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So far Elizabeth Tobey has created 66 blog entries.

Shaping Agriculture Policy for a Sustainable Future

At OFRF, we continue to work closely with coalition partners to remain aware of the ever-evolving landscape of agriculture policy at the federal level. For this March’s Policy Corner, I wanted to share all of the work we’ve been up to this year and what we’re looking forward to. 

Earlier this month, OFRF submitted comments on the Natural Resource Conservation Service’s (NRCS) Conservation Practice Standards (CPS) and the Agricultural Marketing Service’s Specialty Crop Competitiveness Initiative (SCCI). These are significant opportunities to highlight the conservation and economic benefits related to organic management. You can take a look at our comments on our advocacy page. Please reach out if you have any questions!  

Along with this advocacy related to the executive branch, we’ve continued to be engaged in the legislative process related to our priorities. The Farm Bill, the everlasting gobstopper of a policy topic, continues to lurch from hopeful timelines in the spring to calls to extend the 2018 policies another year. We will continue to engage on this crucial piece of legislation as it is one of the most essential policy-drivers in the United States food system. That’s why we were in DC last month with our partners at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. We talked with Representatives and Senators about the importance of organic agriculture research, continuing to build momentum for the Strengthening Organic Agriculture Research (SOAR) and the Organic Science Research Investment (OSRI) Acts.

Similar to the agriculturalists up in the northern part of the country, now is also the time we are planting seeds for FY25 appropriations, even as we rapidly bring a close to the FY24 Agriculture Appropriations process. We’ve been sending detailed requests to legislators’ offices about the impact of organic agriculture research on their districts and states. We have also been busy drafting written testimony that will be submitted to both chambers’ agriculture committees, making sure that the case for expanded organic research is put on record. Lastly and most importantly, we’re scheduling meetings with appropriators to ensure they understand the importance of organic agriculture to their states and the country. Once these documents are submitted, we will share them with you all!

But, looking forward to the rest of the year, we’re excited about the opportunities ahead of us. Coming up later this month is the National Organic Coalition’s fly-in, a crucially important venue for the organic movement to use our voice to raise awareness about the bills and programs important to it. Later in May, we will be at the Organic Trade Association’s annual Organic Week, where we’ll be sharing updates on the state of organic research with organic industry representatives and participating in congressional meetings to bring this information to legislators. 

Something we’re very excited about, though, is the upcoming August recess and the ability to not just tell legislators about the importance and impact of research projects but show them. If your institution or farm is interested in organizing an in-district meeting or field day in August/October, let us know so we can work with you to communicate that opportunity to legislators during recess! We’re also interested in hearing about the logistical and administrative burdens of running a successful field day. Please reach out to me at gordon@ofrf.org with insights!

Eat well,

Gordon

By |2024-03-10T17:12:04+00:00March 10th, 2024|Gordon's Policy Corner, News|

OFRF Releases New Soil Health Course in Spanish

(Español abajo)

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

As Part of a Commitment to a More Inclusive Agricultural Community OFRF Expands Access to Spanish-Language Resources for Sustainable Farming

(March 6, 2024) – The Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) is pleased to announce a new, free online course in Spanish, focused on the importance of improving soil health for agricultural production. With partners at the University of California Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (UC SAREP), the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT), and the Agriculture and Land-Based Training Association (ALBA), we present Los Fundamentos de la Salud del Suelo, (Fundamentals of Soil Health). This Spanish-language course focuses on the world of soil and explains how to promote soil health as part of a functioning ecosystem. Healthy soils allow farmers and ranchers to increase production with lower costs, and make agricultural businesses more economically productive, while promoting the health of the environment, animals, and humans. This course discusses practices such as cover cropping, amendment application, tillage and crop rotation, and provides tools to help farmers decide which management practices are best suited for their operation.

Access the Soil Health Course here.

OFRF also recently added a Spanish-language Resources page to our website, dedicated to making education, research, and technical assistance resources accessible to more Spanish-speaking farmers. In our continued efforts towards a more inclusive and equitable agricultural system, and to promote language justice, OFRF will continue to develop and translate grower education factsheets, video content, and technical assistance resources. 

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About Organic Farming Research Foundation

OFRF works to promote the improvement and widespread adoption of organic farming systems. OFRF cultivates organic research, education, and federal policies that attract more farmers and arable land to organic production.

For more information about OFRF, please visit www.OFRF.org

Funding for the online soil health course, Los Fundamentos de la Salud del Suelo, was made possible by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service through grant 21SCBPCA1002. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the USDA

Media contact

thelma@ofrf.org

La Fundación para la Investigación en Agricultura Orgánica lanza un nuevo curso sobre salud del suelo en español

PARA PUBLICACIÓN INMEDIATA

Como parte de nuestro compromiso con una comunidad agrícola más inclusiva, OFRF amplía el acceso a recursos en español para la agricultura sostenible

(6 de marzo de 2024)La Fundación para la Investigación en Agricultura Orgánica (OFRF por sus siglas en inglés) se complace en anunciar un nuevo curso en línea gratuito en español, enfocado en la importancia de mejorar la salud del suelo para la producción agrícola. Creado en colaboración con el Programa de Investigación y Educación sobre Agricultura Sostenible de la Universidad de California (UC SAREP), la Asociación para la Agricultura y el Entrenamiento de la Tierra (ALBA) y el Centro Nacional para la Tecnología Apropiada (NCAT), presentamos Los Fundamentos de la Salud del Suelo. Este curso en español se centra en el mundo del suelo y explica cómo promover la salud del suelo como parte de un ecosistema funcional. Los suelos saludables permiten a los agricultores y ganaderos aumentar la producción con costos más bajos y hacer que las empresas agrícolas sean más productivas económicamente, al tiempo que promueven la salud del medio ambiente, los animales y los seres humanos. Este curso cubre prácticas como cultivos de cobertura, aplicación de enmiendas al suelo, labranza y rotación de cultivos, y proporciona herramientas para ayudar a los agricultores a decidir qué prácticas de manejo son las más adecuadas para sus operaciones.

Accede al Curso de Salud del Suelo aquí.

OFRF también agregó recientemente una página de Recursos en Español a nuestro sitio web, dedicada a hacer que los recursos de educación, investigación y asistencia técnica sean accesibles para más agricultores de habla hispana. En nuestros esfuerzos continuos hacia un sistema agrícola más inclusivo y equitativo, y para promover la justicia lingüística, OFRF continuará desarrollando y traduciendo fichas técnicas, videos y recursos de asistencia técnica para agricultores.

Acerca de la Fundación para la Investigación de Agricultura Orgánica

OFRF trabaja para promover la mejora y la adopción generalizada de sistemas de agricultura orgánica. OFRF cultiva la investigación orgánica, la educación y las políticas federales que atraen a más agricultores y tierras cultivables a la producción orgánica.

Para obtener más información sobre OFRF, visite www.OFRF.org

La financiación del curso en línea sobre salud del suelo, Los Fundamentos de la Salud del Suelo, fue posible gracias al Servicio de Comercialización Agrícola del Departamento de Agricultura de los Estados Unidos (USDA) a través de la subvención 21SCBPCA1002. Su contenido es responsabilidad exclusiva de los autores y no representa necesariamente las opiniones oficiales del USDA.

Contacto

thelma@ofrf.org

By |2024-03-20T17:22:13+00:00March 6th, 2024|News, Press Release|

Farmers Announced for OFRF’s new Farmer-Led Trials Program

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

10 organic farmers across the country selected to receive technical support for innovative on-farm trials

(March 4, 2024) OFRF is proud to announce the launch of our innovative Farmer Led Trials (FLT) Program with the selection of our first ten farmers. The FLT Program will support farmers and ranchers in conducting practical, on-farm research that address farming challenges and increase farmer-led innovations in organic farming. OFRF will provide technical support and seed funding to implement these on-farm trials, and create space to foster a community of farmer-researchers. 

“Farmers are experimenters by nature. Helping them add a few scientific steps to their farm trials can lead to more concrete and trustworthy results that they can share with other farmers”, said Thelma Velez, Director of Research and Education Programs. This program was created to support farmers in accomplishing just that by providing technical support and minimizing the risk of trying a new practice.

This first year cohort includes a mix of beginning farmers, BIPOC farmers, and veteran farmers spanning specialty crops, grain, and vineyard operations. All participants are certified organic or in transition to organic. The research topics identified by the farmers focus on building soil health, cover crop use, weed and pest management, shade cloth use during summer, planting distances, companion planting, and variety breeding. The following is the full list of farmers selected:

OFRF has been working to create this program for over two years, and we are so excited to get started and provide more direct support for farmers, said Thelma Velez, Director of Research and Education Programs. We are eager to see how these on-farm trials will benefit organic farmers in the long run.

To learn more about the Farmer-Led Trials Program, please visit our program page on the OFRF website. Additionally, check out the brand new OFRF publication titled Farmers Guide to On-Farm Research. https://ofrf.org/research/farmer-led-research-trials/  

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This project is supported through the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Transition to Organic Partnership Program (TOPP). TOPP is a program of the USDA Organic Transition Initiative and is administered by the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) National Organic Program (NOP).

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About Organic Farming Research Foundation
The Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) works to foster the improvement and widespread adoption of organic farming systems. OFRF cultivates organic research, education, and federal policies that bring more farmers and acreage into organic production.
http://www.ofrf.org/

Media Contact
jose@ofrf.org

By |2024-03-20T17:23:24+00:00March 4th, 2024|News, Press Release|

Carrots, Tomatoes, and Field Days

Bringing farmers & researchers together

At OFRF, celebrating and strengthening the relationship between the researcher and the farmer is one of our greatest joys. We see these roles coming together and overlapping at Field Days – educational events often held on a working farm or ranch or at an agricultural research site. These events usually include demonstrations of specific management practices and equipment or highlight research methods and results. They are an excellent way for farmers to learn about new research findings, researchers to gain insight into the most pressing issues for producers, and networks to grow between them to continue these exchanges. 

With our team spread across the country, we are eager to know more about field day events happening in various regions and to highlight more stories of these cross-pollination events. Do you host Field Days? What kind of events do you plan? Who attends them? And best of all – what are you researching? We want to see what you are up to!

Back in November, our Development Director, Leah Lawson, had the opportunity to attend a carrot trial field day at McHenry County College’s Center for Agrarian Learning in Crystal Lake, Illinois, the ancestral homelands of the Peoria, Bodwéwadmi (Potawatomi), Myaamia,  Očhéthi Šakówiŋ,  Hoocąk (Ho-Chunk), and Kiikaapoi (Kickapoo). Here’s what she had to say about the experience:

Carrot Trial Field Day

By Leah Lawson, Partnerships and Development Director OFRF

It was one of those beautiful fall days when the air was crisp and cool. As I drove out to the campus, the sky faded into a beautiful prairie sunset of purples, reds, and oranges – much like the colors of what was to be my favorite carrot of the night.

Our three hosts for the evening, Sheri Doyel, Micaela Colley, and Kim Sowinski, took us through the process and purpose of the project titled “Carrot Improvement for Organic Agriculture” (CIOA). We learned about domestication pathways and how culinary and cultural history blend together to create varieties throughout the world. We also learned about the process of carrot breeding. They only flower after the second year of growth, so harvesting the seeds is a long process. Each carrot variety has to be grown in a separate tent to keep them separate and prevent insects with unwanted pollen from getting into the mix.

Of course, the best part of the evening was tasting the carrots. We tried ten varieties grown on the MCC Student Farm, rating them each for taste, sweetness, texture, and color. Sheri and Kim collected all of this data to aggregate with the results from all the other farms participating in the study. Each variety will also receive ratings from the growers on soil health, disease resistance, and production rate. You can sign up on the Seed Linked website if you want to join a similar trial.

Unfortunately, my two favorite carrots were not great producers, so I don’t think I will find them at my local farmers’ market soon. However, I did get to take some of the leftover carrots. After returning home, I conducted another quick tasting with my kids, and we all marveled at their differences.

OFRF is working on building a database of Field Day opportunities around the country, so if you know of events like this, please get in touch! Let us know how you communicate or find out about research in your area. You can reach us at fieldday@ofrf.org 

If you’re interested in learning how to host a Field Day, check out this Farmer Field Day Toolkit from SARE.

New disease-resistant carrot and tomato varieties being developed in partnership with organic farmers

OFRF just released two new research summaries highlighting this carrot trial and a similar tomato study. These two important, long-term organic crop breeding projects both focus on the interaction between soil microbes, genetics, and disease management, and both involve participatory plant breeding efforts between organic farmers and researchers.

Carrot Improvement for Organic Agriculture (CIOA): Leveraging On-Farm and Below-Ground Networks

Carrots are an economically important crop for organic specialty crop farmers, with 12% of US carrot acreage under organic management bringing more than $120 million in farmgate sales. Since 2011, researchers leading the CIOA project have been looking to improve carrot varieties for organic production. A central idea behind this work is that carrot varieties associate effectively with soil microbes for enhanced resilience to biotic and abiotic stresses, which can reduce the need for off-farm inputs. By conducting on-farm research and participatory carrot breeding projects, scientists and farmers work together to better understand below-ground networks and develop new varieties.

Tomato Organic Management and Improvement Project (TOMI): Part II

A diverse and virulent complex of fungal, watermold, and bacterial pathogens threaten organic tomato production. The Tomato Organic Management and Improvement Project (TOMI): Part II, led by Dr. Lori Hoagland of Purdue University, builds on previous research (TOMI: Part I), which found that soil and root microbiomes play a substantial role in mediating crop disease resistance. In this second phase of TOMI, researchers want to better understand the role of tomato genetics in promoting specific rhizosphere microbes that mitigate disease issues. The three-pronged approach investigates, 1) The potential for microbial biocontrol agents to promote disease suppression, 2) How plant genetics and microbes interact, and 3) The development of varieties with stable disease resistance using a farmer-participatory approach.

By |2024-03-20T17:25:30+00:00February 12th, 2024|News|

Organic Advocacy in Action: Reflections on NSAC Lobby Day

By Annika LaFave, OFRF Policy and Communications Intern

OFRF Policy & Communications Intern, Annika LaFave in front of the capitol after 8 official meetings during NSAC’s annual lobby day, and a “meet and greet” coffee chat.

Earlier this month, I had the exciting opportunity to participate in the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) Lobby Day with Gordon (OFRF’s Policy & Programs Manager). As the Policy and Communications intern for the Organic Farming Research Foundation and a recent newcomer to national agriculture advocacy, I have gained a deeper understanding of the Farm Bill and Appropriations processes and still have more to learn.

Our lobby day goals were to discuss the significance of the organic industry and how legislation like the Strengthening Organic Agriculture Research Act (SOAR Act), Organic Research and Science Investment Act (OSRI Act), Continuous Improvement & Accountability in Organic Standards (CIAO), and Opportunities in Organic Act can address common challenges organic producers face. As anticipated, the lobby day underscored the vital role advocates play in conveying farmers’ needs to lawmakers.

Appreciating the intricacies of sustainable agriculture and the barriers farmers face requires a personal connection or lived experience. I was reassured to learn that many congressional agriculture committee staffers seem to “get it” and even have ties to farming in their backgrounds. It is reassuring to know that even with the appearance of continued inaction, there are internal agriculture champions working to help bridge the gap where lawmakers lack such a connection. One thing that stood out to me was the level of transparency staffers had when speaking about the status of the upcoming (delayed) Farm Bill and Appropriations negotiations.

Unifying Nature of Agriculture and Food

In a tumultuous global landscape grappling with climate change, social inequities, and political unrest, we all share a collective need for safe and reliable healthy food access. In this lies a belief widely held by many farmers and consumers regardless of party affiliation: a resilient food system is one that values conservation, ecologically-sound practices, human and animal welfare, and equitable access to basic needs. In most of our eight meetings with congressional staffers from both political parties, there was consensus that the needs of our vulnerable farms and food systems must be addressed. For me, these earnest interactions confirmed that sustainable agriculture, encompassing organic and regenerative practices, seems to have recognition as a nonpartisan bright spot in a difficult Congress.

Prioritizing Farmer-Driven Research Through Legislation

During the lobby day, OFRF staff and members of NSAC met with Leslie Deavers, Chief of Staff to the Associate Chief and Rebekah Lauster, Chief of Staff for the Office of the Regional Conservationists to discuss NRCS’ strategies on field staff recruitment and retention. OFRF is proud to be able to work with these partners to ensure high quality services for farmers.

A recurring topic of conversation in our meetings was how organic agriculture research overlaps with the needs of nonorganic producers. If we relate food systems policy initiatives to formative research principles and human-centered design, it’s clear that research objectives and dissemination methods should explicitly fit the needs and capacity of the “end user”. While trending tech-research exploring artificial intelligence and precision agriculture has the potential to transform our foodscape, it is essential that we recognize the immediate limitations of small and mid-sized producers’ ability to access such technologies. I appreciate the University of South Dakota’s researchers’ policy advice to approach agriculture research with a social justice framework, ensuring that we do not leave behind the farming communities most in need. Amid the complex challenges we face in today’s food system, we must prioritize farmer-centered approaches to address wicked problems.

The research sector represents an ever-important industry whose work directly impacts the economic and working lives of farmers and rural communities. It is essential that investments in agriculture research reflect both the economic and production needs of the farmers it aims to support. One particularly salient issue is the dwindling number of new small and midsize farmers—how can advocates and researchers best meet the needs of smallholder and beginning farmers, and ensure that they have a viable path forward? 

81% of BIPOC farmers and 63% of beginning farmers surveyed in OFRF’s 2022 National Organic Research Agenda specified that “managing production costs” is a significant production challenge. Among non-production challenges, “accessing labor” and “finding and developing markets for organic products” were among the top concerns for all surveyed farming demographics. A study from the USDA Economic Research Service (ERS) on the Profit Potential of Certified Organic Field Crop Production and University of Vermont’s study on labor management decisions for small and mid-sized farms are just two examples of how federally-funded research can address these key challenges.

Closing Thoughts

Advocating for farmers requires more than rhetoric; it requires tangible action and systemic change. Following the lobby day meetings, I feel inspired to dig deeper into USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) local food systems and organic production data as a means of informing my own advocacy work. You can get involved too, simply by calling your Representative and Senators to ask their offices to check in on the status of Organic Research in the upcoming Farm Bill and Appropriations negotiations. You can find their contact info here! Small actions by many people are what make this work possible. And if you’re interested in getting more involved, reach out to Gordon at gordon@ofrf.org!

By |2024-02-12T14:19:15+00:00February 12th, 2024|Gordon's Policy Corner, News|

Cultivating Connections

EcoFarm 2024 & OFRF’s Organic Agriculture Research Forum

This January, almost half of the OFRF team traveled to Monterey, CA  to meet in-person for the OFRF Organic Agriculture Research Forum (OARF) which was held in conjunction with EcoFarm. Considering we are a fully remote team spread across the country, this was a big opportunity for us to connect and showcase our work. OFRF research forum consisted of eight workshops embedded within the 2024 EcoFarm conference. The forum focused on sharing the latest research relevant to organic producers, with a loaded agenda that touched on production issues, soil health, weed management, and of course, organic integrity. The team was immersed in two days of strengthening relationships, fostering new connections, and listening to farmers’ and researchers’ current work and perspectives on the industry. Here are the conference highlights from #TeamOFRF:

Thelma Velez, Research & Education Director

I can’t deny that the best part of hosting OARF at EcoFarm was getting to hang out with so many OFRF staff and board members (past and current), and connecting with partners from across the region. I know that as the Director of Research & Education I should say I was most excited for the great sessions we organized or the workshops that shed light on challenges facing organic growers. But there is something magical about connecting with like-minded folks driven to make the farming world a better space for everyone. It was enlightening to see the tracks dedicated to Indigenous and Tribal knowledge, justice in the food system, and accessible content in Spanish. I am really proud of our team for pulling together great content for OARF. Jose’s presentation on our new Spanish-language course, Los Fundamentos de la Salud del Suelo, was a big hit, and the printed resources we had in Spanish and English flew off the tables. I presented in a session focused on the synergies between organic and regenerative practices and principles. This is both a popular and contentious topic, and I was glad to know that my message resonated with so many growers in the audience.

Mary Hathaway, Research & Education Program Coordinator

I have been hearing about EcoFarm since I was a volunteer with World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) almost two decades ago, and I was excited to finally get a chance to attend. The grounds of Asilomar are a beautiful backdrop for learning, and leaning into the awe of nature through our organic experience.  Meandering through the beach boardwalks as a casual conversation unfolded with colleagues, or walking out of an inspiring session to the smell of sage and salt were the calm backdrop to a busy few days. Sessions on minimal tillage and supporting BIPOC farmers to transition to organic were especially of interest to me. I also had the pleasure of moderating “Cultivating Farmer-Researcher Collaboration in Organic Agriculture Research”. It was wonderful to hear farmers’ experiences with on-farm research, as well as researcher curiosity on how to better engage; it was a lively conversation that has stuck with me. And of course, you can’t mention the highlights of a multi-day conference without mentioning the meals! Sharing meals of locally sourced ingredients with new friends is a definite highlight of my conference experience. 

Jose Perez, Research & Education Engagement Coordinator

It was my first year attending EcoFarm and it didn’t disappoint! I was excited to meet and hear from farmers and service providers who were passionately engaged in the organic farming movement. I particularly enjoyed the session on calculating nitrogen supply for organic vegetables presented by UC Cooperative Extension and Full Belly Farm. I also enjoyed presenting on the new OFRF’s online Soil Health course in Spanish, Los Fundamentos de la Salud del Suelo, and connecting with the Latinx community, including many Agriculture and Land-Based Training Association (ALBA) staff and students.

Leah Lawson, Partnerships & Development Director

All of my agricultural work has been overseas or in the Midwest, so attending EcoFarm was interesting on many levels. I enjoyed learning about the farms and programs in California – seeing what was the same and what was different from other regions I’m more familiar with. I learned a lot about grafting, scions, and fruit trees. The seed swap was fascinating as I chatted with people growing things that are not common in the Midwest. It was a warm and welcoming experience and I look forward to returning in the future.

Kelsey Grimsley, Office & Administrative Manager

This was my third time at EcoFarm, and it was my favorite! It was exciting and motivating to be in-person with so many coworkers who live all over the US, and to feel like there was a team effort to make the most this conference. We would talk between sessions and exchange ideas and experiences in the social hall, then head out to the next event with a clear vision and mission. I’ve always been most inspired when I’m around people with overlapping passions. It was clear that so many conference attendees were looking for where they could plug in to foster a sustainable future. I was elated when we ran out of ALL our research materials the first day of the conference and I had to drive back to Santa Cruz to restock. From our series of soil health guides, to our informational booklet on the certification cost share program, to the executive summary of our new guide to on-farm research, our free resources were being picked up by folks as they passed our table. I spoke with an inspiring variety of people, including a beginning farmer from Thailand, a person using tech to help farming efficiency, and many young people hoping to get involved in whatever way they could. Ultimately we passed out over 835 hard copy research resources. I’m already looking forward to going back next year and bringing even more informational materials!

Gordon Merrick, Policy & Programs Manager

This was my second time attending EcoFarm, but my first time was during COVID so it was a digital conference. The in-person version is definitely a lot more exciting! It was great being able to take part in the constant work of building community in the sustainable and organic agriculture spaces. I was able to attend the session related to the (hopefully) upcoming Farm Bill and the importance of the federal legislative process to farmers, ranchers, and eaters.  Hearing the perspectives of people engaged in all levels of the food system has always been a priority of mine, and EcoFarm certainly offers a venue to do exactly that!

Proof we have fun together. Left: Jose & Mary explore the California Coast. Above: Kelsey, Thelma, Mary, & Jose share a meal. Right: Kelsey & Thelma enjoy a quiet moment between conference sessions.

By |2024-02-12T13:49:43+00:00February 9th, 2024|News|

From Regulations to Legislation: Advocating for Organic Agriculture in 2024

The dawn of a new year always brings new opportunities. This year, we are continuing our work to advocate for expanded public investments in organic agriculture research. To be honest, 2024’s political landscape is admittedly daunting:

  • FY24 appropriations still need to be passed by the end of the month.
  • The Farm Bill is running up against a new March deadline.
  • The FY25 appropriations process is about to begin.
  • There’s a Presidential election on the horizon.

That being said, at OFRF, we see these events as opportunities to ensure organic agriculture gets the recognition it deserves.

As we highlighted last month, 2023 was a momentous year for organic policy development in the regulatory space. In 2024, we hope to bring that momentum to the legislative body and work with our coalition partners to amplify our voices and call for increased public investments in organic agriculture research.

To do this, we have two primary initiatives. First, we will continue to build broad support for the Organic Science and Research Investment (OSRI) Act in the Senate and the Strengthening Organic Agriculture Research (SOAR) Act in the House. If you still need to get familiar with these significant marker bills, check out those links for an overview and some information on how you can help spread awareness about them. Second, we are committed to ensuring that appropriators comprehend the urgent need for increased funding in agricultural research and the far-reaching impact these investments have on the nation- economically, ecologically, and socially.

Including the SOAR and OSRI Acts in the 2024 Farm Bill is more than just a step forward in achieving parity between organic agriculture’s share of USDA research funding (currently <2%) and its market share (>6%). More importantly, these investments will touch the lives of communities nationwide.

Agricultural research programs extend beyond answering producers’ queries or supporting early-career scientists—although they excel at both. These programs significantly benefit the rural communities actively participating in and hosting vital research projects. Notably, every dollar invested in public agricultural research generates an impressive $20 of benefits. Despite this documented impact, public funding for agricultural research has seen a 20% decline since the turn of the century, in stark contrast to increased funding in other research areas during the same period.

Recognizing the urgency of the situation, we are intensifying our efforts in appropriations advocacy, ensuring that the offices of appropriators understand the critical importance and impact of the programs under their control.

However, for us to maximize our effectiveness, we need your help! If you have a story involving a research finding, participation in a research project, or a persistent research question that needs answering, please use our story form to contribute and help us raise awareness!

As always, please reach out if you want to get involved or are curious about our work! gordon@ofrf.org

Eat well,

Gordon

By |2024-01-12T15:01:07+00:00January 12th, 2024|Gordon's Policy Corner, News|

Marina Vergara (she/her/hers)

Research & Education Intern

email: research[at]ofrf.org

Marina Vergara (she/her/hers) joins the OFRF team as the Fall 2023 Research and Education intern. Marina is a graduate student at the University of California, Davis studying International Agricultural Development. Her interests lie in exploring participatory agricultural extension and ways to better support marginalized farmers. Her research examines a participatory silvopastoral extension program in Panama, and the ways in which this model facilitates an informal knowledge exchange amongst model farmers and farmers newly entering the program.

Marina discovered her passion for food and agriculture in college after being drawn to the interdisciplinary nature of food systems. After graduating from Cornell University in 2018 with a BS in Environmental and Sustainability Sciences, Marina moved to Panama to serve with the U.S. Peace Corps as an Agriculture Extension Agent, working with small-scale, organic cacao farmers in product development, marketing, and sales. Marina then served with AmeriCorps VISTA in South Texas, where she focused on coalition building for increasing food security and youth curriculum development for food justice and sovereignty in the Rio Grande Valley.

Marina is passionate about supporting marginalized farmers, through collaboration in projects and increasing equity in access to extension support and materials. In her free time, you can find Marina outside hiking, biking, or lounging with her dog Claudia, at the local coffee shop with a good book, or trying something new and tasty to eat.

By |2024-03-27T15:23:07+00:00January 9th, 2024|Interns|

Amity Vargas (she/her/hers)

Donor Stewardship Coordinator

email: amity[at]ofrf.org

Amity Vargas (she/her/hers) is a Colorado native but grew up on the West Coast, soaking up the beautiful beach sun. She has over fifteen years of experience working within the nonprofit realm, focusing on environmental and social impact missions. Her work has included development, programming, and operations. Amity has led programs that provided watershed protection of the South Platte River in the South Park National Heritage Area, and she started the first Farm to School program in Park County. She has taught environmental education to adults and students from Pre-K through the twelfth grades, writing both standards-based and experienced-based curricula emphasizing mindfulness and a growth mindset. In the Front Range, Amity has worked with a wide variety of schools and organizations, teaching the importance of environmental literacy through a program she started called TREES – Teaching Responsible Environmental Education Skills. Through this program, she was able to start a recycling program within an elementary school in the Colorado Springs area, the first of its kind within that school district. Amity is working towards becoming an Herbalist and completing her portfolio to become a certified Environmental Educator.

Amity loves immersing herself in nature with her family. They camp, hike, bike, snowshoe, raft and volunteer together to keep trails clean. She enjoys gardening, cooking, reading, and writing. She plays the flute and is learning the guitar and melodica. Amity is a nomad at heart and is dedicated to being a lifelong learner.
By |2024-01-11T19:13:36+00:00January 9th, 2024|Staff|

Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP)

Farmers across the U.S. are eligible for significant technical and financial assistance from the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS).

Farmers and technical service providers know first hand that the most significant barriers to developing sustainable infrastructure and production practices are due to time and resource scarcity. NRCS’ EQIP program offers financial assistance and technical support to implement new conservation practices on your farm, with additional support for historically underserved applicants including socially disadvantaged, beginning, veteran, and limited-resource farmers and ranchers. In this blog post, we’ll provide an overview of what EQIP has to offer, and the steps to utilizing this program.

Note: all of this information is summarized in printable, downloadable PDFs, available in English and Spanish, at the bottom of this blogpost.

Nota: toda esta información se resume en archivos PDF imprimibles y descargables, disponibles en inglés y español, al final de esta publicación de blog.

Obtain additional translated materials, or schedule interpretation services for phone calls or in-person visits, https://www.farmers.gov/translations, or request personalized Spanish language support for any USDA resource, https://www.farmers.gov/translations#spanish-request.

Important Points:

  • EQIP is a reimbursement program, most operations will have to pay for improvements up-front and get funding to cover those costs.
  • Do not begin reimbursable conservation activities & projects prior to completion of your application process and contract with NRCS.
  • Contacting your local NRCS office is a key step in determining your eligibility and beginning your application process.
  • Applications are accepted on a rolling basis, and will be reviewed on the next ranking date for your state. Begin your application process as soon as possible to ensure completion by the next deadline! Applications are prioritized by local resource concerns and the applicant’s level of need.
  • You will need to create a free online account at Farmers.gov and ensure that it is up to date.
  • If you do not own your land, you will need to submit written permission from the owner with your application.

Step 1. Research Your Options. EQIP offers support for a broad scope of conservation activities & projects to producers including both financial and technical support. EQIP provides funds to reimburse costs associated with specific practices or infrastructure projects on a farm. EQIP’s most popular sub-programs include the High Tunnel Initiative, which covers the cost of high tunnel installation for production farms, the On Farm Energy Initiative, which covers the cost of energy-saving equipment and infrastructure improvements such as refrigeration units or greenhouse improvements, and the Organic Initiative, which provides up to $140k to certified organic or transitioning farms to implement conservation practices such as design and installation of efficient irrigation systems, nutrient & pest management strategies, or developing a grazing plan.

Step 2. Connect with USDA. Create or update your account at Farmers.gov, and contact your local NRCS office to get started. Your conservation specialist will confirm your eligibility and help you identify which projects & practices best suit your operation. 

Guiding questions for initial contact with NRCS:

  • “I’m interested in applying for EQIP’s  _initiative(s) of interest_ for my farm to help finance _conservation project of interest_. What do you need from me to get started on my application?”
  • “What additional funding opportunities are available to my farm?”
  • “How soon can a conservationist help me set up a conservation plan (AD 1026)?”
  • “When is the deadline for the next EQIP ranking period?”
  • “I am eligible for the increased and advanced payment option for Historically Underserved farmers. How will this change my application process?”
  • “I _(own/rent)_ my land. What documents will you need for completion of my EQIP application by the deadline?”
  • “My farm is _certified/transitioning_ to organic. What additional will you need for completion of my conservation plan and application by the deadline?”

Step 3. Schedule your conservation plan development. Your NRCS conservation specialist will work with you to develop a conservation plan for your operation and complete the AD 1026 form.

Step 4. Gather your application documents. You’ll need your: 

  • Official tax ID (Social Security Number or Employer Identification Number)
  • Adjusted gross income certification (Form CCC-941), which requires your Taxpayer ID Number and AGI from the previous 3 tax years.
  • Deed, or property lease agreement and written authorization from the landowner to install structural or vegetative practices.
  • Farm tract number (obtained from Farmers.gov or FSA membership).
  • Documentation of organic certification (if applicable).
  • Documentation of your land’s irrigation history (if applicable to project).

Step 5. Complete your application & submit! Your NRCS conservation specialist will complete & submit your application form (CPA 1200) with you using your established conservation plan and the above documents. 

Step 6. Implement your plan. If you’re selected, you can choose whether to sign the contract for the work to be done. You’ll be provided with guidelines and a timeframe for implementing your plan. Once the work is implemented and inspected, you’ll be paid the rate of compensation for the work.

Apply for EQIP now, and reap the benefits of a more affordable path to sustainable agriculture. Your farm deserves the support it needs.

All of this information is summarized in a printable, downloadable PDF below, available in English and Spanish.

By |2023-12-20T23:07:11+00:00December 20th, 2023|News, TOPP West|
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