OFA & NOC Submit Letter to USDA RE: Covid Relief

January 15, 2021

Dear Secretary-designate Vilsack,

We are writing to make recommendations about the USDA’s implementation of the “Covid-19 Relief and Fiscal 2021 Omnibus Act.” We are deeply concerned about the impact of Covid-19 on organic farmers, farmworkers, businesses, certifiers, inspectors, and consumers. We are mindful of the need to protect the health and safety of all who are involved in organic agriculture, certification, and compliance. Because of the annual organic certification process and the need to protect the integrity of the USDA organic seal during this time of ongoing market disruption, some of our concerns and recommendations may be unique from those raised by other sectors of agriculture.

Support for Organic Farmers

The recently enacted Covid-19 Relief and Fiscal 2021 Omnibus Act includes $11.2 billion to:

“prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus by providing support for agricultural producers, growers, and processors impacted by coronavirus, including producers and growers of specialty crops, non-specialty crops, dairy, livestock, and poultry, producers that supply local food systems, including farmers markets, restaurants, and schools, and growers who produce livestock or poultry under a contract for another entity:”

as well as a provision that:

“in making direct support payments in this section, the Secretary of Agriculture may take into account price differentiation factors for each commodity based on specialized varieties, local markets, and farm practices, such as certified organic farms (as defined in section 2103 of the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 (7 U.S.C. 6502)):”

As you make plans to implement this section of Act, we would like to point out that organic farmers represent a significant percentage of the farmers in each of the specialty crop, livestock and dairy, and local food supply categories prioritized by Congress. Therefore, it is critical that organic farmers be included in any payment programs created to implement this provision of the Act. The following financial assistance recommendations would be extremely helpful for the organic sector:

  • In making direct payments, it is critical that the criteria used to distribute those payments be more finely-tuned to support the diversity and richness of U.S. agriculture than was reflected in the previous coronavirus-related payment programs, and that more reasonable payment limitations govern those payments to ensure that more farmers get help with these funds.
  • Most organic and small farms have not traditionally accessed food purchasing programs run by the agency using Commodity Credit Corporation funding. As you develop new purchasing programs to both aid farms and procure food for emergency feeding or other nutrition programs, we urge you to make the procurement process flexible enough to work for organic and small farms, not just large conventional operations. This should include purchases of a diverse set of crops, not just commodity crops.
  • As farmers innovate to respond to the social distancing recommendations related to the pandemic, USDA should provide financial assistance for farms setting up virtual platforms to facilitate the sale of their products, as well as “on-farm” stands, curbside pickup, and other direct to consumer “no-touch” distribution channels that minimize interaction. In the same way that restaurants across the nation have shifted to take-out pick-up options, farmers too are shifting to this model. But farmers need some financial assistance to facilitate this shift.
  • The federal government has historically reimbursed up to 75 percent of organic certification fees paid by organic farms and businesses, with a maximum reimbursement of $750 per certification scope (crops, livestock or handling) per operation. Congress reinforced these reimbursement rates when it reauthorized the National Organic Certification Cost Share Program through the 2018 Farm Bill. Unfortunately, in August, the Farm Services Agency cut reimbursement rates for 2020 certification costs to 50 percent, up to a maximum of $500 per scope. This action leaves organic operations – who had been planning on being reimbursed for their certification costs at the same level as previous years – burdened with an unplanned expense, in the midst of a period of higher costs and disrupted markets caused by the pandemic. The cost share program is particularly important to small and mid-sized organic farms, and those who are just starting out with organic certification. We urge you to act quickly to restore the funding levels for this program mandated by Congress.

Relaxing USDA Nutrition Program Rules to Give Low-Income Consumers Greater Access to Nutritious Food During the Pandemic

Allow Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) payments to be made online directly to farms and CSAs, and expand SNAP on-line options for customers of smaller retailers, such as local food cooperatives.

  • Provide waivers and direction to States to broaden their WIC-approved food lists to allow WIC participants to purchase organic foods.
  • Support the ability of food banks and other emergency feeding programs to purchase organic products directly from farmers at market prices.

Move Critical Rulemaking Forward to Protect Organic Integrity

There are several long-overdue rulemakings that are critical to the organic sector and the economic viability of organic farms. We urge you to move these rulemakings along without delay in order to protect the integrity of the organic label and to strengthen enforcement to shield operations from unfair competition.

The rulemaking to improve organic enforcement, both domestically and internationally, (the “Strengthening Organic Enforcement” rule) is critical for the economic viability of the U.S. organic sector. The 2018 Farm Bill required USDA to complete the rulemaking by December 19, 2020, but it has not. The public comment period on the proposed rule closed on October 5, 2020. This rulemaking must be finalized and move forward to implementation as quickly as possible.

  • The final rule on Origin of Livestock (OOL), to close loopholes in the organic standards related to the transitioning of conventional dairy cows into organic dairy operations, is another critical regulation for the organic sector. Through the Fiscal Year 2020 appropriations process, Congress mandated that the USDA complete the OOL final rule by June 17, 2020 but the USDA missed this deadline. We need the USDA to finalize an enforceable rule on Origin of Livestock as quickly as possible
  • The Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices (OLPP) rule is another long-overdue measure to strengthen the organic standards, which was delayed and ultimately withdrawn by the Trump Administration. The OLPP final rule would allow the NOP to consistently enforce stronger animal welfare standards on organic farms and close loopholes being taken advantage of by some large operations. We urge you to reinstate the final OLPP rule as quickly as possible.

We thank you in advance for your efforts to respond quickly to the needs of organic farmers and businesses in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sincerely,

Abby Youngblood                                                                  Kate Mendenhall
Executive Director                                                                  Executive Director
National Organic Coalition                                                     Organic Farmers Association


January Policy Update

January, 2021

By Patty Lovera, Policy Director

When I wrote my first OFA policy update last winter, I remember thinking it was pretty strange to have to discuss how an impeachment trial was disrupting the normal function of Washington, including agriculture policy. And here we are a year later, just days after an attack on the U.S. Capitol, once again trying to determine how the dramatic national developments will impact our day-to-day work for organic farmers.

The transition period after the 2020 election, both for the new Congress and the Biden Administration, had already been challenging because of the ongoing controversy about the election results and the logistical challenges created by the pandemic. And things are still very unsettled in Washington after the events of January 6th. This week, and at least through the inauguration on January 20th, the Presidential transition and investigation into what happened are going to dominate attention.

But here is what we know so far about organic policy as we embark on 2021:

At the end of the year (up against the deadline of shutting down the federal government), Congress passed and President Trump signed a massive spending bill that did a couple of things:

  1. Funded federal agencies (like USDA) for the rest of Fiscal Year 2021 (which started on October 1st)
  2. Authorized spending for a long list of pandemic-related programs including direct payments to individuals, supplemental unemployment payments, funding for the transportation and airline industries, healthcare, vaccine distribution and more. There was also funding for agriculture, see below for more detail.

USDA Organic Funding

The 2021 spending bill includes several increases that OFA supported, including increases for the USDA’s National Organic Program, organic data collection, sustainable and organic agriculture research and beginning farmer and socially disadvantaged farmer training programs. It also contains language that directs the NOP to resolve inconsistent interpretation of the standards for transitioning organic dairy cows and the enforcement of pasture requirements. Unfortunately, it did not include additional funding to fix the shortfall in the Organic Certification Cost Share Program. We will have to keep working on Congress to provide additional funding to correct USDA’s management failures with that program.

USDA Pandemic Response

The pandemic response portion of the law provides $13 billion to USDA to respond to impacts of the pandemic on agriculture, as well as funding for SNAP and other nutrition programs. The law instructs USDA to do several different things with the agricultural funding, including purchasing commodities and providing direct payments to farmers and processors that have been impacted by disruptions caused by the pandemic. So far, the USDA has announced it would do another round of the Farm to Families Food Box program, which pays contractors to assemble and deliver boxes of foods to food banks and other charities to distribute. There were three rounds of these contracts issued in 2020, and USDA quickly announced it was issuing another set of contracts in early January after the new funding was provided.

It is not yet clear when USDA will announce the rules for additional direct payments to producers. The application program for payments under the CARES Act (from last year) closed in December. The new bill does include slightly better language that would allow the USDA to offer different payment rates based on organic or other premiums, so we will be pursuing that issue with USDA as they develop this year’s program. Stay tuned.

Small Business Administration programs

The new law also provided additional funding for small business assistance programs, including the Paycheck Protection Program and Small Business Administration (SBA) loan programs like the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL). So far, we have the most information on PPP. The new law impacts people who got a PPP loan last year with some clarifications on tax issues and also allows for a second PPP loan for some businesses.

Tax Issues for First Round PPP Loans – the new law clarifies that a PPP loan from 2020 that was forgiven will not be considered taxable income by the IRS (but you will still have to check the rules for state and local taxes.) It also states that business expenses that were paid for with PPP loan funds can still be counted as a deduction for federal taxes.

Second Round PPP Loans – the SBA released rules for second loans under the PPP program. To be eligible, a business has to have less than 300 employees and also be able to show that it suffered a 25 percent loss in revenue for at least one quarter of 2020 (as compared to 2019.) The SBA is allowing smaller community banks to issue these loans first, starting this week. It is not yet clear when larger banks will be able to start issuing these loans. If you are interested, check with your bank to see when they are going to start taking applications and what paperwork they will require to qualify.

The New Congress

Now that the Georgia runoff election is complete, things will start to fall into place for the new Congress. The Democrats will control both the House and the Senate, although with extremely tight margins, especially in the Senate. We are still waiting for the complete roster of members of key committees like agriculture and appropriations. But we do know who will be leading the committees. In the House, the chairman of the Agriculture Committee is Rep. David Scott from Georgia, and the ranking member (top Republican) is Rep. G.T. Thompson from Pennsylvania. In the Senate, the chair of the Agriculture Committee is Senator Debbie Stabenow from Michigan and the ranking member is Senator John Boozman from Arkansas.

One of the first orders of business for the Senate Agriculture Committee will be scheduling a confirmation hearing for President-elect Biden’s nominee for Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack. We will be working to make sure questions about our organic priorities are on the list for his hearing.

How You Can Help

2021 has been quite a year so far, and it’s only the second week of January. But as the new Administration and new Congress get down to work, we will be pushing them to address our priorities for organic, including getting the USDA moving on long-overdue rules and making sure organic farmer voices are included in debates on climate change and other issues.

One way for you to get involved is to participate in the OFA 2021 Policy Survey. Make sure to weigh in on what OFA’s top priorities should be and proposed new policies to guide our work.

And mark your calendars and register for our Virtual DC Advocacy Days. This year, instead of traveling to Washington, DC for an OFA lobby day, we will be coordinating a week of virtual lobby visits instead. Mark your calendars for the week of March 22nd, when OFA members will be working together to have online or phone meetings with their members of Congress.   Register here.

UPCOMING EVENTS:  Mark Your Calendars!

Advocacy 101 Webinar

How can we get Congress to support organic farmers? Learn how to make your voice heard in the legislative process during this webinar about how to lobby your elected officials. Get ready for meetings with your members of Congress. We’ll cover how to schedule a meeting, what to say, and how to create ongoing communication with elected officials.

OFA “Virtual” Lobby Days

In 2021, instead of traveling to Washington, DC for an OFA lobby day, we will be coordinating a week of virtual lobby visits instead. Mark your calendars for the week of March 22nd, when OFA members will be working together to have online or phone meetings with their members of Congress.  You can register now and we'll keep you in the loop about upcoming trainings and how to participate!  Open only to OFA members.

 

https://organicfarmersassociation.org/uncategorized/ofa-starts-the-new-year-strong/


Advocacy 101 Webinar

How can we get Congress to support organic farmers? Learn how to make your voice heard in the legislative process during this webinar about how to lobby your elected officials. Get ready for meetings with your members of Congress. We’ll cover how to schedule a meeting, what to say, and how to create ongoing communication with elected officials.


OFA Starts the New Year Strong!

January 1, 2021

Organic Farmers Association (OFA) and Rodale Institute are proud to announce an exciting new chapter for farmers: OFA has obtained its own IRS 501(c)(5) status to operate as an independent agricultural organization.

This is a significant milestone for both Rodale Institute and OFA, as OFA will become the first, and only, independent national policy organization led by certified organic farmers. OFA will continue to provide a strong voice for domestic certified organic producers in Washington, D.C. and around the country.

Since OFA was founded in 2016, Rodale Institute has acted as the organization’s fiscal sponsor—ensuring OFA has the organizational capacity to allow its organic farmer leadership to focus on impacting policy. Together, we aimed to ensure that farmer priorities were authentically represented among the other organic stakeholders in the Farm Bill, NOSB decisions, and other national arenas. Five years later, OFA is strong enough to stand on its own, having built a solid foundation as a leading voice for organic farmers in D.C. and beyond.

Moving forward, Rodale Institute will continue to support OFA’s efforts in a reduced capacity. While the nature of our partnership is changing, the close relationship between the two organizations will remain, with Rodale Institute maintaining a voting seat on OFA’s Governing Council and continuing to provide 501(c)(3) support when necessary.

Obtaining 501(c)(5) status allows OFA to become its own tax-exempt agricultural organization, enabling us to achieve our primary mission—giving organic farmers independent control of the organization. This status also allows us more freedom in policy advocacy, fundraising, and legitimacy in the agricultural policy space.

With this update, OFA is excited to begin an independent relationship with the Biden administration as well as the new leadership at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Farm Bill discussions will begin this year, and OFA will be there to make sure organic farmer priorities are represented. OFA collaborates with the other national organic organizations and together we intend to see to fruition a final Origin of Livestock rule, re-introduction and implementation of the Organic Livestock & Poultry Practices Rule, and stronger NOP enforcement to ensure the integrity of organic and uniform application of organic standards.

OFA will host virtual lobby days this March, open to all OFA members. The advocacy days allow organic farmers an opportunity to share their priorities with their elected officials. OFA provides training and support for the lobby days and hopes for strong farmer attendance this year due to the virtual nature of the event.

As we close one chapter and start another, OFA and Rodale Institute are proud to move forward together as two organizations committed to supporting organic farmers, the organic movement, and protecting the health of people and the planet.

We thank Rodale Institute for all their support in our founding years and ensuring that the voices of organic farmers are always at the table.

Kate Mendenhall
Executive Director
Organic Farmers Association


Election Review: Impact on Organic

What does the recent election mean for protecting organic standards and growing organic? Join Organic Farmers Association Policy Director, Patty Lovera for a review of election results, how agriculture committees might shape up, and what to look for in the months ahead.


Advocacy Days

Join members of Organic Farmers Association as farmers across the country join together in a week of targeted advocacy in Washington, D.C.  We will support you with talking points, link you with other OFA members in your same district, and provide pre- and post-training to make the most of your hill visits.   YOUR VOICE IS IMPORTANT!  Join us for our virtual farmer advocacy day!

Visits will be scheduled Monday, March 22 through Thursday, March 25, 2021.  Open to OFA members only.   Not a member?  Join today!


December Policy Update

By, Patty Lovera, Policy Director

As we move towards the end of the year, we are starting to get a better sense of what we will be dealing with in Washington DC next year.

U.S. House of Representatives

The House will remain in Democratic control. But because Representative Peterson from Minnesota did not get re-elected, there will be a new chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, Representative David Scott from Georgia. The ranking member, which is the top Republican on the committee, will be Representative G.T. Thompson from Pennsylvania. We don’t know yet who else will be on the committee, and there may be some new faces next year because some current members did not win re-election.

U.S. Senate

We still don’t know which party will control the Senate next year (that depends on the runoff elections for two Senate seats in Georgia on January 5th.) But we do know the key players on the Senate Agriculture Committee – the top Democrat will be Senator Stabenow from Michigan and the top Republican will be Senator Boozman from Arkansas. Which one becomes the chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee depends on which party ends up with the majority in the Senate.

USDA

Who will serve as President Biden’s Secretary of Agriculture has become a hot topic inside the Beltway. There are a lot of names being thrown around, without much hard evidence of who is likely to be chosen by the Biden team. The focus of the most speculation is on a race between Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) and current Representative Marcia Fudge (D-OH), who serves on the House Agriculture Committee. But other names keep popping up, including former Agriculture Secretary (and Governor of Iowa) Tom Vilsack, former Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan, and a handful of others. There is no set deadline for the Biden team to announce their nominee, and traditionally agriculture comes fairly late in the process. Once the nominee for Secretary is announced (and eventually confirmed by the Senate), there are lots of other USDA jobs that also need to be filled including Deputy Secretary, multiple Assistant Secretaries, multiple Under Secretaries, and many Administrators, including for the Agricultural Marketing Service, which is the home to the National Organic Program.

Just before Thanksgiving, OFA submitted a letter to the Biden transition’s USDA agency review team. This team is tasked with reviewing current staffing, workplans, budgets and other conditions at the USDA and making recommendations to the incoming Secretary of Agriculture about priorities. In the letter, we outlined steps the agency should take as soon as possible to protect organic integrity:

  • Finalize the Strengthening Organic Enforcement rule
  • Finalize the Origin of Livestock rule
  • Reinstate the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices rule
  • Restore the Organic Certification Cost-Share Program reimbursement level to 75%
  • Improve pandemic response programs to better serve organic producers.

In addition to these immediate needs, we also suggested things the USDA needs to improve in its coordination with the National Organic Standards Board, oversight of organic certifiers, ways to include organic in discussions about climate change, and educating other USDA departments and federal agencies about organic.

Apply Now for CFAP 2

The second round of the USDA’s Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP 2) closes on December 11th. The program gives direct payments to farms, using three different methods for calculating payment rates based on the type of crops or livestock. Even if you were not eligible for the first round of CFAP (which was the case for many organic farms), it may be worth checking again because the USDA has changed some of the eligibility requirements and the methods for calculating payments, which may work better for some organic farms. Applications must be in by December 11thYou can apply through USDA’s Farm Services Agency.

Take Action to Fix Organic Certification Cost-Share!

We are still pushing Congress to fix the organic certification cost-share program. On August 10th, the USDA’s Farm Service Agency announced that due to an unexpected shortfall in funding, they were lowering the reimbursement rate to 50 percent of the certified organic operation’s eligible expenses, up to a maximum of $500 per scope. This is reduced from a rate of 75 percent of the certified organic operation’s eligible expenses, up to a maximum of $750 per scope in previous years (and the level that was specified for this program in the last Farm Bill.)

Congress needs to pass a new spending bill in the next week (or possibly the week after, if they give themselves a short-term extension.) Take action now to urge your members of Congress to restore the reimbursement levels to 75 percent in the next spending bill. It does help for members of Congress to hear from organic farmers about why the cost share program is important.  

UPCOMING EVENTS:  Mark Your Calendars!

OFA WEBINAR:  Election Review: Impact on Organic

What does the election mean for protecting organic standards and growing organic? Join Organic Farmers Association Policy Director, Patty Lovera for a review of election results, how agriculture committees will shape up, and what to look for in the months ahead.
Tuesday, December 15 at 2pm ET

OFA “Virtual” Lobby Days

In 2021, instead of traveling to Washington, DC for an OFA lobby day, we will be coordinating a week of virtual lobby visits instead. Mark your calendars for the week of March 22nd, when OFA members will be working together to have online or phone meetings with their members of Congress.  You can register now and we'll keep you in the loop about upcoming trainings and how to participate!  Open only to OFA members.

 

 


2021 OFA Elected Leadership

The following certified organic farmers and organic farm organizations were elected to fill open seats in their region for the Governing Council or Policy Committee.  The ballot closed November 15.  Their terms begin in March 2021.  Only OFA farm members have the right to vote on OFA decisions.  OFA policy is ONE FARM, ONE VOTE.  Each farm has an equal place at the table.

CALIFORNIA                      

Governing Council: Farmer
Judith Redmond, Full Belly Farm, Guinda, CA
Policy Committee: Farmer
Kenneth Kimes, Greensward / New Natives, LLC, Aptos, CA

MIDWEST   (Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania)                  

Governing Council: Farmer
Dave Bishop, PrairiErth Far, Atlanta, IL
Policy Committee: Farmer
Michael Adsit, Plymouth Orchards, Plymouth, MI
Policy Committee: Organization
Illinois Stewardship Alliance (ISA), Molly Gleason, Communications Director, Springfield IL

NORTH CENTRAL   (Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin)                           

Governing Council: Farmer
Mike Kelly, High Meadow Farm, Johnson Creek, WI
Governing Council: Organization
Midwest Organic & Sustainable Education Service (MOSES): David Perkins, President, Spring Valley, WI
Policy Committee: Farmer
DeEtta Bilek, Tom & DeEtta Bilek Farm, Aldrich, MN

WEST   (Alaska, Hawaii, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Arizona, Idaho, Utah, New Mexico, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas)                           

Governing Council: Farmer
Linley Dixon, Adobe House Farm, Durango, CO
Governing Council: Organization
Montana Organic Association (MOA): Becky Weed, Board of Directors, MT
Policy Committee: Farmer
Nathaniel Powell-Palm, Cold Springs Organics, Bozeman, MT
Policy Committee: Organization
Tilth Alliance: Melissa Spear, Executive Director, WA

SOUTH (Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, Puerto Rico, Northern Mariana Islands, American Samoa)                        

Governing Council: Farmer
Shawn Peebles, Shawn Peebles Organic Farm LLC, Augusta, AR
Policy Committee: Farmer
Laura Freeman, Mt. Folly Farm, Winchester, KY
Policy Committee: Organization
Carolina Farm Stewardship Association: Roland McReynolds, Executive Director, NC

NORTHEAST   (New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware)                          

Governing Council: Farmer
Eve Kaplan-Walbrecht, Garden of Eve Organic Farm & Market, Riverhead, NY
Governing Council: Organization
Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance: Edward Maltby, Executive Director, Deerfield, MA
Policy Committee: Farmer
Luke Gianforte, Gianforte Farm LLC, Cazenovia NY

 

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

California: GOVERNING COUNCIL 

Judith Redmond, Full Belly Farm, Guinda, CA

Bio/Statement: I have been a co-owner and farmer at Full Belly Farm since 1989. I also serve as an adviser to the California Climate and Agriculture Network, the Community Alliance with Family Farmers, and as a Commissioner of the Capay Valley Volunteer Fire Department. With the diversity of livestock, produce and flowers that we raise here at Full Belly, we are constantly made aware of the importance of regulations and policy and how they strongly influence the viability and success of different kinds of

farms. People making policy and the public at-large do not understand on-the-ground challenges of farming. Through the work of OFA, organic farmers can build a stronger voice for themselves as part of reducing agriculture’s environmental footprint. Full Belly Farm is a certified organic, multi-generational farm founded in 1985. We enjoy cooking, eating, growing, harvesting and selling fruits, nuts and vegetables year-round. We also grow beautiful flowers and top off our activities caring for a herd of sheep and a flock of chickens. We make every effort to foster sustainability on many levels — from fertility in our soil and care for the environment, to creating a stable and respectful workplace for our employees. We attend farmers markets, have a CSA program and sell to many stores and wholesalers. We often invite our CSA members and customers to the farm and offer numerous events for people who want to learn more about organic agriculture and the farmers that grow their food. Through this work we hope to invigorate the agricultural economy and build the social well-being of the small communities in our Valley.

California: POLICY COMMITTEE 

Kenneth Kimes, Greensward / New Natives, LLC, Aptos, CA

Bio/Statement:  I have been farming greenhouse microgreens year-round for over 35 years and have always farmed organically (certified since 1982) and have only ever used organic seed (90k lbs. per year). We lobby the public to promote organic continuously at the farmers markets. My wife and I run the farm with ten full-time employees and five part-time employees. I have served on the Board of Directors for the following organizations: Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF) (10+ years), Santa Cruz County Farm Bureau Board (6 years), Agriculture Policy Advisory Commission (10 years), Monterrey Bay Certified Farmers Markets, Action Pajaro Valley (farmland preservation task force), Santa Cruz County GMO Commission (we banned GMO's), and was on the Board of Directors for CCOF for many years.

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Midwest Region: GOVERNING COUNCIL 

Dave Bishop, PrairiErth Far, Atlanta, IL

Bio/Statement:  PrairiErth is a 300-acre farm with diverse crops and livestock and has been certified organic since 2004. With my family we also run the 100- acre farm where I grew up. Over these combined 400 acres, we grow organic corn, soybeans, oats, wheat, livestock forages, vegetables, fruit, and flowers and produce organic beef, pork, eggs and honey. We sell at local farmers’ markets and to restaurants and stores and offer a vegetable CSA and winter CSA. PrairiErth Farm has been participating in research with the University of Illinois for many years. Current research is studying the impact of various cover crop mixtures on weed suppression, soil microbial activity, and field productivity. We are passionate about growing organically, a system I adopted after years of conventional farming. I view organic farming as a way to limit our ecological footprint by caring for the earth, not just for us, but for future generations. We've reduced our farm “footprint” even further by using solar-powered pasture fencing and livestock watering systems. In addition to farming, I have lobbied in DC with NSAC for organic and local food issues, both in writing the farm bill and in the appropriations process. He currently serves as President of the Illinois Food, Farms, and Jobs Council, a Governor appointed entity created to advise the Governor and the Legislature on agricultural issues.

Midwest Region: POLICY COMMITTEE 

Michael Adsit, Plymouth Orchards, Plymouth, MI

Bio/Statement: I also served as a member of the founding OFA Steering Committee. During this time, serving OFA, I have spent a significant amount of time establishing communications with other organic farmers, promoting OFA to farmer interest groups and meeting with members of the Congress and Senate on behalf of OFA. I am committing to doing everything I can to represent and further the interests of organic farmers. My farm, Plymouth Orchards, is a 120-acre organic orchard and farm. We are also a regional agri-tourism destination. The farm was originally started in 1977. We grow organic apples, raspberries, asparagus, vegetables, small grains and hay. Plymouth Orchards is also certified as a processor for organic dried apples. Vegetables are marketed through a CSA. Fruits are direct marketed and wholesale. At Plymouth Orchards, I am responsible for organic crop production and marketing.

Organization 

Illinois Stewardship Alliance (ISA), Molly Gleason, Communications Director, Springfield IL

Bio/Statement:  I was raised on my family's 4th generation grain farm in Elkhart, Illinois and currently manage 63 acres of that farm. In the future, I hope to diversify our land into organic production. While my family farm does not currently use organic practices, my involvement with the farm provides a front-row seat to the issues involved with making the decision to transition to organic and all the challenges that entails, especially as it relates to generational transfer of farm management. In addition, my experience at Illinois Stewardship Alliance brings me into contact with direct-market fruit and vegetable growers on a regular basis, many of which use organic practices or who have gone through the certification process. I work with them to understand the barriers and opportunities facing local food producers, drive demand for local food, and shape and promote local food policy. I bring strong communications skills, community-organizing and coalition-building experience, and an in-depth knowledge of the food system. If elected, I would love to put these assets to work to raise the profile of organic farming, advance organic initiatives, and garner recognition for organic farming as more than a niche method of farming, but as a real and lasting solution to restore soils, feed communities, and build thriving local economies and ecosystems.  Illinois Stewardship Alliance (ISA) is a membership-based organization. We are an organization of local food producer, concerned citizen or food-systems related organization. Alliance members span the state and have one thing in common: they all care about the food that is produced and consumed in Illinois and want to support the increase of fresh, local foods.

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

North Central Region: GOVERNING COUNCIL 

Mike Kelly, High Meadow Farm, Johnson Creek, WI

Bio/Statement:  My family and I started a Community Supported Agriculture program in 2009, and today raise certified organic veggies, poultry and sheep on our gorgeous, well-maintained 40-acre certified organic farm with the help of farm friends, volunteers and employees. Our CSA has over 200 members, we also sell wholesale accounts, and have workplace CSA relationships with local businesses. I served on the FairShare CSA Board of Directors and currently serve as a county supervisor with Jefferson County and on the Farmers Union water committee. Prior to farming, I had a career as a utilities superintendent. I am very interested in promoting organic agriculture and do that from my work on the farm and through my position as county supervisor.

Organization 

Midwest Organic & Sustainable Education Service (MOSES): David Perkins, President, Spring Valley, WI

Bio/Statement: Educating farmers about organic and sustainable production is the foundation of our work. The cornerstone of this foundation is the annual MOSES Organic Farming Conference, the country’s largest conference on organic and sustainable farming, which draws 3,000+ people each February to La Crosse, Wis. We also educate farmers about specific farming practices through MOSES Organic Field Days and the MOSES Organic Answer Line. We manage several projects to support and empower organic farmers: Farmer-to-Farmer Mentoring Program, New Organic Stewards program, and our Rural Women’s Project. We also advocate for national policies that encourage organic production.

David Perkins currently serves as President of MOSES. David returned to his rural roots in 1994 to create Vermont Valley Community Farm located in southern Wisconsin. After a wonderfully successful 24 years of connecting thousands of people to their food, the CSA was retired in 2018. The farm continues its organic seed potato business. Committed to nurturing more CSA farms, David has spoken across the country on CSA, organic vegetable production and financial management. Certified organic since 1999, David is passionate about organic. He is the current Board President of Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Services (MOSES) and served on the FairShare CSA Coalition Board, the Organic Farmers Association Board, and the UW- Madison Center for Integrated Agriculture Systems council.

North Central Region: POLICY COMMITTEE 

DeEtta Bilek, Tom & DeEtta Bilek Farm, Aldrich, MN

Bio/Statement:  My husband and I have owned and operated our 220-acre farm since 1977. We have been certified organic since 1998. On the farm we have crop production, graze beef cattle, and maintain forest. My primary role on the farm is the paperwork and help with overall management. My past experience with farm policy includes several opportunities to testify at Minnesota Legislature hearings and meetings with individual policy makers to share organic and sustainable agriculture information from a farmer perspective. I have attended two NOSB meetings and presented on behalf of OCIA International. At that time, I was a Board member and served one year as President of the Board. From 1997 - 2003, I was Program Manager for the Sustainable Farm Association of MN. From 2004 - 2016, I was Chair for the MN OCIA Chapter's Education Committee. I have also served on the MISA Certification Board of Directors and have participated on the Land Stewardship's Federal Farm Policy Committee.

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Western Region: GOVERNING COUNCIL 

Linley Dixon, Adobe House Farm, Durango, CO

Bio/Statement: Starting on rented land, over the past 10 years, our family has worked hard to build our farm business and finally purchase a farm on which we can live and continue to grow. This experience has exposed me to the challenges new organic farmers face to get started and succeed. I have a Masters in Plant and Soil Science and a PhD in Plant Pathology. My hope is that OFA can help ensure that USDA organic standards and enforcement continues to represent the values of the organic community and the way the vast majority of us farm, that is with the responsibility to maintain healthy soil and pasture. For the past ten years, we have farmed 3 acres of vegetables intensively in Durango, CO, with a prime focus on soil health. We direct market to local restaurants, SWFF Local Distribution Cooperative, James Ranch, and the Durango Farmers Market. Our specialties are soil-grown greenhouse tomatoes, salad greens, peppers and strawberries. Daily operations are managed by my husband, Peter Dixon, and brother, Reid Smith. I am the associate director of the Real Organic Project by day and tomato pruner extraordinaire by night.

Organization 

Montana Organic Association (MOA): Becky Weed, Board of Directors, MT

Bio/Statement: Montana Organic Association currently serves on the OFA Governing Council and will serve another term. Becky currently represents Montana Organic Association on the Governing Council and would like to serve another two-year term. Since 2002, The Montana Organic Association has been the voice of Montana's organic community. MOA believes that the organic movement is the one best hope for keeping small family farms viable while providing clean, nutritious, and safe food to the community; helping secure our food system by supporting farm diversity; and contributing to a healthier environment which helps protect our precious wildlife and natural resources. MOA's mission is to advocate and promote organic agriculture for the highest good of the people, the environment and the state's economy.

Becky Weed and her husband Dave Tyler have owned and operated Thirteen Mile Farm in Southwest Montana for thirty years (certified since 1999). They primarily run a certified organic grassfed sheep flock, although their operation has included a wool processing mill (2003-2017), as well as grassfed organic cattle and small-scale commercial vegetables intermittently. One of Becky’s employees is purchasing and continuing the wool mill, opening up time for Becky to return her focus more fully to her land, integrating crops and livestock, and to agriculture more broadly. Becky has served on the Montana Board of Livestock, and the boards of the Wild Farm Alliance, People and Carnivores, and has recently joined the board of the Montana Organic Association. She also served on the Conservation & Science Board of a very large ranch operation in Central Idaho, Lava Lake Land & Livestock, continuing her lifelong interest in the interface of agriculture and conservation. Before becoming involved in agriculture, Becky worked for more than ten years as a geologist with degrees in the Geological Sciences from Harvard (B.A.) and University of Maine (M.S.). That mixed background in research in some of the wildest places on earth, along with hazardous waste cleanup in some extremely urban locations continue to influence Becky’s perceptions and hopes for agriculture.

Western Region: POLICY COMMITTEE 

Nathaniel Powell-Palm, Cold Springs Organics, Bozeman, MT

Bio/Statement: I am a certified organic grain and beef cattle producer located in Bozeman, MT. As a first-generation farmer and rancher, I started my operation in 2004 and received organic certification in 2008. From my original leased 10 acres in 2004 my operation today consists of 875 acres on which I produce organic small grains and grass finished beef cattle. In addition to my farm, I work as an IOIA trained independent organic inspector. Currently contracted with 6 Accredited Certifying Agencies, I inspect approximately 225 operations per year. I have inspected organic operations to the NOP standard in 36 states for all three scopes (crops, livestock, and processing). I hold a BS in Environmental Science, with a focus on soil and water resources from Montana State University. My training as an agronomy researcher and my research history in soil chemistry has allowed me to hone a strong analytical skill set directly related to organic production agriculture. I believe my 9 years as a certified organic beef and grain producer has equipped me with significant technical expertise in organic production. My experience as an organic inspector has allowed me to examine operations and listen to the concerns of organic producers in every region of the country. If selected to serve on the Governing Council, I would bring both my expertise as a producer and broad experience as an organic inspector to my work with the OFA. Lastly, as a young farmer, I have experienced firsthand the challenges of starting a successful farming business and have spent most of my time farming certified organic. As the organic production community expands to include more and more young growers, I will bring a viewpoint and understanding to my work with the OFA that will align closely with a quick growing sector of the industry.

Organization 

Tilth Alliance: Melissa Spear, Executive Director, WA

Bio/Statement: Tilth Alliance works in community with Washington's farmers, gardeners and eaters for a more sustainable, healthy and equitable food future. Our strategic priorities include advancing organic, regenerative, and sustainable growing practices, to increase demand for healthy food grown in Washington using organic, regenerative and sustainable growing practices, and to raise awareness of the critical relationship between food production and climate change. Our membership base is composed primarily of certified organic farmers. We serve our base through advocacy at the state and county level, by providing training opportunities, by directly connecting organic farmers to consumers through the Washington Farm and Food Finder, and by producing an annual conference where organic farmers from Washington can convene to learn, network and socialize.

Melissa Spear has worked at the intersection of conservation and agriculture for the past 15 years. She started out at The Trust for Public Land, successfully protecting several iconic farms in Connecticut. She then spent 9 years as Executive Director of a non-profit organic urban farm and environmental education center serving the city of New Haven, CT. She served as the vice-chair of the Working Lands Alliance in Connecticut, an advocacy organization working to ensure farming remained a viable enterprise in the state. She moved to Seattle and became Executive Director of Tilth Alliance in 2018 where her focus is squarely on promoting and supporting the adoption of organic practices. Under her leadership, Tilth Alliance is leading the formation of a Coalition for Organic and Regenerative Agriculture that will advocate for organic farmers and farming practices both here in Washington and in Washington D.C.

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Southern Region: GOVERNING COUNCIL 

Shawn Peebles, Shawn Peebles Organic Farm LLC, Augusta, AR

Bio/Statement: Our farm is solely organic. I am a third-generation farmer. I started farming early with my dad and branched out on my own about 20 years ago. I switched to organic farming in 2009. We farm approximately 1500 acres. We grow sweet potatoes, edamame, black eye peas, soybeans, and corn. We find it exciting to find new crops to grow and diversify more each year. I handle some of each aspect that goes into a farming operation. I am hands on and fully involved in each decision that goes into the operation. I am currently serving on the USDA's Specialty Crop Committee. I have also served on a dicamba specialty task force. I enjoy speaking at meetings and conventions to share my knowledge and experience with others. I think organic farming is the future and want to see it grow. I will stand tall for my beliefs and advocate for what I believe in.

Southern Region: POLICY COMMITTEE 

Laura Freeman, Mt. Folly Farm, Winchester, KY

Bio/Statement: I own and run Mt. Folly Farm. Mt. Folly includes 1250 acres of pasture, timber, and crop land. About 70% of our crop and hay land is certified organic, making 290 organic acres and one organic high tunnel. I own and run the farm and have since 1982. I am also currently working to certify our cattle. I am also a climate change activist and farm entrepreneur, especially focused on hemp and heritage grains. Our farm is located in Kentucky, which has a nascent organic farming movement, so we are early adopters. Our core group is under 40, representing the future of farming. We are spreading the value of organics in the region by hosting multiple field days each year and connecting with our elected officials--introducing them to organic farming.

Organization 

Carolina Farm Stewardship Association: Roland McReynolds, Executive Director, NC

Bio/Statement: The Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (CFSA) is a farmer-driven, membership-based 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that helps people in North and South Carolina grow and eat local, organic food by advocating for fair farm and food policies, building systems that family farms need to thrive, and educating communities about local, organic agriculture. Founded in 1979, CFSA is the oldest and largest sustainable agriculture organization in the Southeast. We provide training and technical assistance to farmers on organic farming practices, including: consulting on organic high tunnel production of specialty crops; providing NRCS TSP services for farmers seeking CAP-138 plans (supporting organic transition); hosting numerous workshops throughout the year; running the only organic certified incubator farm in the Southeast, Lomax Farm in Concord, NC; conducting research on organic vegetable production practices at Lomax Farm and other farms; and hosting two annual conferences for organic farmers. We also conduct extensive policy advocacy on issues of importance to organic farmers in North and South Carolina, at the state and federal levels.

Roland Reynolds is an attorney and has served as the Executive Director of the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (CFSA) for almost 14 years. His experience in the areas of environmental and agricultural law gives him a thorough understanding of the regulatory issues related to natural resource conservation in agriculture. He has led CFSA’s government relations activities on behalf of sustainable agriculture stakeholders, served on a variety of state and national boards and committees, and provided information to state and federal elected and administrative officials. In his work on the USDA’s Fruit & Vegetable Industry Advisory Committee, Reynolds led the committee to unanimously call for increased USDA funding for public plant breeding programs, which is a high priority of the organic community. He is effective at resolving conflicts; influencing government agencies, businesses and industry organizations; and establishing and strengthening working relationships with outside entities. Reynolds has built bridges with ‘conventional’ farmers and farm organizations, and has strengthened CFSA’s relationships with colleges and land grant universities in the Carolinas, serving on a number of departmental and college-level advisory boards and helping those institutions better serve the region’s organic producers and the goals of environmental stewardship in agriculture.

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Northeast Region: GOVERNING COUNCIL 

Eve Kaplan-Walbrecht, Garden of Eve Organic Farm & Market, Riverhead, NY

Bio/Statement: Eve Kaplan-Walbrecht and her husband Chris founded Garden of Eve organic farm in 2001, dedicated to providing delicious organic vegetables, fruits and beautiful flowers and to “making changes in the world by living them.” Invited to sell some extra produce from their garden (zucchini!) at a local farmers market they made $40 and were launched on their farming career. In the 20 years since then, they have expanded and now grow 60 acres of certified organic vegetables, flowers, raise 1500 pastured laying hens, and oversee a team of 20 at the height of the season. Garden of Eve sells produce through a large on-farm Market, 3 farmers markets, and nearly 1,000 households participating in their Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs at 20 locations in New York City and on Long Island. Eve holds a BA from Harvard in Environmental Science and a MS in Conservation Biology and Sustainable Development from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. She has also worked as a land preservation advocate with the North Fork Environmental Council and as Principal Planner for the Town of Southampton. In Eve's over 20 years of operating a family-scale organic farm, She has been constantly challenged to overcome the innumerable challenges that farmers face, as well as the ways that the chemical farming industry overrides the interests of real farmers in national policy. She is a longtime supporter of several OG watchdog groups and has seen how "Big Food" continues to try to water down the organic standards that the rest of us work so hard to uphold. She is well qualified for the OFA Governing Council with her skills in advocacy and lobbying, through her longtime involvement in land planning and farmland preservation on the North Fork of Long Island. She has worked with groups both inside and outside of local government to help secure the preservation of large tracts of vulnerable land including what became the Hallock State Park; North Fork County Park, and farmland that has now been preserved for perpetuity through Purchase of Development Rights.

Organization 

Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance: Edward Maltby, Executive Director, Deerfield, MA

Bio/Statement: Ed Maltby served on the founding OFA Steering Committee and Advisory Committee. NODPA started in 2001 and is the largest grassroots organization of organic dairy producers. It has remained true to its original goal of advocating on behalf of producers, regardless of who they sell their milk to, for a sustainable pay price plus protect the integrity of the USDA Organic regulations. NODPA is governed by organic dairy producers who meet regularly by conference call and annually in-person as either Board members or State Representatives. NODPA has a very active and committed Board and team of State Representatives that work together with NODPA staff to fulfill the mission of the organization. NODPA Bylaws protect the integrity of the organization and ensure that organic dairy producers control the association rather than any one brand, advocacy group or individual. NODPA represents organic dairy producers in the east of the country and has an active involvement with its sister organizations in the Midwest and the west which ensures that it can always remain connected to and controlled by its members.

Ed Maltby is a producer with over 45 years of experience managing conventional and organic dairy, beef, sheep and vegetable enterprises on a variety of different farms in Europe and the United States. For the past 20 years, Ed has worked with regional farms to cooperatively market their products into mainstream markets, ranging from direct marketing of lambs and organic produce, to establishing a cooperative of dairy farmers who direct market their own brand of milk in Western Massachusetts. Since 2005, Ed has worked as Executive Director of NODPA. He also developed a national umbrella organization, Federation of Organic Dairy Farmers (FOOD Farmers), to provide a national voice for organic dairy family farms. Ed served on the USDA Dairy Industry Advisory Committee to advise the Secretary of Agriculture on dairy policy. In 2006 when one of the last two remaining USDA slaughterhouses in MA was destroyed by fire, Ed worked with the family-owned Adams Farm Slaughterhouse to rebuild. The plant opened in November 2008 and in March 2009 Ed was asked to provide management assistance which later turned into a contract as General Manager.

Northeast Region: POLICY COMMITTEE 

Luke Gianforte, Gianforte Farm LLC, Cazenovia NY

Bio/Statement:  Gianforte Farm has been certified organic since 1998 and currently operates 600 acres of grains and row crops in Upstate New York. The farm currently grows small grains for the food grade market as well as corn, soybeans, and dry beans. I returned to the farm in 2014 after graduating from Cornell University and serve as the managing partner. Since returning to the farm, I have focused on adopting new technology relevant to organic agriculture and developing new markets for the farm's products. In 2016, Gianforte Farm won the Conservation Farm of the Year through the Madison County Soil and Water Conservation District.

I was raised on my family's farm that started transiting to organic when I was five years old. I always had a deep passion for agriculture and knew I wanted to be a farmer. After high school I attend Cornell University where I had the chance to visit and learn about all types of farms all over the world. After graduation I returned home to the farm full time. I have been active in the local agricultural community through serving on the FSA County Committee and on the board of a non-profit which serves the refugee community through agriculture. I am also currently in the LEAD-NY agricultural leadership development program which has already proven to be a strong networking and personal development opportunity. As a young farmer I believe it is critical to be actively involved in the conversations regarding agricultural practices and policy decisions, especially when it comes to the Organic program. Agriculture is constantly changing, and as organic producers we need to ensure the intentions of the Organic label remain sound while continuing to move forward. Consumers are facing more food choices than ever before, making it more critical than ever to preserve the meaning of the Organic label.


Biden Administration Transition Letter

November 23, 2020

The Honorable Joseph R. Biden
President-Elect
Wilmington, DE

Dear President-Elect Biden,

The Organic Farmers Association congratulates you on your recent election and we look forward to working closely with your Administration on issues that are critically important to organic farmers.

OFA is a membership organization that represents America’s certified organic farmers. Our organization was founded by and is controlled by certified organic farmers, and only domestic certified organic farmers vote on OFA’s policies and leadership.

Organic is a growing sector of the U.S. agriculture system, with tremendous potential to address climate change, help family farms flourish, revive rural communities and protect public health. But for organic agriculture to meet its potential, we need the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to take several steps to protect the integrity of the USDA certified organic label.

The USDA sets the regulations and standards that must be met by products that bear the organic label. Certified organic farmers rely on this label to accurately convey information about their products in the marketplace. Because consumers believe in the integrity of the organic label, the organic sector has enjoyed tremendous growth and provided a path to economic viability for many family farms. But the USDA has considerable work to do to maintain the standing of the organic label with consumers and ensure a level playing field for organic farmers, including finishing long-delayed updates to regulations and increasing the agency’s focus on enforcement.

In the short-term, there are several key actions needed to get critical rulemaking processes across the finish line after years of unnecessary delay and to reverse Trump Administration decisions that were detrimental to the organic community.

Strengthening Organic Enforcement Rule: The organic market has grown so rapidly that the USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP) has lagged behind in building the enforcement capacity necessary to oversee a $50 billion industry with global supply chains. U.S organic grain farmers reported negative impacts on the prices they could get for their products after increased volumes of organic grains abruptly started to arrive in the United States several years ago. Since then, imports from regions with questionable oversight and that seem to lack sufficient organic acreage to produce the amount of organic product being exported have continued, while several high profile investigations have also revealed large-scale schemes in the United States to sell fraudulent organic products. After years of advocacy to draw attention to the impacts of fraud on domestic markets, organic farmers need full and consistent enforcement of the USDA organic standards and increased capacity at the NOP to detect and prevent fraud in organic supply chains.

A critical step for the new Administration is to finalize and implement the “Strengthening Organic Enforcement” proposed rule as quickly as possible. This rule is required by the 2018 Farm Bill and the organic community weighed in during a public comment period earlier this fall. As well as putting the rule into effect as soon as possible, the NOP must continue to coordinate with other USDA agencies as well as U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to increase awareness of organic commodities that are likely to be imported (and the potential for fraud) and to leverage other agencies’ inspection resources at ports of entry.

Origin of Livestock Rule: The NOP’s failure to strengthen the standards for organic livestock has allowed large-scale organic dairies to undermine those organic farms that comply with the intent of the organic label. Organic dairy farmers need a level playing field. Years of delay in closing loopholes in the organic standards for livestock have caused ongoing economic harm. We need the NOP to finalize an enforceable rule on Origin of Livestock as quickly as possible.

The agency has failed to address this problem for years. In 2015, the NOP published a proposed rule to clarify that, after completion of a one-time transition from a conventional dairy farm, all new dairy animals milked on an organic dairy farm would need to be managed organically from the last third of gestation. The 2015 proposed rule garnered strong public support from the entire organic community, but has never been finalized. In the FY 2020 appropriations bill, Congress gave the NOP 180 days to finalize the rule, but the agency missed this deadline.

The NOP must work to finalize this important rulemaking as quickly as possible with a final rule that can be consistently enforced and that requires that the entire one-time transition happen over a twelve-month period under the supervision of an organic certification agency as part of the producer’s Organic System Plan. Cycling dairy animals in and out of organic production must be prohibited, and once a distinct herd is transitioned to organic, all animals must be raised organically from the last third of gestation.

Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices Rule: The Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices (OLPP) rule is another long-overdue measure to strengthen the organic standards, which was delayed and ultimately withdrawn by the Trump Administration. The OLPP final rule would allow the NOP to consistently enforce stronger animal welfare standards on organic farms and close loopholes being taken advantage of by some large operations. The rule was discussed and vetted in the organic community for more than a decade and has widespread support. Animal welfare is an issue of critical importance to organic consumers, and these standards must be tightened to retain consumers’ confidence in the organic label. We urge you to reinstate the final OLPP rule as quickly as possible.

Organic Certification Cost-Share Program: All certified organic operations must complete annual inspection and certification. The federal government has historically reimbursed up to 75 percent of organic certification fees paid by organic farms and businesses, with a maximum reimbursement of $750 per certification scope (crops, livestock or handling) per operation. This summer, USDA’s Farm Services Agency (FSA) cut reimbursement rates for 2020 certification costs to 50 percent, up to a maximum of $500 per scope. This action leaves organic operations – who had been planning on being reimbursed for their certification costs at the same level as previous years – burdened with an unplanned expense, in the midst of a period of higher costs and disrupted markets caused by the pandemic. The cost share program is particularly important to small and mid-sized organic farms, and those who are just starting out with organic certification.

The 2018 Farm Bill provided new funding for the organic certification cost share program, and written commitments made by USDA to use pre-2018 Farm Bill carryover balances to fund current program needs were used to calculate the funding provided in the 2018 Farm Bill. But the agency has struggled to track program spending, which led the agency to provide inaccurate reports of the carryover balances to Congress as the funding provided in the 2018 Farm Bill was being considered, and has resulted in a shortfall for the program for the rest of the years of the Farm Bill cycle.

We urge you to act quickly to restore the funding levels for this program mandated by Congress. While a relatively small amount in the scope of the USDA’s budget, restoring the reimbursement level could make a big difference to many small organic operations. We also hope that the FSA will examine the administrative problems that led to this year’s shortfall and swiftly develop a plan to ensure this does not happen again.

Pandemic Response: Since the passage of the CARES Act, the USDA has been making direct payments to some farmers, through the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP). The payment formulas used in CFAP 1 to calculate the payments and the rigid delineation of funding for specific commodity and livestock categories shortchanged organic farmers, particularly small-and-medium-scale diversified operations that have been economically impacted by the pandemic. There were some improvements made in CFAP 2 that made the program somewhat more feasible for some organic and diversified operations. But there are still many challenges faced by organic farmers because of the pandemic that the USDA’s response fails to address, which we outlined in a letter sent to USDA earlier this summer.

We also encourage the new Administration to investigate what the pandemic revealed about various sectors of the food system. In sharp contrast to the disruption that happened in highly consolidated, conventional supply chains, organic farmers quickly adjusted to  public health restrictions that affected where and how they market their products and challenges faced by their workforce, coming up with creative solutions that allowed them to feed their communities. You can read more about how organic farmers adapted here and here. For some farmers serving local and direct-to-consumer markets, sales have actually gone up as a result of the pandemic as consumers seek out local sources of food. However, in many cases, costs have also skyrocketed for these operations because of the additional investments in equipment, technology, sanitation, staffing, and transportation that must be made in order to meet social distancing and infection prevention protocols. A more detailed examination of how the various sectors of the food system responded to the pandemic should inform future USDA pandemic response efforts.

In addition to these specific regulatory actions that the USDA should take in the immediate future, we have other suggestions that would help organic farming realize its full potential.

National Organic Standards Board: The Organic Foods Production Act that created the NOP also established a unique federal advisory committee, the National Organic Standards Board. This volunteer board plays a critical role in the function of the organic program, not just in evaluating materials allowed for use by organic operations and making recommendations on changes to the organic standards, but also in providing a venue for all of the stakeholders in the organic community to work together. We urge your Administration to treat the NOSB as a key part of the organic process by:

  • Committing to fill farmer seats on the board with people who have direct agricultural experience and deep expertise in organic practices, and actively working to increase the diversity of board members.
  • Allowing the NOSB to have more input in setting their workplan.
  • Committing to move NOSB recommendations quickly through the rulemaking process to become enforceable regulations.

Oversight and Accreditation: One of the critical roles played by the NOP is providing oversight of accredited certifying agencies who inspect and certify organic operations. But many of the controversies that have been long-debated in the organic community boil down to inconsistent interpretation or application of organic regulations by certifiers. We urge the NOP to take seriously its role as an accreditor and to acknowledge that this role is inextricably tied to its enforcement mandate. Ensuring that certifiers consistently interpret and apply the standards, everywhere they operate, is critical to the integrity of the organic label. The NOP is the only entity that can ensure that this happens.

Organic as a Climate Solution: Organic farming can play a critical role in fighting climate change. Organic regulations require certified organic farmers to implement beneficial carbon sequestration practices by eliminating chemical soil disturbance through the prohibition of synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, and other crop protection chemicals. The standards require organic farmers to adopt tillage and cultivation practices that “maintain or improve” soil condition. We urge the new Administration to prioritize research to document how organic practices can maximize carbon sequestration, as well as documenting the multiple benefits created by organic practices. We also urge the NOP to adhere to the goal of continuous improvement by tightening the organic standards on several issues that would make organic even more meaningful as a climate-friendly practice. These include:

  • Prioritizing enforcement of the pasture standard for large-scale dairies.
  • Reinstating and implementing the OLPP rule for livestock operations to require livestock operations to provide meaningful access to pasture.
  • Prohibiting the certification of hydroponic operations as organic. For organic agriculture. to maximize its potential as climate-friendly agriculture, soil must be recognized as the cornerstone of organic production.

Support for Organic Research: Many of the challenges facing the organic sector can be addressed with increased research. Organic research often addresses challenges or identifies practices that are also relevant to farmers who are not certified organic or who farm conventionally. An increased focus on soil health, alternatives to chemical pest management and cover crops across all sectors of agriculture show that this kind of research can serve an audience that is wider than certified organic. We urge you to increase USDA’s support of organic research. And we hope that your Administration will address the devastating impact of the decision to move the Economic Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture out of Washington, DC. The move led to dramatic staffing shortages and low morale, and took these critical staff out of conversations happening at USDA headquarters.

Organic Outreach Within USDA and to Federal Partners: It is clear that, despite the rapid growth of the organic industry and the National Organic Program, many other divisions within the USDA are still not familiar with organic. In order to encourage other USDA divisions to make their programs more feasible for organic producers, we urge you to reinstate the position of organic policy advisor that was created during the Obama Administration.

We also urge you to expand the NOP’s outreach and education to other federal partners such as various policy divisions of the White House, including the Office of Science and Technology Policy. Another critical federal partner is Customs and Border Protection. We hope you will explore how to create an organic advisor position for CBP, which is a critical piece of the federal effort to prevent fraudulent organic products. And we urge the NOP to increase outreach and education of other USDA divisions, such as APHIS, and federal agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency about the impact that genetically engineered crops and associated herbicides have on the organic sector from genetic and chemical drift.

Personnel: As you work to fill open positions at USDA and other federal agencies, we urge you to choose people who are committed to the full range of agriculture that is happening in the United States, including organic, diversified, direct market and other types of production. The following list is a sample, by no means an exhaustive list, of the types of people who would bring this necessary perspective to your team:

David Zuckerman, Lieutenant Governor of Vermont, organic farmer

Amanda Beal, Agriculture Commissioner of Maine

Kate Greenberg, Agriculture Commissioner of Colorado

Elanor Starmer, former administrator Agricultural Marketing Service

Jesse Buie, organic farmer in Mississippi, member of National Organic Standards Board

Andrew Bahrenburg, staff, Senator Leahy

Kelliann Blazek, former staff, Representative Pingree

Hannah Smith-Brubaker, former Deputy Agriculture Secretary of Pennsylvania, executive director of Pasa

Michael Sligh, Alliance for Organic Integrity

We appreciate the opportunity to provide input as you develop your priorities and look forward to working with your Administration. We hope to be able to set up a time for OFA leadership to meet with your transition team and new USDA staff to further discuss these ideas. If you have any questions or need more information, please contact our Policy Director, Patty Lovera, patty@organicfarmersassociation.org, (202) 526-2726.

Sincerely,

Kate Mendenhall
Director

 

 

 


Bringing Equity to Organic

November 2020

National Organic Standards Board member and First Nations leader examines how certifying Grower Groups, and other changes, could increase both black, indigenous, and people of color farmers and consumers

By A-dae Romero-Briones        Photographs by Joan Cusick Photography

Tribal Nations have grown food systems for millennia. In deserts. Along coastal and inland waterways. In low mountains. In high mountains. And in some of our most fertile and infertile lands across this country. Today, despite massive loss of land (which, ironically, some of which is certified organic farmland now), loss of animal and plant diversity, and limitations on access to traditional hunting and gathering grounds—Indigenous people continue to grow their food systems. And yet, we see few in the organic community. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, Black, Indigenous, and other people of color makeup nearly one-quarter of the population—but operate only 5% of farms nationwide. The USDA’s organic integrity database, with approximately 19,400 U.S. farm certifications, lists less than ten Tribal farm organic certifications. In the 2012 Agricultural census, 95.42% of all organic farms were white-owned and operated. Presently, we see the disruptions of societal institutions that have been created or implemented to serve primarily the white community, and so we should also evaluate who the organic community is serving and how.

Admittedly, the organic community is but a small part of a larger national, and global, food system that has insidious roots in the exploitation of BIPOC communities—Black, Brown, and Indigenous with little distinction. In 2020, we should be well aware of those historical wrongs, or at the very least, be observing the mass protests and toppling of historical markers that glorify these wrongs, essentially creating a status quo that serves but a fraction of our society. In many ways, the organic movement has always challenged the establishment. The organic movement has deep roots in combating extractive capitalism and corporate domination of our food system, lands, and rural community. We are the people’s food system; the alternative to chemical farming and mass production that leads to exploitative practice. In the organic community, we do purport to know and do better, be more responsive, be more inclusive and better food (and lifestyle) choice for consumers and society. But are we?

First, when I speak of organic, I am referring to the little green label that designates a product as grown and produced according to practices sanctioned under the USDA National Organic Program. To many in the organic community, organics is much more than that. It is a lifestyle. It is a promise and a representation of what our food world should be. While I agree we are much more than our labels, it is clear we are limited by them. As much as we want to extend our organic relationship to society, it is in fact a market—subject to market forces, communicates (and deviates) through price variations, and is regulated (protected by those within the market and government actors who recognize the market).  The limitations and weaknesses of our capitalist markets are embodied even in organics. We are only as strong as our roots—which in the organic case includes exploitation, exclusion, and an undercurrent of hyper-individualism. All markers of the dominant American retail food system.

In accordance with market values, organic certification is aimed at individual landowners. In dominant food systems, this individual landownership is extended to corporations recognized as persons. Even the most basic of understandings of agriculture and food systems begins with inequality—land ownership. Discussions in the organic world revolve around the practices of individual farmers, their certifications and inspections, and their place in the organic marketplace.

From 2012 to 2014, white people comprised over 97 percent of non-farming landowners, 96 percent of owner-operators, and 86 percent of tenant operators. They also generated 98 percent of all farm-related income from land ownership and 97 percent of the income that comes from operating farms. Organic farming is almost a mirror reflection of the mainstream food system in organic farm ownership and operation. As a result, conversations in the organic community are centered on the understandings of white landowners and their understandings of their landholdings, farming practices, and an anthropocentric worldview. Yet, human dominion over land is the pedagogical base that is failing us and our environment. How do we become an organic community that is inclusive, responsive, and in a better relationship with our environment, given the limitation of capitalism?

In the organic world, we often think about our food system in binary conversations—organic agriculture and conventional agriculture. Yet, there are many communities, people, consumers, and producers, who are systematically omitted from each of those conversations, intentionally and unintentionally.

On the consumer side, there are conflicting studies on who eats more organic food. But, in a study of organic consumers, the Economic Research Service of the USDA reported that African American households are less likely than Caucasian households to buy organic. Additionally, one of the primary consumer considerations in the purchase of organic products was the percentage of household income spent on food. Households with lower incomes were least likely to buy organic products. Considering that many federal feeding programs, such as the commodity supplemental food program which serves seniors, the WIC Program (Women, Infant and Children), or the summer lunch program, serve households with lower incomes, organic produce should be offered in these programs allowing access to households with lower incomes. Currently, organic products are not eligible for federal procurement in many institutional programs, effectively excluding access to the organic community by virtue of income—often excluding Black, Brown, or Indigenous people. In short, organic consumer is most likely white.

When we think about what is required for organic certification—from the certificates that give an individual person dominion over their plot of land, to the application for paperwork that begins the process of certification, to the markets where these products are sold, and even the consumer who seeks out the little green seal at that market—we are operating in a food supply chain that is leaving out large groups of people in this country and serves a privileged few. I count myself as one of those privileged. How can we change this? How do we increase the number of Black, Brown, and Indigenous organic producers and consumers? Perhaps, most importantly, why is this important?

One, the organic community has its roots in challenging the status quo. Without the will and breadth of organic leaders like J.I. Rodale challenging nationally accepted industrial production systems, and many others who lend their time and fight for organic, we would not have an alternative to corporate agriculture. Imagine lending that same fight and passion to challenging the tenure, thereby, roots of the anthropocentric agriculture altogether. This means lending time and passion to critically examining land ownership, its benefits to both conventional and organic agriculture, and the continued exclusion of Indigenous, Brown, and Black people owning land. In conversation with a farmer in Appalachia, she said, “If you only hang out with people who agree with you, you’re never going to grow as a person or a farmer.” Similarly, if we are a nation or community of white landowners we can’t really expect for organic agriculture to reach more than just our small community of organic advocates.

Second, infrastructure directed at marginalized communities is needed to participate in our existing organic system. Grower group certification (included in the most recent USDA rule, Strengthening Organic Enforcement) would create a path to infrastructure development for not only many Indigenous/Tribal growers but for marginalized small-scale growers. Grower groups are meant to create centralized management, marketing, and inspection systems for smaller groups of growers that have geographic proximity and uniformity of product. Appalachian Harvest, based in Duffield, Virginia, is one of the only certified organic growing groups in the United States. With no prohibition on grower group certification within the U.S., domestic organic certifiers site lack of guidance on applicability to livestock or produce, limitations of the number of growers within the group, and inspection expectation of grower members as some of the reasons there is a reluctance to certify grower groups. A focus or willingness from one certifier to embark on more grower group certification in the United States could carry this conversation and certification into marginalized communities—expanding the reach, and hopefully, diversity of organic growers. The conversations and infrastructure development in marginalized communities with producers is not easy, but then again, those who find themselves in the organic community understand any action worth undertaking takes care, time, and a whole lot of work.

It is these values that have called us all in some way to improve our homes, our bodies, and our relationships through the organic movement. We constantly argue for the betterment of the land, biodiversity, and community (microbial, animal, and human). While we want to talk about the microbial communities that make up healthy soil and determine what chemicals are weakening and killing the beneficial communities, we are shy to talk about who ultimately owns the land, how those land deeds begin in the first place, and why the organic community remains largely white. If we value biodiversity, we should be a reflection of that in our own meetings and conversations, in our own certified operations, and human community. If we want to expand the reach and breadth of the organic movement, we must start by including those who have been systematically left out.

A-dae Romero- Briones (Kiowa/Cochiti), JD, LLM was born and raised in Cochiti Pueblo, New Mexico and comes from the Ware Family from Hog Creek, Oklahoma on the Kiowa side. Mrs. Romero-Briones works as Director of Programs-Native food and Agricultural Program for First Nations Development Institute.

 

Citations:
Dettman, Rachel (2008). Organic Produce and Who is Eating it? A Demographic Profile of the Organic Consumer. Can be accessed here: file:///C:/Users/abriones/Downloads/467595.pdf
Horst, Megan (2019). How Racism Has Shaped the US Farming Landscape. Can be accessed here: https://www.eater.com/2019/1/25/18197352/american-farming-racism-us-agriculture-history
Union of Concerned Scientists (USC) and HEAL Food Alliance (2020). Leveling the Fields: Creating Farming Opportunities for Black People, Indigenous People and Other People of Color.

This article was written for New Farm Magazine, the magazine of the Organic Farmers Association.  All OFA Members receive a complimentary issue of New Farm annually.  Join Today!