USDA Announces Funding for Organic Certification Costs

Getting certified by the USDA National Organic Program is expensive. That’s why the USDA recently shelled out nearly $13 million to help bring costs down. This is a win for small producers and handlers, many of whom have been growing organic products but haven’t been able to afford certification.

The money, which is made possible through the Farm Bill, covers up to 75 percent of certification costs, up to 750 dollars. These funds may be used for certification-related expenses spent between this past October and September 30, 2014.

Visit the NOP Cost Share Website for information on how to apply for these funds. Questions should be directed to Dana Stahl the USDA’s Organic Certification Cost Share Program Manager at Dana.Stahl@ams.usda.gov, (540) 361-1126.

All About Soil Health

As stewards of the land, farmers are responsible for maintaining fertile land for future generations. A big part of this is preserving rich, healthy soil, which is important not only for a sustainable future but also for the crops these farmers grow. Soil health is a science and can be tricky to master, but there are plenty of resources available to farmers to help.

Not sure how the quality of soil impacts you? The Rodale Institute created a Soil Biology webinar to explain why healthy soil is important to individuals and the ecosystem as a whole. “The soil is not, as many suppose, a dead, inert substance,” J.I. Rodale wrote in Pay Dirt: Farming and Gardening with Composts. “It is very much alive and dynamic. It teems with bacteria, actinomycetes, fungi, molds, yeasts, protozoa, algae and other minute organisms.” The webinar goes on to explain what elements should be abundant in soil and how to maintain those levels.

A crucial aspect to preserving healthy soil is testing. Cooperative Extension offers soil testing resources and guides to help with this process. Click here to find an Extension agent near you. Many Cooperative Extensions provide online educational resources. University of Maine Extension offers this publication with a step-by-step guide to soil testing. Cornell University Cooperative Extension has an entire webpage for soil health, including the “Cornell Soil Health Assessment Training Manual,” a soil health management plan and informative videos dedicated to proper soil testing. The University of Georgia Cooperative Extension also offers a soil health webpage with various publications, updated news on soil health science and a list of websites that can provide further help.

While these organizations provide an overview of how to sustain soil health, there are many outlets that offer information on the nitty-gritty of related topics. The Rodale Institute compiled reports and publications related to soil health research discussing specific issues the organization is working on. Many of these can be viewed online here. Rodale also provides an informative, focused webinar, “Impacts of Plastic and Cover Crop Mulches on Weeds, Soil Quality, Yields and Season Length for Tomatoes.”

ATTRA also compiled a list of publications the organization created that discuss specific topics surrounding soil health, ranging from “A Brief Overview of Nutrient Cycling in Pastures” to “Rye as a Cover Crop” to “Alternative Soil Amendments.” ATTRA also offers two educational webinars discussing soil health: “Organic Research and Needs: Cover Crops, Crop Rotation and Soil Health” and “Innovative No-Till: Using Multi-Species Cover Crops to Improve Soil Health.”

Free Organic Seed Resources Available

The Organic Seed Alliance is dedicated to providing free resources to producers with information related to organic seeds. Its website offers publications divided into the following categories: policy reports, plant breeding and variety trials, seed production, worksheets and record sheets, Organic Seed Growers Conference proceedings and a Organic Seed Growers Conference webinar archive. This growing catalog of publications is continually updated and can be helpful to organic and sustainable producers.

The Organic Seed Alliance also offers educational courses that are available to the public, some of which are accessible online. The following courses are currently available: Fundamentals of On-Farm Plant Breeding, Fundamentals of Seed Production, Seed Saving for Farmers and Gardeners and On-Farm Variety Trials.

For additional web-based organic seed resources, check out eOrganic!

Drought: How to Prepare and Where to Find Help

Drought afflicted the Midwest and California in recent seasons and is likely to continue to impact farmers in these states as climate change becomes a more pressing agricultural concern.

When dealing with a drought or any natural disaster, one of the most valuable tools a farmer can implement is record keeping.  “Currently, government agencies, lenders and insurance companies are requiring better and more accurate records,” a publication from Pennsylvania State University’s Cooperative Extension describes. “Not only bushels per acre, income and expenses, but also weather records are becoming increasingly necessary.” South Dakota State University’s Cooperative Extension released the “Record Keeping in Farm Management” publication to explain the importance of record keeping, particularly during a drought. As the article explains, there’s very little that a farm can do to prepare for a drought, but thorough record keeping can improve a farm’s financial wellbeing. This publication comprehensively provides an overview of what careful record keeping should look like.

While record keeping and water management techniques can make a vast difference for a farmer facing drought, there are some online resources that can help.

Farm Aid Resource Guide

Farm Aid developed a Crisis Support Resource Guide that has a list of resources to guide farmers to educational resources during a time of crisis, which includes a natural disaster such as drought. These resources also dip into other relevant topics, such as where a farmer can turn when in need of legal advice or services.

Beginning Farmers LLC

The Beginning Farmers LLC compiled a list of online resources applicable to beginning and experienced farmers. These resources provide a look into the science behind drought and how to plan for its impact and manage the repercussions if drought hits. Beginning Farmers also encourages farmers facing drought to contact the organization for more resources.

California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA)

CDFA’s California Drought Information and Resources created a site with organizations and websites that can provide assistance to farmers facing drought. While some of these are state-based organizations, there are many resources available to farmers on a national scale. The site provides a list of USDA grant programs that may apply to farmers during a drought.

Click here for drought updates and more information on USDA assistance programs.

How does the FSMA affect you?

On January 4, 2011, President Obama signed into law the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), which aims to shift focus of federal regulators from responding to contamination to preventing it. In order to ensure that everyone from the farmer to the processor to the consumer are playing their role in keeping food safe, the FSMA required the FDA to proposed a set of rules authorized at the farm level: the Produce Rule regulates standards for produce production and the Preventive Controls Rule regulates food safety measure for facilities that process food for human consumption. These rules are still in the proposal stage so they are not signed into law yet, but if you own or operate a farm or small business it may be impacted should these rules pass. Read on to find out if or how you may be affected.

What It Is

The Produce Rule builds on existing voluntary industry guidelines for food safety currently followed by many producers, growers and others. The rule focuses on areas of risk such as agricultural water, biological soil amendments, health and hygiene, domesticated and wild animals and equipment, tools and buildings.

The Preventive Controls Rule will require facilities to have written plans in place that identify potential hazards, detail the necessary steps to address those hazards, verify that the steps are working and outline how to fix any problems that arise.

For more details click here.

How It Effects Producers and Processors

The Produce Rule may affect you if you grow, harvest, pack or store fruits or vegetables.

The Preventive Controls Rule may affect you if you process, manufacture, pack or store human food

Both the Produce Rule and the Preventive Controls Rule may affect you if you grow harvest, pack or store fruits and vegetables AND process, manufacture, pack or store human food

For details on who these rules may affect, click here.

Check out the FDA’s fact sheet on the FSMA proposed rules for a full summary, background and predicted impacts.

For guidance on creating your own food safety plan, check out FamilyFarmed.org’s page on how to create one.

Land Transfer, Succession and Tenure Resource Roundup

The average age of farmers in America is 57, a figure that consistently is on the rise. As a result, farmland succession is becoming of greater concern while beginning farmers are simultaneously struggling to find affordable farmland. Luckily, there are plenty of resources available for farmers that can help with land transfer, tenure and succession planning.

International Farm Transition Network (IFTN) 

The IFTN website lists all land link organizations by state. Land link currently exists in 23 states as a resource that connects farmers that are seeking land with farmland that is for sale or lease. Oftentimes, these programs assist farmers with lease negotiation and can even provide financial support during the process. Some land link programs offer succession planning training or resources.

California FarmLink offers an extensive online list of resources available to farmers seeking to buy or sell land.

Land Trust Alliance

The Land Trust Alliance offers an online map with listings of all land trust organizations by state. A land trust is an organization that works to conserve land through helping with the process of easement attainment or management. An agricultural easement is an important tool in dealing with succession, allowing farmers to dictate what their land is used for after it is sold. This can be invaluable to a farmer by restricting development on the land after it is passed on so it is farmed in the future.

The Greenhorns

 The Greenhorns offers an Access to Land guide that provides links to resources focusing on incubator farms, farm link programs, lease agreements, agricultural and conservation easements and land tenure.

Agrarian Trust

The Agrarian Trust resource page contains a growing list of resources that can help with many aspects of land access, transfer and succession planning. Some of the categories covered in this list include: accessing land, financing and financial planning, agricultural mediation and legal services, succession planning, and much more!

Land for Good

This 2013 Resource Spotlight highlights succession guides that are available to assist with the farm succession process. The publications cover everything “from setting goals to understanding legal and financial terms used in farmland and business transfers.”

The site’s Toolbox page also contains resources pertaining to land access, tenure and transfer separated into the following categories: farm seekers, farm transfer planning, landowners, educators and advisors and communities.

Land Stewardship Project

The Land Stewardship Project, in partnership with the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture, Farmers Legal Action Group, National Center for Appropriate Technology and the United States Department of Agriculture, developed the Farm Transitions Toolkit. This comprehensive guide provides step-by-step information and advice on the transition process.

Are you a beginning farmer with questions about land access? Check out our Beginning Farmer and Farm Start-Up Resource Guides for more information!

Small Ruminant Toolbox

ATTRA now offers a free guide to everything you need to know about producing small ruminant animals. The National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) developed the new Small Ruminant Toolbox full of information on the animals.

Tools included are a 978-page “Small Ruminant Resource Manual,” several informative presentations shared by Susan Schoenian of the University of Maryland Extension, the Tennessee Master Meat Goat Producer Program in its entirety, a section on “Frequently Asked Questions” about sheep and goat production and a list of other resources.

The Small Ruminant Toolbox is available for free on ATTRA’s Website. In the event that you will need the toolbox when you don’t have internet access, the toolbox is also available on a USB flash drive for $5 each and is also available for order on the website.

Organic/Sustainable Transition Resources

While organic or sustainable agriculture is not for everyone, many people are deciding to transition from conventional farming. Before deciding if this switch is for you, there are many factors that must be taken into consideration. Organic farming requires practices like rotating crops for soil health, distinguishing between pests and beneficial insects and spending a great deal of time in your fields in order to be fully acquainted with your crops, because you will have to learn to handle problems by working with nature to fix them. To look more into these factors and learn other things to consider, check out Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education’s page detailing the transition. The Organic and Non-GMO Report also released an informative question and answer on the topic. There’s more to organic production than growing, though, so the Small Business Bureau created an all-encompassing  overview on producing and selling organic produce.

If organic agriculture is something you are interested in, there can be many benefits for you and your farm. According to Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education, the three goals of sustainable agriculture are what they call the Three Pillars of Sustainability: profit over the long term, stewardship of our nation’s land, air and water and quality of life for farmers, ranchers, and their communities. The University of Nebraska provides a guide for transitioning to organic farming that not only has specifics related to farming in Nebraska, but also comprehensibly explains the process of transitioning and what it entails. Other great resources for transitioning are the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association’s helpful, step-by-step handbook and Local Food Hub’s breakdown of organic certification, suppliers and production to walk you through the process.

If you do decide to transition, check out the Rodale Institute’s online course to learn  about how to tackle each step of the transition.

Once a farmer transitions to organic agriculture, they will need to find a new market for their organic products and make sure they have all the certification required. For information on these topics, go to the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service’s page on organic farming or Texas A&M Agrilife Extension’s page on marketing organic produce. If you are interested as selling at local farmers markets, check out Local Harvest’s website to find one near you.

2014 WFAN Conference Announcement

The Women, Food and Agriculture Network (WFAN) annual conference is available for registration! The event will be held at the Fairfield Arts and Convention Center in Fairfield, Iowa from November 14-15. This year’s annual conference includes field tours, pesticide drift training, workshops, farm-to-table restaurant tour and much more!

If you’re interested in registering for the 2014 WFAN conference, visit http://wfan.org for more information.

Growing Change: Community Alliance with Family Farmers

Community Alliance with Family Farmers

The roots of the Community Alliance with Family Farmers go back to 1983, when University of California, Davis Small Farms Director, Tom Haller, organized the first annual conference for small farmers in California to measure the pulse of farming in the state.

The farmers in attendance were all looking for the same thing: a local organization that could represent their interests. It was from that need that Haller helped found the California Association of Family Farmers to provide representation for small farmers seeking a stronger voice. Eventually the organization joined forces with the California Agrarian Action Project, a group with a similar mission, and the two united to become the Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF) in 1993. Since then, CAFF has worked on countless initiatives and is the leading voice for sustainable, community-based agriculture in California.

CAFF’s work includes five main programs:

  • policy and advocacy
  • biological agriculture
  • Farm to School
  • Buy Fresh Buy Local
  • farmer technical assistance

CAFF
CAFF strives to build shared values around food and agriculture at the community level, while working with farmers through practical, on-the-ground programming. These partnerships create locally-based economic vitality, improved human and environmental health, and long-term farm sustainability. Among CAFF’s successes in spearheading the state’s local food movement are publishing the first California Farm Fresh Directory in 1995 and developing one of the country’s first Buy Fresh Buy Local programs in 2002. CAFF started a Farm-to-School program in 2001 in Davis and Ventura, which eventually expanded around the state. Today the organization works in six different locations, including Davis, Oakland, Watsonville, Arcata, Gilroy and Sebastopol.

“The biggest farm in California owns more than 250,000 acres now,” explains CAFF’s Policy Director, Dave Runsten. “There are only about 8 million irrigated acres in California. So you would only need 32 of farms at that scale to farm the whole state. But luckily, we have about 85,000 farms in California. We try to support everybody who wants to farm. That’s my job. I represent all of those family farms.”

Helping farmers, particularly beginning or aspiring farmers, to market their products is a major focus for CAFF. Runsten explains that markets have always been one of the biggest challenges for their farmers. CAFF helps connect farmers to institutions like hospitals and schools to market their products through its Buy Fresh Buy Local and Farm to School campaigns. In turn, the organization also helps inform consumers about where to access fresh, local food. “When we started, no wholesaler or distributor wanted to deal with local farmers,” Dave recalls. “The world has changed. Now all distributors want to have local, farm fresh stuff available.”

CAFF works to instill those same values in the state’s youth through its Farm-to-School program, which educates children from a young age about the importance of supporting local agriculture. Schools receive Harvest of the Month baskets with in-season produce from local farms, as well as a lesson plan for teachers to help their students explore the fruits and vegetables that are in season.

In addition, CAFF consistently advances fair farm policy at the local, state, regional and national level by representing and advocating for family farmers. In 2003, CAFF became a founding member of the California Food and Justice Coalition, a group that works toward a fair and sustainable community-driven food system. CAFF became the first organization in California to stand against genetically modified foods in 2000. In doing so, the organization helped lead efforts to pass Assembly Bill 2663, which outlined the state’s intent to permanently fund the University of California’s sustainable agriculture research and education program. By 2002, CAFF became a founding member of Californians for GE-Free Agriculture. CAFF also helped to form the California Climate and Agriculture Network, which elevates the role of sustainable agriculture and on-farm stewardship practices as a solution to climate change. On a state level, CAFF has also recently worked on policy involving land preservation and renewable energy.

In terms of growing community, CAFF hosts networking events and farm tours that bring together farmers and eaters throughout the year. Their popular field days on local farms allow farmers to learn various methods of farming through direct peer exchange, including topics like growing various types of produce, sustainable production methods, and farming during drought, an issue of utmost concern to California farmers right now.

Over the years, Farm Aid has developed a strong relationship with CAFF. With their direct work with farmers, CAFF serves as an important referral when California farmers call the Farm Aid Hotline and utilize the Farmer Resource Network. In 2013, Farm Aid awarded CAFF a $7,500 grant toward its Family Farm Food Safety Project to develop a set of basic food safety practices catered to the needs of family farms. The goal is to avoid mandatory “one size fits all” rules that could easily undermine the very local food systems many have worked so hard to create.

CAFF’s long-standing dedication to family farmers has helped shape California into the state it is today, where family farms can flourish and local communities can reap the benefits of fresh produce. The new food safety battle is just the latest example of how the work never ends, and we are lucky to hold such a long-standing, visionary partner as a trusted ally in the work to keep family farmers on their land and to build a thriving family farm food system that benefits all.

Photos from CAFF’s flickr page.

Learn More