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|

FFAR and OFRF Renew Partnership to Improve Soil Health Research

NEWS FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact(s): Brise Tencer, 831.426.6606, brise@ofrf.org
Colleen Klemczewski, 574.386.0658, cklemczewski@foundationfar.org

 

SANTA CRUZ (May 19, 2021) – The Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) and the Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR) are thrilled to announce the continuation of their partnership to fund on-farm research advancing the climate benefits of organic agriculture systems. Priorities will focus specifically on the potential of organic agriculture to sequester carbon, mitigate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, reduce the environmental impacts of fertilizers and pesticides, and build resilience to a changing climate. Following an initial collaboration in 2019, this partnership has been renewed with a $66,000 grant from FFAR to support OFRF’s 2021/2022 organic research grant cycle. OFRF is providing matching funds to ensure a total investment of at least $120,000 this grant cycle.

The partnership between OFRF and FFAR has been instrumental in providing research that enables organic producers, and others wishing to farm more sustainably, to implement practices that optimize management of nutrient, weed, pest and disease while improving soil health. Five of the thirteen research grants OFRF funded in the 2019/2020 grant cycle focused on soil health and were a direct result of the previous FFAR grant.

“Organic systems that emphasize soil health help farmers and ranchers increase resilience to the impacts of climate change,” said OFRF’s Executive Director Brise Tencer. “There is also extensive research demonstrating the potential of organic systems to reduce agriculture’s contribution to climate change. FFAR’s ongoing investment in farmer/researcher collaborations will support science-based solutions addressing the most pressing challenges facing organic farmers and ranchers today.”

“We are thrilled to continue our partnership with OFRF to fund research that can improve soil health, mitigate the effects of climate change, and support thriving farms,” said FFAR’s Executive Director Dr. Sally Rockey. “Soil is the foundation for a productive agricultural system. Investing in cutting-edge research and technologies today with partners such as OFRF will ensure the soil health is optimal for generating nutritious food for the future.”

OFRF’s grants program is open to all applicants in Canada, Mexico and the United States. Proposals must involve farmers or ranchers in project design, and implementation must take place on certified organic land. All research projects require strong education and outreach components and must lead to measurable outcomes. OFRF will request Letters of Intent (LOIs) for its 2021 grant cycle this summer. Interested parties are encouraged to sign up for OFRF’s newsletter to be notified when the request for LOIs will be released.

To date, OFRF has invested over $3 million in 355 grants across North America. OFRF grant funding has advanced scientific knowledge and improved the ecological sustainability and economic prosperity of organic farming systems. OFRF’s research, education, and outreach efforts have provided thousands of farmers with pertinent, free information and training.

###

Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research

The Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR) builds public-private partnerships to fund bold research addressing big food and agriculture challenges. FFAR was established in the 2014 Farm Bill to increase public agriculture research investments, fill knowledge gaps and complement USDA’s research agenda. FFAR’s model matches federal funding from Congress with private funding, delivering a powerful return on taxpayer investment. Through collaboration and partnerships, FFAR advances actionable science benefiting farmers, consumers and the environment.

Connect: @FoundationFAR | @RockTalking

Organic Farming Research Foundation

The Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) is a non-profit foundation that 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. Project results are shared freely at ofrf.org. OFRF also provides free access to all of its educational materials and resources.

Connect: @OFRF

 

 

By |2021-06-14T20:10:38+00:00May 18th, 2021|News, Press Release|

The Agriculture Resilience Act – Good for the Climate, Good for Organic

By Ferd Hoefner, OFRF’s policy advisor

By improving soil health and increasing soil organic matter, farmers and ranchers draw down atmospheric carbon levels while simultaneously making their farms more resilient to climatic and other future shocks. Farmers and scientists throughout the world recognize agriculture as a critical partner in mobilizing around climate change, and organic agriculture, with its central focus on improving the soil, can help lead the way! 

That is the premise of a bill recently re-introduced in Congress to serve as a blueprint for the needed policy changes to help U.S. agriculture reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040. The Organic Farming Research Foundation was one of scores of groups endorsing the introduction of the Agriculture Resilience Act of 2021 (ARA) when the bill was introduced in April by Representative Chellie Pingree (D-ME), herself an organic farmer, and Senator Martin Heinrich (D-NM).  

The House bill (H.R. 2803) currently has 20 sponsors, including Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-VA), the chair of the Conservation Subcommittee of the House Agriculture Committee, while the Senate bill (S. 1337) currently has 4 sponsors, including former presidential primary contenders Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Cory Booker (D-NJ).

OFRF not only contributed to the ARA, but also recently submitted comments to the U.S. Department of Agriculture making recommendations for steps the Administration can and should also take on its own, without requiring further action from Congress. These efforts will assist farmers and ranchers to meet the challenge represented by climate change, focusing on the policy needs of organic farmers.

The ARA

The ARA is a farmer-focused, research-driven path to net zero agriculture. The legislation establishes ambitious yet achievable goals for the agriculture sector to reach net zero by 2040. The bill improves and expands upon many existing programs while creating a few new grant programs to support its six programmatic building blocks: 

  • Increasing investments in agricultural research
  • Improving soil health
  • Supporting the transition to pasture-based livestock
  • Ensuring farmland preservation and viability
  • Promoting on-farm renewable energy 
  • Reducing food waste

Congress will soon be considering and voting on a massive infrastructure, climate, and jobs bill based on the American Jobs Plan proposed by President Biden. The ARA sponsors are proposing that key elements from their bill form the backbone of the agricultural portion of the several trillion-dollar bill that will cover energy, transportation, housing, agriculture and other climate-related sectors of the government and economy.

OFRF readers and supporters can help push for a central role for agriculture, including organics, in the upcoming debate over the infrastructure and climate package by encouraging their Senators and their Member of Congress to become an ARA co-sponsor. The more co-sponsors, the more attention the bill will receive as Congress begins to act on the President’s proposal!

Organic-specific Parts of ARA

The ARA includes several organic-specific provisions, such as an expanded Organic Initiative within the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and a retooling of the Organic Certification Cost-Share Program, as well as a wide variety of programs and initiatives that will aid organic farmers. Here is a partial rundown.

Farm Conservation Expansion – The bill would create new conservation initiatives, such as a block grant program to aid state soil health programs and a long-term working grasslands/managed grazing program within the Conservation Reserve Program. It would also greatly increase funding for the Conservation Stewardship Program, Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), and Agricultural Conservation Easement Program.  

Within CSP, it would build on the organic farming provisions added by the 2018 farm bill by requiring payments for conservation enhancements specific to organic farming and organic transition. Within EQIP, it would eliminate the lower payment cap currently in place for organic farms versus conventional operations. It would also double the funding available for on-farm soil health trials and demonstrations.  

Across all conservation programs, it would increase funding for conservation technical assistance, increase set-asides for beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers, and mandate a review of payment schedules to accelerate progress on reaching net zero goals by 2040.

Organic Certification Cost Share – The ARA proposes to lift the maximum cost-share amount per scope from $750 to $1,000 a year. It would also make the program an entitlement, meaning that the program would meet 100 percent of demand each year, rather than being capped by a specific dollar amount. The current cap forced USDA last year to reduce maximum payments to $500 per scope due to farmer demand outstripping available funding.

Pastured Livestock and Poultry – The legislation encourages sustainable, grazing based livestock production through designated funding for grazing land management, a new animal raising claims regime at USDA, to establish strong enforceable standards. It would also establish a small processor grant program to enable the growth of small and very small slaughter and processing facilities to better service organic, grassfed, pasture-raised and other alternative agricultural farming and ranching operations. 

Agricultural Research – In addition to the specific organic research programs at USDA, a variety of other programs also help service the organic sector. The ARA would provide a major boost in funding for the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program at the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), enabling SARE to begin an agriculture and food system resilience grant program. It would also provide a major boost to the Agricultural Research Service’s (ARS) Long-term Agroecological Research (LTAR) Network, which currently includes long-term comparative organic farming trials, trials that could then be expanded to all regions of the country. The bill would also require both NIFA and ARS to fund at least $50 million worth of public breeding research each year, with a focus on delivery of resource-efficient, stress-tolerant, regionally adapted livestock breeds and crop cultivars, including organic varieties, that help build resilience to climate change and support carbon sequestration.

Those are just a few of the advances included in the ARA. For more information, see Rep. Pingree’s net zero agriculture website and this section by section summary of the bill. To see what you can do to help, visit this action page by our partners, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC).

By |2021-06-14T20:10:57+00:00May 10th, 2021|News|

OFRF Co-sponsors NOC’s Pre NOSB Meeting

May 7, 2021—On April 15, OFRF co-sponsored the National Organic Coalition’s (NOC) Pre National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) Spring meeting. This half day event gathered over 200 organic advocates, farmers, researchers, and brands to discuss some of the most pressing issues in organic agriculture. The event was held virtually, allowing people from across the country to attend and participate. 

OFRF hosted Breakout Session A: Can Organic Farming Help Solve the Climate Crisis? where our renowned Research Program Associate, Mark Schonbeck and OFRF’s new Education and Research Manager, Thelma Velez, discussed the ways science demonstrates that organic farming systems can help sequester carbon, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and build resilience to future inclement weather events. 

Along with breakout groups on a wide variety of topics, the event included detailed federal policy updates from NOC’s Steve Etka. He discussed organic cost-share, NOP rules that need to be finalized, racial equity, and potential ways that carbon markets can be used as greenwashing. We also heard from Christie Badger about the topics to be discussed at the NOSB’s meeting (held April 28-30). The event closed with a farmer panel discussion.  

If you couldn’t make it to the meeting, you can find the recording, presentation slides, and notes for all of the breakout groups, including OFRF’s in this link.

By |2021-06-14T20:11:03+00:00May 7th, 2021|News|

Investing in the future, together

Friends,

You have likely observed the disastrous effects of climate change around you: irregular rainfall patterns, rising sea levels, disappearance of pollinators and native plant habitats, coupled with appearance of invasive species, pests and diseases. That is why in 2005, I decided to devote a significant part of my research portfolio to organic farming. We have a moral obligation and responsibility to play a role, no matter how small, in addressing the ways climate change threatens our everyday life. 

Will you join me in supporting organic farming systems by donating to OFRF? Plus, you can double your impact as your donation will be matched dollar for dollar for the next month. 

I committed myself to investing in organic and the future of agriculture to fight climate change for future generations, train the next cohorts of researchers and farmers in organic farming practices, and invest in science that will help support sustainable food systems. The Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) works to ensure all farmers have the research they need and that is why I have chosen to support OFRF by serving as a board member.

As an educator, scientist, and researcher at Tuskegee University, I have dedicated my career to training students, researchers, and farmers in organic farming systems. Through my efforts and those of millions of scientists in the world, we conduct research to discover new ways to reduce or eliminate the effects of climate change. By adopting agricultural practices that sequester carbon into soil, we can lower greenhouse gas emissions.

I hope you will invest in future generations and support OFRF

Your support is crucial in addressing the climate crisis and we cannot do it alone. Your donation will have a major impact on improving production practices and supporting farmers with research, education, and advocacy. Please consider donating to OFRF to meet the challenge of our time. 

With warm regards,

Kokoasse Kpomblekou-A, PhD
Research Professor of Plant and Soil Science
Department of Agricultural & Environmental Sciences (DAES)
Tuskegee University

(Photos: Berson J. Valcin, one of Kokoasse’s student’s, takes a selfie with other students and Kokoasse while conducting field research; Kokoasse and colleagues in a sweet potato field)

By |2021-06-03T21:52:13+00:00April 22nd, 2021|News|

OFRF at Expo West – Save The Date and Register!

April 7, 2021 – OFRF will be celebrating our annual Expo West luncheon virtually this year on May 11th with New Hope Network! While we’re sad we can’t be together in person as we have for nearly 25 years for this annual event, we’re excited to “see” everyone virtually! Whether you’ve attended the luncheon every year or never been, we hope you will start your day with us at 8am PST on May 11th.

It’s free to join and all you need to do is register for the Natural Products Expo Virtual event. We will feature OFRF’s beloved luncheon head chef, Chris Blobaum and OFRF-funded researcher, Dr. Jed Eberly to explore growing and cooking lentils (yes lentils!), soil health, and climate change.

If you have already registered for Natural Products Expo Virtual, click here to RSVP for OFRF’s event on May 11th. Not yet registered for Natural Products Expo Virtual? Click here to register for our free event.

By |2021-04-22T20:39:51+00:00April 8th, 2021|News|

Check Out OFRF’s 2020 Annual Report!

OFRF 2020 Annual ReportApril 7, 2021 – Last year presented us with a host of new challenges but thanks to strong partnerships, continued support, and a team that kept our work moving forward, OFRF had a strong year with major accomplishments across research, education, and advocacy. We couldn’t have done it without you. Take a peek at our brand new 2020 annual report to learn more!

View OFRF’s 2020 annual report

 

By |2021-05-18T20:02:32+00:00April 7th, 2021|News|

Building Soil Health in the South: OFRF’s New Guidebook Explores Latest Research

March 30, 2021 – Healthy, living soils provide the foundation for successful and profitable organic farming and ranching. In the South, organic producers face intense pressure from weeds, insect pests, parasitic nematodes, and plant-pathogens; summer heat extremes, drought, and flood; and soil types with inherent fertility limitations. In addition, long growing seasons can make it harder to rebuild soil organic matter, especially during intensive crop production.

In OFRF’s 2015 nationwide survey of organic producers, 79% of respondents from the South cited soil health as a high research priority, somewhat higher than the national average of 74% (Jerkins and Ory, 2016). Many respondents expressed a need for practical information on how to build soil health in hot climates that burn up soil organic matter (SOM) and promote aggressive weed growth. The goal of this new guidebook is to help the region’s current and aspiring organic producers develop effective, site-specific soil health management strategies that support successful, resilient enterprises.

Building Healthy Living Soils for Successful Organic Farming in the Southern Region explores how to apply organic soil health principles to the region’s soils through a series of practical steps and strategies, illustrated by innovative farmer stories and brief descriptions of underlying scientific concepts. The guidebook also includes a list of resources for additional reading, a description of the inherent properties of soil types commonly found in the South, and a summary of the latest soil health research being conducted in this region.

This latest guidebook builds on OFRF’s popular series of guidebooks and webinars focused on organic farming and soil health. The entire series is available to download for free.

 

By |2021-06-17T18:37:26+00:00March 30th, 2021|News|

Fresh From the Fields: Farmwella

March 5, 2021 – Cornelius Adewale founded Farmwella to help reduce poverty in his native Africa by empowering and supporting the next generation of farmers. The organization is based on an investment model that matches sponsors with farmers to make sustainable farming attractive and profitable. Investors provide financing for farmers to implement sustainable agricultural practices and get profits in return. Farmers receive access to all the support services they need to implement sustainable agricultural practices.

Cornelius got the seed for the idea when he started his own small organic farm in Nigeria after receiving his undergraduate degree in Agricultural Economics at Obafemi Awolowo University. He grew vegetables that Nigerians eat every day, such as okra, amaranth, tomatoes, and peppers. Within six months he was farming about one acre, and within two years he had five acres of land. So, he knew that education made success possible and he was troubled by the fact that his neighbors were living in poverty because they did not have the same knowledge.

“I would see farmers growing the same crop over and over, things like cassava and corn that their grandparents grew,” Cornelius explains. “But that is not necessarily the most profitable crops they could be growing.” He also saw that knowledge on sustainable farming practices such as building soil health was not getting to farmers. “There is no understanding of farming as a business and it is difficult to improve what you don’t know. Farmers don’t see university research as a resource and the institutions don’t see their job as improving the life of farmers.”

That’s when he started thinking about ways to extend his knowledge to help struggling farmers become both ecologically and economically sustainable. The first step was to continue his own education. He was accepted to the masters program at Washington State University. With mentor Lynne Carpenter-Boggs and others, Cornelius developed OFoot, an Internet-based tool to help organic farmers mitigate the environmental impacts of their farms and estimate the impacts of organic farming methods on soil organic matter and greenhouse gases over time.

April Jones Thatcher of April Joy Farm jumped at the opportunity to participate in the project. Located near Ridgefield, Washington, her 24-acre diversified farm is 100% certified organic. Working with Cornelius and the team at WSU, April was able to accurately measure the carbon footprint of her farm and create a science-based plan for reducing that footprint and building soil health.

“Keeping good data is fundamental,” says April. “Research is a risk reduction strategy for farmers. I can’t possibly do all the replications on my farm or take the risk.” Armed with the information she got from OFoot, April learned how to adapt her management decisions for equipment and tillage, and leverage her limited resources to get the most bang for her buck.

Cornelius went on to earn his PhD in Natural Resources and Environmental Science at WSU. Around that time, he received a $100,000 grant from the Bullitt Foundation to start what metamorphosed into Farmwella. The program matches a farmer with a sponsor who provides the financial resources to lease land and build the farm infrastructure. Farmwella oversees the implementation, monitoring the farmer’s progress daily through the app and video conferencing. “We give farmers everything they need,” says Cornelius. “All they need to bring is their hard work and integrity.”

The concept is aimed at unleashing the value of the land so that it becomes an investable asset. “It’s an investment in people but the sponsors make back their money,” explains Cornelius. “It’s more sustainable than relying on a donation model.”

April comments on the community-building aspect of the program. “These farms create community among neighbors and provide a place to learn and share. When others can see the success, it makes the research and science tangible in ways it wasn’t before.”

“Working with Cornelius is an incredible example of how innovation supported by data-driven decision-making is a win-win,” April adds. “When farmers and researchers form strong partnerships, the impact ripples beyond a single project. All these years after that first OFoot project, we continue to support and inform each other’s work. He inspires me and I encourage him. Ours is a partnership of mutual reciprocity. It’s how we are working to move the organic farming community and widespread adoption of organic farming practices forward.”

In closing, Cornelius says it’s important to not see farming as a competition with others but rather a competition with yourself—with sustainability at the core. “You have to see it not as a destination but as a journey and how you can improve over time. I’ve never met a farmer who said I don’t want my farm to be sustainable—for our children and future generations. The question is, are we directing that energy on the right path?”

Check out April’s “5 Great Reasons to Create a Soil Health Map for Your Diversified Farm”.

By |2021-03-05T19:57:45+00:00March 5th, 2021|Farmer Stories, News|
Load More Posts