Tag Archives: organics

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.

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]

What is Food? GMO Labeling Remarks from Will Stevens

During the debate leading up to the historic vote that passed Vermont’s GMO labeling bill out of the House, we heard statements from many representatives. At NOFA, we felt that one of the most thoughtful and thought-provoking came from Will Stevens.

Will is co-owner of Golden Russet Farm, a certified organic vegetable & greenhouse operation in Shoreham, VT, and is now in his 32nd year of commercial production. He has been a NOFA-VT member for about that long, and is a past President of VOF. He is currently in his fourth term serving as an Independent member of the VT House of Representatives, and is on the Agriculture  & Forest Products Committee.

Will’s remarks addressed well-debated scientific questions of GMO crops as well as a topic much less discussed: the spiritual and religious implications of genetic engineering. He asks,

“What is food? Is it something we stuff in our mouths to fuel our machine, or is it nourishment for our body and our mind?”

Is this not the “People’s House?” Whose interests are we serving when we oppose the public’s right to know?

For those of you who did not have a chance to hear Will’s testimony at the statehouse, he has graciously given us permission to reprint it here in full. It’s long, for a blog post, but well worth the time. Please take a moment to read it, then let us know what you think! Do your spiritual or religious views affect your opinion on GMO labeling? Continue reading What is Food? GMO Labeling Remarks from Will Stevens

NOFA Newbie

Upon entering the 2013 NOFA Winter Conference, a pleasant aroma of earthy fragrances greeted me at the door. Fascination took hold of me, as I comprehended the organic sanctuary before me. As a NOFA Conference newbie, I attended with an open mind (and palate), and a desire to immerse myself in the world of agriculture and localvores. A range of foodies milling about boasted a generous diversity of farmers, college students, localvores, gardeners, and scientists, all breathing inspiration. Behind the heaps of the Carhart, flannels, and my personal favorite, scruffy faced attendees, an underlying connection buzzed among conversations and demonstrations. A passion for innovation and sustainability, with a hunger for knowledge. Among this crowd of curious individuals, each person contributed their own unique form of expertise to the NOFA experience. A space created for researchers to bridge the gap with a vegetable farmer, or a homesteader to learn the tricks of the trade from a pro was truly a beautiful thing. Business owners mingled with inquisitive locals, including the owners of CowPots, a business that makes plantable pots out of composted cow manure. With the entire family present, they nearly convinced me to join the family business on a trip to the field of cowpies.

IMG_0361 IMG_0357

Lunchtime once again activated my senses with the hearty local tastes of steamy Sheppard’s pie and unique flavors of white bean cassoulet. The meal would not have been complete without a round of apple crisp to satisfy my sweet tooth. Sitting amongst new and old friends, toes tapped to the “soulgrass” tunes of guitar strumming, box drumming group Rootybagas. Attendees enjoyed a warm lunch atmosphere with few moments of silence. A conference bursting with scents, sounds, flavors and most importantly dialogue.

Guest blogger: Laura Friedland