Catching up on the Farm Bill in Gordon’s Policy Corner

As you might have noticed, this Congress has already made some history, taking 15 ballots to elect Kevin McCarthy speaker of the House.  As that dust settles, the rules of the House have been agreed upon, and committee membership gets finalized, we at OFRF and our partners are getting a clearer picture of the Farm Bill landscape.  One thing remains abundantly clear, that agricultural research continues to be a bright spot for bipartisan legislation, and we are excited to leverage that fact this Farm Bill cycle.

If you missed it, we published a piece in the Organic Farmer Association’s Organic Voice, “Stepping Up To The Organic Research Challenge: The 2023 Farm Bill Must Grow Investments to Meet Growing Demand.”  In it, we lay out our three priorities for organic research for the 2023 Farm Bill. First, increase the organic research funding at the Agricultural Research Service to represent its market share, producing environmentally and economically sound management systems for all producers. Second, continue to support and develop the investments the National Institute for Food and Agriculture has been making in organic agriculture research. Lastly, fully fund and expand the Organic Market and Data Initiative.

By |2023-01-15T15:47:07+00:00January 13th, 2023|Gordon's Policy Corner, News|

Farmers on the Frontlines: Climate Change and the Farm Bill

2023 Farm Bill Presents Opportunities for Farmers and Ranchers on the Frontlines of Climate Change

Farmers and ranchers, the people who produce our food, are often on the frontlines of challenges facing our society. Among the most pressing of those issues is the changing climate and an industrial food system that prioritizes profits over the health and wellbeing of people and the planet. Combined with the unprecedented loss of biodiversity, these three issues have even been called a triple threat to humanity.

Image from Frontiers article “Narrow and Brittle or Broad and Nimble? Comparing Adaptive Capacity in Simplifying and Diversifying Farming Systems”

These challenges are interrelated. The current standard methods of conventional food production are an outgrowth of the technological and chemical advancements of the mid 20th century, which resulted in a rapid increase in the ability to export calories in the form of commodity crops, such as corn and soy. This production depends on the ubiquitous use of cheap agri-chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and continued expansion of farmer-debt (as discussed in this article and this article) to increase scale and maintain technological relevancy. This ‘get big or get out’, petroleum-dependent production system decreases biodiversity and weakens the landscape’s capacity to be resilient and adapt to our changing climate. It also makes our food system vulnerable to even slight shifts in things like crop production or labor availability. 

Farmers often keenly feel the challenges presented by warmer temperatures, increased flooding, and other extreme weather events. Caroline Baptist is the owner of the River Valley Country Club, a small farm in Washington state. “Farming on a floodplain and a floodway can be a challenge, and changes in climate over the years have only exacerbated this issue,” Baptist says. “The property owner from whom I lease land remembers experiencing 1-2 major floods a year when he first began farming in the area in 1993. More recently, we’ve seen these numbers double and triple.” Describing a recent flooding event Baptist says, “Some areas of the farm were under water by 15 feet and accessible only by canoe. This flood and every flood since is a sobering experience, illustrating clearly that the climate crisis is real, and it affects farmers firsthand.”

Past farm policies that favored the ‘get big or get out’ model led to increases in monocultures. The resulting abundance of commodity crops in the food system correlates with increases in processed foods, and associated adverse health effects in low-income and systemically underserved communities (more on that here).  

SCF Organics brings fresh produce to people experiencing food deserts.

Shaheed Harris is the farm manager at Sumpter Cooperative Farms (SCF) in South Carolina. Among many other endeavors, SCF runs the Midlands Organic Mobile Markets, which are a suite of vans that directly distribute locally grown organic foods to the food deserts in the Midlands region of South Carolina. This project aims to address the need for equitable food access in communities in nearby metro areas with limited access to healthy foods. “Those places are areas … where they don’t have a grocery store,” Harris explains. “A lot of people don’t have vehicles to drive and they’re basically living on the nearest equivalent of a gas station. So they’re eating out of a gas station and getting chips and all types of processed foods that don’t really have a lot of nutrition.” Through the Midlands program, Harris says SCF aims to serve the people in these areas who would not otherwise have access to fresh healthy foods.

The farm bill is a package of legislation, updated once every five years, that sets the stage for our food and farming systems. The current farm bill expires in October of 2023, and a new suite of legislation will be developed and put into action. This farm bill cycle is a ripe opportunity to make solid advances towards a just transition to a new type of production that both mitigates and adapts to our changing climate, supports the health of the land and the people producing our food, and can help prevent food insecurity by increasing the amount of organic, nutritious food on American’s dinner plates.

Because of their place on the front lines of these challenges, farmers and ranchers represent a vibrant space of innovation and creativity to meet them. Our farmers and ranchers answering these challenges should be sources of inspiration on policy tools and instruments for the 2023 farm bill. 

Clover cover crop, to be tilled back into the soil.

Jesse Buie is the president of Ole Brook Organics in Mississippi. One of the main environmental factors that Buie deals with is a lot of rain which can cause leaching of nutrients from the soil. To combat this he focuses on building healthy soil by making sure that he is constantly adding organic matter. At Ole Brook Organics they do this primarily by incorporating all the plant matter back into the soil. Any grasses or crop residue left after a crop is harvested are chopped up and tilled back into the fields, forming a closed-loop of nutrient cycling.

At SCF Harris is dealing with the opposite environmental concern: too little water. They have addressed this challenge by implementing Dry Farming practices that he learned from his family’s farming heritage. This style of farming, which combines unirrigated crop production with shallow cultivation offers a promising alternative in times of uncertain water resources. 

Building resilience to economic disruptions has led some farmers to increase their use of local inputs, processors, and distributors, avoiding or lessening the impacts of supply chain disruptions in global markets. And as an added benefit this localization increases the access to nutritious, culturally appropriate, and tasty food that can connect communities. 

Rotational grazing can be a tool for healthy pasture management.

Dayna Burtness is a farmer at Nettle Valley Farm in Spring Grove, Minnesota, raising pastured pigs. “We’ve been able to build community while building land resiliency,” she explains. “We’re able to work with nearby farmers and fruit growers to take non-marketable produce and turn it into delicious pork, which is benefiting everyone! It reduces the amount of food waste and helps other farmers put what they grow to good use. We are working hard to help create a different type of food system, we just wish there was more public support to really kick this change into overdrive.”

Federal research, conservation, and market development programs created and funded in the Farm Bill make all of these things possible, but expanded support is necessary to continue to support farmers and create a healthier future for people and the planet. If you want to get involved in advocating for a better food system, Ariana Taylor-Stanley (ariana@sustainableagriculture.net) at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition or Gordon Merrick (gordon@ofrf.org) at the Organic Farming Research Foundation!

. . . 

Links for further reading:

Narrow and Brittle or Broad and Nimble? Comparing Adaptive Capacity in Simplifying and Diversifying Farming Systems, Frontiers

Green Revolution: History, Impact and Future, by H.K. Jain, available through most book suppliers

Chicken farmers say processors treat them like servants, AP News 

Farmers and animal rights activists are coming together to fight big factory farms, Vox 

2021 Tied for 6th Warmest Year in Continued Trend, NASA Analysis Shows, NASA 

The 2010s Were the Hottest Decade on Record. What Happens Next?, Smithsonian Magazine 

Americans are eating more ultra-processed foods, Science Daily

Ultra-processed foods and adverse health outcomes, The BMJ

Examining the Impact of Structural Racism on Food Insecurity: Implications for Addressing Racial/Ethnic Disparities, National Library of Medicine

Black, Indigenous, and People of Color Community at Disproportionate Risk from Pesticides, Study Finds, Beyond Pesticides

Equitable Access to Organic Foods: Why it matters, Bread for the World

What is the Farm Bill, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition

Hunger and Food Insecurity, Feeding America

By |2023-01-15T15:48:48+00:00January 9th, 2023|Gordon's Policy Corner, News|

OFRF and FFAR Fund Research on Increasing the Productivity and Market Value of Pulse Crops for Arid Organic Conditions

(SANTA CRUZ, CALIF. – December 23, 2022) – The Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) and the Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR) are pleased to announce its sixth award for the 2021/22 OFRF organic research grant cycle. Dr. Travis Parker of University of California – Davis was awarded $19,970.00 to research dependable pulse crops for arid regions that promote the ecological and financial sustainability of organic farms.

Legume crops provide plentiful plant protein and have several agronomic advantages for organic farmers, including the ability to fix atmospheric nitrogen. Certain legume species and varieties provide further advantages, including extreme heat tolerance, low water requirements, and high market value. Despite this, little is known about their yields in organically-managed arid environments, and little breeding has been done to improve their agronomic performance.

This research will screen diverse cowpeas and tepary beans to identify varieties that can outcompete standard commercial pulses, and evaluate and select varieties of common bean specifically for organic environments. Researchers will also use novel sequencing and molecular biology techniques to identify the genes governing the most valuable heirloom common bean seed color patterns.

By evaluating specific pulse varieties, researchers hope to find varieties with higher yields, while conducting genetic investigation that will facilitate genetics-informed breeding of high-value, high-productivity beans. A greater understanding of these traits will help lead to more widespread adoption of pulse crops for more dependable and resilient organic rotations in arid regions.

This year’s research grant program prioritized farmers, early career researchers, and BIPOC applicants. The six projects chosen focus on climate mitigation and building on-farm resilience and have been awarded a grand total of $119,817 in funding. The 2021/22 cycle was made possible by a $66,000.00 grant from FFAR and matching funds from OFRF and its research partners.

To date, OFRF has invested over $3 million in 361 grants across North America to advance scientific knowledge and improve the ecological sustainability and economic prosperity of organic farming systems. All OFRF-funded research must involve farmers or ranchers in project design and implementation, take place on certified organic land, and include strong education and outreach components. All research results are freely available in OFRF’s online database.

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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.
https://foundationfar.org/

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.
http://ofrf.org

By |2022-12-19T20:03:22+00:00December 21st, 2022|Press Release|

Latino Farmer Conference & New Spanish-language course

OFRF Attends Latino Farmer Conference and Announces Spanish-language Soil Health Course – Coming Summer 2023!

The National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) and USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) partnered to host the 8th annual Latino Farmer Conference on November 17th and 18th at the California Center for the Arts in Escondido. This was a two day conference meant to bring together sustainable agriculture professionals for a special all Spanish-language event.

While at the conference, OFRF’s Deputy Director, Dominica Navarro, was able to witness first-hand the unique networking and learning opportunities presented for Latino farmers, as well as spread the word about a new Spanish-language Soil Health Course OFRF will be releasing in Summer 2023. 

The conference was a much needed opportunity for Latino farmers and other service providers to convene. “With such strong Latino/a/x representation in agriculture, this conference was a wonderful opportunity to meet other Latino/a’s doing similar work and with like values,” said Dominica. “As a Latina in agriculture myself, I would love to see more opportunities like this for historically underserved farmers everywhere.”  Topics covered at the conference included: sustainable farming practices, technical assistance, business management, health and wellness, land access and even included a session on how to transition to organic!  

OFRF Spanish-language Soil Health Course

In OFRF’s free online Spanish-language course, coming Summer 2023, we delve into the world of soil and explain how you can promote soil health as part of a healthy ecosystem for humans, plants and other organisms that live within the soil. We discuss the basics of soil health, practices like nutrient management, cover cropping, crop rotation, and also provide tools to help you decide which management practices are best for you and your farm. Our goal is to provide up-to-date science, as well as culturally relevant information for farmers from diverse backgrounds. This course is being developed with the help of partners at UC Davis’s Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education Program (UC SAREP), the Agriculture and Land-based Training Association (ALBA), and the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT). 

Are you a Spanish-speaking farmer in California? Would you like to help us review the course? If so, please contact Research & Education Director, Thelma Velez at thelma@ofrf.org

By |2022-12-13T18:54:08+00:00December 13th, 2022|News|

Senate Farm Bill Hearing on Ag Research Programs Features Former OFRF Board President Steve Ela

The Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry held a hearing on the “Farm Bill 2023: Research Programs” on December 6th. The only farmer testifying was Steve Ela, a fourth-generation farmer who has been farming organically for nearly thirty years at Ela Family Farms, his family’s farm in Hotchkiss, Colorado. As well as his farming experience, Ela also served on the National Organic Standards Board as Board Chair, as well as the Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) Board as Board President. As one of five panelists invited to share their expertise, Ela spoke to the importance of organic systems research and extension programs to all farmers.

“It is significant that an organic producer was invited to testify and share their experiences with research and extension programs before the Senate Committee that writes the Farm Bill.  Steve made a compelling case for the need for more public investment in organic agricultural research,” said Brise Tencer, Executive Director of OFRF. She continued, “Steve has had the experience of both a participant and a consumer of organic research, and it is crucial that we hear more from farmers like him that depend on these research programs.”

To begin the hearing, Research, Education, and Economics (REE) Undersecretary for the USDA Dr. Chavonda Jacobs-Young provided a general overview of REE programs and stressed the importance of meaningful investment into these programs.  Dr. Jacobs-Young provided three main calls to action for the Committee: 1) increase investment into public research programs; 2) invest in the revitalization of our nation’s agriculture research infrastructure; and 3) expand the tracks of research available to young and beginning researchers from diverse backgrounds.

Former OFRF Board President, Steve Ela of Ela Family Farms in the apple orchard

In his testimony, Ela highlighted how USDA funded organic research programs help all farmers, not just those certified organic, giving examples such as codling moth management through pheromone disruption, or the use of cover crops for pest and weed control. Ela also discussed how complex organic agricultural management can be, and why that’s so important to both its resilience and the importance of organic research: “The longer I farm, the more I realize how complex the ecosystem is that I am working with. It is imperative that rather than heavily investing into basic, single issue agricultural research, like specific chemicals or gene transfers, we embrace systems management and action-oriented research that not only enhances our understanding of complex ecosystems but helps farmers work with rather than against natural systems.”

To make sure that this type of research is continued to be supported, and expanded, at the USDA, Ela’s testimony called on Congress to:

  • Increase funding for the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) to $100 million by end of the 2023 Farm Bill;
  • Formally authorize the existing NIFA Organic Transition Program at $20 million by the end of the 2023 Farm Bill, with a name change and program mission updates to avoid confusion and improve program operation;
  • Continue to support the work of other NIFA programs that should expand their organic portfolio, like SARE, SCRI, and AFRI-SAS;
  • Require USDA to direct ARS to increase investments into organic agriculture research, both through coordinating the ongoing and planned research while also increasing the amount of organically certified acreage ARS is operating;
  • Reauthorize the Organic Data Initiative (ODI) to expand segregated organic data collection and analysis by the National Agricultural Statistics Service, Agricultural Marketing Service, and the Economic Research Service and require an economic impact analysis of the organic agriculture market on rural communities;
  • Require USDA to dedicate funds annually to fund the development of cultivars and animal breeds that are regionally adapted using conventional breeding methods to address farmers’ unique soils, farming systems, market needs, and changing climates; and
  • Require USDA to appoint a Public Cultivar and Breed Research Coordinator reporting to the Under Secretary of Research, Education, and Economics to oversee collaboration between existing USDA competitive grant research programs regarding regionally adapted cultivar and breed development activities.

This list of policies align with OFRF’s priorities this 2023 Farm Bill season, and we believe represent an increasingly-rare opportunity for bipartisan legislation. Investing in public agricultural research has historically enjoyed broad support in the Farm Bill. Not only does this research answer the questions farmers need answers to, but it also has a significant economic payoff of $20 for every dollar spent.

“We at OFRF are looking forward to working with a diverse, bipartisan group of legislators this Farm Bill cycle to make sure farmers like Steve have access to the research and technical expertise necessary to be a successful agricultural business managing their land organically,” said Gordon Merrick, Policy & Programs Manager at OFRF.

OFRF supports actionable research that focuses on the wide adoption of organic systems of production and the climate resiliency services it offers. OFRF has led organic farming and research initiatives since its inception in 1993 and has advocated for federal policy supporting integrated research, education, and outreach to farmers who build healthy resilient farming systems that withstand climate change and steward the land for future generations.

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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/

Policy Contact

Gordon N. Merrick, Policy & Programs Manager, gordon@ofrf.org

By |2022-12-13T18:19:37+00:00December 13th, 2022|Gordon's Policy Corner, News|

OFRF & FFAR fund On-Farm Research of Best Management Practices for Including Cover Crops in Midwestern Corn

(SANTA CRUZ, CALIF. – December 9, 2022) – The Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) and the Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR) are pleased to announce its fifth award for the 2021/22 OFRF organic research grant cycle. Axel Garcia y Garcia of the University of Minnesota, was awarded $20,000 to research effective management practices to  include cover crops into long-season cash crops.

Inclusion of cover crops continues to be a priority for organic farmers, but many struggle with successful establishment in long-season cash crops, especially in the upper Midwest. Typical practices of aerial seeding into standing corn and drilling after fall harvest have yielded inconsistent results leading to low adoption rates. Farmer ingenuity has fueled many independent investigations that spark interest, but have lingering questions on timing, species selection, and methods that demand answers to make the outcomes repeatable and consistent.

This project will address these needs by evaluating how well different cover crop species establish depending on method of seeding. It will help determine the effects of cover crop species on corn yield, soil fertility and weed incidence. By including several species, this research will evaluate treatment interactions to help understand best management practices for individual cover crop species. Researchers hope that this information could potentially help growers select species based on their production system and available equipment.

This year’s research grant program prioritized farmers, early career researchers, and BIPOC applicants. The six projects chosen focus on climate mitigation and building on-farm resilience and have been awarded a grand total of $119,817 in funding. The 2021/22 cycle was made possible by a $66,000.00 grant from FFAR and matching funds from OFRF and its research partners.

To date, OFRF has invested over $3 million in 361 grants across North America to advance scientific knowledge and improve the ecological sustainability and economic prosperity of organic farming systems. All OFRF-funded research must involve farmers or ranchers in project design and implementation, take place on certified organic land, and include strong education and outreach components. All research results are freely available in OFRF’s online database.

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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.
https://foundationfar.org/ 

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.
http://ofrf.org

By |2022-12-05T21:36:58+00:00December 8th, 2022|Press Release|

Mayday Farm

Approaching the Starting Line

There’s always been something romantic about a farm in New England, through colorful images of red barns, silos, and grazing cows against a quintessential autumnal landscape. Yet, over the past 50 years, the region has lost more than 10,000 dairy farms. Less than 2,000 remain; and Mayday Farm is one of the fortunate few.  

Located in Leeds, Maine, Mayday Farm owners Katie Gualtieri and Haden Gooch are part of a young farmers’ movement to regenerate what was once conventional farmland with the goal of building a sustainable, community-based business. They are not from farming families, but they share a love for agriculture. Katie left a 10-year career in international development, working on issues ranging from land rights to food security in Africa. Instead of making funding decisions from an office desk in Washington, DC, she decided to become directly involved in farming as a living in order to preserve the land and build back small farming communities here at home. 

After working together on a direct-market livestock farm in Virginia, they moved to Maine, where Haden worked for two years in a Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship (DGA) with the Wolfe’s Neck Center for Agriculture and the Environment in Freeport, a non-profit organic dairy program that provides immersive training in regenerative practices and farm management. Meanwhile, Katie worked on small organic dairies with  value-added operations. After years of hands-on learning, Katie and Haden were ready to start their own farming operation.

Land Access and Farm Transfer

Accessibility of land and financial resources present challenges for young farmers. “Finding a farm and land that was suitable for dairy was really challenging,” says Katie. “So much land is commercialized at this point that farmland is dwindling and what does exist is really, really expensive.” Especially in Virginia, which is why they set their sights on Maine where land is more affordable. Fortunately, by completing the DGA program, Haden automatically met the qualifications for a USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) loan.  

Formerly Sander-Lou Farm, Mayday had previously been a 350-acre conventional dairy farm in the same family since the 1940s. By the turn of the century, the owners were looking to retire, and they began leasing about 100 acres of open land on the old farm to neighboring farmers. Then, in 2020, the non-profit Maine Farmland Trust purchased the property. Haden and Katie were able to lease a portion of the farm for a year while they were going through the FSA loan process. They closed on their dream purchase in 2021. By the end of the year, Maine Farmland Trust had protected at least 20 farms, preserving more than 2,000 acres as “forever farmland.” Mayday Farm was a part of that.

Dairy Farm Transfers: click to listen to this 3 minute audio clip where Katie speaks to OFRF about experiences with farm transfer as young dairy farmers.

Pasture and Soil Restoration

One of the priorities for Haden and Katie was to restore nutrients to the land to enhance the soil on their farm. “The land had sat fallow for a period of time and also had been rented off and on for about a decade. A hay crop was taken off, for example, and no nutrients were put back. A couple of parcels had been farmed in corn continuously for five or six years, and we were having trouble with those areas. We wanted to get it back into perennial grass and grazing annual production in other areas,” says Katie.

Haden had already launched a pasture-raised poultry operation in 2020 on leased land. Through a contract with a New England based meat company, the chickens consume only non-GMO feed and are antibiotic free. Mayday Farm now does about 24,000 broiler chickens from April through November. “They are great little fertilizer tools,” Katie says. “We rotate them once a day to a different pasture on the farm that we thought really needed help. Now we get the benefit of all of the poultry manure going right onto the fields, and we’re really excited to see the impact of that.”  

Even though this portion of Mayday’s farm operation is not certified organic, this management-intensive approach to grazing helps to restore microbiota in the soil and reflects Mayday’s commitment to environmental stewardship best practices.   

Organic Certification

The poultry operation adds diversity to Mayday’s revenue stream, and alongside the certified organic dairy operation, helped secure the FSA loan. After the farm purchase was finalized, Haden immediately had the land certified in mid-2021 and applied for a provisional application to certify the cows through the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA), which is Maine’s USDA Accredited Organic Certifier. The cows arrived in January 2022, and they began shipping organic milk that month.  

Fortunately, there were very few bumps in the road to certification because Haden had made contacts during the DGA program that connected him to Stonyfield Organic. Katie also credits MOFGA for being a helpful and supportive certifier, which enabled Haden and Katie to recertify dairy cows they were purchasing from a New Hampshire organic dairy farmer who needed to liquidate because he had reenlisted for active duty in the military. The cows were already producers for Stonyfield. Still, to ease the purchasing and transition process, Katie advises others to get to know the land and its history concretely in the transition from conventional to organic farmland.  

Monitoring Pasture Management with Apps

A little more than a year later, Mayday enjoys a thriving wholesale certified organic dairy enterprise through the direct supply program with Stonyfield Organic. And now that Haden and Katie are doing rotational grazing with poultry and close to 40 cows, they’re using tech to help them stay on top of things.  

“We do all of our grazing management in an app called Pasture Maps. We can track all of our moves in real time and how long we were on a specific piece of pasture,” says Katie. “And that’s really great for recordkeeping. We rotate the cows every 12 hours and really want to pay attention to how we graze the land, how much residue we leave, and how much rest we give to each pasture.”  

Mayday’s intention is to build back the soil and forage species and to find balance in their conservation practices. “We did a whole batch of soil samples just to get a baseline for where we’re at with organic matter and to get an idea of where there might be mineral deficiencies on the farm,” says Katie. “We spread our stored manure from the cows on our hay fields, but we’ve also been using organic wood ash as a minimal supplement where we need to change the soil pH.” They are also in the early phases of working with the USDA National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and submitted an application in 2022 for infrastructure to help mitigate manure run-off and provide better outdoor access for the dairy herd during the winter months.

Diversifying Markets and Local Community Food Security

In the future, they would love to add some balance to how they sell their products. Right now, they’re appreciative of the steady wholesale market that the poultry and organic milk contracts provide. But Haden and Katie hope to try a little bit of direct marketing of some of their chicken and maybe some raw milk so that they can interface more with their local community. 

“We’d like to maybe set up a little farm store here or tag along with some friends who are already in farmers markets so that we can sell some chicken there,” says Katie. “It bothers us that everything we grow is leaving the farm for the most part.”

Part of the reason Haden and Katie both love farming is for the community impact and effect they can have on the local economy. “We have a milk truck driver that’s keeping their job; and we have our grain supplier, and we have a local mechanic, and we have a Maine-based company that does all of our servicing for our milking equipment. This is why it’s so important to keep farms in business,” Katie says. “Aside from the direct impact we can have with our own products, we are also supporting other activity within the community that strengthens our local economy.”

 “When you have a highly industrialized food system, you can see what happens when something comes along like COVID, which took out a major meat slaughtering facility and then the system starts to fall apart. This needs to be addressed, and we need to start moving toward growing a more equitable and safe food system with a multi-faceted approach.”

“Leeds is a strong farming community,” says Katie, “but there are pockets of food insecurity. You have to drive out of Leeds in order to get anything. There is no downtown area, no grocery store, no gas station.”  

A new generation of farmers wants to make organic food access much more community-centric. Mayday has long-term goals, for example, of providing community-based meals for locals. “We need to change accessibility so that food is a more democratic thing than it is right now,” says Katie. “I think it’s important what the future generation of farmers looks like and how we make food more resilient within communities.”

Moving Forward into the Future

If this is what the young farming movement is all about, then the future of food and farming in this country is in good hands. In Maine, and elsewhere in the country, there are farmers who are aging out of the system and young people who are stepping in to take over those roles. The transition isn’t always easy when it comes to giving up something a farming family has done for generations. Like Haden and Katie, many people in this fresh generation of farmers did not grow up on farms. Yet they see themselves as stewards of the land and of the animals.

Through their intentional approach to grazing, Mayday hopes it can become part of the solution rather than the problem when it comes to issues like food security and climate change. “We are conscious of how we as small farmers have the opportunity to make choices in terms of soil building and carbon sequestration, and we want to be aware of our overall impact when it comes to climate change,” says Katie. “We want to approach farming in the most responsible way possible within the organic framework. But even if there wasn’t an organic label, this is the way we would choose to farm anyway.” 

. . . 

Links for further reading:

Wolfe’s Neck Center for Agriculture and the Environment

Maine Farmland Trust

Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association

Pasture Maps

National Resources Conservation Service

Environmental Quality Incentives Program

BACK to Farmer Stories
By |2022-11-22T17:06:38+00:00November 22nd, 2022|Farmer Stories, News|

OFRF champions the importance of organic research at NIFA listening session

The USDA’s National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA) held a listening session on Nov 2, 2022. This session’s goal was to collect feedback from stakeholders on the challenges, needed breakthroughs, and research priorities to inform NIFA’s role in the priority setting process of the Research, Extension and Education (REE) programs of the USDA. OFRF was honored to join the diverse array of stakeholders that offered insights and feedback on how NIFA can continue to deliver high quality, crucial resources and expertise to the agricultural community.  

Both Gordon N. Merrick, Policy & Programs Manager, and Mark Schonbeck, Research Program Associate, highlighted the importance of NIFA’s competitive grant programs for organic agriculture, like the Organic Research & Extension Initiative (OREI) and Organic Transition Program (ORG). They both highlighted the importance of organic agricultural management in the response to our changing climate. Gordon reinforced the fact that “we now know, with scientific certainty thanks to publicly-funded basic research, that organic management leads to a more-resilient landscape in the face of the ongoing climate crisis.”  Mark later added that “in long term farming systems trials, organic systems that maintain healthy soil show greater resilience to drought, excessive rainfall, and nutrient limitations than their conventional counterparts.”  

Mark continued on to discuss some of the valuable research being done by these programs, like cultivar development networks that work directly with farmers, regionally appropriate nutrient management and cycling techniques, and organic’s ability to support a vibrant, biodiverse soil microbial community, which supports both soil and plant health.

Gordon was also sure to highlight that organic agricultural research should not be limited to these organic-specific programs.  “Research into organic management techniques has resulted in economical and ecologically-sound management systems for all producers, we at OFRF think this reality should be reflected in how NIFA prioritizes research topics across all competitive research grant programs.”  He continued, “the importance of organic-specific programs cannot be overstated, it has resulted in high-value research applicable to all producers, but a significant gap still exists between current research funding levels and the amount spent on organic production when considering organic’s 6% market share.”

Importantly, Gordon highlighted that the need for this research will only be increasing given the USDA’s Organic Transition Initiative (OTI), a historic $300 million investment in supporting producers to transition to organic production. According to our National Organic Research Agenda, some of the highest impact research areas are continuing to develop regionally adapted and appropriate cultivars, pest and disease management, and nutrient management techniques.

By |2022-11-11T15:23:40+00:00November 10th, 2022|News|

Letter from Jennifer Taylor – Fall 2022

Dear friend,

My grandmother was a farmer in rural Georgia long before I was born. She started as a sharecropper and was given the opportunity to buy her own farmland. She became a very successful farmer, and this is where our organic farm is located today, on that same beautiful land. We grow many of the same crops my grandmother grew, such as unique varieties of delicious colorful vegetables, fruit, and herbs. Today we are the only certified organic farm in our county and within surrounding counties.

When my grandmother was farming, she used organic farming practices before organic certification even existed. For us, organic farming and agroecology not only builds healthy soil and healthy environments, but also supports access to healthy foods in our communities. I believe organic farming systems can, and should, be enjoyed by all farmers and consumers – in all communities.

By supporting OFRF, you will help ensure organic farming can continue to grow and support all farmers, environments, and communities. Give Now and your donation will be matched dollar for dollar!

OFRF has funded on-farm research for over 30 years and in 2022 prioritized applications led by Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC). This investment is not only a win for grant recipients but the entire organic movement. In 2022, I received a research grant from OFRF for my project titled “Organic For All.” My participatory research project focuses on capacity-building and outreach, and will identify needs, hindrances, and barriers for BIPOC farmers.

The Organic For All project is designed to help farmers walk through the development of their own organic farming systems or organic agroecology farm practices and help develop solutions and resources through workshops that provide education, technical assistance, and access to organic agriculture.

The Organic For All project, and on-farm research in general, enables relationship-building with farmers, communities, and researchers, and importantly provides a pathway for relevant education, technical assistance, and hands-on training in organic agriculture.

With OFRF’s support, my goal is to bring more farmers into organic farming systems, and show that we all can learn from traditional agroecology knowledge and break down barriers so that BIPOC people can better access the benefits of organic.

Thank you,
Jennifer Taylor
Owner and Farmer of Lola’s Organic Farm
Glenwood, Georgia

Will you help organic farmers by donating today? This work wouldn’t be possible without your support. Your donation will be matched up to $25,000 thanks to Nature’s Path Organic Foods, Nell Newman Foundation, and other generous donors!

By |2022-11-14T23:29:16+00:00November 9th, 2022|News|

OFRF and FFAR Fund On-Farm Organic Research of Companion Plantings for a New Invasive Brassica Pest

(SANTA CRUZ, CALIF. – November 3, 2022) – The Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) and the Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR) are pleased to announce its third award for the 2021/22 OFRF organic research grant cycle. Christiana Huss of the University of Georgia, was awarded $19,977 to research companion plants that reduce the destruction caused by invasive yellow-margined leaf beetle (Microtheca ochroloma) on leafy brassica greens across the Southeastern United States.

The yellow-margined leaf beetle is an invasive pest that threatens organic production of  high value leafy brassica greens across the Southeast and beyond as winters become milder. This research will evaluate an innovative landscape ecology approach that involves a combination of repellant intercrops and attractant companion plants in a “push-pull” design for bio-control of the pest.

“Finding a suitable companion plant is an accessible approach for many farmers who wish to lessen their chemical inputs for pest control.” said Huss, principal investigator for the project. “We are thrilled to explore this technique and hope to find a solution!”

This project will leverage agricultural diversity to mitigate the destruction of the invasive M. ochroloma on brassica greens by testing potential intercrops’ ability to repel M. ochroloma. The project will then be assisted by ten organic farmers to trial the most successful combination of companion plants for managing M. ochroloma on their own farms.

This year’s research grant program prioritized farmers, early career researchers, and BIPOC applicants. The six projects chosen focus on climate mitigation and building on-farm resilience and have been awarded a grand total of $119,817 in funding. The 2021/22 cycle was made possible by a $66,000.00 grant from FFAR and matching funds from OFRF and its research partners.

To date, OFRF has invested over $3 million in 361 grants across North America to advance scientific knowledge and improve the ecological sustainability and economic prosperity of organic farming systems. All OFRF-funded research must involve farmers or ranchers in project design and implementation, take place on certified organic land, and include strong education and outreach components. All research results are freely available in OFRF’s online database.

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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.
https://foundationfar.org/ 

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.
http://ofrf.org

By |2022-10-27T17:40:56+00:00November 2nd, 2022|Press Release|
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