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OFRF Attends USDA Briefing with Under Secretary Moffitt and Rep. Panetta

Two USDA COVID assistance programs were discussed, including the Pandemic Response and Safety Grant Program which has an approaching deadline of November 22.

The Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) recently attended a USDA press with USDA Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs Jenny Lester Moffitt and Congressman Jimmy Panetta (CA-20). The event discussed two federal pandemic assistance programs, the USDA’s Pandemic Response and Safety Grant and the Farm and Food Worker Relief Grant, which total over $1 billion for affected workers and business.

“OFRF is excited to show support for these crucial USDA programs that will directly provide assistance to farmers who were affected by COVID-19,” said Organic Farming Research Foundation Executive Director Brise Tencer.

The Pandemic Response and Safety Grant Program provides grants to state agencies, tribal entities and nonprofits who serve farms, farmworkers and meatpacking workers. Organizations such as food processors, distributors, producers and farmers markets are eligible to apply, and may be reimbursed between $1,500 to $20,000 for COVID-related expenses if awarded funding. The application period for the Pandemic Response and Safety Grant Program is currently open and closes November 22. “In the first 12 hours we had over 500 applicants already,” said Lester Moffitt.

“We understand and value a farmworker, not just for what a farmworker did throughout the pandemic but what farmworkers do every single day,” said Rep. Panetta. Rep. Panetta worked to ensure that the final Consolidated Appropriations Act, which authorizes and funds the Pandemic Response and Safety Grant Program, included funding to farmers, farmworkers, and essential workers who incurred safety-related expenses related to COVID-19.

The Farm and Food Worker Relief Grant Program provides assistance to farmworkers, meatpacking workers, and frontline grocery workers with funds being awarded by state agencies, tribal entities and nonprofits. Approximately $600 will be reimbursed to workers who receive funding to cover costs for expenses incurred because of of COVID-19. Applications for the Farm and Food Worker Relief Grant Program will open later this season, fall 2021.

“The Farm and Food Worker Relief Grant Program will provide $700 million for farmworkers, meatpacking workers and frontline grocery workers for pandemic-related safety costs,” said Moffitt. “Costs that we know have been incurred for the past 18 months and incur still today during the pandemic.”

“Farmworkers are first-responders that safeguard the harvest, a job they perform with utmost urgency and dignity to feed their loved ones and to sustain the nation’s food security,” said United Farm Workers Foundation Executive Director Diana Tellefson Torres. “Even under a deadly pandemic, life-threatening heat waves, and toxic wildfire smoke that kept the public indoors and in climate-controlled spaces, farmworkers continued to show up to work.”

“They get up, they show up, they step up and the step into the fields and do the back-breaking work that many Americans will not do,” added Rep. Panetta.

Rep. Panetta is also a co-sponsor of H.R.2803, the Agricultural Resilience Act (ARA). Earlier this year, OFRF facilitated a tour of the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) in Salinas, Calif. for Representative Panetta’s congressional staffers. The site visit focused on the importance of increased investment in organic research and was instrumental in the congressman’s decision to co-sponsor the bill.

The press conference was held on October 7 at the United Farm Workers Foundation facility in Salinas, Calif. Also in attendance:

  • OFRF Executive Director Brise Tencer
  • National Vice President of the United Farm Workers Union Bonita Rivera
  • National Vice President and Regional Director for the Santa Cruz, San Benito and Monterey Bay area United Farm Workers Union Lauro Barajas.

A tour of JSM Organics Farm concluded the briefing.

 

By |2021-10-13T17:38:21+00:00October 13th, 2021|News|

OFRF Asks Congress to Increase Funding for Organic Research

OREI Grant Funding

The OFRF policy team has been hard at work advocating for more federally funded organic agriculture research.  Congress is currently in the midst of budget reconciliation, a process that allows them to fast-track legislation related to spending, revenue, the surplus or deficit, and public debt. The current budget resolution calls for $3.5 trillion in spending, and OFRF wants to make sure that organic research receives a share of the increased spending.  More specifically, OFRF has asked members of the House and Senate to support an increase in funding for the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI). OREI funds research, education, and extension programs that help organic producers and processors to grow and market organic products. Priority areas for the program include biological, physical, and social sciences.

Under existing law, OREI is funded at $25 million in 2022 and $50 million in 2023 and beyond. OFRF has asked for these amounts to be increased to $30 million in 2022 and $75 million in 2023 and beyond. The highly popular grant program currently has a success rate of 26 percent, meaning only about one in four grant requests receives funding. The total amount requested under the program is currently more than four times the amount of money available. By increasing the amount of money that is available, more grants will be funded, increasing the amount of research that will ultimately benefit organic farmers and ranchers. 

By |2021-09-08T15:09:07+00:00September 8th, 2021|News|

OFRF Meets with Under Secretary Lester Moffitt to Ask USDA to Prioritize Support for Producers Transitioning to Organic

OFRF and its advisors recently met with organic farmer and newly-confirmed USDA Under Secretary Jenny Lester Moffitt and Senior Advisor Mike Schimdt to discuss the department’s plans to help producers transition to organic production.  USDA Secretary Vilsack has previously announced that the department will spend a couple hundred million dollars to help farmers and ranchers transition to organic. Given OFRF’s research focus and in-depth analysis in the National Organic Research Agenda, OFRF is well-equipped to provide the department with recommendations that will help producers transition to organic farming.  

Based on its research, OFRF knows that one of the biggest challenges for transitioning producers is the availability of technical assistance and education on organic farming techniques. OFRF has recommended allocating $50 million for training, education, and outreach. A portion of these funds would go to extension agents and other specialists to provide direct assistance to transitioning producers. In addition, use of these funds would be targeted to states with low organic farming rates, and a portion would be set aside to serve producers who have been historically excluded from USDA programs, including Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC).

Given the historic underinvestment in organic agriculture research, OFRF also recommended increasing the Organic Transitions Program grant funding from $7 million to $20 million.  The program currently has a 20 percent success rate—meaning only one in five grants receives funding—and the amount requested is about three times the funds available.  

Last, OFRF recommended a handful of changes to conservation programs currently offered by USDA to increase their appeal for organic farmers.  These changes include increasing the incentive rates for the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) to more accurately reflect foregone income during the three-year organic transition period, and reinstating the popular organic field border buffer initiative under the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP).

As USDA continues to determine how it will use the funds to create transformative changes and invest in climate-friendly agricultural practices, OFRF will continue to use its expertise to advocate for the needs of organic farmers and ranchers.

By |2021-09-08T14:25:22+00:00September 8th, 2021|News|

OFRF Tours USDA Agricultural Research Service, Rep. Jimmy Panetta to Co-Sponsor ARA

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

(SANTA CRUZ, Calif., August 23, 2021)Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) hosted Representative Jimmy Panetta’s (D-CA, 20th) congressional staffers at the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) in Salinas, Calif. last week. The site visit focused on the importance of increased investment in organic research and was instrumental in Rep. Panetta’s decision to co-sponsor H.R.2803, the Agricultural Resilience Act (ARA).

OFRF organized the tour of the organic fields at the ARS led by Dr. Eric Brennan, USDA Research Horticulturist and the ARS’ only dedicated organic researcher in the country. California organic farmers in attendance shared their firsthand experience in applying organic research to their farming practices, including composting and cover cropping. Attendees emphasized the importance of investing more research dollars to organic farming practices at the Salinas facility and other ARS locations.

“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. “As Congressman, my role is to act as the bridge between our communities and Washington, D.C., to advocate for my producers’ needs, and to break through the bureaucracy when they are not getting the answers or funding that they need to keep innovating and growing.”

Rep. Panetta’s decision to co-sponsor the ARA was informed by his careful review of the bill text as well as the work and education provided by OFRF, whose mission has been to advance organic agriculture through scientific research since 1990. The Santa Cruz based nonprofit has invested over $3M and awarded over 350 grants, and provides OFRF-funded research results for free.

“In California and across the country, growers are experiencing the effects of climate change,” said Brise Tencer, Executive Director of OFRF. “We are appreciative of Rep. Panetta’s support for organic research and the Agricultural Resilience Act which will benefit American farmers who are at the forefront of the climate crisis.”

Rep. Panetta sits on the House Committee on Agriculture and is Co-Chair and Founder of the Agriculture Research Caucus. His district, which includes Monterey County, has experienced tremendous growth in organic production. According to the 2020 Monterey County Crop and Livestock Report, the county recorded 132,809 organic acreage — nearly doubling since 2018.

“As we in Congress continue our efforts to put forward funding for infrastructure priorities, 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,” said Congressman Panetta.

Rep. Panetta sits on the House Committee on Agriculture and is Co-Chair and Founder of the Agriculture Research Caucus. His district, which includes Monterey County, has experienced tremendous growth in organic production. According to the 2020 Monterey County Crop and Livestock Report, the county recorded 132,809 organic acreage — nearly doubling since 2018.

“As we in Congress continue our efforts to put forward funding for infrastructure priorities, 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,” said Congressman Panetta.

Others who attended the meeting included:

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About Organic Farming Research Foundation
Organic Farming Research Foundation 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
Caroline Baptist, Communications Manager, Organic Farming Research Foundation
caroline@ofrf.org
831-204-8116

Photo Credit: Haley Baron
By |2021-08-26T15:33:28+00:00August 23rd, 2021|News, Press Release|

OFRF Staff Participates in Virtual Fly-In to Ask Congress to Bolster Organic

The Organic Farming Research Foundation’s (OFRF) Senior Policy Associate, Trevor Findley, participated in the Organic Trade Association’s (OTA) virtual fly-in, where organic supporters asked members of Congress to support a bill to increase accountability in organic standards. 

The National Organic Program is run by USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service and includes a federal advisory committee that makes recommendations to improve and advance organic standards.  This committee, the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), meets twice a year and accepts public input at its meetings. 

Since inception, the NOSB has made 20 consensus recommendations on a range of topics to improve organic standards, but USDA has not yet acted on any of the recommendations.  Many of the recommendations include topics of interest to consumers, including animal welfare standards, the production of personal care products, organic production in greenhouses, and aquaculture in organics.  In the absence of clear standards on these topics, the organizations that certify organic producers have inconsistently interpreted and applied existing standards. 

The bill proposed by OTA, HR 2918 – Continuous Improvement and Accountability in Organic Standards Act, would require USDA to do three things: (1) clear the backlog of recommendations from the NOSB that have not been implemented, (2) issue a final rule to implement all new recommendations within one year of the NOSB approving the recommendation, and (3) report to Congress on an annual basis whether certifiers have implemented the new rules and whether any inconsistencies exist.  The bill has bi-partisan support and is being championed by Rep. Peter Defazio (OR-4) and Rep. Rodney Davis (IL-13). 

To advocate for the bill, OTA and its members met with 29 different Congressional offices and sought additional co-sponsors for the bill.  While passage of the bill as a standalone measure is uncertain, there is hope that if the bill doesn’t pass on its own that it would wind up in larger legislation such as the 2023 Farm Bill.

By |2021-08-09T19:55:26+00:00August 9th, 2021|News|

Creating a Southern Soil Health Course

By Shelby Kaplan, OFRF Research and Education Intern
She recently graduated from University of Wisconsin Madison with a degree in plant pathology and a minor in food systems. She will continue her studies in the fall at ASU to receive a graduate certificate in food policy and sustainable leadership.

As an OFRF intern this summer, I have been working with Thelma Velez, the Research and Education Program Manager, to create a free soil health course titled, Organic Soil Health for the Southern Region. This course builds on a recent OFRF publication, Building Healthy Living Soils for Successful Organic Farming in the Southern Region, and describes challenges in Southern soil health and ways to mitigate these problems in a sustainable way. 

Shelby Kaplan in a LabPersonally, the course is thought-provoking and provides a way for me to learn more about organic farming practices. I have an interest in sustainable agriculture and am eager to learn more about the organic farming space, while also hoping to help farmers improve their practices with science-based information. Although the Midwest environment where I went to college differs quite a lot from Southern ecosystems, I have travelled abroad several times in order to broaden my knowledge of organic agriculture in other regions. 

The goal of the course is to assist organic farmers in the South and show practical strategies to help improve their crops by improving the soil, which will build resilient farms. Healthy soil is the basis for successful farming, so finding ways to better manage it and improve on the practices already in place is critical. As the climate continues to change and put increased pressure on farmers, there needs to be an even greater focus on ways to improve the capabilities of soil and the ways we use it.

Supporting organic farmers by providing up-to-date information is an important step in improving organic systems and our environment. Helping to create this course has taught me more about organic systems in the Southern environment, their challenges, as well as possible solutions. 

I hope to continue supporting the organic farming community through working with OFRF in other ways in the future!

By |2021-07-27T15:57:35+00:00July 27th, 2021|News|

Recent Report Recommends Organic Policy Improvements

The Swette Center for Sustainable Food Systems at Arizona State University recently published The Critical To-Do List for Organic Agriculture, which features 46 recommendations that would improve the state of organic agriculture in the United States. OFRF Executive Director, Brise Tencer, and consultants Mark Schonbeck and Ferd Hoefner, were acknowledged for their advice and support in helping formulate the 46 recommendations.

While policy-based improvements can be time consuming, the majority of recommendations in the report could be accomplished administratively by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), meaning the USDA can make the changes without any additional input from Congress.

Among the 46 recommendations are a number of priorities that the Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) has prioritized and advocated for, including recommendations to:

(1) develop a national organic plan;
(2) implement a USDA-wide organic agenda;
(3) take a whole of government approach to organic agriculture;
(4) restore the organic advisor to the Secretary;
(7) address racial justice and social equity;
(12) increase organic research;
(23) reinvest in the Organic Transitions program;
(25) restore cost-share funding;
(33) elevate organic in climate policy;
(35) promote ecosystem services;
(37) increase conservation support;
(39) fund research on breeds and seeds adapted to climate change;
(40) identify organic as climate smart;
(43) improve crop insurance tools;
(44) incent recoupling crops and livestock; and
(46) restore the field buffer initiative.

For some recommendations–such as implementing a USDA-wide organic agenda–OFRF has already developed and shared more specific, agency-by-agency recommendations with the USDA. In addition, in an April 2021 letter to Secretary Vilsack, OFRF specifically asked the Secretary to implement several of the recommendations, such as restoring the organic advisor to the Secretary, increasing organic research at USDA to match organic’s six percent market share, restoring cost-share funding, and increasing conservation support.

We look forward to working with Secretary Vilsack and his staff to implement these changes in the coming years!

By |2021-07-16T20:28:18+00:00July 16th, 2021|News|

OFRF Now Accepting Letters of Intent for 2021 Research Grants

July 13, 2021—OFRF is excited to announce that we are now accepting Letters of Intent (LOI) for our research grant program. This grant cycle, in addition to continuing our support for farmer-led research, OFRF is prioritizing applications from early career researchers and Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC). We believe it is critical to foster the next generation of researchers and support historically underserved and marginalized communities, while also ensuring all farmers have the most up-to-date and science-based information. OFRF is reserving half of our grants for BIPOC applicants. 

At OFRF, we recognize climate change is one of the most pressing challenges for farmers, ranchers, and society as a whole. Therefore, we are prioritizing research that maximizes the potential for organic agriculture to be part of the climate solution. “It is especially important that OFRF research grants continue to support projects that directly address the climate crisis and also build resilience within our farms, ranches, rural communities, and the broader food system,” said Thelma Velez, the Research and Education Program Manager at OFRF.

OFRF will fund projects for up to $20,000 for one year of research. Submissions must fall under at least one of the six research priority areas: soil health focus; weed, pest, and disease management focus; resilient cultivars focus; livestock and poultry focus; social science focus; and/or resilience focus. Project submissions may be research-based or integrated (research, education, and/or extension). Additionally, the research must take place on property or land that is certified organic, unless it falls under the social science and/or resilience focus priority area. 

Primary applicants or Co-PIs must identify as a farmer, rancher, or early career researcher residing in Canada, Mexico, or the United States. Early career researchers for this grant are defined as: pre-tenure faculty, postdoctoral associates, graduate students, and/or researchers that have received their MS or PhD within the past seven years (graduation year 2014). Successful applicants will be notified in Fall 2021 and invited to submit a full proposal with funding finalized in 2022.

OFRF is committed to supporting innovative research that meets the current challenges of organic farming, and fosters the adoption and improvement of organic farming systems. Since 2006, OFRF has invested over $3M in 355 research projects to address the needs of organic growers. Techniques and findings from OFRF-funded research have been widely implemented by organic farmers and ranchers, with information disseminated online, in publications, and at farming conferences and field days. All research results are free and open source at www.ofrf.org/research/grant-awards/.

We look forward to another year of outstanding project submissions! Thank you to the Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR) for the continuation of our partnership to fund on-farm research advancing the climate benefits of organic agriculture systems.

Letter of Intent and Instructions

LOI are reviewed and approved by the OFRF Board of Directors, majority of whom are certified organic farmers and ranchers. Please complete the application and submit no later than 5:00pm PST Friday August 20, 2021.

Have a question? Read our FAQ. If you have additional questions, you may contact the OFRF Research Grants team at grants@ofrf.org.

By |2021-07-15T16:24:54+00:00July 8th, 2021|News|

Biden Administration and Implications for Organic

By Ferd Hoefner, OFRF policy advisor

Right after taking office, President Biden issued an Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis. Among many other things, the Order directed USDA to collect stakeholder input regarding climate change mitigation and resilience within the agricultural and forestry sectors.

Specifically, the Order asked USDA to “collect input from Tribes, farmers, ranchers, forest owners, conservation groups, firefighters, and other stakeholders on how to best use Department of Agriculture programs, funding and financing capacities, and other authorities, and how to encourage the voluntary adoption of climate-smart agricultural and forestry practices that decrease wildfire risk fueled by climate change and result in additional, measurable, and verifiable carbon reductions and sequestration and that source sustainable bioproducts and fuels.”

Agriculture and forestry groups responded, with over 2,700 comment letters filed, providing the Department with a wide diversity of views and much to contemplate. OFRF submitted recommendations, as did two groups of which OFRF is a member – the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and the Organic Trade Association.

OFRF’s comments focused on steps the Administration can and should also take on its own, without requiring further action from Congress, to assist farmers and ranchers meet the challenge represented by climate change, including calls to:

  • Recognize and establish the organic method as a major strategy for carbon sequestration, greenhouse gas mitigation, and building resilience to the impacts of climate change.
  • Increase USDA research investment into organic agriculture to become at least commensurate with the organic food market share, currently about 6% of total food sales in the US.
  • Continue to build the capacity of NRCS to support the conservation and climate-mitigation efforts of organic producers.
  • Restore Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) Enhancements that specifically address the needs of organic and transitioning-organic farmers and ranchers.
  • Ensure racial equity in implementation and delivery of new USDA initiatives related to Climate Smart Agriculture and Forestry, and in all existing research, conservation, crop insurance, and other USDA programs.

The “fair share” research investment point dovetails with OFRF’s advocacy with the Administrator and National Program Leaders of USDA’s Agricultural Research Service to ramp up their investments in organic research, moving from current less than one percent levels to six or more percent over the course of the next four years. OFRF has also encouraged Congress to not only appropriate $20 million for ARS organic-specific research in Fiscal Year 2022, but to also direct the agency to develop a five-year strategic plan for organic research and to assign national program leaders as part of that plan.

President Biden submitted his own budget requests to Congress on May 28. Despite asking Congress for the biggest increase in USDA funding in decades – a nearly $4 billion or 17 percent jump, the budget request from the White House included only level funding for the National Institute for Food and Agriculture’s Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative and the Organic Transitions Program and no specific reference to organic research at the Agricultural Research Service. The White House proposal did however include an $8 million increase in NIFA’s “IR-4” program to support pest management for specialty crops, citing the need for additional organic and biopesticides as one rationale among several for the proposed near 70 percent increase. 

The Biden proposal also calls on Congress to jump up the funding for the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program from $40 million to $60 million and for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) from $435 million to $700 million. Organic research proposals have been funded by both programs, particularly the SARE program, in the past.

In addition to those specific competitive grant programs, perhaps the most notable element of the proposed budget requests related directly to climate change. The request asks for increased funding for ARS including $99 million for clean energy, $92 million for climate science, and $95 million to work with the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Climate (ARPA-C). The request also would include an additional $17 million for the NIFA to accelerate development of climate smart and carbon neutral agriculture through transdisciplinary systems level approaches to sequester carbon and use clean energy to achieve net-zero emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050. None of these proposals includes any specific reference to organic, though most of them could potentially fund organic-relevant research.

Of course, the President proposes but the Congress disposes, so now attention turns to the congressional appropriations subcommittees who will begin marking up their FY 2022 government spending bills shortly. OFRF will continue to press for more adequate levels of organic-specific research dollars with the agricultural appropriators.

Beyond the Administration’s budget requests to Congress, great attention and speculation is also focused on how USDA plans to move to align USDA programs and regulations with President Biden’s climate agenda. While the 2,700+ public comments are being reviewed, the Department has also begun to take action, most notably with respect to the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), the largest USDA conservation program by dollars, and to cover cropping incentives within the federal crop insurance program. 

In April, the Farm Service Agency announced the re-institution of CRP incentive payments for targeted enrollments of water quality-focused conservation buffers as well as the creation of a new climate-smart practice incentive that will base payment rates on projected climate benefits of particular cover practices.

While this is good news, the Farm Service Agency (FSA) has not yet announced the re-establishment of the Organic Field Border Buffer Initiative, originally created in the final year of the Obama Administration to provide cost-share and land rental payments to organic farmers for installation of field border buffers through the Continuous Conservation Reserve Program (CCRP). This will hopefully be restarted soon.

On June 1, USDA’s Risk Management Agency announced a new, nationwide Pandemic Cover Crop Program that will provide a $5 an acre crop insurance premium discount for any farmer, including organic farmers, who have a crop insurance policy for 2021 and planted cover crops during the 2021 crop year. The funding is being drawn from the American Rescue Plan Act funds. 

While a retroactive payment will not spur new cover crop adoption, if the program is repeated and becomes permanent, it could help increase adoption over time. With cover cropping part and parcel of most organic systems, this could also help organic farmers through lower premiums. Unfortunately, for 2021, Whole Farm Revenue Protection insurance — a good insurance option for diversified organic farmers — is being excluded from the new premium discount opportunity, a misguided oversight that will hopefully be corrected if the program is continued in future years.

Expectations run high that additional climate and agriculture related actions will follow these two initial announcements. OFRF will be watching and using every opportunity to ensure that organic farming is included as a key part of climate solutions. For OFRF’s administrative agenda, perhaps no USDA appointments matter more than those for the Under Secretary for Research, Education, and Economics and the USDA Organic Coordinator. After four months in office, there is still no word from the White House or the Secretary’s office about who will be named to fill these two important positions. But rest assured, once they are named, OFRF will be lining up meetings to share its wealth of knowledge and recommendations for advancing organic research!

Thanks to our climate partner, Clif Family Foundation for their support of our work!

By |2021-06-14T18:09:27+00:00June 3rd, 2021|News|

Why a High School Student Loves Organic Farming

It’s not every day that you meet a high school student from Texas who is as passionate about organic farming as Andrew James. We had the privilege to talk with Andrew recently about why he cares so deeply about growing food in a way that supports a resilient food system and why he believes research is a critical part of the puzzle. 

Andrew’s story may be unique because of his age, but his message is universal. We ALL need to be part of building solutions that foster healthy ecosystems and people. With your support, we can greatly increase our impact and provide the necessary resources to help folks like Andrew be even more successful in their pursuits.

Read his story below.


For me, it all started with a peach.

Five years ago, my dad, with good intentions, planted two peach trees and two pear trees in the hard clay soil of our backyard in a town north of Dallas, Texas. He did not do anything to care for them besides a little mulch. He also did not fertilize or apply herbicides; in a way, he planted them and let nature take over. They struggled. But they survived. 

Two years later, one of the peach trees grew a few fruits. They were not pretty, but it was the most delicious fruit I have ever tasted. As I savored the fruit, I looked at the one-foot-wide strip of dead Earth inside our fence line where the concoction of synthetic fertilizers and herbicides applied by our neighbor spilled into our yard. The stark contrast of our yards helped me realize that their search of a green Bermuda lawn from May until September comes at a heavy cost.

Non-organic farming and agriculture is the epitome of short sightedness. Short term monoculture must be propped up by unnatural and harmful means. Nature does the hard work. Nature performs the most complex and interwoven magic on the land. We just need to provide the ingredients and conditions to allow her to do so.

After that revelatory moment, I studied soil health and microbes, polyculture, organic farming, and permaculture designs. I designed and implemented my own experiments at the one-third acre of land in our backyard. Over the past three years, our backyard has become a year-long green haven of diversity. Our once clay soil now supports a polyculture of clover, vetch, daikon, and buckwheat understory. Over seventy-five fruit trees and nitrogen fixing bushes provide ample flower opportunities for the local bees. In a word, in just three years, we have dramatically increased the tilth of the land by providing the right ingredients to nature. We did not always get it right, but we learned with each step.

This activity inspired my friends at my public school as well. Last year, our teachers and administrators were so interested that they donated 1 acre of school land for use in our polyculture organic orchard. We have several faculty advisors involved in the project as well.

I love how OFRF supports people like me. Organic farming does not mean we let nature take over and do everything. To me, it means working with and understanding the land, its plants, microbial life, and animals for solutions to help nature work even better. We do this most effectively when we make informed decisions and perform research. The result is sustainable agriculture that is full of nutrients and taste and devoid of chemicals that harm our bodies and environment. It is a way of life that fosters rather than destroys the delicate balance of life on our planet.

As a high school Junior, I am excited to attend a University that offers an agricultural program so that I can learn even more about the complexities of organic agriculture. After all, life on our precious planet depends on a sustainable and wholesome interaction. 

Andrew James, 17 years old
Dallas, Texas 

By |2021-06-14T20:07:44+00:00May 24th, 2021|News|
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