Tag Archives: education

Is Organic Certification Right for You?

Farms often find that organic certification helps their sales. Photo by Elizabeth Ferry at Cedar Circle Farm.
Farms often find that organic certification helps their sales. Photo by Elizabeth Ferry at Cedar Circle Farm.

Choosing whether or not to become certified organic is a decision that has a lot of factors, including environmental and social values, marketing channels, farm size and type, and more.

We’re working on developing materials to help farmers better understand the potential benefits and challenges of organic certification, including costs, recordkeeping, pricing, marketing, and political impacts.

As part of that effort – and in order to help us understand why farmers do or do not pursue certification – we held (and filmed) a workshop at the 2014 Winter Conference on the topic of “Is Organic Certification Right for my Business?”

This workshop featured three Vermont farmers discussing their experiences with organic certification, and we recommend it as a good starting place if you are considering certification for your farm.

In the coming weeks, we’ll be working with a team of UVM students to organize a few focus groups to explore more deeply what motivates or prevents certification on Vermont’s farms. We’re looking for both certified and non-certified farmers of all kinds to take part. If you’d like to talk with us about your experience with certification, please contact Charles.

You can learn more about the organic certification regulations and requirements on the Vermont Organic Farmers webpage. There are also a number of helpful resources from ATTRA and eOrganic, a program of the university extension network.

NOFA Seeking Summer Interns

We’re looking for several motivated, articulate students who are passionate about local, organic agriculture and food systems – and who like to have fun – to join us this summer.

All interns will:

  • Participate in our summer outreach program by staffing the NOFA-VT pizza oven at statewide farm and food events, providing Vermonters with an opportunity to learn about NOFA-VT and organic/local foods.
  • Participate in the field in a CSA research project.

1. Direct Marketing Intern

Reporting to the Direct Marketing & Community Food Security Coordinator, the Direct Marketing intern will assist with farmers’ market and CSA-related projects, including coordinating a statewide CSA pricing study. Click here for full job description.

Preschool students fill their pots with dirt.
Local students learn in the NOFA-VT garden, coordinated by our garden intern.

2. Garden Intern

The garden intern assists with all aspects of caring for the NOFA-VT raised-bed garden, and will be responsible for coordinating educational activities and communicating with food pantries regarding harvest, needs and deliveries. Click here for full job description.

3. VT FEED/SNA-VT Intern

Reporting to Amy Gifford, the VT Food Education Every Day/School Nutrition Association of Vermont intern will assist with the development and implementation of marketing materials that highlight and promote local foods in school meal programs. In addition, the intern will assist in the planning and conducting of farm to school workshops at the Child Nutrition Programs Summer Institute. Click here for full job description.


4. Organic Certification Marketing Intern

The VOF Marketing intern will help reach customers in retail locations.
The Marketing intern will help expand our local & organic marketing campaign to retail locations.

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 program 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.

5. Organic Certification Mapping Intern

This internship will assist Vermont Organic Farmers (the certification program 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; 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.

Children’s Conference – Space & Scholarships Available!

There are still openings for youth ages 6-12 at our Children’s Conference this weekend! The Children’s Conference happens at the University of Vermont, simultaneously to the adult conference, but you don’t have to be an adult attendee at the Winter Conference in order to send your child.

Full scholarships are available!

The Children's Conference is a great way to spend a wintry weekend.The conference is a great opportunity for kids to work with wool, participate in a community art project with Bonnie Acker, create songs with Chris Dorman of Bread and Butter Farm, and go on outside adventures with Earth Walk.

Click here for more information and to see our proposed schedule.

To register, contact Coordinator Lauren Lenz at laurenlenz@gmail.com or (603) 359-3160.  Walk-in registrations are welcome for both the children and adult conference.

Milk Quality & Mastitis Part II: Treatment

This article is part of the NOFA Vermont Dairy and Livestock Technical Assistance Program.

Click here to jump to our Winter Conference offerings for dairy and livestock farmers.

Silhouette of three cowsWe recently shared some resources for mastitis prevention. But what to do when cows do get a clinical or subclinical udder infection?

Subclinical mastitis can show up as an increase in the SCC (somatic cell count) without visual signs of mastitis. Clinical mastitis will include visual changes in the milk or udder swelling.

When a cow has clinical mastitis, treatment suggestions that Dr. Guy Jodarski, staff veterinarian for Organic  Valley/CROPP Cooperative, discussed in a recent webinar include:

  • frequent stripping
  • vitamin & mineral supplements
  • allowed synthetics including fluids, aspirin and other anti-inflammatory drugs
  • biologics (such as immunoboost) and vaccines
  • herbs including antibacterial tinctures
  • topicals (essential oils)
  • whey products – made from colostrum
  • antioxidants
  • homeopathy

Some synthetic medications are allowed for use on organic livestock; for acute mastitis cases these include Banamine (Flunixin) and aspirin. Electrolytes (such as CMPK or hypertonic saline), along with injectable vitamins, are also used by some veterinarians.

Before treating an animal, check the 2014 Organic Livestock Healthcare List or contact the VOF certification office to be sure the treatment is approved for use. It is important to keep records of what treatments are used, and to withhold milk when required by the organic standards.

As there’s no single silver bullet treatment for mastitis, each farm will find a few products from this list that work for their management system.

A good relationship with the veterinarian can make being  certified organic easier! Your veterinarian can help you  understand what treatments to use, develop a better prevention plan, and keep better records.

For more information on organic production, herd health, and other technical assistance available from NOFA Vermont, contact Sam Fuller, Program Coordinator, at 802-434-4122 or sam@nofavt.org.

Dairy & Livestock at the Winter Conference

Join us for an advanced commercial dairy & livestock track on Saturday, including:

Sunday also offers a diversity of workshop topics, including Efficient Swine Rationing from Piglet to Adult, Farm Labor: Strategies for Success with Your Employees, Market Research: How to Address Opportunities, Winter Lambing Procedure, and many more!

And on Monday, February 17th, join our all-day intensive:
Chicken Soup for the Soil: Building Nutrient-Dense Soil for Nutrient-Dense Crops with Jerry Brunetti,
Jack Lazor, and Heather Darby.

Community and School Gardens at the Winter Conference

The NOFA-VT Winter Conference brings together organic growers and eaters from across the food system. One of the ways the Winter Conference attracts this diversity is through a Community and School Garden Track for garden organizers and educators, presented by the Vermont Community Garden Network, and happening this year on Sunday, February 16th.

NOFA, VCGN, NOFA-VT Winter ConferenceIn its 3rd year, this special track features interactive workshops throughout the day and a networking session over lunch time, bringing together the state’s community and school garden leaders to learn from each other as well as from local and regional experts.

This year’s workshops will focus on a range of topics requested by garden leaders from across the state.  Included among these are:

Over lunchtime, 1:00-2:00pm, participants are encouraged to attend the Vermont Community Garden Network Gathering and Garden Showcase.  This is an opportunity for garden leaders to connect, swap ideas, see innovative work from around the state, and learn more about upcoming Network opportunities.  Detailed information on track workshops and the networking session are available at http://vcgn.org/what-we-do/winterconference.

Vermont Community Garden Network logoVCGN’s partnership with NOFA Vermont supports an effort to reach community and school garden leaders from around the state and support the growth of successful garden projects.  The Community and School Garden Track at the Winter Conference is VCGN’s state-wide gathering of garden leaders, complimented by the VCGN Grow It! workshop series in regional Vermont locations in the spring and fall.  Year-round, VCGN offers technical support and online resources for garden organizers and educators.

The Vermont Community Garden Network is a non-profit organization that helps community and school groups all over Vermont start, sustain, and grow gardens, building strong local food systems and vibrant educational sites. To learn more about VCGN visit www.vcgn.org.

[Guest post by Libby Weiland of VCGN]

Hydroponics and Organics at the VOF Annual Meeting

Should hydroponic tomatoes be eligible for organic certification?
Should hydroponic tomatoes be eligible for organic certification? VOF producers can discuss this and other topics at the Annual Meeting.

It’s time once again for the annual Vermont Organic Farmers’ Producer meeting. This year the meeting will be held on Wednesday, January 29 from 10-2 at the Champlain Valley Expo’s Miller North conference room, as part of the Vermont Farm Show.

This annual coming together of organic farmers and processors is an important tradition that goes back to 1985, when farmers met for the first time to discuss the definition of organic farming. It’s been said that these meetings were sometimes contentious as growers disagreed about what practices and what inputs should be allowed for organic production. But overall, its seems people appreciated the frank and open discussions that challenged growers to improve their practices and pushed them to be more innovative.

I often hear growers comment today that they no longer attend the VOF meeting either because they feel powerless within the current system or that they believe there are no important issues left to discuss.  This couldn’t be further from the truth! The voices of organic farmers and processors are sought after on local and national levels and the opinions of organic producers carry significant weight.

And rest assured, there are still many important issues to discuss where growers’ opinions are needed and valued!

This year one of our long-time organic growers has brought one such topic up for discussion.  David Chapman, owner and operator of Long Wind Farm, is strongly opposed to the organic certification of hydroponic crops and is asking VOF farmers to vote on a resolution to prohibit the certification of organic hydroponic crops nationally.

Farmers and consumers alike can sign David’s petition outlining why hydroponics are not compatible with the organic standards.

VOF supports David’s petition and has included the following resolution to be discussed and voted on at our annual meeting.

Background: In 2010, the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) passed a recommendation prohibiting crop production systems that eliminate soil, such as hydroponics and aeroponics, from obtaining organic certification.  In this recommendation the NOSB clarified that soil-plant ecology is at the foundation of organic farming.  Despite the fact that the Organic Food Production Act mandates that the NOSB advise the National Organic Program on implementing the organic regulations, this recommendation has yet to be accepted and added to the law.

Currently some certification agencies certify hydroponic operations as organic despite the NOSB recommendation and the NOP allows this practice to continue unrestricted.  Mexico, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, and 24 European countries, (including Holland, England, Germany, Italy, France, and Spain) all prohibit hydroponic vegetable production to be sold as organic in their own countries. Historically, Vermont Organic Farmers has never certified hydroponic operations based on the idea that it is not compatible with organic farming principles.

Proposal: Vermont Organic Farmers demand that the National Organic Program accept the 2010 NOSB recommendation to prohibit soil-less hydroponic vegetable production as certified organic.

I look forward to discussing this and other topics with organic producers at the Vermont Farm Show on Wednesday, January 29th from 10-2 in Essex Junction.  Come join us for a lunch of delicious local and organic food, good conversation, and to make sure your opinion is heard.

Please RSVP for the meeting!

Can’t make it? Not a certified producer? Leave a comment here with your thoughts!

[By Nicole Dehne, VOF Program Coordinator]

Making the Winter Conference More Affordable

Farmers, homesteaders, and students all tend to be frugal folks, and we work hard to keep the NOFA Vermont Winter Conference accessible to as many people as possible – while still paying our great presenters for their time and managing all the logistical costs of a three-day conference attended by 1,500 people.

Volunteer

A giant NOFA puppet parades through the Winter Conference crowd.
Scholarships and volunteering make the learning and celebration of the Winter Conference more accessible to everyone. Photo by Elizabeth Ferry

One of the ways that attendees can reduce their cost of attendance is by volunteering. Volunteers are critical to making the conference run, from stuffing registration folders on Friday night to slicing bread at the hospitality table, directing people to their workshops,  and cleaning up after the ice cream social. Volunteers receive a $15 discount off their registration for each 2-hour shift (max two shifts per person). You must confirm your volunteer role before registering to receive the discount; please contact the NOFA-VT office to volunteer!

Scholarships

The other way to reduce costs for some attendees is through scholarships. There are three scholarship opportunities available from NOFA-VT.

The application deadline for our Beginning Farmer Scholarship has been extended to 1/31; the other two have an application deadline of this Friday, 1/24. Continue reading Making the Winter Conference More Affordable

Farming Beyond Borders: Cuba

NOFA-VT’s Farming Beyond Borders program was initiated by Mimi Arnstein, NOFA-VT board member and farmer at Wellspring Farm in Marshfield to create and support exchanges between Vermont organic farmers and farmers beyond Vermont’s borders in order to increase production, improve environmental sustainability and strengthen financial viability via mutually beneficial relationships and cross-cultural exchange.

5 days. 34 people. 15 countries. 4 languages. 1 classroom and a few farms. United.

Something happens in Cuba for me that I can’t explain, but when I return again the same feelings come back. My skepticism is erased as the guitars play and my companeros y companeras sing songs about Che Guevara and liberty. Here I feel a part of something bigger with the revolutionary slogans painted on walls, with history so salient, with la lucha (the struggle) very alive, without fear in the streets at night and without the internet.

Havana, Cuba
Havana, Cuba

The Cubans say, “We don’t share our leftovers because we don’t have any leftovers. But we share our knowledge, our solidarity and our love.” I had the honor to attend a training on the “Campesino a Campesino”, or farmer to farmer, methodology used in Cuba to encourage and strengthen agroecological practices.

The philosophy of this approach is similar to ours in Vermont — we too recognize that the best teachers of farmers are other farmers.  In Cuba they have an impressive structure of support which includes easy access to land, growers cooperatives, agronomist technicians and role model farmers. With very little access to external inputs due to the economy and the US embargo, Cuban farmers must make do with what they have from producing worm compost to on-farm breeding of biocontrols.

This self-sufficiency provides lessons to any of us seeking to improve a closed cycle on our farms. Thus activists and farmers from Mozambique to Mexico, Argentina to Quebec, Panama to Haiti gathered to learn, exchange ideas, and promote a common vision of regional food sovereignty. Top concerns are sustainable agricultural practices, seed safety and climate change.

But what struck me most of all, and what I want to carry back with me to my work in Vermont, is a global and politicized view of sustainable agriculture. For me as a Vermont farmer, organic agriculture is about treating the environment properly, feeding my community, and keeping the land active. This feels like the right thing to do, but also a privilege.

For other farmers around the world, however, agroecology – sustainable agriculture – is about much more.

It is about liberation from colonialism and subjugation by militaristic governments and controlling corporations. It is about empowering peasants to become self-sufficient, to strengthen communities, to gain some control over their lives, to fight against the loss of their land and water rights, to have not only the ability but a reason to stay in the countryside. Agroecology is about attacking the predominant model of dependence, debt, and chemical use. It is respect and care for the earth. It is about producing healthy food for the people. It is about building autonomy outside of the corporate model. Yes, it is about caring for the soil, about plant and animal diversity, about seed saving and evading erosion. But there is a profoundly active link between the ecological, the cultural and the political.

Each attendee at the training was of course from a particular country and heritage but many also consider themselves “internacionalistas.” They understand their efforts belong to a broader context, a larger movement in which solidarity and working together is key to success. The motto called out often that week, “Globalicemos la lucha! Globalicemos la esperanza!” (Globalize the struggle! Globalize hope!) was a call to widen our work.

The Cubans have a saying, “La mesa esta servida,” meaning: “The table is set.” What we do with it is up to us. Social and political transformation is possible through our work with the land, with our customers and community, with our farm workers. I think a political and ecological blend represents the best roots of our movement in Vermont, the original vision and motivation. I would like us to reconnect with this inspiration, to gain a global perspective of our work, to see ourselves as active participants in a struggle that is larger than our state.

A Cuban farmer says, outstretching his arms, “These hands I have are from working the land.” I too have hands like that. I have a vision of all our hands piled on top of one another, different colors and sizes, stacked to the sky. We can achieve what we dream. The table is set.

[Guest post by Mimi Arnstein, Wellspring Farm]

Farming Beyond Borders: Puerto Rico

NOFA-VT’s Farming Beyond Borders program was initiated by Mimi Arnstein, NOFA-VT board member and farmer at Wellspring Farm in Marshfield to create and support exchanges between Vermont organic farmers and farmers beyond Vermont’s borders in order to increase production, improve environmental sustainability and strengthen financial viability via mutually beneficial relationships and cross-cultural exchange.

Farmers' Market in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico
Farmers’ Market in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico

We got lost on the way to Tres Vidas Farm in the lush green mountains of Aibonito, Puerto Rico. It was no surprise, since the road got steeper and narrower as it became darker and darker that night. A cow’s bulging eyes flashed in our headlights and a rooster ran across the gravelly road.

This was a change from the impressively restored city of Old San Juan with its remarkable colonial buildings, proud and refreshing in their classic beauty and pastel palette. A change too, from the heavy traffic and stripmalls of the suburbs, which erased any recollection that indeed we were on a tropical island. It was a distance from the urban farmers’ markets where we trusted the farmers’ faces, having no notion of the actual farms themselves. Now that would change.

We woke the next day to a crystal-clear morning and a view all the way to the sea peeking through grass-green mountains. Then quickly we scurried along to focus on the workshops ahead as fifty producers began arriving from all corners of this isla verde with their notebooks and potluck dishes.

Mimi Arnstein presents on sustainable farm business skills to farmers in Puerto Rico.
Mimi Arnstein presents on sustainable farm business skills to farmers in Puerto Rico.

It was a deep honor to present on skills for building a sustainable farm business to this extremely motivated, enthusiastic, and burgeoning community. Puerto Rican producers love their island and they want to address land access, over development, health, community building, environmental conservation, and more through agriculture. Seed producers, vegetable growers, coffee cultivators and organizers attended. Younger and older, more and less experienced, some with land and some without. All were excited to take advantage of a day of workshops and one another, soaking it all up and developing their own answers to fit their goals.

Energy was high and so was tolerance for my lapses into English to explain more complex concepts. Yet I felt proud and part of something bigger: here was the very reason I study Spanish in the time I can steal away from my farm responsibilities and other pursuits, in order to be part of bridging gaps of knowledge, to exchange what I’ve learned and what are my hopes, to be part of a global movement of making change through agriculture.

Walking around Tres Vidas’ fields later that afternoon, with discussions all around about shadecloth suppliers, home built rootwashers, soil tests, cruise ship waste that could be made into compost, tourist market potential and Japanese beetles, I felt at home. We’re all in this together, and how much sweeter that makes walking the road ahead.

[Guest post by Mimi Arnstein, Wellspring Farm]

Agricultural Literacy: My path to awareness

NOFA Vermont intern Maggie Callahan organized this Friday’s Community Celebration at the Monitor Barn in Richmond (we hope you’ll join us!), and provided critical support for planning Agricultural Literacy Week; the following is an account of how she got here. Click here to learn more about Ag Lit Week, our second annual statewide celebration of Vermont’s farms and farming communities.

Three and a half years ago, I came to the University of Vermont already declared as a Nutrition and Food Science major in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Like an average college student, I considered many times whether my studies would ever benefit me in the real world. Am I really interested in the biochemistry of a plant cell or the importance of valence electrons? If I am to be honest, I never came into the food systems world in search of understanding the way food works in the body. I study nutrition because I simply love food. I love touching it, smelling it, making it, buying it, and most importantly eating it. My relationship with food is not based on the scientific benefits protein will provide when I eat a slice of grilled chicken. Rather, I want to know where the chicken was farmed, how the chicken was treated, and who I am supporting by selecting a specific package in a grocery store. This is where my interest in the agricultural world stems.

This past semester, my involvement with NOFA Vermont has exponentially broadened my view to the vast world of farming. For my internship, I have worked on organizing and developing Agricultural Literacy week throughout the state of Vermont with the help of nine wonderful mentors in different counties. Agricultural Literacy week, I learned, is a week-long celebration and educational opportunity for Vermont residents to grow their understanding of why agricultural practices, whether that be locally grown, organics, or sustainability, are so important to the function of this state. We hear “support your farmer,” “buy local,” and “go organic” on a regular basis, but the point of Agricultural Literacy week is to find a meaning in those statements for every individual at every age. For children, agriculture might mean visiting a farm or reading a book based on the life of a fruit or vegetable. For a teenager, agriculture might mean conducting a science project on the importance of fermentation in food production. For an adult, agriculture might mean a face-to-face interaction with the producer of the food on their family’s plate, and an understanding on the benefits, socially and economically, of buying local.

For me, I have found that agriculture is much larger than a definition or a project. Understanding and appreciating agriculture comes with a fulfilling feeling of community awareness, health appreciation, and an intense desire to educate. Throughout the planning of Agricultural Literacy week, I have found that my hope for my future, as well as the future of my fellow Vermont residents, is to spread the extremely important fact that our health and the health of our loved ones lies in the hands of the farmers that feed us. Knowing who grew the potatoes and turnips in your stew or who raised the turkey on your plate at Thanksgiving allows you to trust in the food system. The importance of awareness is critical to appreciating what we put in our bodies and further, what our children put in their bodies.

Through this experience, I have found that spreading the word on supporting local food systems or even just knowing where your food is coming from, can help change the way our communities function and potentially fix our country’s detrimental health crisis. As my personal project, I have worked extremely hard to bring together members of the Chittenden County community to enjoy a free, completely locally sourced dinner and local live music, in order to start the conversation about the importance of agriculture.

Please join our community event this Friday, November 22nd from 4pm-8pm at the West Monitor Barn in Richmond. We will be preparing a delicious winter vegetable soup, a Shelburne Orchard-sourced apple crisp, and enjoy donations from Cabot Cheese, Red Hen Bakery, the Vermont Youth Conservation Corporation, Jericho Settler’s Farm, and Bigelow Tea. Join us at four to be part of the meal preparation, or show up at six to eat!

All community members of all ages are welcome to reap the wonderful benefits that our local farms provide us. The event is free; donations will be accepted.

[by Maggie Callahan, NOFA Vermont intern]