting workshops for local groups like the gardening club, or tending to the two acres with his summer farm staff. Adjoining the farm is a half acre plot used for an event space. The Woodstock Inn and Resort is excited to use this beautiful space for weddings, meetings, and events. The farm allows guests to enjoy this bountiful land and experience where the tomatoes and shitake mushrooms they are having for dinner come from. Next time you are nearby, stop in and say hello to Ben and the Woodstock Inn and Resort staff for a special farm-to-table meal and a tour of the organic farm.

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]

What does “certified organic” mean?

What DOES certified organic mean? Who determines that definition, and how is it enforced?

Get the answers to these questions and more in our exclusive interview with Jean Richardson, National Organic Standards Board member and organic certification inspector for VOF.

Use the navigation menu at the beginning of the video to jump to the topic you’re interested in – organic standards, international regulations, the three organic categories for processed products, the NOSB, enforcement, and more – or watch the full 30-minute interview for a comprehensive overview of what, exactly, organic certification means.
Subscribe to our YouTube channel to get the latest Policy Updates,Farmer Quick Tips, Farmers Talk interviews, and videos that feature our members and programs.
PS – Spread the word! Like, share, and comment on the video, and ask your local public access TV station to play it, too. They’ll find it on the Vermont Media Exchange by the name PolicyUpdateOrganicCertification.mpg. Thanks!

Job Openings and Internships at NOFA!

We’re currently looking for two people to join the NOFA team – one as a Farm to Community Mentor for Orleans and Caledonia counties, and one to be our Mobile Oven Baker for the summer and fall event season. We also have a few intern positions still open. Read on for  full job descriptions and application information! (And check out more community job opportunities on our classifieds page!)

Farm to Community Mentor:
Orleans and Caledonia Counties

Families explore local farmers' tractors at Tractor Day.
Farm to Community Mentors help organize community activities, like this Tractor Day in Highgate.

NOFA-VT is seeking a Farm to Community Mentor for Orleans and Caledonia Counties to work in communities to help farmers, students and community groups build meaningful, long-term relationships within VT agriculture. A mentor represents NOFA-VT and serves as a regional contact for farmers who want to make school and community connections. The mentor position will average approximately 15-20 hours/month. Experience in education and farming/gardening preferred and the mentor must live in either Orleans or Caledonia County.

Please email or mail, a resume and separate letter outlining your interest and skills for this position, by April 15, 2014 to Abbie Nelson: abbie@nofavt.org

Mobile Oven Baker

Pizza ready to go into the wood-fired oven
The pizza oven is a fun and far-ranging outreach tool for NOFA. Photo by Elizabeth Ferry at Cedar Circle Farm.Mobile Oven Baker

We are seeking an experienced baker with great organizational and interpersonal skills to run our mobile wood-fired oven at up to 50 events this summer and fall, including farmers’ markets, farm field days, private events, and festivals. Requires a flexible schedule. Please contact Enid Wonnacott at enid@nofavt.org if you are interested and/or need additional information.

Internships

We still have two summer intern positions available. Each intern has a particular project area, and all interns also help at oven events and participate in a CSA research project. These positions are filling quickly, so we recommend submitting an application soon if you are interested!

The internship project areas are:

1. Organic Certification Marketing

This internship will focus on increasing consumer demand for local, certified organic food by targeting promotional efforts at retail locations. Vermont Organic Farmers (VOF), the certification branch of NOFA-VT, is looking for assistance with the development and implementation of a promotional program with one or more food coops to highlight the VOF logo and the benefits of certified organic. The retail promotion will focus on National Organic Month (September). Click here for a full job description.

2. Organic Certification Mapping

This internship will assist Vermont Organic Farmers (the certification branch of NOFA-VT) in geospatially locating certified organic farm fields in Chittenden, Franklin and Grand Isle counties. This project involves working with the Farm Service Agency (FSA) to collect shape files for farms that are currently or recently enrolled in FSA or NRCS programs. In addition, this internship will include locating and mapping the fields of organic farms not enrolled in these programs. Please note, this project does not involve fieldwork, instead most of the work is office based using records and documents provided by organic farmers. Ideal candidates will be familiar with working with ARCGIS or similar programs. Click here for a full job description.