OFRF Hosts Packed Workshops at EcoFarm

Haley Baron and Kelsey Grimsley at OFRF table at EcoFarm

Haley Baron and Kelsey Grimsley at OFRF table at EcoFarm

February 5, 2020 – It was an extra special EcoFarm Conference this year because OFRF had four of our team members attending and participating. We coordinated two workshops at EcoFarm and had a booth in the trade show for the first time ever. It was also a chance to see many old friends, farmers, partner organizations, and board alumni. 

Being at EcoFarm was a further reminder that farmers, agriculture service providers, and more crave information not only about organic farming but also how to make their voices heard. We had 40 people attend the workshop on “Farmer Inspired Research,” during which OFRF shared how our newly funded research projects address grower needs. We also gave a sneak peek at our 2020 national survey of organic farmers (launching soon!) and how it will inform our next National Organic Research Agenda.

We had over 80 people at our “Setting Beginning Organic Farmers up For Success” workshop. Attendees were eager to squeeze in as many questions as possible with our speakers who focused on the guiding principles behind building healthy soils, and the strategy and record-keeping necessary to successfully crop plan and bring products to market. 

At the Legislator Town Hall Friday evening, OFRF’s Executive Director, Brise Tencer, introduced California Congressman Jimmy Panetta and Karen Ross, the Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture. Conversation topics ran the gamut from climate change to how citizens can stay involved in agriculture policy.

And when we weren’t meeting new and old friends or moderating our sessions, we caught a few stunning sunsets over at Asilomar State Beach. 




By |2020-02-05T23:57:43+00:00February 5th, 2020|News|

Researchers and Farmers Come Together at 2020 OARF

poster sessionJanuary 31, 2020 – Holding this year’s Organic Agriculture Research Forum in Little Rock provided an opportunity for researchers and farmers to focus on challenges associated with organic farming in the Southern region. The forum was presented jointly by OFRF and Tuskegee University in partnership with the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (SSAWG).

Dr. Lauren Snyder, Education and Research Program manager for OFRF welcomed participants to the day-long event before handing it over to Professor Kokoasse Kpomblekou-A from Tuskegee University for an update on organic farming research in the Southeast.

Throughout the course of the day, 16 researchers presented on topics exploring the importance of soil health in building resiliency, breeding crops for organic production, and the attributes and nutritional value of organically grown produce. Safiullah Pathan, an Assistant Professor at Lincoln University in Missouri, wowed the crowd with his presentation on nutrient-rich leafy green quinoa and its potential for organic farming.

After the presentations, attendees broke into groups to identify and prioritize the research, education, and policies needed to address challenges in organic farming systems, particularly in the face of a changing climate. Topics included seed and plant breeding, soil health, and weed and pest issues, among others. Each group then shared their priorities.

As soon as the forum was over, it was time for a joint Poster Session with presenters from the forum and SSAWG.

Presentations from the forum will be available on e-organic in the next week. You can download the agenda here.

scholarship participants

Fifteen researchers and farmers received scholarships to attend the event thanks to Ceres Trust.

OARF was supported by the Organic Agriculture and Extension Initiative (OREI) grant no. 2019-51300-30250 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.




By |2020-02-12T16:44:21+00:00January 30th, 2020|News|

OFRF Leads Organic Soil Heath Workshop at TOFGA

L-R: Diana Jerkins, Scott Snodgrass, Justin Duncan, Tommy Garcia-Prats

January 28, 2020 – OFRF was a sponsor of the Texas Organic Farmers & Gardeners ( TOFGA) annual conference held in Temple, Texas conference from January 16-18. OFRF and TOFGA and OFRF jointly held a panel workshop on soil health, as well as a farmer listening session. Diana Jerkins, OFRF Senior Scientist, led both sessions with 60 participants for the workshop and over 40 for the listening session. Dr. Jerkins is a co-author of OFRF’s educational series on Soil Health and Organic Farming, which includes nine guidebooks and webinars, all of which are available to download/view for free.

TOFGA is a statewide non-profit organization focused on education and advocacy for Texas farmers, ranchers, and gardeners who practice organic and sustainable methods. Attendees came from across Texas for three days of in-depth workshops and learning sessions, plus multiple off-site intensives and farm tours.

Dr. Jerkins provided information on OFRF research and educational projects addressing soil health and moderated a panel on small- and large-scale farmer solutions to improving soil health with examples from research and on-farm sites. Tommy Garcia-Prats, founder and general manager of Small Places LLC of the Finca Tres Robles, an urban farm in downtown Houston discussed integrating soil health-building practices such as making and applying mulch and compost on vegetables, fruit, and herbs. Tommy is “always looking to expand his edges and those of his community through agriculture.” Scott Snodgrass, a fourth-generation Texan and founding partner of The Edible Group, spoke on larger scale production systems, including regenerative practices for vegetable production at scale. Justin Duncan, a researcher and Sustainable Agriculture Specialist with the National Center for Appropriate Technology, gave an overview on the use and selection of cover crops for soil improvement. Attendees especially liked the real farm examples, like building compost and adding biomass to the soil, and the use of specific cover crops for Texas conditions.

The listening session provided an opportunity for organic farmers and ranchers to discuss their production concerns, successes, and priorities for future research investments. Participants expressed concerns over the future of “small” farms and the preservation of farmland due to aging farmer populations and fewer new farmers entering the field. Participants expressed a desire for more funding for organic research, both federal and community grants, with a focus on regionally specific information. Other topics included cover crops; starting winter crops in greenhouses; tools for tracking soil carbon to a create carbon-farm plan; appropriate soil testing for organic production; use of seasonal IPM bug calendars; resource information for current research; on-farm research as “centers for university research;” urban community assessments related to agriculture use; how to connect farmers with researchers; physical and mental impacts of farmworkers; building, training, and maintaining labor force; policy and legislative issues – soil health, water catchment, suburban growth impact on farmland; planning/development land use.

Dr. Jerkins’ presentation is available to view here.

All of OFRF’s research results and educational resources are available to download for free.

Learn more about OFRF’s National Organic Survey here.



By |2020-03-13T19:49:13+00:00January 9th, 2020|News|

OFRF Researcher Reports on Grant to Study Biosolarization

January 7, 2020 – Soil solarization is an organic method that has been shown to control weeds, pathogens, and nematodes in areas with hot summer temperatures. Biosolarization, a relatively new technique, combines the use of soil solarization and organic soil amendments to enhance the results of solarization. While biosolarization has proven effective in a number of studies, its efficacy varies across study regions, cropping systems, and pathogen communities. In 2018, OFRF provided a grant to Dr. Ashraf Tubeileh at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo to study the effect of biosolarization and cover crops on weeds and soil-borne pathogens.

Results from this research demonstrated that solarization effectively reduced weed biomass; it also reduced Verticillium dahliae (a fungal plant pathogen) populations by 80.7%, reduced crop mortality by 54.9%, and roughly tripled yields compared to non-solarized fields. Cover cropped plots tended to perform better than non-cover cropped plots, with cover crop mulch providing the best weed control and healthiest strawberries.

The study concluded that there is potential for success using biosolarization in organic strawberry production on the central coast of California, although this method may provide better results with crops that have growing seasons that are less than three months.

A detailed account of the project is available to read here.

Dr. Tubeileh’s work is also featured in OFRF’s free online training program for organic specialty crop farmers in California. This open educational resource is a joint effort between OFRF, the University of California Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (UC SAREP), and California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, with funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service through grant AM170100XXXXG011.

Designed especially for beginning farmers and farmers transitioning to organic production, this self-paced program combines descriptive essays, video lectures from university faculty, and virtual field trips to demonstrate organic principles and practices.

View/take the first learning module on Organic Soil Health Management.



By |2020-01-31T20:04:47+00:00January 7th, 2020|News|

Soil Health Workshop at Organic Growers Summit

workshop attendees listening to speakers and viewing slidesDecember 9, 2019 – When over 100 people arrived at our workshop on reducing risk through organic soil health practices at this year’s Organic Growers Summit in Monterey, CA, I knew it would be an impactful morning. 

First, we heard from Phil Foster of Pinnacle Organically Grown, a well-known and well-respected farmer who works hard to improve the health of his soil. Phil shared strategies he uses such as cover cropping and producing his own compost as a means of reducing on-farm risk. After Phil, Jozsef Racsko of Mycorrhizal Applications carefully described the science behind fungal inoculants and the symbiotic relationships between plants and fungi. Lastly, Jared Zystro of the Organic Seed Alliance spoke about the importance of organically bred seed varieties, and ways the appropriate varieties can help protect our soils and our crops.

In the second half of the workshop, we broke into groups to discuss our research needs and priorities on a variety of topics (see photos below). As I looked around the room, farmers, researchers, non-profit staff, and agriculture service providers buzzed with energy as they discussed their research priorities. Whether they were sharing challenges with a specific pest, or the type of extension resources they needed to combat soil degradation, they all thoughtfully described their needs. 

And the buzz didn’t stop when the workshop ended. Attendees stayed to chat with old friends and make new connections. It was a moment for hard-working people to gather and reflect on the past season and learn new strategies to reduce risk in the seasons to come. 

Submitted by Haley Baron, Education and Research Program Associate, OFRF


By |2020-01-08T18:12:20+00:00December 10th, 2019|News|

Patagonia Doubles Donations to OFRF

December 4, 2019 – Now through December 31st, all donations made to OFRF will be matched dollar-for-dollar by Patgonia Works!

This match will double your support!

For the last three decades, OFRF has responded directly to the critical needs of organic farmers and ranchers through targeted scientific research, free educational resources, and advocacy on both the local and federal level.

Don’t miss this opportunity to double your impact.

Thank you for helping us ensure organic farmers and ranchers have the information and resources they need to be successful!

Click here to make your donation.

By |2020-01-08T18:12:21+00:00December 4th, 2019|News|

New Report Highlights Role of Agriculture in Climate Change Mitigation

November 14, 2019 – OFRF has been using research-based analysis to inform public policy for nearly three decades. Recently, we contributed to a new report from the National Sustainable Organic Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) titled Moving American Agriculture to “Net Zero”.

One of the principal authors of that report, Dr. Mark Schonbeck, OFRF Research Associate, is the lead author of our wildly popular educational series on organic farming and soil health, which includes nine guidebooks and webinars covering topics ranging from cover cropping and nutrient management to weed and pest management. These free educational resources help farmers select the best organic practices for their circumstances while leading the way to more sustainable agricultural systems.

Schonbeck’s examination of research related to the capacity of sustainable organic systems to sequester soil carbon and minimize nitrous oxide and methane emissions was published in OFRF’s Organic Practices for Climate Mitigation, Adaptation, and Carbon SequestrationWe believe the science in both this guidebook and the NSAC paper are critical to developing policy recommendations that optimize the net climate impact of agriculture, and we will continue to partner on a national level to both develop and put forth those recommendations.

It is urgent that we address climate change.  We know organic practices can play a key role and OFRF is committed to supporting and furthering the exciting potential of organic practices to offset greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate climate change.

By |2020-01-08T18:12:21+00:00November 14th, 2019|News|

Note from an Organic Farmer

November 8, 2019 – Eleven years ago, I started my farm from scratch.

I had recently graduated with an MBA in entrepreneurship and was working as a civil engineer in the Midwest when I learned that 24 acres near Ridgefield, Washington had come up for sale. They say the right people fall into your life at the right time—in my case, it was the right land.

I grew up down the road from those 24 acres above the Columbia River Slough and no matter the season, there was always something to learn, barns and fields to explore, and farm chores to be done. The previous owners, Pete and Annie, were mainly homesteading, self-reliant fishermen and foragers, but they also raised Red Angus for meat and milk, and they had a huge garden, eating pretty much only what they grew.

So, when I decided to become a farmer, I guess you could say I did it out of absolute necessity. There was simply no way I could let the land go. But then I faced the monumental challenge of making the farm a viable and stable source of income.

From the outset, I knew two truths: organic certification was my path to financial survival, and healthy soil was my most precious asset.

The diversified, organic farming practices I still use today are crucial to the feasibility of my operation, and although soil quality may not have a specified line-item on my balance sheet, it is absolutely the foundation of my work. I have learned how to assess the biological health of my soil, manage nutrient loads, and reduce my dependence on off-farm inputs—all while continuing to reduce the carbon footprint of my operation.

As an organic farmer, I depend on the income of every acre I plant. I do not have the resources to implement expensive trials, which is why OFRF’s work is so valuable.

OFRF has been both a trusted advisor and an independent source of research-based knowledge that is crucial to advocating for and supporting organic farming practices. OFRF works every day to support thousands of diversified farmers like me.

As farmers, we are in many ways invisible, and yet the health and well-being of our lands prove to be one of the most visible elements of the health and well-being of our communities. Consequently, I urge you to join me in supporting OFRF.

OFRF research grants, free educational resources, and advocacy for programs and policies that support organic farmers are directly funded by individual donations from supporters like you.

Today, my farm is my livelihood; it is my only source of income. My husband Brad and I provide healthy, certified organic food to over sixty families in Clark County through our CSA, as well as local restaurants.

Succeeding as an organic farmer is the most challenging work I’ve ever known, and let me tell you, it isn’t getting any easier.

Farmers like me care deeply about land stewardship and it is your financial gift to organizations like OFRF that help us move our work forward in innovative and sustainable ways—ways that ultimately create healthy communities both below and above ground.

Donate today!

Join me in supporting OFRF and their critical mission to improve and advance the adoption of organic farming practices through research, education, and farmer advocacy. Please make a contribution today.

Sincerely yours,

April Thatcher

By |2020-01-08T18:12:21+00:00November 8th, 2019|News|

New Varieties Show Promise

October 25, 2019 – In 2018, OFRF provided a grant to Edmund Frost of Common Wealth Seed Growers to assess resistance to both Bacterial Wilt and Cucurbit Downy Mildew among selected cucumber and muskmelon seedstocks. The project is aimed at helping organic farmers throughout the Eastern U.S., where those diseases pose a particular challenge.

In his recently submitted final project report, Frost says the four trials he completed yielded useful and actionable results. The trials were done on certified organic land at Twin Oaks Farm in Virginia. Read all about the methods, data, and conclusions for each element of the project. View the grant.

OFRF provided a second grant to Frost in 2019 to continue the project. This year, Frost is focused on evaluating and advancing cucumber seedstock lines that performed well in his 2018 trials, working with farms and research sites throughout the Southeast and beyond to more broadly assess the selected lines. If the 2019 trial results show these lines have good resistance, they plan on releasing varieties from the project in late 2020.

Outreach is an important component of Frost’s research. He uses field days and speaking engagements to share project results with vegetable farmers. You can learn more about his research and varieties on the Common Wealth Seed Growers website.

By |2020-01-08T18:12:21+00:00October 25th, 2019|News|

Crager Hager Farm

October 23, 2019 – Crager Hager Farm is located in Northern Carroll County, Georgia, a community on the periphery of metro Atlanta. Bryan and his wife Wendy grow over 100 different varieties of fruits and vegetables on the 123-year old farm that Wendy originally purchased as a rural retreat in the 1980’s. They soon expanded their large organic garden into a small diversified organic farm to help serve a community that had lost many of its farmers in the 1960’s.

“We decided in 2006 to try making a living by farming and jumped in. It was a wonderful experience and the most challenging thing I have ever done. I had no idea what I was getting into. It’s totally different when you scale up. I had to figure that out and this was early in the urban/small farm movement and there wasn’t much support out there.”

An avid gardener and outdoor enthusiast since childhood, Bryan adopted organic practices early. “My grandmother got me gardening when I was eight. When I was a teenager, I was spraying malathion for pests when the wind changed and blew it right back in my face. I started coughing and thought this can’t be good for me, I wonder what it’s doing to the environment. I started reading about what it does to bees and other living things. This was known back in the 70’s.”

Wendy and Bryan did not go through the organic certification process right away. “We didn’t feel like we needed it from a marketing perspective because we were selling at the farmers’ market and to a local co-op. After a while though, we decided we needed to put our money where our mouths were. We were very fortunate to have the cost share program to help pay the fees.”

Bryan says to be a successful farmer, you’ve got to keep good detailed records. You have to know what’s worked and what hasn’t and you can’t do that just by watching. “The certification process has pushed me to be more consistent. You have to have the input records, what you’ve put on the land and your plants throughout the year. It actually helped me improve my productivity and how I do my farming.”

Their “crop insurance” program is based on diversification, which helps them manage the challenges of changing weather patterns, pests, and diseases. “The weather is so variable here. Right now, we’re entering a moderate drought stage and different crops do better or worse in different environments. So, given the variability, we grow at least two to three different varieties of any particular crop, whether it’s green beans, tomatoes, or corn. I’ll go through 15 varieties of lettuce over the course of the year because there are cool season lettuces, summer lettuces, and lettuces I start in the fall. If we get a particular pest, disease, or weather-related issue, some of those varieties will do better than others.

One change Bryan has seen over the last 15 years is a warmer winter. “We still get some cold snaps but the average for December, January, and February is getting warmer. Spring is starting earlier and the fall is continuing longer. The impact is that we have to shift our planting schedule. And some of our perennial crops, such as apples and berries, are more likely to get hit by a late freeze when we’ve had a warm winter, which can affect production. We have huge frost blankets that we spread over the berries and we may have to run heaters.”

Another strategy they’re using is growing more crops in hoop houses and greenhouses. “We’re working to manage environments so we can manage the amount of rain and solar heat. With a lot of the crops we grow like tomatoes and peppers, it gets too hot in July and August if you don’t have some kind of shade over them. We’re doing a lot to create microclimates that are conducive to our crops.”

There’s also been a shift in rainfall patterns. “We’re getting less rain during the growing season—May through September—and more in the fall and winter. That means you have to have everything on irrigation and can’t rely on natural rainfall. Even the perennial crops need to be irrigated to prevent drying out in the summer.”

Bryan says right now, as far as they can tell, they are climate neutral if not somewhat climate restorative, primarily because the young forest they’re managing is still sequestering carbon. About a third of the electricity on the farm is provided by their solar electric system and they’re looking to expand that. “Every year we look at trying to do things more efficiently so we can get off the dead dinosaur diet.”

That means managing soil health. “We’re working to build the soil organic matter. We run a small landscaping service in the fall and collect leaves and spread them over about a ½ acre of the farm as mulch. We buy a lot of hay from growers in the area who produce spray-free hay for us. We also do a lot of cover cropping. We’ve been able to build the soil organic matter from the 1-2 percent range, which is typical for pasture soils around here, up to about 4-5 percent. We’re very proud of that and it’s actually higher in our hoop houses.”

Their tillage practices have been evolving as well. “We were tilling a couple of times a year and using plastic mulch to control weeds and hold the moisture in the ground. But we were becoming more concerned about the plastic waste we were generating and it made it very hard for us to keep up the soil organic level. So, we started working on some other systems. A grower in North Carolina named Alex Hitt started using landscaping fabric instead of plastic mulch, which allowed him to mulch his crop without having to do the heavy tilling because you can lay it over the top of the land and you don’t have to bury the edges. Then we developed a system where we don’t have to do any tillage. We grow the cover crop, mow it short, add some nutrients, lay the landscape fabric over it, and plant through the landscape fabric. That allows us to cut the tilling down to once every two or three years for most of our field area.”

They also do a lot of trials. “I’m in search of the perfect red tomato for Georgia. We’ve also been doing our own breeding program for tomatoes, beans, kale, and broccoli. We select for crops that work best in our environment. One of the problems organic farmers face is that there are few breeding programs for vegetable crops that are targeted at organic, so it’s been left to the farmers to do their own.”

Why is it important to breed specifically for organic? Because it’s a totally different growing system says Bryan. “We are not using the water-soluble fertilizers. We need crops that have a more robust root system to break down and use the organic nutrients we are providing. We need crops that are more resilient to various pests because we are not going to be using fungicides and insecticides.”

And, there’s the changing weather, which demands a high level of adaptability. “In the southeast, the climate zones are shifting north an average of 15 miles per year. In the last two decades, we’ve shifted almost a full climate zone. That’s like moving us 200 miles south, so we are constantly having to trial different crops. We’re facing two things, the challenge of farming organically and the shifting climate. The work that we are doing as organic farmers to build the health of our soil gives us some protection. We are not as prone to disease outbreaks that you’ll see on conventional farms. But we do have the continual pressure, and as that shifts due to climate change, we have to constantly recreate and fine-tune our systems.”

In closing, Bryan offers this. “In my opinion, organic agriculture is the foundation for developing a sustainable food system, one that is both good for the environment and good for people. Right now, that means you’ve got to spend more on labor to manage things. If you do have a pest problem, you’re going to be using more expensive inputs to control it. You’ll probably have a yield loss because in order to have the good bugs around you’ve got to have some of the parasitic bugs they feed on. You’ve got to be willing to accept some damage to your crops in order to maintain that diverse ecosystem. By building a diverse ecosystem instead of killing everything with pesticides, you’re not in a continual arms race with pests that adapt to the pesticides. You sacrifice a small percentage but you keep the beneficials around. All of those things add to the cost of producing but they provide these huge community benefits.”

By |2020-03-26T19:30:36+00:00October 23rd, 2019|Farmer Stories, News|
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