About Caroline Baptist

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So far Caroline Baptist has created 208 blog entries.

Staff Spotlight on OFRF’s Research & Education Program Manager

Thelma Velez, PhD (she/her/hers) is OFRF’s Research & Education Program Manager. Thelma joined Organic Farming Research Foundation in 2021 and brings over 12 years of experience in organic agriculture and sustainable food systems to the organization.

Thelma's Dog MochaWhen she isn’t working, Thelma enjoys cooking and baking, rock climbing, and making art. She resides in Florida with her family and dog Mocha (a Boykin Spaniel and Lab mix), and visiting the Everglades National Park (both pictured right).

Tell us about yourself.

I am a creative problem solver.
I love to cook and make things with my hands.
I am a Latina of Afro-Caribbean and Indigenous descent.

Why do you care about organic farming and/or organic research?

My mother exposed me to organic food in the early 90’s. When my friends were out eating fast food, my mother was insistent on feeding us healthy and organic salads, legumes, and home cooked meals. By the time organic became a health fad, I was already attuned to the deeper value of organic farming for the benefit of the environment and our many ecosystems. I choose organic for the planet, not just for my health.

Who is your farming, research and/or food hero – and why?

Sunrise at Flamigo Campground, Everglades National ParkMy farming and food-system hero is Leah Penniman, the founder and co-Director of Soul Fire Farm and author of Farming While Black. Leah is a pioneer, a visionary, and a doer, and I find her tenacity and drive inspiring. The mission and work being done at Soul Fire Farm is honorable and just, and to top it all off, she is a kind and compassionate human with a stellar smile.

What are you excited about working on at OFRF?

In terms of projects, I am excited about working to develop educational and research materials that help us support farmers. I enjoy working at OFRF because I see value in the work that we do with farming communities across the nation. I am also excited to work on ways to better engage diverse audiences and support BIPOC farmers and researchers.

Anything else you’d like to share?

I really appreciate (and like) the entire OFRF team. Our staff is great!

By |2022-02-08T21:15:17+00:00February 8th, 2022|News|

Crager Hager Farm – Sharing Insight on USDA’s Organic Certification Cost Share Program

Bryan Hager with CollardsOrganic farmer and OFRF Board Chair Bryan Hager knows about organic farming and the process it takes to get certified. Hager and his wife Wendy own Crager Hager Farm, a diversified fruit and vegetable farm in Carroll County, Georgia. Their farm is a year-round operation that grows salad and cooking greens such as lettuce and spinach, and popular market items such as tomatoes, beans, squash, and cucumbers. Crager Hager Farm also grows apples, pears, and heirloom strawberries and blueberries. In total, the farm grows 120 varieties of vegetable and fruit crops.

Hager has been involved in farming most of his life, using organic practices since he was 16 years old. He started growing and selling for market in 2001 and certified organic in 2017. It was at this time that Hager first participated in the USDA’s Organic Certification Cost Share Program (OCCSP). This important program provides reimbursement for agricultural producers and handlers who are obtaining or renewing their organic certification under the National Organic Program (NOP).

Bryan Hager eating corn.To participate in the program, eligible operations must submit their OCCSP applications to State agencies or to their local Farm Service Agency (FSA) county offices. Crager Hager Farms took the latter approach and was the first operation in their county to apply for this program. Together, Crager Hager Farm and FSA navigated the application. The subsequent two years went well, but since then, the process has taken longer and longer to complete with reimbursement payments extremely delayed.

When Crager Hager Farms first applied to the cost share program, the USDA provided up to $750 in reimbursements which covered roughly 75% of the farm’s certification fees. Since then, the amount for Crager Hager Farm to certify organic has nearly doubled, though the OCCSP has reduced their cost share to $500.

For Crager Hager Farm, the financial and time costs of organic certification keep rising while the farm is getting smaller. The farm previously offered an internship program and employed five full-time employees in peak season. Over the last two years, the farm has scaled back their operations. Currently, they attend one farmers market and employee one part-time farm employee. The burdensome cost of certification and reduced funding from the cost share program has had its effect on Crager Hager Farm.

Bryan Hager with mushroom logThough the operational decision to downsize reflects a personal interest for Hager and his wife to invest their time elsewhere, Hager admits that running a farm has become increasingly more stressful. “Every year, there seems to be a new requirement to get certification,” says Hager. “The ‘time-cost’ and financial cost continues to go up on top of the problems with climate and changing markets. The increasing complexity of certification adds a lot of stress to being a farmer.”

Crager Hager Farm has dropped their USDA organic certification, though they still practice the same techniques that help improve soil fertility and grow nutritious produce free of synthetic inputs. “We’ve been committed to growing organically for 40 years, well before we got certified,” says Hager. They are an organic pioneer in their state and have a strong reputation at farmers markets that’s been cultivated over the years.

Today, Hager plans to rejoin the Certified Naturally Grown (CNG) program, an independent grassroots initiative offering peer-review certification to farmers. More than 750 farmers and beekeepers participate in the CNG certification throughout the United States and Canada, though the USDA does not offer any cost share incentives for this process.

And although Crager Hager Farm has encountered issues with the Organic Certification Cost Share Program, Hager says, “If someone is considering getting certified, they should definitely look into the program as it can reduce some of the financial burden.”

By |2022-02-04T21:09:00+00:00February 4th, 2022|Farmer Stories, News|

OFRF Facilitates USDA Agricultural Research Service Tour with Rep. Jimmy Panetta, Co-Sponsor of Ag Resilience Act

OFRF ARS Tour with Congressman Panetta

Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) toured the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) in Salinas, Calif. with Rep. Jimmy Panetta (CA-20), a co-sponsor for H.R. 2803, the Agricultural Resilience Act (ARA). This tour of the organic fields took place on Saturday, January 15, 2022, and marks the second time Rep. Panetta’s congressional office has visited the ARS site with OFRF.

“Central Coast farmers and ranchers have always been on the leading edge of organic production, thanks to their hard work and partnerships with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and organizations like the Organic Farming Research Foundation,” said Congressman Panetta. “I remain committed to elevating the needs of the organic producers I proudly represent, so they can continue to have the tools they need to adapt to climate stressors, invest in soil health, and succeed in the twenty-first century.”

OFRF ARS Tour with Congressman PanettaThe Congressman and others in attendance were led on a tour by Dr. Eric Brennan, USDA Research Horticulturist. Dr. Brennan previously was awarded an OFRF on-farm research grant and his staff position at ARS was heavily advocated by OFRF nearly 20 years ago. He is the only dedicated organic ARS researcher in the country and his position is admittedly underfunded. Tour group members shared with Rep. Panetta their need for an increase in funding for organic at ARS countrywide, with a clear national strategy on how the agency can better serve the organic farming community.

“There could be an incredible opportunity to hire additional scientists and technicians to grow organic research,” said Brise Tencer, Executive Director for Organic Farming Research Foundation.

The tour discussion also touched upon the importance of organic research to help improve growers’ farming practices such as cover cropping and composting. Dr. Brennan was joined by organic grower Phil Foster and Bill Wintermantel, Research Plant Pathologist and Acting Research Director at USDA.

OFRF, whose mission has been to advance the improvement and widespread adoption of organic farming systems, has invested in over $3M and awarded over 350 grants for on-farm, science-based research. All OFRF-funded research results are accessible online for free.

By |2022-02-02T21:47:56+00:00February 2nd, 2022|News|

Lou Kozma

OFRF Board Member Lou Kozma

President of Hirzel Farms

Lou Kozma is president of Hirzel Farms, which is one segment of a five-generation family farming / food processing operation. He is based in NW Ohio, where the farm was established in 1923. Hirzel Farms have been certified organic since 1981 and currently has approximately 1200 acres in organic production.

Lou is currently on the board of the Agricultural Incubator Foundation, working closely with several area universities. Past Board positions include President of the Ohio Vegetable and Potato Growers. Lou’s focus and passion is cover crop combinations to mitigate soil runoff, and to decrease the nutrient loading in the SW basin of Lake Erie. He also enjoys consulting growers in conversion parts of existing farms to organic.

In his free time, Lou works with several smaller inter-city and semi-urban growers to improving soil health and biodiversity.

By |2022-01-31T17:51:51+00:00January 31st, 2022|Board|

Applications Due for USDA’s Organic and Traditional Education and Certification Program

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will provide pandemic assistance to cover certification and education expenses to agricultural producers who are certified organic or transitioning to organic. USDA will make $20 million available through the new Organic and Transitional Education and Certification Program (OTECP) as part of USDA’s broader Pandemic Assistance for Producers initiative, which provides new, broader and more equitable opportunities for farmers, ranchers and producers. 

Applying for Assistance

Signup for 2020 and 2021 OTECP began on Nov. 8, 2021 and ends February 4, 2022. Producers apply through their local Farm Service Agency (FSA) office and can also obtain one-on-one support with applications by calling 877-508-8364. Visit farmers.gov/otecp to learn more.

Eligible Expenses 

OTECP funding is provided through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act). Certified operations and transitional operations may apply for OTECP for eligible expenses paid during the 2020, 2021 and 2022 fiscal years. For each year, OTECP covers 25% of a certified operation’s eligible certification expenses, up to $250 per certification category (crop, livestock, wild crop, handling and State Organic Program fee). This includes application fees, inspection fees, USDA organic certification costs, state organic program fees and more.

OTECP Eligible Expenses Chart

Crop and livestock operations transitioning to organic production may be eligible for 75% of a transitional operation’s eligible expenses, up to $750, for each year. This includes fees charged by a certifying agent or consultant for pre-certification inspections and development of an organic system plan. 

For both certified operations and transitional operations, OTECP covers 75% of the registration fees, up to $200, per year, for educational events that include content related to organic production and handling in order to assist operations in increasing their knowledge of production and marketing practices that can improve their operations, increase resilience and expand available marketing opportunities. Additionally, both certified and transitional operations may be eligible for 75% of the expense of soil testing required under the National Organic Program (NOP) to document micronutrient deficiency, not to exceed $100 per year. 

By |2022-01-31T16:55:21+00:00January 31st, 2022|News|

Mark Schonbeck

Research Program Associate

Mark Schonbeck has worked for 31 years as a researcher, consultant, and educator in sustainable and organic agriculture. He has participated in on-farm research into mulching, cover crops, minimum tillage, and nutrient management for organic vegetables. For many years, he has written for the Virginia Association for Biological Farming newsletter and served as their policy liaison to the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. He has also participated in different research projects to analyze, evaluate and improve federally funded organic and sustainable agriculture programs. In addition, Mark offers individual consulting in soil test interpretation, soil quality and nutrient management, crop rotation, cover cropping, and weed management.

By |2022-05-11T18:53:07+00:00January 28th, 2022|Staff|

Mary Phipps

Mary Phipps

Founder and Farmer of Orchard Pond

Mary Phipps brings over 10 years of experience in sustainable agriculture. She has been operating her USDA certified organic farm since 2008, focusing on organic produce and value-added products produced in the on farm commercial kitchen. Mary has served on boards and councils for the University of Florida, including the Strawberry Growers Advisory Council. She and her husband and their two children were awarded the Farm Family of 2013 award for the Leon County Fair. Mary earned a BS in Landscape Architecture from the College of Environment and Design at the University of Georgia.

By |2022-01-28T17:31:47+00:00January 28th, 2022|Board|

We’re Hiring for a Deputy Director and a Policy & Programs Manager!

Organic Farming Research Foundation is looking for our next Deputy Director and Policy & Programs Manager!

Join a team that envisions a future where organic farming is the leading form of agriculture. Since our founding in 1990, OFRF has sponsored organic farming research, education, and outreach to support organic and transitioning farmers across North America. This work is complemented by efforts to share our findings with policy makers, agricultural institutions, and federal agencies to support broader change and advance the organic sector.

The Deputy Director position reports to the Executive Director (ED) and will provide day-to-day oversight of internal operations including program implementation, human resources, and finance. The Deputy Director will provide strategic and tactical leadership in all aspects of the organization.

The Policy & Programs Manager will conduct in-depth analysis of federal and state funded policy and programs and develop and coordinate legislative and regulatory campaigns to ensure such programs effectively support the needs of organic farmers. This position offers a great opportunity for the right candidate to interact with federal agency staff, political officials, non-profit partners and other diverse stakeholders to advocate on behalf of organic farmers and scientists.

Both jobs are full-time and remote, with a full range of competitive benefits. Visit our Jobs page for more information including a complete description of each role.

By |2022-01-25T20:51:22+00:00January 25th, 2022|Job Openings, News|

Staff Spotlight on OFRF’s Partnership & Development Manager

Haley Baron (she/her/hers) is OFRF’s Partnership & Development Manager. Haley joined the organization’s Research & Education program in 2019 before stepping into her current role in early 2020. She is based in San Francisco and has over a decade of experience championing sustainable and equitable food systems.

When Haley isn’t building strong collaborative relationships with OFRF partners, she enjoys visiting farms and farmers markets, cooking, gardening, and recently took up ceramics. Haley enjoys exploring her home state of California, from hiking to “walking on Ocean Beach and in Golden Gate Park, both just a few blocks from my house,” she says.

Haley Baron visits a farm.Tell us about yourself.

I grew up in the Sunset neighborhood of San Francisco with my parents and older sister. I loved everything about food from a young age and was passionate about supporting San Franciscans who didn’t have the same access to food that I did so I began volunteering at a local community dining room when I was 10. This was the beginning of my dedication to food justice and agriculture.

Why do you care about organic farming and/or organic research?

I’m passionate about building a healthier and more just food system, where all ecosystems and people are supported and can thrive. To do so, we must change the way we grow food and what we prioritize. Organic agriculture removes toxic chemicals from the system, builds more resilient farms and supply chains, can help mitigate climate change, and provides a safer environment for farm staff.

Who is your farming, research and/or food hero – and why?

All organic farmers and ranchers! They are the true heroes as they have chosen a path that isn’t always easy and requires wearing 25 hats at once, but one that is hugely beneficial to our environment and society.

What are you excited about working on at OFRF?

There is a huge gap in the resources, financial and educational, that go to organic farming systems compared to conventional agriculture. Therefore, we have to fight for that support and it’s exciting to be part of an organization that is doing just that!

By |2022-01-11T21:17:26+00:00January 11th, 2022|News|

Mary Hathaway

Mary Hathaway

Research & Education Fellow


Mary Hathaway is the new Research and Education Fellow at OFRF. Over the past decade she has worked as an activist and farmer in the sustainable and equitable food movement in the Southeast. Her most recent experience includes managing direct marketing farms, administering USDA grant projects, and organizing regional food summits.

Mary specializes in supporting local food systems and is passionate about creating opportunities for organic farmers to be leaders in climate change solutions. Mary has a Master’s Degree in Agroecology that helps her frame the necessary work before us with a collaborative, systems thinking approach. She is a powerful force in the workplace and uses her positive attitude to encourage others to work hard and be engaged participants in their community.

In her free time, Mary likes to play in the ocean, talk at great length about composting, and build Lincoln Log forts with her son.

By |2022-05-11T18:56:27+00:00January 11th, 2022|Staff|
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