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Cristel Zoebisch

Climate Policy Associate

Cristel is committed to building a sustainable and equitable food system. She has worked across a variety of issue areas in the food system, including researching and advocating for federal programs that support beginning, socially disadvantaged, and veteran farmers and ranchers, conducting research on a nutrition incentives program piloted by the Mayor’s Office in NYC, and analyzing data on the largest working lands conservation program in the country. As Policy Fellow for the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC), she expanded her understanding of the federal policymaking process, established relationships with Congressional and federal agency staff, and refined her data analytical skills.

Cristel joins OFRF as Climate Policy Associate to advance the organization’s policy work regarding the role of organic agriculture in addressing climate change. This is a joint position with NSAC through which Cristel will lead NSAC’s ongoing Climate Change and Agriculture federal legislative campaign and conduct key projects on behalf of OFRF.

Cristel holds an M.A. in Food Studies from New York University, where she focused on agricultural economics and policy, and she earned her B.A. in Economics from the University of Texas at Austin. Prior to her work in sustainable agricultural policy, Cristel worked for Deloitte Consulting as a technology systems consultant, focusing on customer relationship management software solutions. In her free time, you can find Cristel experimenting with her home-brewed kombucha, hiking and camping, or cooking with friends and family.

By |2020-05-08T19:35:35+00:00May 8th, 2020|Staff|

Understanding and Managing Soil Biology for Soil Health and Crop Production

Understanding and Managing Soil Biology for Soil Health and Crop Production

The functions of the soil food web and key components in promoting soil health and fertility and sustainable organic crop production, with research-based guidance on organic practices and NOP-approved inputs for improved soil food web function.

The goal of the guidebook is to help organic farmers navigate the wilderness of soil life and soil health management by providing up-to-date, science-based information on:

  • The soil food web, its key components, and functions.
  • Assessing and monitoring soil life and soil biological condition.
  • Managing soil life for long term soil health and productivity in organic systems.
  • Biological management of plant diseases.
  • Microbial inoculants and biostimulants: whether, when, and how to use them.
Download the Guidebook
By |2020-04-03T22:16:39+00:00April 3rd, 2020|Climate Toolkit|

Organic Practices for Climate Mitigation, Adaption, and Carbon Sequestration

Organic Practices for Climate Mitigation, Adaption, and Carbon Sequestration

Climate change threatens agriculture and food security across the U.S. and around the world. Rising global mean temperatures have already intensified droughts, heat waves, and storms, and altered life cycles and geographical ranges of pests, weeds, and pathogens, making crop and livestock production more difficult. Intense rainstorms aggravate soil erosion and complicate water management, and higher temperatures accelerate oxidation of soil organic matter. Warming climates modify crop development regulated by growing degree-days or “chill hours,” and threaten production of perennial fruit and nut crops that have strict chilling requirements to initiate growth and fruit set. Thus, agricultural producers have a major stake in efforts to curb further climate change, as well as improving the resilience of their farming and ranching systems to the impacts of climate disruption.

Download the Guidebook
By |2020-04-03T21:39:49+00:00April 3rd, 2020|Climate Toolkit|

Healthy soils release fewer greenhouse gases

Healthy soils release fewer greenhouse gases

Healthy soils release fewer greenhouse gases

Organic farmers do not use synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, one of the primary contributors of greenhouse gases.

Healthy soils help crops obtain nitrogen, phosphorus, and other nutrients from organic soil organic matter. This reduces the need for fertilizers that can threaten water quality and minimizes the release of greenhouse gases from soils.

Organic farmers and ranchers are prohibited from using synthetic inputs, which can contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, to manage pests and diseases. Instead, they rely on the services provided by the diversity of plants and animals in and around their farms to prevent disease and pest outbreaks. In this video, Richard Smith, a Farm Advisor with UC Cooperative Extension, explains how organic producers use environmentally friendly practices such as promoting beneficial habitat for natural predators of insect pests to manage crop diseases.

By |2020-04-27T21:27:00+00:00March 25th, 2020|Climate Toolkit|

Healthy Soils Store More Carbon

Healthy soils store more carbon

Healthy soils store more carbon

The most practical and cost-effective way to remove excess carbon (CO2) from the atmosphere is through living plants and soils.

While organic systems require some level of physical disturbance to control weeds, they eliminate synthetic inputs and can significantly reduce tillage. Reduced tillage, crop diversification, cover cropping, organic amendments, and sound nutrient management can enhance carbon sequestration and build climate resiliency in organic agricultural systems.

By |2020-04-27T21:27:23+00:00March 24th, 2020|Climate Toolkit|

Healthy Soils Increase Resilience

click to learn more

Healthy soils increase resilience

Healthy soils increase resilience

Healthy soils form the foundation of organic production. Healthy soils have good structure (tilth), which allows them to absorb and hold moisture, drain well, maintain adequate aeration, and foster deep, healthy crop root systems. Such soils sustain crops through dry spells, require less irrigation water, and undergo less ponding, runoff, and erosion during heavy rains.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has identified four guiding principles that support healthy soils: 1) minimize disturbance, 2) maximize biodiversity, 3) keep soil covered, and 4) maintain living roots. These principles provide the foundation for a resilient farm system and are explained in more detail in the infographic above.

The USDA National Organic Standards require certified producers to implement crop rotation, cover cropping, tillage, nutrient management, and other practices that improve and maintain the physical, chemical, and biological condition of the soil.

In this short demonstration video, organic farmer Scott Park of Park Farm Organics in Meridian, CA explains the relationship between water management and soil health and the overall productivity of the farm. Scott explains the importance of preventive practices in organic systems—because organic farmers cannot rely on synthetic chemical inputs, they need to take care of the soil over time and solve production problems before they happen. Farmers do this by implementing soil health building practices because healthy soils are the foundation of a healthy farm.

By |2020-04-27T21:37:32+00:00March 20th, 2020|Climate Toolkit|

Kelsey Grimsley

Office Manager/Executive Assistant

Kelsey Grimsley graduated from UC Santa Cruz with a B.A. in Politics. Right out of college Kelsey gained valuable experience working with diverse populations through jobs in grassroots organizing, community engagement projects, and congressional offices. She lived at a Buddhist retreat center, off-the-grid in Santa Cruz County, where she explored how to live a sustainable lifestyle first-hand, while working for the center as Community Relations Coordinator.

Kelsey has always been passionate about environmental stewardship and social justice, which has informed her career path and led her to working here at OFRF. She is excited and proud to be a part of an organization that has a meaningful mission that aligns with her passions.

By |2020-05-01T17:19:14+00:00December 12th, 2019|Staff|

Patagonia Doubles Donations to OFRF

December 4, 2019 – Now through December 31st, all donations made to OFRF will be matched dollar-for-dollar by Patgonia Works!

This match will double your support!

For the last three decades, OFRF has responded directly to the critical needs of organic farmers and ranchers through targeted scientific research, free educational resources, and advocacy on both the local and federal level.

Don’t miss this opportunity to double your impact.

Thank you for helping us ensure organic farmers and ranchers have the information and resources they need to be successful!

Click here to make your donation.

By |2020-01-08T18:12:21+00:00December 4th, 2019|News|

Jeremy Barker Plotkin

Owner/Simple Gifts Farm

Jeremy, together with farming partner David Tepfer, owns and operates Simple Gifts Farm in Amherst, Massachusetts. The farm provides organic produce to 250 shareholders from community-preserved land. Beef cattle, pigs and laying hens take a prominent role on the farm in helping to cycle nutrients, as well as providing additional farm products. Jeremy has an M.S. in Plant, Soil and Environmental Sciences, and has done work on his farm with a selection of tomato, arugula, and Asian mustard varieties. He is a member of the Amherst Agricultural Commision, and of the governing committee of the Amherst Winter Farmer’s Market.

By |2020-01-08T18:12:49+00:00September 28th, 2019|Board|

Initial Draft of Legislation to Reauthorize the Farm Bill Released

April 13, 2018 – Working closely with both Republicans and Democrats, OFRF has been advocating strongly for the inclusion of important organic provisions in the Farm Bill. We are very pleased the House Agriculture Committee has included increased support for organic research, data collection, and organic enforcement in the initial draft (House mark).

The language will be discussed, debated, and potentially amended by the House Agriculture Committee next week. Once the Committee votes to pass the bill to the floor of the House, the Farm Bill will be subject to additional amendments and discussions before being voted on by the full House of Representatives.

However, the legislation’s path forward is still up in the air as top Democrats in the House have voiced their unanimous opposition to the bill because of proposed measures to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistant Program (SNAP).

Organic Research
OFRF championed the Organic Agriculture Research Act (H.R. 2436), a bipartisan bill that would reauthorize the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI), increase the annual funding from $20 million to $50 million, and make the funding permanent. This important program offers competitive grants that fund sound science, outreach, and education programs to address the needs of organic farmers and ranchers.

The House Agriculture Committee has reauthorized OREI and increased the funding to $30 million annually. Unfortunately, the House mark does not include funding of OREI at the proposed $50 million per year, nor does it get the program to baseline permanent funding.

While this is not the full permanent funding we were pushing for, OFRF is thankful that the OREI program has been reauthorized and applauds the House Agriculture Committee for increasing the funding. We understand the fiscal challenges facing the Committee, especially with the large number of programs that need reauthorization and funding. Given the dramatic growth of the organic industry, this overdue increase in funding will be instrumental in providing the research and extension support that American farmers need.

The House Agriculture Committee also added soil health as a research priority for OREI, an important research topic and one that has been included regularly in OREI projects. In fact, according to OFRF’s Taking Stock Report, over half of the OREI grants have focused on or included research on soil health, soil biology, and nutrient management.

Organic Production and Market Data Initiative
A small but significant program, the Organic Production and Market Data Initiative (ODI) received $5 million to fund basic USDA data collection in the organic sector. The USDA Economic Research Service, the National Agricultural Statistics Service, and the Agricultural Marketing Service all collaborate on this data collection initiative. Activities funded through this program include Organic Production Surveys, comprehensive surveys and analysis of organic agriculture in the U.S., as well as economic and price reporting for organic commodities. We are thankful for this funding, which allows for data collection that is on par with the services provided to conventional producers.

Organic Enforcement and Trade Oversight
All organic producers should be operating on a level playing field in the marketplace. The Organic Farmer and Consumer Protection Act of 2017 (HR 3871) is a bipartisan marker bill that provides for modernization of organic import documentation, new technology advancements, and stricter enforcement of organic products entering the U.S. This bipartisan issue has found robust support in both the House and Senate and has been included in the House version of the Farm Bill.

Organic products are part of an increasingly global market. Modernization and enforcement are key to ensuring every stakeholder in the organic sector is following the rules and requirements for organic production and handling. The House mark includes changes to the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) that limits the types of operations that are excluded from certification, and increases the coordination and sharing of information between all parties in an investigation, in compliance with organic standards. The language includes an additional $5 million to increase and modernize organic import documentation, as well as provisions that require increased coordination between the National Organic Program and other federal agencies that have oversight on agricultural imports.

Additionally, the House draft of the Farm Bill increases the authorized funding for the National Organic Program (NOP) so the USDA can keep up with global growth and expansion of certified organic production.

National Certification Cost Share
The National Organic Certification Cost Share Program (NOCCSP) helps offset certification costs for organic producers, making certification more affordable for organic producers and handlers across the country. This cost-share program covers up to 75 percent of an individual applicant’s certification costs, with an annual maximum of $750 per certification.

While this program was not technically eliminated in the House mark, we are disappointed that this program received no funding. Given the tight fiscal constraints of the Farm Bill, we will continue advocating that funding be made available to ensure the program continues to support small and medium-sized producers and handlers, especially beginning farmers and ranchers.

National Organic Standards Board
The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) is an advisory group responsible for considering issues and making recommendations to USDA on topics including the production, handling, and processing of organic products. NOSB, and the legislation that governs the authority and parameters of organic production, was part of the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) codified in the Food, Agriculture, Conservation, and Trade Act of 1990. 

The House mark makes a number of changes to OFPA that impact the NOSB. Board members have always included owners or operators of organic farming, handling, and retailer operations.  However, the House mark expands the language of the NOSB to include employees of an organic farming, handling, or retail operation.

Additionally, the NOSB has always been required to review available information from the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Institute of Environmental Health Studies, and other sources as appropriate, when considering substances on the National List of what is allowed or prohibited in organic production. The House mark increases the required input the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Environmental Protective Agency (EPA) have in the decision by requiring the NOSB to convene a task force to consult with the FDA Commissioner or EPA Administrator when determining if a substance under the agency’s prevue should be included on the National List.

While OFRF has opposed statutory changes to OFPA and the makeup of the NOSB, we believe the proposed changes do not substantially change the representation of farmers on the NOSB, or reduce the authority of the NOSB in determining what is allowed in organic systems.

Just the Beginning
The various organic parts of the Farm Bill can’t help but be connected, not only to each other but to the other pieces of legislation. While OFRF is supportive of the increased funding for organic research and the increased support for organic enforcement, there is much more at stake in the reauthorization of the Farm Bill. We strongly encourage the members of the Agriculture Committees to work toward a bipartisan solution that supports America’s farmers, consumers, and communities.

It will be a long road from the initial text of the bill, to the first markup by the House Agriculture Committee next week, to passage of the Farm Bill in the House—and that is just the start. The U.S. Senate is currently working on their text for the Farm Bill, which will likely be different then the House version. These differences will be parsed out in conference committees, and if approved, will go to the President to be signed into law.

OFRF will keep advocating to ensure the voices and needs of organic farmers are heard, and programs that support the success of organic agriculture are included in the Farm Bill.



By |2020-01-08T18:14:34+00:00April 13th, 2018|News|
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