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!

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.

Crop Insurance Resource Roundup

Risk management is a crucial aspect of farming, particularly with the extreme weather conditions that are hitting the United States. A critical part of this is crop insurance. To get the basics, the United States Department of Agriculture’s Risk Management Agency developed a webpage with answers to common questions surrounding crop insurance. Below are some tools available for free online that can help farmers navigate how to effectively implement crop insurance.

Crop Insurance for Individuals

FLAG created a PDF intended as a training guide for the Federation of Southern Cooperatives that provides an in depth look into crop insurance for individuals. This document is available to anyone for free online. It covers everything there is to know behind the roles and rules of insuring crops through Federal Crop Insurance or a private insurer. The document also delves into what is covered under crop insurance, what to look for in a contract and much more.

Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program

This program is available for producers that were hit by a natural disaster without crop insurance.

Utah State University Extension developed a presentation explaining everything there is to know about the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program.

The United States Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency also offers an informative disaster assistance fact sheet focusing on the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program.

Organic Crop Insurance

The United States Department of Agriculture’s Risk Management Agency produced a fact sheet explaining the Contract Price Addendum, which now allows organic producers to insure crops at a set price specified in a contract. The addendum is applicable to 62 types of crops.

Corn and Soybean Crop Insurance

Iowa State’s Extension program offers two helpful PDF’s available through the Decision Tools section of its website. These free downloadable PDFs offer valuable insight into choosing crop insurance plans for corn and soybeans; the first of which provides a tool to compare different strategies for insurance on corn and soybeans, while the second compares the risk behind GRIP and GRP crop insurance for these crops.

Cover Crops and Crop Insurance

The National Resources Conservation Service put the Cover Crop Termination Guidelines online in a downloadable PDF format.

For a more in depth look, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and the National Center for Appropriate Technology created a webinar that explains “when and how to terminate cover crops and maintain eligibility for crop insurance coverage of subsequently planted cash crops.”

Other Helpful Tools

University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension collected various crop insurance fact sheet publications covering the following topics: apples, peaches, corn, fresh market sweet corn, forage production, forage seeding, nursery and insurance coverage for organic crops.

Food and farm webinar roundup

What is a webinar, you ask? A webinar is essentially an online educational video that typically discusses a specific topic. Many organizations listed in our Farmer Research Network online search tool provide this type of resource to assist agricultural producers. While some of these webinars require advanced registration, other videos are archived for farmers and ranchers to watch anytime! From conservation tips and tools to learning to start a farm, there are plenty of agriculture webinars available to farmers. Here are some trusted websites with webinars that can help:

National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service (ATTRA) 

ATTRA, a division of the National Center for Appropriate Technology, maintains an ongoing archive of its webinars focused on different areas of sustainable agriculture. Want to learn how to build a better relationship with your lamb processor? How about organic farm conservation? With 55 archived webinars and a growing library, this is the site to visit for all things sustainable.

United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)

Many branches of the USDA developed webinars to assist and educate producers. The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) created a library of various videos related to conservation. These webinars span topics ranging from “Planning for Floodplain and Riparian Area Special Environmental Concerns” to “Conserving Pollinators While Addressing Other Resource Concerns.” Each webinar is hosted by a lineup of experts, many of which are USDA employees.

The USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) developed a series of webinars that air twice a month from January through June of 2014 focusing on farm to school programs. All of these videos are archived in an FNS library in addition to a host of other webinars from the past two years.

The USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service created an ongoing series of fruit and vegetable webinars archived here.

The USDA’s Forest Service developed the “Invasive Plants—Issues, Challenges and Discoveries Webinar Series” intended for landowners, agriculture professionals and scientists. This seven-part series will run through May, 2014, and information on each can be found here.

National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC)

While NSAC doesn’t have a library of archived webinars, the organization hosts several training webinars throughout the year. These training sessions cover many different topics, like how to market your agricultural business through building connections with the media or this overview of cover crops based on updated USDA termination guidelines. To stay up-to-date on the latest NSAC webinar, check out its website or like the organization on Facebook.

Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE)

The different SARE branches created varying series of webinars. North Central SARE offers webinars focusing on greenhouse energy, cover crops, building local sustainable foods and irrigation energy.  Southern SARE provides a webinar on “Grafting for Disease Management in Organic Tomato Production.” Farmers and ranchers can also order archived webinar series from Northeast SARE focusing on marketing for profit or farmland transfer and access.

Women, Food and Agriculture Network (WFAN)

WFAN has a library of webinars that focus on empowering female farmers. These webinars cover a diverse range of topics within this realm, but each is meant to give women the tools they need to succeed. That may be on a policy level, such as the “Policy—When The Personal Becomes Political” video, which engages women leaders to explain how individuals can further policy goals. There are also more abstract videos, like this webinar that discusses the power of blogging.

Farm Commons 

Farm Commons creates and archives webinars focused on dealing with legal issues that can impact farm operations. The organization supplements these videos with downloadable resources. These webinars cover topics relevant to beginning and advanced growers alike, with titles ranging from “ Starting a Farm” to “Community Supported Agriculture Legal Issues.”

Rodale Institute 

While the Rodale Institute hasn’t released any webinars yet, stay tuned! The organization is in the works of creating a schedule of webinar trainings. In the meantime, Rodale developed a page with helpful videos from its conferences and workshops.

 

 

Organic industry on the rise

The organic industry is on the rise in the United States. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released new research showing the number of certified organic producers in the country grew to 18,513, a staggering 245 percent increase in the past twelve years. Now a $35 billion industry, consumer demand for organic products has also seen a dramatic increase.

The USDA is taking heed and expanding its support for certified organic and sustainable producers with new and enhanced programs in the 2014 Farm Bill, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack explained in a press release. These new programs are designed to help organic producers in an array of areas through increased crop insurance opportunities, expanded exemptions for producers paying into a commodity “check-off” program and $11.5 million in annual funding directed toward reimbursing up to 75 percent of organic certification costs.

These programs will additionally provide support to research initiatives surrounding the organic industry. The Farm Bill now includes $20 million annually dedicated to organic research, agricultural extension programs and education with an additional $5 million toward data collection. These new provisions also benefit consumers, with $5 million in funding for the National Organic Program to provide updated information about organic producers in the nation.

For more information about USDA resources available to organic farmers, visit the USDA Organics Resource page here: http://1.usa.gov/1hONn1R

Growing Change: Family Farm Defenders

It’s no secret that today’s global food system doesn’t do its best by family farmers or eaters. Most of the world’s food economy is designed as a commodity market that drives down the price paid to farmers and drives up the cost of food to consumers. This thought of food a commodity like any other widget is just one concept that Family Farm Defenders (FFD) is working to dismantle in pursuit of food sovereignty and a more just and sustainable food system in America and across the world.

Family Farm Defenders, a small yet unyielding organization based in Wisconsin, would not exist without its late founder John Kinsman, who passed away at age 87 this January. After nearly dying from chemical exposure to agricultural pesticides, he made the switch to organic farming decades ago. But that was just the beginning. It wasn’t long before Kinsman transformed from a dairy farmer in Wisconsin with 36 cows to a global advocate for a just food system.

Food sovereignty rooted much of John Kinsman’s and Family Farm Defenders’ work. The term food sovereignty was coined by La Via Campesina, an international group that began in 1993 as a collection of peasants and farmers working to defend sustainable agriculture as a means of gaining global social justice. After travelling with Via Campesina and aiding in its formation, Kinsman brought the idea of food sovereignty back to FFD. While FFD had really started as a grassroots reaction to pressing issues related to milk and dairy farmers, the notion of food sovereignty broadened the organization’s mission and found resonance with several other organizations fighting for a just food system in the U.S., in no small part because of John’s dedicated work.

John Kinsman

There was magic in Kinsman’s seemingly effortless ability to unify individuals in a common fight — a fight against “corporate agri-business and institutionalized oppression,” as John Peck, the current executive director of Family Farm Defenders, puts it. “Meeting peasant leaders from all around the world, [Kinsman] saw that we have more commonalities with, say, peasant farmers in Mexico than we do with someone working for Monsanto here in the U.S.,” Peck explains. “Our farm workers and farmers together are both struggling for a living wage and dignity.”

Family Farm Defenders’ work expanded to include other threats American family farmers face. One of those concerns is land grabs, whereby corporations and wealthy investors buy up farmland. These investments drive up the cost of farmland so that farmers can no longer afford it and are driven out of business. In Wisconsin, where natural resources are so abundant, this has become a major problem with the growth of the natural gas and mining industries. The folks at FFD offer a listening ear for farmers in need and a grassroots approach to rallying against this kind of corporate power.

Family Farm Defenders also promotes the concept of “fair trade” (as opposed to free trade). Beginning in 1996, Kinsman spearheaded the Family Farmer Fair Trade Project. At the time, Peck was a University of Wisconsin-Madison student involved in a campaign to bring Fair Trade Certified coffee to campus. With Kinsman as his mentor, Peck questioned why Fair Trade only applies to foreign goods. Shouldn’t farmers here in the U.S. also benefit from fair trade? In response, Kinsman created FFD’s own Fair Trade Certification that applied to Wisconsin cheeses. Farmers with the certification doubled their profit per pound of cheese sold, when compared to their regular markets. Though FFD no longer sells the Fair Trade cheese, the model stands as a successful method for farmers to secure a fair price for their products.

Through this work, Family Farm Defenders’ strength has resided in educating and organizing. FFD works locally through town hall meetings and pushes for local ordinances that give the community control over their own resources. The organization hosts a number of farm tours — or as Peck calls them, “farm reality tours” — for the public, including many international visitors. FFD also leads protests related to its campaigns, primarily holding them in Chicago where many citizens they encounter have never met a family farmer before. The group is active at conferences across the country and holds its own annual meeting in Wisconsin. To educate the public, FFD hosts forums, panels, church groups and does outreach to bring awareness to its constituents.

Family Farm Defenders Protest Photo
Family Farm Defenders lead a rally in support of family farmers in Milwaukee, Wisconsin the day before Farm Aid 25. Photo © Paul Natkin.

Today, Peck is the only Family Farm Defenders employee, but a team of dedicated volunteers and passionate board members join him in carrying on the work. The organization will celebrate its 20th anniversary at its annual meeting this March, where the winner of the annual John Kinsman Food Sovereignty Award will be presented. While the future of FFD remains uncertain, Peck is confident that Kinsman’s work and legacy will endure.

Mentored for years by Kinsman, Peck sums him up this way, “He was able to take all of that negative energy and awareness and turn it into something positive, to try to figure out how we can build coalitions around the struggle, how we can change. He was a quintessential grassroots organizer. He was very good at telling stories that were empowering and gave people hope… He made connections between people that maybe didn’t know they had anything in common. If they sat down and talked together they realized that they all care about dignity and justice and fairness and peace in the world.”

Learn More

MOSES 25th annual farming conference

The Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES) will host its 25th annual conference from February 27 through March 1. The MOSES farming conference is the largest US event focused on organic and sustainable agriculture with over 3,000 farmers in attendance each year. This networking and educational event features 65 workshops, 170 exhibitors and keynote speakers.

This 25th anniversary event will be held at the La Crosse Center in La Crosse, Wisconsin. You must register by February 14th to attend the farming conference.

Email questions to info@mosesorganic.org. Click here to register for the event and for more information: http://mosesorganic.org/conference/

Agricultural apprenticeship roundup

Beginning farmers account for approximately 10 percent of all US agricultural production, according to data collected from the USDA Census of Agriculture. Moreover, a beginning farmer operates about 20 percent of all farms. As such, there is an increased need for training and education opportunities for these farmers entering the field.

The Economic Research Service recently released a brief using data collected from 2011 with shocking results: only 25 percent of beginning farmers earn a positive margin of profit from farming. With the changing landscape of agriculture, beginning farmers are more important than ever. For this reason, it is crucial that beginning farmers are able to access the tools necessary to be successful. Many national organizations offer apprenticeships for those interested in farming.

Before beginning an apprenticeship, those interested in the opportunity should look into the Farm Internship Curriculum that Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (Western SARE) put together. This guide comprehensively describes the workweek of an individual farmer.

ATTRA – National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service

ATTRA has offered apprenticeships in sustainable and organic agriculture since 1989 in the US, Canada and the Caribbean. Potential apprentices can browse the farm and location possibilities for free. The listings are posted directly from farmers seeking apprentices or interns. For more information, visit: https://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/internships/

Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association

The Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association created the North American Biodynamic Apprenticeship Program (NABAP). This two-year on-farm program is designed for beginning biodynamic or organic farmers, in addition to one classroom course. Upon completing the program, apprentices receive a biodynamic farming certificate from the Biodynamic Association. Click here for more information: https://www.biodynamics.com/nabdap

CRAFT – The Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training

CRAFT is broken down by region, but each farmer-led branch is specifically designed to educate farmers through mentoring and a social network of support. CRAFT farmers are specialized in organic, sustainable or biodynamic practices in growing vegetables, livestock or grains. For more information on an apprenticeship with CRAFT, find your specific region here: http://www.craftfarmers.org

Beginning Farmers LLC

The Beginning Farmers LLC is dedicated to providing beginning and aspiring farmers with the resources and educational tools they need to succeed. As such, Beginning Farmers aggregates on-farm internship postings on its website. The Beginning Farmers’ blog announces internship postings, while its employment page collects information on regional resources with internship or apprenticeship opportunities, organizations with information on other jobs generally related to agriculture and links to international listings of agricultural jobs. For more information, visit: http://www.beginningfarmers.org/internship-and-employment-opportunities/

Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Holds Workshops for Good Agricultural Practices

Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) is a level of food safety certification for fruit and vegetable producers. Iowa State University Extension and Outreach is holding one-day fall workshops for direct-to-consumer producers to learn how to reach the GAP requirements.

Each workshop is divided into a Level 1 and Level 2 course. Interested participants can register online for a $25 fee and will receive a certificate of completion at the end of the course. Registration is still available for the following:

Council Bluffs Workshop—Iowa Western Community College

  • Level 1—Nov. 12: registration deadline Nov. 5
  • Level 2—Nov. 21: registration deadline Nov. 14

Click here for more information, or contact Heather Snyder with questions at (515) 294-9020 or hsnyder@iastate.edu.

FDA’s proposal to the Food Safety Modernization Act threatens family farmers and sustainable practices

The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) that was passed by Congress in 2010 was the first major update to federal food safety laws in 72 years. Earlier this year, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released proposed laws to implement the provisions in the FSMA. These new rules leave out crucial aspects of the bill that were initially created to protect small, mid-sized and sustainable farmers.

While there needs to be an up-to-date and feasibly implemented food safety law, the FDA’s current proposal would force many family farmers to pay significant compliant costs. These fees could cost farmers up to half of their profits without many of the protections currently allotted to them. If passed the law potentially threatens local food sources, placing any farm with a profit of over $500,000 on the same level as any industrial agricultural conglomerate. The proposal also ignores Congress’ initial mandate that the FSMA must comply with The National Organic Program, making it difficult for farmers to implement natural or organic practices.

At this year’s concert, Farm Aid teamed up with our resource partner, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC), to form a petition that concertgoers could sign against the FDA’s proposal. You can take a stand for family farmers and sustainable agriculture by signing that petition here. There is a comment period on the proposed rules until November 15, so NSAC created a comprehensive guide to form comments to the FDA for consumers and farmers alike supporting local food systems and family farmers.