Tag Archives: organic

GMO Bill Moves Forward!

Special update from NOFA’s policy advisor, Dave Rogers! Vermont Right to Know! Label GMOs

At 11am today, the VT Senate Judiciary Committee, after several weeks of work, voted 5-0 in favor of our GMO labeling bill. The bill contains no triggers and establishes a special $1.5M fund to cover implementation and legal costs, if necessary. Funds would come from Attorney General office proceeds from other cases and unrestricted donations from individuals, organizations, etc, both instate and out of state.

After a quick trip to the Senate Appropriation Committee to set up the fund, it will move to the Senate floor where it is expected to pass. Timing is uncertain but could be quite soon. Then it will go to the House for either approval of the Senate bill, or to a conference committee to resolve differences between the House and Senate versions.

Then it will go on to the Governor’s desk.  Just before the Judiciary committee voted, one member, a Republican  whose vote was uncertain until the end, said, “Vermont is about to go where no state has gone before.”

So, we are all  quite pleased, but as we know, it ain’t over ’til it’s over! This is a great time to get in touch with your senators and let them know that you expect them to help pass this historic legislation.

Visit the Vermont Right to Know GMOs website to learn more and get involved.

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.

“Organic Matters” film debut at the Conference!

We are exited to debut our new short film, Organic Matters, as part of the NOFA Vermont Winter Conference FarmsTED talks this morning! If you didn’t join us to watch it on the big screen in the Davis Center (or if you just want to watch it again!), take a look:

This 9-minute video features certified organic farmers across Vermont talking about why they believe in certified organic, how it defines their approach to their land and to food production, and why organic is important to the overall food movement.

Click here to learn more about the benefits of certified organic, locally grown!

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.

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]

Show your support for GMO labeling on January 16!

Vermont GMO labeling bill (H.112), which passed the VT House last May by a wide margin, is now being debated in the Vermont Senate. H.112  would require that foods made with  genetically engineered (GMO)  substances be labeled as such.

Success in the House — in the face of  well-financed  opposition by a number of global chemical and food corporations — was due to thousands of Vermonters who contacted their representatives and told them — loudly and clearly — to  support H.112.

As in the House, passage of H.112 in the Senate and final enactment  into law, will require thousands of Vermonters to let their voices be  heard by their Senators and in their communities.  The opposition’s  lobbyists and PR people are already at work in the Statehouse.  They  are is determined to kill this legislation — no matter the cost.

Visit www.vtrighttoknow.org for details about the rally.
Join us for a Vermont Right to Know GMOs rally at the Statehouse on 1/16!

Now is the time for Vermonters, once again, to let their voices be heard in their Statehouse and by their elected Senators. On January 16, the Vermont Right To Know GMOs coalition, of which NOFA  is a member, will be holding A GMO Rally, Teach-in and Lobby Day at  the Vermont Statehouse.  At this event you will learn more about the  issues and how to make sure your voice is heard in the Statehouse by your Senators.  Full information about Lobby Day agenda can be found on the Vermont Right To Know GMOs webpage.

Scores of Vermonters have already registered to attend. We hope that you and your neighbors and friends will be able to join us. Let’s show ’em how democracy ‘gets done’ in this little state.

Milk Quality & Mastitis Part I: Prevention

Silhouette of three cowsThis article is part of the NOFA Vermont Dairy and Livestock Technical Assistance Program.

Organic milk buyers know that milk with a low somatic cell count (SCC) will have longer shelf life, less off flavor and higher cheese yield, which is why they pay quality premiums. Those premiums are a big economic incentive to prevent mastitis and maintain low SCC. Keeping high-count cows out of the tank can do this, but mastitis prevention is ideal. Prevention requires monitoring udder health to detect new mastitis cases early on, as well as adapting management practices to increase sanitation and prevent infections from spreading.

In the article Milk Quality on Organic Dairy Farms, Dr. Linda Tikofski of Cornell University emphasizes the importance of good milking procedures to prevent mastitis. Her list of procedures includes: pre-dipping & wiping with individual towels; fore-stripping into a cup or gutter to remove high SCC milk and bacteria in teat ends; milk fresh heifers first, then low SCC cows, then high SCC cows, then contagious cows last; and applying a post dip to at least 2/3 of the teat. She also said that it is better to leave some milk in the udder than to damage teat ends by pulling down on machines or leaving them on too long.

In a recent webinar on organic dairy cow health, Dr. Guy Jodarski, staff veterinarian for Organic Valley/CROPP Cooperative, also discussed the importance of dry cow management to prevent mastitis, including good dry off procedure, dry cow housing with clean & dry bedding and nutritious high forage diet.

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.

A New England Education for the FDA

When the FDA team responsible for implementing the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) came to New Hampshire and Vermont last week, they got an earful — and an education. At an August 20th Listening Session at Dartmouth College, about two hundred vegetable and fruit farmers, food processors, local food advocates, and consumers showed up to tell the visitors from inside the Beltway of the many ways in which the FDA’s proposals for new food safety regulations would affect them.  Farmers and others, including NOFA Vermont’s Fruit and Vegetable Technical Assistance Advisor Lynda Prim, stood in line for an hour or more for the chance to detail increased production costs, harms to the environment, and economic disincentives, especially on smaller-scale operations.

Those who presented remarks voiced a number of specific concerns. Many pointed out that the FDA’s proposed requirement that farmers test irrigation water weekly was unnecessary, impractical, and would increase costs significantly. Others pointed out negative consequences on wildlife and biodiversity on farms.

Lynda Prim joined a number of organic farmers present in voicing concern about conflicts between proposed FSMA requirements and the National Organic Program rules, despite the fact that the FDA is explicitly directed to avoid such conflicts. For instance, proposed requirements for waiting periods before crops can be harvested after field applications of manures (270 days) and compost (45 days) greatly exceed, and are in direct conflict with, such waiting periods required by the National Organic Program. Additionally, these extended waiting periods are impractical in New England’s short growing season, and would likely increase the use of chemical fertilizers on non-organic farms. Farmers’ incomes and the environment would be negatively affected.

Many spoke of how increased compliance costs — estimated by the FDA to run to thousands of dollars annually on even small-scale operations — would either force them to leave farming entirely or significantly damage opportunities for farm expansion and new farm enterprises. Such specific, informed and heartfelt criticisms of the proposed regulations continued for over two hours straight.

Later that day and the next, the FDA team visited local farms and food businesses, including the Mad River Food Hub and Hartshorn Farm in Waitsfield, and the Intervale Farm in Burlington. They got a first-hand look at the diversity of farming practices, production systems, distribution and marketing innovations that are critical to the continued development of our emerging local food economy in the region. (You can see their impressions of the visit on the FDA’s blog.)

Throughout their visit, the members of the FDA team listened intently. They had a lot of questions and asked for advice and recommendations. More than once, Michael Taylor, the FDA Deputy Commissioner who led the team, indicated that he wanted to make sure that the vigor of local farms and the local food economy would not be derailed by burdensome and unnecessary food safety regulations. We agree, and hope to see his statements translated into action when the final regulations are published next year.

Our visitors are now back at their desks in D.C.. But farmers, organizations, consumers and businesses throughout the country have until November 15 to submit their own written comments expressing their concerns about proposed regulations, as well as their recommendations for improving them. The FDA is, by law, required to read and consider every one of these written comments before it develops and publishes its final food safety regulations in the next year or so. It’s up to all of us to make sure it’s a highly educational experience for them.

More information about the proposed rules and how to submit your own comments can be found in our earlier post on the the FSMA. NOFA Vermont and Vermont Organic Farmers are working on an official comment of our own; stay tuned to learn more.

[by Dave Rogers, NOFA Vermont Policy Advisor]

Honoring Jack Lazor

Enid (left) with Anne and Jack Lazor
Enid (left) with Anne and Jack Lazor

Last Sunday, at the Gateway Center in Newport, farmers, neighbors, organic farm advocates, and many, many friends gathered to celebrate the launch of Jack Lazor’s new book, The Organic Grain Grower: Small-Scale, Holistic Grain Production for the Home and Market Producer.  Published by Chelsea Green, the book was released August 19th, and as Ben Gleason, organic wheat grower from Bridport, described it, “It is Jack in a book.  All of the things anyone needs to know, and not know,  about growing grain, is in these pages.”

Jack, a pioneer in organic grain growing and founder of Butterworks Farm, said that he has learned so much from the people who took time to educate him along the way, and that one lesson he learned was that “Generosity doesn’t cost, it pays.”

Many of Jack’s mentors and those he has mentored were in the room. One farmer who transitioned to organic production because of Jack’s influence said, “I used to farm in partnership with Monsanto and Cargill, and I converted to organic production after driving around with Jack.”  Many people talked about how generous Jack is with his time, and the critical role he plays in keeping information alive.

It felt so good to be in a room full of people who honor Jack, and all he has accomplished for organic dairy production and processing, organic grain and dry bean production, soil management and animal health. Jack and Anne have now passed the farm to their daughter Christina and her growing family, and Jack said that he looks forward to spending more time mentoring young farmers in the future. The circle of education is in great hands with Jack sharing his knowledge, and the new book will allow farmers all around the world to learn from his experience.

[by Enid Wonnacott, NOFA-VT Executive Director]