OEFFA Comments to the National Organic Standards Board

October 26, 2016

National Organic Standards Board  
USDA – AMS
1400 Independence Ave, SW
Washington, DC 20250
RE: AMS-NOP-16-0049

National Organic Standards Board members:

The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA) is a grassroots coalition of over 4,000 farmers, gardeners, consumers, retailers, educators, and others who since 1979 have worked to build a healthy food system that brings prosperity to family farmers, safeguards the environment, and provides safe, local food to consumers.  OEFFA employs education, advocacy, and grassroots organizing to promote local and organic foods, helping farmers and consumers connect to build a sustainable food system.  OEFFA’s Certification program has been in operation since 1981.  OEFFA certifies over 1,100 organic producers and food processors, ensuring that these operations meet the high standards established for organic products.

We thank you for your service to the organic community, and we respectfully offer the following comments.

COMPLIANCE, ACCREDITATION, AND CERTIFICATION SUBCOMMITTEE

Discussion document: Personnel Performance Evaluations of Inspectors (NOP 2027)

We thank the Compliance, Accreditation, and Certification Subcommittee for considering the topic of Inspector Field Evaluations, for the information it summarized, and the questions it posed.  While we view inspector field evaluations as important to consistency and integrity in the inspection portion of organic certification, we see this requirement as overly prescriptive and inefficient.  In short, we disagree with the “every inspector, every year” requirement.

In response to NOSB’s questions on this topic, we offer the following feedback:

For certifiers: To date, what have you observed about the benefits, costs and logistics of meeting this requirement?

OEFFA was initially excited about this idea, but has discovered that our understanding of the inspectors’ work has changed very little as a result of the “every inspector, every year” field evaluation requirement.  While we view inspector field evaluations as important to consistency and integrity in the inspection portion of organic certification, we have other ways of collecting information about inspectors from certified operators and staff feedback.  There are some returns on the investment in field evaluations to be sure, but the marginal benefit is greatly reduced after the highest priority inspectors in a risk-based approach are evaluated.

OEFFA currently works with about 40 contract inspectors, in addition to staff inspectors, to cover an 18 state region.  We estimate that it will cost $20,000 to conduct a field evaluation for every inspector this year.  Ultimately, this high cost must be passed on to certified operators through increased certification fees.

The logistics of meeting this requirement are burdensome beyond our expectations. Scheduling between the three parties of inspector, evaluator, and certified operation is several times more complex than scheduling between two parties.  Additionally, since travel is essential for one or more of the individuals involved, field evaluation inspections must be scheduled further in advance than is usually necessary, which does not fit well with the nature of life and work on the farm.

  1. For certifiers: If given an option to present alternative evaluation plans to the every inspector, every year, what would these look like? If a risk-based approach, how do you define risk?

Risk can be defined using multiple criteria, including:

  • the number of inspections conducted by the inspector each year;
  • the experience level of the inspector in the scope being inspected;
  • the feedback regarding the inspector provided by certified operators;
  • the feedback regarding the inspection report provided by certification staff; and
  • performance during prior field evaluations.

Before the NOP began issuing noncompliances for failing to conduct field evaluations of every inspector, every year, OEFFA created a risk-based approach to conducting field evaluations using such criteria as is listed above.   We prefer that the NOSB or NOP not dictate an overly prescriptive formula for determining which inspectors must be evaluated in a given year.  Instead, we request that we, as a certifier, understanding the general expectation, report on it as part of our annual update, and that it be addressed by the NOP during regular audits to make sure our inspector field evaluation approach is adequate.

  1. For certifiers and inspectors: What has been your experience sharing evaluation forms and processes? What have been the challenges associated with this sharing?

The sharing of evaluations has functioned adequately in order to meet the requirement. The sharing of evaluations between certifiers or among certifiers and IOIA should continue to be an option in meeting the requirement.

Rather than every certifier submitting an alternative proposal to this requirement, OEFFA recommends a model for field evaluations which is not overly prescriptive, risk-based, and which will allow assessment of all inspectors over a period of several years.  We believe such a model will accomplish the goal of accuracy and integrity in the inspection process, while maintaining a “sound and sensible” approach to field evaluations.

Conversion of Native Lands                                                

While we support the continued growth of the organic industry and expansion of organic acreage, we feel that it should not be at the cost of converting native ecosystems that have no cropping history. The NOSB has a track-record of working successfully to tackle difficult subjects related to organic production, and we have faith that the NOSB is equipped to find a viable solution in partnership with the organic community.

OEFFA looks forward to a discussion document on the important subject of eliminating the incentive to convert native ecosystems to organic production.  We strongly encourage the Certification, Accreditation, and Compliance subcommittee to prioritize this topic, so that this discussion document will be presented to the public for comments in advance of the spring 2017 NOSB meeting.

MATERIALS SUBCOMMITTEE

Proposal: Fall 2016 Research Priorities

Crops

Organic no-till

We agree with the NOSB statements that “Organic no-till preserves and builds soil organic matter, conserves soil moisture, reduces soil erosion, and requires less fuel and labor than standard organic row crop farming.”

We support research focusing on the benefits of organic no-till.  This has been viewed by many as the gold standard for sustainable production.  While we support this research, we also understand that continued focus and research on the multifunctional benefits of organic soil building and management systems must also be maintained.  Research examining tillage and soil carbon sequestration has raised questions about the value of no-till for carbon sequestration, calling for more in-depth research and analysis[1] [2]. While there are other benefits to no-till and reduced tillage systems, additional research should focus not just on this practice, but as the NOSB has stated, with consideration of the whole farm system.

Fate of genetically engineered plant material in compost

We support the NOSB advocating for additional research on the fate of genetically engineered plant material in compost.  This is an issue that been cited as a weakness in the organic standards.  The NOSB cannot make informed recommendations without research indicating the ultimate breakdown of GE plant material in compost.

Integrity of breeding lines and ways to mitigate small amounts of genetic presence

There are many questions about the viability of public germplasm collections. Understanding inadvertent presence of GMO’s in those collections is critical.  Maintaining pure breeding lines is a foundation for a strong organic agriculture system and should be prioritized.

Prevention of GMO contamination: Evaluation of effectiveness

We support a better understanding of how prevention strategies are working to maintain the integrity of organic crop production systems.  Advocating best practices for both organic and conventional farmers is important for organic farmers who are required to take preventative measures, and for conventional farmers that chose to be good stewards and good neighbors.  In those instances where organic producers cannot rely on the best practices of good neighbors, policy research is needed to develop a mechanism that will not just provide conventional growers incentives to take their own prevention measures,  but will also focus on policy research that includes mandatory compensation mechanisms paid by patent holders to farmers that experience contamination.

Livestock

Holistic, Systems-based measures for reducing and eliminating the use of synthetic methionine in poultry diets

Recently, in reviewing ingredient lists for livestock minerals, we noticed an increased use of metal methionine hydroxy analogue chelates, or, in common language, synthetic methionine stuck to copper, manganese, or zinc.  We have allowed the use of such chelates under §205.603(d)(2), “Trace minerals, used for enrichment or fortification when FDA approved,” because these substances are AAFCO approved as sources of these minerals. Typically, however, synthetic methionine use would be regulated under §205.603(d)(1), which specifically addresses DL-Methionine.  This work-around underscores the urgent need for natural methionine sources within an holistic, systems-based approach to poultry production.

Substantial research has already been conducted investigating isolated strategies for raising chickens organically and humanely without synthetic amino acid supplementation. Please see the summary presented in comments by our colleagues at the Center for Food Safety.  In researching systems approaches to eliminating the need for DL-Methionine in organic poultry feeds, studies should assess multiple strategies that investigate the impacts of natural methionine feed sources, breed, and high-welfare management strategies simultaneously.  If we don’t spend time investigating natural methionine sources in a systems-based approach, creative ways of including synthetic methionine in poultry diets will likely proliferate.

Proposal: Excluded Methods Terminology

We commend the NOSB and ad hoc group members for their efforts in developing the draft Excluded Methods definitions. We strongly support adoption of the Excluded Methods terminology and the incorporation of a Classical/Traditional plant breeding definition to provide clarity and a strong basis for decision-making.  We also support the inclusion of multiple definitions to ensure that the guidance is as comprehensive as possible.

The Principles and Criteria section provides a strong foundation consistent with the process-based system of organic agriculture. This section clearly explains how techniques are to be evaluated in determining whether they should be permitted for use in organic agriculture.  We agree with this section as proposed.

We also support the Terminology Chart which shows which techniques, defined in Appendix A, are excluded from or allowed in organic production, and the criteria that were used to make that determination.  Additionally, we concur with the comments submitted by the Center for Food Safety this fall,  that specify four additional terms in the Discussion Document’s Terminology Chart — transposons, cisgenesis, intragenesis and agro-infiltration — should be considered excluded methods.

We urge the NOSB to add these terms to the proposal’s Terminology Chart before approving the proposal.

In sum, we strongly urge the adoption of this proposal, with the inclusion of the four technologies cited above.  We hope it will serve as guidance while supporting a long-term proposal to move through the regulatory process with the new administration.

Discussion Document: Excluded Methods Terminology

We appreciate the opportunity to comment on the discussion document which addresses areas for additional work around Excluded Methods. We will comment specifically on:

  1. Additional criteria for evaluating technologies which need to be considered
  1. How to detect those technologies that are excluded but may not provide detectable genetically engineered DNA when tested

We put forth the following suggestions for dealing with these difficult questions:

Additional Criteria

We support the NOSB including the research institute of organic agriculture from Switzerland’s recommendation on Excluded methods stating that:  A variety must be usable for further crop improvement and seed propagation. This means that the breeders’ exemption and the farmers’ right are legally granted and patenting is refrained from, and that the crossing ability is not restricted by technical means.

Detection and testing

The NOP should begin gathering data on the presence of GMO materials in seeds and crops. We ask that the NOSB recommend a national pilot study with proper sampling methodology. ACA members could conduct a percentage of their required sampling for GE presence and voluntarily report anonymous data to the NOP.  An analysis and report of those findings could help the NOSB in future discussions about the presence of excluded methods and any threshold establishment.

New methods of biotechnology, for which testing methods are costly or non-existent, present particular difficulties. Given the current testing limitations, we recommend:

  1. An affidavit system for ACAs to use for varieties identified as being derived from these new excluded methods. This is a system with which ACAs, producers, and seed dealers are familiar. While it has limitations, it is, at present, the most suitable alternative.
  1. A national reporting system for genetically manipulated crop and animal material. If statutory authority is required for the establishment of such a system, we urge you to request that support from the Secretary. As GE technology rapidly evolves and outpaces the U.S. regulatory structure, measures must be put in place to allow for protection of the organic industry.

In summary, OEFFA supports the following suggestions for additional criteria, detection, and testing:

  • Ensure crop varieties are usable for further crop improvement and propagation;
  • Consider a national pilot study for GE presence in seeds;
  • Of the options presented, the affidavit system for ACAs to use for varieties derived from excluded methods should be explored further; and
  • Consider a national reporting system for genetically manipulated crop and animal material.

Report to the USDA Secretary on progress to prevent GMO incursion into organic

We appreciate the ongoing work of the NOSB on GE contamination and we support the action of the NOSB to update the Secretary of Agriculture regarding its progress in preventing GMO incursion into organic production. We are thankful that those efforts start with seed by securing research funding and data collection for testing of organic and non-GMO seed, as well as emphasizing the need for more data.  Now the data needs must broaden beyond avenues of contamination to include the comprehensive costs of contamination prevention and product rejection, as well as an assessment of the barriers to reporting farm contamination.

While USDA and AC21 continue to focus on coexistence, organic, non-GE, and even GE farmers have experienced the failure of this strategy as is evidenced by the recent and unauthorized use of Dicamba. Now is the time to expedite the issue of holding GE technology developers responsible for trespass.  The NOSB has a significant window of opportunity to emphasize the importance of USDA leadership in this area.

The body of work that has been completed by the NOSB materials/GMO subcommittee on GE contamination issues is substantial.  We believe that the proposed letter is a fair representation of NOSB activities. We request your leadership in developing mandatory policies around shared responsibility.  OEFFA views it as important that the cost of avoiding GMO contamination of organic farms and products be borne by those who profit most from the use of GMOs-the patent holders for GMO seeds.  We ask NOSB to prioritize the development of policies around shared responsibility in your report to the Secretary. Prevention and contamination costs should be borne by GE patent holders.

CROPS SUBCOMMITTEE

Calcium Chloride

Calcium Chloride is a 2018 sunset review material listed at §205.602(c) with the annotation “brine process is natural and prohibited for use except as a foliar spray to treat a physiological disorder associated with calcium uptake.”

In addition to the twenty registered OMRI products and the ten WSDA products noted in the NOSB materials, OEFFA has seven products on our Approved Products List containing calcium chloride.

While we support the re-listing of this material, and appreciate the spirit of the listing, we find the annotation difficult to understand and explain to producers.  The example we use with producers is often blossom end rot on tomatoes.  In a situation where a tomato crop shows early signs of or first fruits with blossom end rot, the foliar application of calcium can help prevent the development of blossom end rot on developing fruit.  We would allow the use of calcium chloride in this circumstance.[3]

We request the continued listing of calcium chloride, clarification about the interpretation of the calcium chloride annotation, and that NOSB consider re-wording the annotation for better clarity and broader understanding by producers. 

Discussion document: Strengthen and clarify the requirements for use of organic seed (NOP 5029)

We support many of the points in the Organic Seed Alliance’s comments.  In particular, we support the concept of continuous improvement with regard to organic seed sourcing and use, however, we have identified some additional issues regarding organic seed for further discussion.

  • Uncertified seed dealers- Seed dealers that are not breaking packages, because they are not required to be certified organic, are held one step away from accountability with regard to completing and documenting seed searches on behalf of the producer. While producers often request and are willing to pay for organic seed, they are often shipped untreated, non-GMO varieties.  Frequently, seed searches, if performed by the dealer, are not documented, and producers are issued noncompliances, despite their intention and willingness to pay for and use organic seed.  In this way, we may be penalizing the wrong actor, as we have no formal method of feedback for an uncertified seed dealer.
  • Regional variations in organic seed availability- The Organic Seed Alliance has worked hard to collect and summarize data regarding organic seed use and availability. It has noted that the largest farms use less organic seed (by percentage of seed used) than smaller farms.  As previously mentioned, many organic producers are willing to purchase organic seed, but such seed is much easier to obtain in some regions than others.  Quantity of seed may also impact this equation, as smaller volumes of organic seeds may be easier to obtain, or less costly to ship, than larger volumes.  Organic producers in regions where organic is not prominent already face significant challenges.  They may need to maintain more buffers, clean equipment more frequently, and cannot benefit in the same way as high-density organic regional producers can in terms of group orders, work sharing, and mentorship. In moving forward with stronger requirements for organic seed, we want to be sure not to further disadvantage farmers who are acting, in some cases, as regional organic pioneers.
  • Seed search documentation- Related to the two, aforementioned topics is the idea of requiring organic producers to document a search for five, rather than three sources of organic seed per crop before purchasing an untreated, non-GMO variety. OEFFA is not convinced that this additional burden, placed on the producer, will affect the desired outcome of increased use of organic seed.  In our minds, different tools, rather than bigger versions of the same tools are needed to meet the organic seed requirement.  We support the concept of continuous improvement, and we support an industry-wide effort to move toward more organic seed use, balancing that effort among requirements for producers, handlers, variety developers, seed producers, and seed dealers.

OEFFA supports many of the Organic Seed Alliance’s recommendations, and asks that these additional considerations foster further dialogue on the topic so that undue burdens are not placed on organic producers.

Proposal: Aluminum Sulfate

OEFFA supports the Crop Subcommittee’s preliminary vote NOT to add aluminum sulfate to the National List at §205.601.

LIVESTOCK SUBCOMMITTEE

Proposals: Aluminum Sulfate, Sodium bisulfate, Acid-activated bentonite

OEFFA supports the Livestock Subcommittee’s preliminary vote NOT to add the three proposed materials, aluminum sulfate, sodium bisulfate, and acid-activated bentonite to the National List at §205.603.  We do not view these synthetic substances as compatible with a system of organic production.

OTHER ISSUES

Agriculture Impact Mitigation Plans to Address Fracking and Related Activities        

For some time now, producers have faced oil and gas industry activities on organic farms.  These activities range from seismic testing (the releasing of charges under the earth to determine if oil or gas is present for removal), to traditional gas and oil wells, to hydraulic fracturing (fracking) of hard to access fossil fuels, and pipelines for transportation of these the fossil fuels.  We also know that the water used in hydraulic fracturing (produced water) is, in some cases, being applied as irrigation water on certified organic land.  We recognize this as a tough and complicated issue, which is precisely why we are soliciting your help to address it.

The issue of oil and gas extraction on or in close proximity to organic farms is complex and multifaceted and as such, would require effort over a long-term. We ask the NOSB to begin work on this topic.  While farmers and certifiers are being told this topic is outside of NOSB jurisdiction, organic farmers are regularly being impacted by these activities. The farmers look to organic educators and certifiers for guidance or for standards to support them, and educators and certifiers are left similarly under-equipped to address these issues, often working in isolation with little guidance.  The lack of discussion of this topic is not preventing its impacts on organic farms.  OEFFA and other certification agencies are already dealing with these issues in the absence of guidance, so your leadership on this topic cannot come soon enough.  There must be consistency under the National Organic Program in both the US and abroad regarding the impacts of oil and gas infrastructure construction (wells, pads, and pipelines), fracking water, and related impacts on organic land.

One tool currently in use to address the aforementioned activities on organic farms is an Agricultural Impact Mitigation Plan.  Such a plan was developed and employed in the well-known decision in favor of Gardens of Eagen in Minnesota, which defeated a Koch Industries pipeline that threatened to traverse the organic farm via eminent domain.  The farmer, author, and policy advocate Atina Diffley has shared and spoken about the plan widely. OEFFA has edited this Agricultural Impact Mitigation Plan to incorporate livestock concerns, specifically those related to dairy operations.

Please review the attached Agricultural Impact Mitigation Plan and consider its ability to be tailored to the contextual situation of the farm, its surroundings, its organic system plan, and the day-to-day needs of the operation.  Imagine how it might be used to protect organic farms from the impacts of oil and gas industry exploration, extraction, transport, and waste disposal.

In the absence of sufficient federal regulatory oversight, the organic industry has of necessity taken it upon itself to attempt to shield organic farmers from the negative impacts of energy extraction.  For example, OEFFA, working directly with farmers impacted by the oil and gas industry, has advocated for the use of the agricultural impact mitigation plan to protect them with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and companies involved in pipeline projects in Ohio. FERC has adopted language explicitly stating that the company should “…file with the Secretary, for review and written approval of the Director of OEP, an impact avoidance, minimization, or mitigation plan for the organic farm….”, additionally the company “…should include documentation that the plan was developed in consultation with the landowner.”, “…coordinate with the landowner to develop site-specific mitigation measures…” as well as “mitigate and compensate for potential impacts on these lands.”

We urge the NOSB add the topic of Agriculture Impact Mitigation Plans with respect to oil and gas Industry activities on organic farms to its Compliance, Accreditation, and Certification Subcommittee and Crop Subcommittee work plan, as applicable.  We ask you to consider the utility of Agriculture Impact Mitigation Plans in conjunction with the certification process to help protect organic producers’ operations, make clear to oil and gas industry representatives the requirements of organic systems and organic certification, and to provide guidance to producers and certifiers in thinking through and mitigating impacts of these activities on organic farms.

Additionally, we request that the NOSB share a draft Agricultural Impact Mitigation Plan with both the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA,) including a recommendation that organic farmers and oil and gas companies utilize such a plan, tailored to site-specific and operational needs, prior to engaging in oil and gas activities on organic farms.

Thank you for your consideration of these comments.

On behalf of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association and OEFFA Certification,

Carol Goland, Ph.D.
Executive Director

[1] Tillage and soil carbon sequestration-What do we really know? Baker,J., Ochser,T., Venterea, R. Griffis, T., Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment 118 (2007) 1-5.

[2] PLOS One: Soil Water Holding Capacity Mitigates Downside Risk and Volatility in US Rainfed Maize: Time to Invest in Soil Organic Matter?  A. Williams, M. Hunter, M. Kammerer, D. Kane, N. Jordan, D. Mortensen, R. Smith, S. Snapp and A. Davis., August 25th, 2016. http://dx.doi.org/10.137/journal.pone.0160974

[3] http://www.caes.uga.edu/extension/thomas/anr/documents/Blossom_End_Rot_H-98-036.pdf

Things to Love About the 2017 OEFFA Conference

By Claire Hoppens, Edible Columbus
Illustrations by Kevin Morgan

The Ohio Ecological Food & Farm Association has been hosting their annual conference for the farming community for over 35 years. This year they celebrate their 38th gathering in Dayton from February 9 – 11. Read more about highlights for this year’s conference, and purchase tickets at oeffa.org.

From Granville to Dayton

This year’s move to the Dayton Conference Center allows for growth and added amenities, but won’t sacrifice any of the charm or programming that have become synonymous with the conference. “We’re excited to have new partners and reach a new part of the state,” says OEFFA Communications Coordinator Lauren Ketcham. The conference, previously held in Granville, will celebrate its 38th year with the theme “Growing Today, Transforming Tomorrow.”

Convenience and Comfort

Even a late winter optimist can appreciate the tunnel connecting the Dayton Conference Center and all OEFFA activities to the on-site hotel, the Crown Plaza Dayton. Parking is complimentary, and be sure to ask for the special OEFFA rate when booking.

For Farmers and Advocates

Workshops cover a wide range of topics including organic and sustainable agriculture, food policy, home cooking, business tactics and certification. Whether you’re a farmer seeking organic certification or a local food advocate, there are topics suited for all interests and occupations. All workshops are 1½ hours long and feature prominent leaders, teachers, authors or instructors.

Family Friendly

The OEFFA Conference offers unique programming for kids ages 6–12 and teens ages 12–15, in addition to on-site childcare for children 5 and under. Teens may adhere to customized programming or overlap with the main sessions as they wish, and kids will have opportunities to get their hands dirty, take on a project and learn on a level that best suits them.

Three Days of Trade

Exhibitors participate in a trade show from Thursday to Saturday, offering a chance for attendees to connect and research sustainable businesses, products and farms. Explore the trade show during schedule breaks or between sessions to learn about innovative new products and tools of the trade, sample food and beverages and meet individuals from all over the state.

Foods’ Erin Brockovich

This year’s keynote speakers are Robyn O’Brien, former financial and food industry analyst and author of The Unhealthy Truth, and Jim Riddle, an organic farmer, inspector, educator, policy analyst and activist. Robyn founded and served as the Executive Director of the AllergyKids Foundation, and advises companies making changes in the food industry. She’s been called “foods’ Erin Brockovich.” Jim served on the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Organic Standards Board from 2001 to 2006. He remains engaged in organic issues and operates Blue Fruit Farm, a five-acre farm in southeastern Minnesota.

Local Meals Made with Love

Conference attendees have the choice to include lunch and dinner options on their ticket. Meals are made from scratch and feature as many local and seasonal ingredients as possible, some from the farms of conference sponsors or attendees. The meals offer a chance to mingle and connect over food prepared lovingly and in the spirit of the conference.

Dayton is Worth the Trip

Dayton is home to vibrant neighborhoods, historical explorations and family activities in every season. The 2nd Street Market is a year-round farmers market open Thursday–Saturday in close proximity to the Dayton Conference Center, RiverScape MetroPark opens a seasonal ice rink to the public and microbreweries, like Warped Wing Brewery, are scattered across the city.

Community Connections

Gathering diverse and passionate people for a food and farming conference makes for abundant networking opportunities. Newfound farmers can garner wisdom from their more experienced counterparts. Interns might connect with future employers. And throughout the conference, OEFFA will host designated networking sessions and a reception.

Registration Now Open for Ohio’s Largest Sustainable Food and Farm Conference: New Location for 38th Annual Event Features More Space, Expanded Schedule

For Immediate Release: November 29, 2016

Contact:
Renee Hunt, Program Director, (614) 421-2022 Ext. 205, renee@oeffa.org
Lauren Ketcham, Communications Coordinator, (614) 421-2022 Ext. 203, lauren@oeffa.org
  
Registration is now open for the largest sustainable agriculture conference in Ohio, which is relocating in 2017 to a larger venue in order to offer an expanded program and more networking opportunities for farmers, backyard gardeners, consumers, businesses, and others interested in sustainable and organic agriculture.
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The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association’s (OEFFA) 38th annual conference, Growing Today, Transforming Tomorrow, will run Thursday, February 9 through Saturday, February 11 at the Dayton Convention Center in Dayton, Ohio.
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“We are thrilled with this new location, and excited about this year’s line up,” said OEFFA Program Director Renee Hunt. “There certainly is something for everyone interested in food and farming.”

Online registration is now open at www.oeffa.org/conference2017. As a special “Move With Us” incentive, OEFFA is offering a reduced registration rate for members who register by December 15. A limited number of beginning farmer scholarships and reduced volunteer spaces are also available. Online registration will be open until January 23.

The state’s largest sustainable food and farm conference will feature:
  
Keynote Speakers 
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Friday keynote speaker Jim Riddle has been an organic farmer, inspector, educator, policy analyst, and activist for more than 30 years. From 2001 to 2006, Riddle served on the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Organic Standards Board, chairing the board from 2004 to 2005. He is founding chair of the International Organic Inspectors Association and owns Blue Fruit Farm in Minnesota.A former financial and food industry analyst, Saturday keynote speaker Robyn O’Brien, presented by Horizon Organic, has been called “food’s Erin Brockovich.” O’Brien analyzed the impact that our food system has on the health of our families, companies, and our economy in her bestselling book, The Unhealthy Truth, and became recognized around the world after her TEDx talk in 2011, which has been viewed by millions.

Intensive Workshops for Farmers, by Farmers
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Four full-day Thursday pre-conference intensive workshop options are designed to help farmers grow their businesses and hone their farm skills:
  • Farming Smarter, Not Harder: Tune Up Your Farm Business and Increase Your Net Profit, with Richard Wiswall of Cate Farm and author of The Organic Farmer’s Business Handbook
  • Respect Your Elderberries: Growing and Selling Niche Fruit Crops from Aronia to Service Berries, with Jim Riddle of Blue Fruit Farm
  • Growing Bionutrient Rich Food: Applying the Principles of Ecological Systems, with Dan Kittredge of the Bionutrient Food Association
  • Building a Profitable Pastured Broiler Business, with Mike and Christie Badger of Badger’s Millside Farm and the American Pastured Poultry Producers Association
Workshops, Networking, and More

For more information about the conference, or to register, go to www.oeffa.org/conference2017.

Our Sponsors

   

     

 
AgCredit, Agricultural Cooperative Association | Albert Lea Seed Co. | Casa Nueva | Eban Bakehouse | Edible Cleveland | Edible Columbus | Great River Organics | Green BEAN Delivery | Green Field Farms | Hiland Supply Co. | Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream | Lucky Cat Bakery | Organic Valley | Stauf’s Coffee Roasters | WQTT Ag Today Central Ohio
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Andelain Fields | Curly Tail Organic Farm | DNO Produce | Eden Foods | Kevin Morgan Studio | Palamades Photography | Plant Talk Radio
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Bexley Natural Market | Carriage House Farm | Dale Filbrun and family, Morning Sun Farm | Great Lakes Organic Feed Mill | Hartzler Dairy Farm | IBA | Jorgensen Farm | Lucky Penny Farm | Lucky’s Market | Northridge Organic Farm | Nourse Farms | Stutzman Farm | Swainway Urban Farm | Tea Hills Farms

Guide Highlights Food, Farm Issues for Ohio Candidates

By Mary Kuhlman, 10/6/16, Ohio Public News Service

COLUMBUS, Ohio – The future of food and farming in America affects every Ohioan, and it’s an issue that advocates of sustainable agriculture maintain should be a higher priority for those running for office in November.

Amalie Lipstreu, policy program coordinator for the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA) says state and federal policies shape local food systems, and sustainable farming policies benefit public health, economies and the environment.

She contends it would be wise for candidates to pay attention.

“Clearly, food and farming issues have not risen to the top of the presidential race,” she concedes. “But we’re working to make sure state and federal candidates know what Ohioans think.

“It is an important issue. It’s kind of an ultimate sustainability issue.”

OEFFA’s “Food and Farming Questions for Candidates” guide contains key policy points and background information for voters as they attend debates, forums and other pre-election events.

The guide, along with responses from candidates who answered the group’s online survey, are available at oeffa.org.

Lipstreu says the guide covers major issues related to sustainable agriculture and farming in Ohio.

“Whether it’s investment in local and regional food systems, whether it’s looking at the impact of fracking and wastewater injection wells, climate change, federal crop insurance, or even the issue of algal blooms and water quality,” she explains.

Lipstreu hopes elected leaders learn to see the potential for sustainable agriculture, and she encourages Ohioans to be informed and engaged.

“This election is a real window of opportunity for voters to ask questions, make informed decisions and get to know the candidates who may be their future leaders,” she states.

Besides a new president, Ohio voters will select 16 U.S. House seats and one U.S. senator. At the state level, there are 99 House seats and 16 Senate seats up for grabs.

Ag breakfast speaker notes sustained growth of organic certification

Growing vegetables and crops organically continues to grow in demand each year.

On Thursday, Eric Pawlowski, a sustainable agriculture educator with the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association was the featured speaker at the monthly Ag Business Breakfast Forum.

In addition to being an organic farmer himself, in his OEFFA role Pawlowski helps other growers enter into the organic growing circle and receive organic certification.

“We are a nonprofit organization by farmers for farmers,” he said of the organization.

Not all members of OEFFA are organically certified and of those who are, not all of them are 100 percent organic as many have some standard crops as well as their organics.

During his presentation, he often reminded those interested in achieving organic certification to pick up the phone and call with any questions.

“We want to help. It will save you time and money in the long run,” he said.

Pawlowski outlined the five steps necessary to become a certified organic operation. First, complete and submit an application. Second, undergo initial review. Third, have an inspection. Fourth, have the post-inspection review. And finally, get a decision on certification.

He said the certification is essential to assure the highest level of standards are being met. “Certified organic is the gold standard.”

During the program he ventured away from the OEFFA policy and expressed his personal frustration with growers who choose not to certify but claim their operation goes “beyond organic.”

“Personally that offends me,” he said. “How can you go beyond a standard if you are not willing to verify you meet that standard?”

He explained those who claim to be organic and are not diminish the power of the certification and the high standards they set for the organics. He suggested they develop their own name for it. This is necessary he said “to uphold the integrity of the label.”

He said those wishing to be organic not merely get in it for the premium price being paid for organics.

“I found that if you are in it for the price premium, you’re not going to make it. You have to be in it with your heart and that will show in your business,” Pawlowski said.

He offered descriptions of requirements such as buffer zones and the three-year time frame needed to transition a field to organic. He also stressed the importance of keeping detailed records of all action in the field and with the harvested crops.

By doing the right things and documenting what is being done most growers can avoid the dreaded “noncompliance.”

He also offered some of the top reasons people are deemed non-compliant. The reasons include problems with record keeping, use of prohibited substances, incomplete organic systems plan, incomplete or inaccurate organic system dates and statistics.

He stressed the need for proper communication, including being sure to read any correspondence from their office.

For more information, contact Pawlowski at 614-262-2022 or through www.oeffa.org

Do You Know Where the Candidates Stand on Sustainable Agriculture Issues this Election Season?

We can’t help but notice the news the presidential candidates make on a daily basis. What is less well-reported, however, are the 132 state and federal legislative races Ohioans will vote on, and where those candidates stand on important issues that affect you every day.
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A healthy democracy requires direct and open communication, but many incumbents feel they have more to lose than to gain by attending candidate’s nights or answering questions. Thankfully, there are exceptions, like those candidates that answered OEFFA’s Food and Farming Questions for Candidates Guide survey.
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Click here to confirm your state and federal districts, see the candidates that will appear on your ballot and, if they responded to our survey, read about their views on important food and agricultural issues like genetic engineering, fracking, and the Farm Bill.
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If your local candidates didn’t respond, or if you want to dig deeper, there is still time! Click here to find a candidate’s forum close to you, take a copy of the Food and Farming Questions for Candidates Guide with you, and find out for yourself what their views are. Be an informed voter and engage in direct democracy today!

OEFFA’s 38th Annual Conference: Growing Today, Transforming Tomorrow

MARK YOUR CALENDAR!
Thursday, February 9 – Saturday, February 11, 2017
Dayton Convention Center, Dayton, OH
Ohio’s largest sustainable agriculture conference is moving to Dayton, which means lots of exciting changes, including:
  • Conference Art 2017New, spacious location with on-site hotel and parking, cell phone reception, Wi-Fi, and other amenities!
  • Larger three day trade show
  • Thursday networking and reception and Friday banquet
  • Easy access to downtown Dayton’s attractions, dining, nightlife, and recreation

Plus, the same great features you love, including:

  • Educational, inspiring workshops on sustainable farming, livestock, business, homesteading, and cooking
  • In-depth Thursday pre-conference sessions
  • Engaging nationally-recognized keynote speakers
  • Made-from-scratch, local, organic meals
  • Activities for kids and teens
  • Raffle, book sales, and a setting that encourages networking, learning, and fellowship.
Grow with us! Registration opens this fall.
Learn more and sign up to receive conference updates here.

Visitors to Hirzel Farm view high-tech ag systems

By Bill Ryan

Sentinel Tribune, 8/23/16

Visitors from across Ohio gathered at Hirzel Farm in rural Luckey on Friday for a tour of the farm. After meetings, lunch and the tour there, they traveled to the company’s composting facility in rural Pemberville to see that operation.

The tour was part of the 2016 Farm Tour by the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association.

At the Luckey site, the visitors were shown the grain movement, grading and storage facility which uses state-of-the-art equipment, which maximizes the value of the crops to food buyers.

Hirzel composting

The movement of grain uses no augers, but rather paddle conveyors, which minimize damage to the beans, for example.

It was explained that a split bean loses all its nutrient value and lowers the value of the entire lot of beans. The conveyor moves the crops slower but the speed of traditional augers is what can damage them and lower the commercial value to food buyers.

The organic crops carry a higher price tag, but also require a higher standard of quality to be met.

The visitors also were able to see a new sophisticated optical scanner that can grade the beans, even down to subtle differences in colors. Again, it is all part of the commercial grade needed to sell to the buyers for the optimal price. The equipment also provides for full traceability of each lot.

From the farm, the group visited the composting facility.

Mike Chandler is the site manager of the facility. He explained he is a geologist by trade and works the composting as a scientist.

One of the primary sources for their compost is scrap vegetables, including cabbage and tomatoes from their own farms as well as cucumbers from Hartung in Bowling Green.

Joe Hirzel Sr., though somewhat retired, is still active in the operation and was on hand for the tour.

Though there was initial resistance to the composting as well as switching over the processes to organic, he said the success has “proven how wrong we were.”

His sense of humor showed when he talked about the work involved in maintaining a healthy compost facility. He said, “I love work. I can watch people work all day.”

Chandler explained, “Compost is an art form. It’s a living organism and needs attention.”

He added that the changing weather along with the high moisture content in the food waste used provides challenges.

“For me, it’s a lot of trial and error, but he said by maintaining the proper mixture of carbon and nitrogen in the materials used, they can have the “compost cooking” to 160 degrees within two to three weeks.

Aside from the food waste, they also include bulking agents such as manure, grinding hay and fodder, along with such odds and ends as coffee, and egg waste from Hertzfeld Poultry.

Hirzel said they are proud of their Class 2 certified organic facility.

“It’s very costly to develop and maintain such a facility,” Hirzel said, noting for the permit it is $2,300 a year compared to $100 a year for a canning facility permit.

He noted the stack of paperwork required, not as a complaint, but rather as a warning device.

“These are the laws and we simply must follow them,” Hirzel said.

Clay Hill brings kale and more to farmers market

The Sentinel Tribute, 8/16/16

Today’s Downtown Farmers Market vendor profile comes to us from Kristy Buskirk of Clay Hill.

Clay Hill is located just north of Tiffin and specializes in produce and flowers. This is the third year Clay Hill has appeared at the Clay Hill Farmsmarket.

“We are a certified organic vegetable and cut flower farm. We specialize in greens, bring lots of kale to the market every week,” Buskirk said. “We are certified organic by the Ohio Ecological Food and Farming Association.

“We are a small family farm in its third year of production. We have gone through the organic certification process to show our commitment to providing the healthiest food for you, your family and the environment. We take care to bring the highest quality products to market every week.”

Buskirk said she loves that the market is in downtown because it “makes it feel like part of the community.”

When asked if she shops from other vendors while at the market, Buskirk said, “Absolutely! I mainly pick up fruit from Haslingers, since fruit is something we don’t grow yet. I also get bread from Bella Cuisine and if there is an item I don’t grow, I generally pick it up from Rheims.”

Buskirk said there are many reasons people should visit the Downtown Farmers Market.

“Attending the farmers market is a weekly celebration of food and community. I believe that supporting local farmers is an important part of citizenship. The food and goods available at the market all stream dollars into local businesses and are the freshest and generally tastiest available. The prices are comparable to what you find in the grocery store and can be more affordable, not to mention superior in quality.”

“There is always music at the end of the market, which is an enjoyable way to spend summer afternoons,” Buskirk said.

The Downtown Farmers Market is open rain or shine every Wednesday from 4-7 p.m. through Oct. 12. A variety of vendors bring fresh fruits and vegetables, plants, flowers, home-baked goods, artisan crafts, and more. The market is in the parking lot on the corner of Main and Clough streets. Keep in mind that metered parking is enforced until 5 p.m. Visit the website at bgfarmersmarket.org.

 

USDA awards more than $1 million in grants for beginning farmers, aquaculture boot camp

By JD Malone

Columbus Dispatch, 8/18/16

The U.S. Department of Agriculture awarded grants to Ohio State University and the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association.

The grants, part of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, are meant to help farmers start and sustain businesses. The USDA hopes these programs encourage the growth of younger farmers as the average age of America’s farmers has reached 58 years old.

The OEFFA will use $566,000 over three years to train farmers starting out in organic and sustainable farming. The organization hopes to help people not only make the leap into organic farming, but to also build a profitable business that can last for years.

Ohio State plans to use its $599,000 grant to fund the second part of an aquaculture “boot camp” to help farmers start sustainable aquaculture and aquaponic businesses. The first phase was funded last year through the same grant program.

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