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Blog Update from the Dominican Republic

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At Florida Certified Organic Growers and Consumers (FOG), our primary focus, for a fact, is Florida. However, no matter where we are, we truly care about Mother Earth in its’ entirety and we are working everyday towards our mission of supporting and promoting Organic, Sustainable and Regenerative agriculture.

FOG Interim Executive Director and Quality Certification Services – QCS (QCS) CEO met with the Dominican Republic’s very own Minister of Agriculture, Osmar Benitez, to discuss ways of strengthening Organic Agriculture in the nation.

FOG Representative(s) discussing with Minister Osmar Benitez

We salute and applaud the efforts of Dominican Republic Minister of Agriculture Mr. Osmar Benitez for his unrelenting support for Organic and Sustainable Agriculture! Mr. Benitez created the Organic Committee in Junta Agroempresarial Dominicana (JAD), which he used to head as the Executive Director before becoming Minister. In 2018, he successfully conducted the 2nd Organic Summit in the country (the last Organic Summit was held in 1998).

Thank you Minister for your support for not just organic, but for overall agriculture in the Dominican Republic! A true leader with vision. Your efforts are very much appreciated.

“Minister @osmarcbenitez (Osmar Benitez) had a meeting with Ramkrishnan Balasubramanian, who is the president of an International Certification company.

The goal of the meeting was to establish on a project for new exporters in the Dominican Republic.”

Announcement on the Organic Certification of Hemp

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Hi FOG Family! Quality Certification Services (QCS) here! We are the organic certification body of Florida Organic Growers and we are excited to announce some changes in regards to the organic certification of hemp.

First, some logistics:

The H.R.2 – Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (2018 Farm Bill) was signed into law on December 20, 2018 (Public Law No: 115-334), meaning the 2018 Farm Bill has replaced Section 7606 of the Agricultural Act of 2014. Thus, the August 12, 2016 Statement of Principles on Industrial Hemp is no longer relevant; the National Organic Program (NOP) Guidance Document 2040 is no longer applicable.

…so?

The 2018 Farm Bill fully legalizes general agricultural production of hemp for farmers in the U.S. who have been licensed and regulated by their state or tribe to do so. Therefore, we can certify any such organically produced hemp to the NOP organic standards!  Furthermore, certified organic hemp grown in the United States or legally imported can be used as an organic ingredient by QCS certified processors in products that are to be labeled as “100 percent organic”, “organic”, or “made with organic (specified ingredients)”. We will be certifying U.S. grown and legally imported hemp as both a crop and a processed product ingredient going forward.

Ryan Brouillard, QCS Senior Certification Manager, had this to say: 

“Now that the Hemp Farming Act become law, new opportunities for domestically grown hemp will open throughout the whole organic supply chain.  By staying informed of and preparing for these regulatory changes and by employing staff knowledgeable about cannabis production, QCS is ready to become a leader in providing organic certification to producers and handlers in this new, rapidly growing market”.

Stay tuned for the most up-to-date information on this matter. QCS out!

Quality Certification Services (QCS) has been an industry leader in providing organic, food safety, and ethical certifications since 1989. As an accredited certifying agency, QCS has been meeting the demands of a growing food industry for more than 25 years. QCS is proud to offer organic and food safety certifications for crop production, livestock, retail, restaurants, processing and handling, and importer and exporter operations of all sizes. As the largest certification agency on the eastern seaboard, QCS and our staff of highly qualified and dedicated food and agricultural scientists, educators, and regulators, is capable of meeting all certification needs with expertise. In fact, QCS was recently given a performance rating by GLOBALG.A.P. that ranked its Food Safety/GAPs Team No. 1 in the USA, and in the top 10 worldwide, out of 138 approved Certification Bodies.

Moving toward Sustainable Rice Production in Northwest Dominican Republic

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Derek Sindler of Quality Certification Services (QCS) was one of four authors who contributed to a recent study (through the University of Florida) on sustainable rice production. The work is currently in circulation through Scientific Research, an academic publisher.

The following is an excerpt from the study:

” Pesticide runoff from the rice production area of Las Matas de Santa Cruz in NW Dominican Republic degrades biodiversity in the ecosystems of the Yaque del Norte River, Montecristi National Park, and Caribbean Sea. This degradation prompted the Dominican NGO AgroFrontera to develop a program for the creation of a new sustainable rice value chain, starting with the formation of a rice growers association in Las Matas. This project was to evaluate “organic” as a potential certification for the new growers association. The project found that while organic certification is years away, other barriers to a sustainable rice value chain exist: competition with US rice imports due to Dominican Republic-Central American Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA), an informal labor system, and access to credit. Recommendations for the new growers association include: to lower the cost of production to compete with imports, to formalize the labor system, to mediate financing for rice producers, and to maintain balanced leverage across the value chain. A recommendation for future research is the resiliency of farmer institutions against internal corruption and in-fighting.”

For a more in-depth look into the study, please visit the link provided:

https://www.scirp.org/Journal/PaperInformation.aspx?PaperID=89678


Race to the 2018 Farm Bill

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Members of the House Committee on Agriculture as well as members of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry are being hard pressed on issues surrounding food and farming as the 2014 Farm Bill’s run comes to an end. Legislators play a pivotal role in translating the needs and concerns of farmers, ranchers, consumers and other stakeholders into a breadth of laws that aggregately make up the bill. The president and congressional appropriators also play a superior role in how funds are to be allocated within the Farm Bill, which provides further implications for the fate of the next Farm Bill.

The 2014 Farm Bill, named the Agricultural Act of 2014, was signed on February 7th, 2014 and consequently responsible for allocating an estimated five hundred billion dollars over its five-year life time to a myriad of programs and issues within agriculture, from local food access to crop insurance and everything in between. Since 2013, yearly reoccurring cuts have been made to Farm Bill spending, with the exception of the Conservation Reserve Program, crop insurance programs, and nutritional assistance programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). This process, called sequestration, puts the remaining non-exempt programs at risk of receiving insufficient funds.

Despite these challenges and others, the 2014 Agricultural Act saw major successes. These include formidable increases in funding for research on organic and specialty crops, as well as improved crop insurance opportunities for organic producers. The bill also increased coordination and accountability between agencies responsible for monitoring the effectivity of programs and policies promoting and researching locally or organically-produced foods. Additionally, it also sourced heavy funding for the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP), which provides new producers with mentorship and educational resources.

However, the path towards the 2018 Farm Bill has provided a less than smooth ride due to unforeseen obstacles such as natural disasters and controversial issues surrounding immigration that have put government action on halt. Finally, on February 9th 2018, the House and Senate compromised with each other on a budget deal that will not only suffice for government operation in the meantime, but provide a necessary prerequisite for the appropriations processes to come. This is important to keep the trajectory towards reaching a bill going, for many programs will cease to exist as the year’s end draws nearer, due to lack of funding.

Many preexisting components of the Agricultural Act of 2014 require that they receive due attention transitioning into the 2018 Farm Bill in order to ensure adequate funding in the future, as well as address new concerns within them, such as BFRDP. Meanwhile, other issues and new propositions take the spotlight as well. The BFRDP should not only continue to invest in new training and support systems for new farmers, but assist in transitioning farmland to the hands of the next generation.  It is also demanded within the upcoming bill that socially disadvantaged farmers, such as veterans and farmers of color, receive fair support and funding under the Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program, which was cut in half in the 2014 Bill.  Further concerns on the horizon include conservation reform, such as through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, which is also underfunded. . Furthermore, the Organic Certification Cost Share Program, as well as a new Food Safety Certification Cost Share Program, should be present in the upcoming bill to provide economic incentives for farmers following these restrictions that ensure food is grown and processed in a way that is safe for both the environment and consumers. The Local Food and Regional Markets Act (Local FARMS Act), which was proposed in 2017, would not only include a newly proposed Food Safety Certification Cost Share Program, but also a Food Safety Outreach Program, both of which were discussed at the February 2018 congressional food safety briefing. This program would provide training, support, and other resources for farmers looking to follow the Food and Drug Administration’s new Food Safety Modernization Act’s orders.

Source: agriculture.com

Unsettlingly, President Trump’s 2018 fiscal year budget would tarnish the successes of the previous Farm Bill in many ways. He not only seeks to cut funding immensely for indispensable programs under sections such as the Conservation, Nutrition Assistance, Rural Development and Research titles, but also explicitly harm programs such as The Outreach and Assistance to Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program, among others through his absent request for renewed funding in the upcoming bill. While the aforementioned aggregated issues need to be given sufficient attention, the larger overarching issues of sequestration and harmful appropriations suggested by the president need to be adequately addressed in the upcoming bill through budget reconciliation and congressional appropriations hearings. Ultimately, an investment in our farmers is an investment in the future of everyone.

Now more than ever, time is of the essence for the fate of the 2018 Farm Bill, making it imperative that stakeholders and policy activists work feverishly to urge members of Congress to act sensibly on these issues and others. The impending expiration of the previous bill leaves no room for those writing the bill to act noncommittally towards matters surrounding sustainable agriculture, rural development, food safety, organic research and more if a prosperous farm bill is to be passed. Farmers, consumers, and policy makers must pay heed to the successes and failures of the past while concurrently considering the current obstacles faced if there is hope for a successful farm bill with new victories built upon previous.

To learn more about ongoing and upcoming issues within the 2018 Farm Bill agenda, you can keep up with updates from the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition via visiting their website, Facebook, and subscribing to their weekly electronic newsletter updates, The Weekly Roundup. Reaching out to congressmen that sit on the House Agriculture Committee and expressing endorsement for a program is just one way individuals can influence the Farm Bill. The current Florida representatives on the committee are Darren Soto, Al Lawson, Ted Yoho, and Neal Dunn.  If you would like to know more about how individual or organizational action can be taken to influence and support positive reform within the 2018 Farm Bill, visit http://sustainableagriculture.net/take-action/.

Rylee Daddio is a fourth year Sustainability Studies student with a keen interest in organic and sustainable agriculture. She is currently working as a policy intern with Florida Organic Growers to create endorsement for better agricultural legislature in the 2018 Farm Bill

FOG develops “Learning Garden” at Fred Cone Park Community Garden to engage and educate Gainesville youth

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A cotton harvester – an example of the modern mechanization of agriculture.
Photo credit: Kimberly Vardeman

As FOG’s Education and Outreach Coordinator, part of my interest is to contribute to developing a strong local food system. What does this mean? First, allow me to say that it is telling of how far removed from the source of our food we have collectively become that we need to use and define terms like “food system.” Simply put, a food system is how we obtain our daily bread. This includes the phases of growing, processing, packaging, and distribution.

Like many other aspects of our modern world, our food system has largely become industrialized and globalized. That is, the production and distribution processes rely on energy-intensive practices and a worldwide network of growers and distributors. While the technological advancements we see around us are amazing, there is a price to pay, particularly when it comes to food.

Although there are benefits of a globalized, industrialized food system, like eating tropical fruits out of season from around the world, there are also many costs. Costs to nutrition, the environment, economy, and equality. With a global network of food producers and distributors, how can it be that many people now have less access to fresh, nutritious foods than in previous generations?

The answer lies in the centralization of food production and distribution. Depending on access to these markets, physically and economically (or a lack thereof), community members may be left languishing in a food desert. A food desert is an area defined by the absence of access to fresh, whole foods. For those of us living in Gainesville, we don’t have to look far. Much of Gainesville (see map) is considered a Food Desert according to US Department of Agriculture statistics (shown as blue areas) defined as low-income Census tracts where a significant number or share of residents is more than 1 mile (urban) or 10 miles (rural) from the nearest supermarket[i]. One solution for addressing food deserts is to increase food production through community gardens. This increases access to fresh foods by growing them where they are eaten, condensing the food system to the local or even neighborhood scale. In addition to improved access, community gardens provide many ancillary benefits as well, such as increased public green spaces, community engagement, and fostering intergenerational interaction and learning.

In 2010, FOG produced a report detailing a Local Food Action Plan for Gainesville and Alachua County, funded through the USDA Community Food Projects Competitive Grants Program and the Lydia B. Stokes Foundation[ii]. As part of a larger strategy to address the number one recommendation in the Plan, to increase food security by increasing food production, a three-pronged approach is presented, including:

  • Develop centralized urban garden network that will increase access to information, education and resources for gardeners.
  • Develop neighborhood-based gardening groups to facilitate easier access to information, education and resources.
  • Select targeted low-income neighborhoods, schools and/or faith-based organizations to focus on improved gardening capabilities.

Recently, FOG has partnered with the freshly established Fred Cone Park Community Garden to commence an organic Learning Garden, with the financial support of Lucky’s Market, geared specifically towards youth age 5 – 12. It is our desire that this Learning Garden will play a part in addressing the goals outlined above to develop a strong and vibrant local food system in Gainesville and Alachua County. Specifically, we seek to engage youth in organic gardening, reinforce school curriculum related to ecology and biology, teach financial and economic literacy, and share effective communication practices. We hope that the “FOG Learning Garden” will contribute to a robust network of gardens in the neighborhoods of East Gainesville with the support and engagement of community partners like the Greater Duval Community Garden, Eastside High School Institute of Culinary Arts, UF/IFAS Extension Family Nutrition Program, and others. This network will bring greater accessibility to fresh food that is both affordable and familiar to community members. In a world full of seemingly endless problems, community gardens offer a suite of solutions for the challenges facing our youth and communities.

For a list of community gardens in Gainesville, please visit the Community Gardens page of the City of Gainesville Parks, Recreation & Cultural Affairs website. Grow Gainesville offers another great resource for community gardens and available local food. They also have an active Facebook page dedicated to discussions related to food production in Gainesville.
–Tyler Nesbit is FOG’s Education & Outreach Coordinator.  Drop him a line at tyler@foginfo.org.

 

 

[i] https://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/food-access-research-atlas/go-to-the-atlas/

[ii] Florida Certified Organic Growers and Consumers, Inc. 2010. “Community Vision for Food System Development in Gainesville-Alachua County: A Local Food Action Plan” (Available online: http://www.foginfo.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/FOGLFAP2010.pdf)

Early Bird Registration open for Organic Food and Farming Summit!

For the past 30 years, Florida Organic Growers has been hard at work fighting for farmers in the name of organic agriculture and just food systems. To celebrate this momentous milestone, FOG is holding the inaugural Organic Food & Farming Summit September 17-19 in Gainesville.

This inaugural Summit is an opportunity for beginning and seasoned organic farmers and producers to learn and share with others growing in tropical and sub-tropical conditions and seasons.

The Summit will provide venues to interact and engage with leaders and peers in organic agriculture. Workshop sessions, farm tours, day-long trainings and a special keynote speaker are just a few of some the ways knowledge can be gained at this one-of-a-kind event.

There are multiple ways to partner with us to ensure a successful Summit including sponsorship, participating in the two day tradeshow or submitting a proposal to be a speaker. Visit the website to learn more!

The Summit will inspire, educate, and inform the diverse work of farmers, professionals, advocates, consumers, and others involved in Florida’s sustainable farm and food systems movement.

Early bird registration is now open, register today!

For more information, please contact Summit Coordinator Andi Emrich at andi@foginfo.org or 352-377-6345.

FOG celebrates 30 years of supporting organic and sustainable agriculture!

30 year logo_transparentFOG has carried out its mission for 30 years by providing communities throughout the state with programs and resources that promote and support organic and sustainable agriculture and local and just food systems.

From beginning as a grassroots organization with the office located in someone’s kitchen or an unused corner of a barn to an established organization with programs that educate producers, consumers, institutions and governments about the benefits of organic and sustainable agriculture , Florida Organic Growers has continually made an impact in communities around Florida.

Our EBT program promotes healthy eating by allowing the local farmers market  to accept food stamps. Our Fresh Access Bucks program increases the purchasing power of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participants by providing a one-to-one match for Florida grown fruits and vegetables.

Our farmer workshops educate and equip farmers with the tools and resources they need as well as the opportunity to share best practices. These farm-based, peer teaching events act as an opportunity to share best practices  and further develop the network of like-minded farmers in Florida.

Food justice advocacy is vital to who we are and for the last 30 years. FOG’s programs in increasing access to healthy, fresh food for low income families, educating youth on the importance of eating produce and advocating for policies that improve conditions for organic and family farms are all important contributions to food justice advocacy. In addition, we are proud to be a co-founder and to continue to support the work of the Agricultural Justice Project (AJP) whose mission is to work towards empowerment, justice and fairness for all who labor from farm to retail.

EBT pictureIn 2001, FOG received its USDA accreditation to certify farms as organic under its certification program, Quality Certification Services (QCS). QCS is a USDA and ANSI ISO/IEC 17065 accredited certification body that offers a wide array of certification options for farming, livestock, aquaculture, compound animal feed, packing, handling, processing, and wild harvest operations. We are excited to offer certification options to farms and producers to set them apart.

Our involvement on a national scale has propelled the fight for the organic food and farming movement.

FOG is one of the leading organizations in the nation ensuring the voices of small farmers are heard as new federal food safety regulations are being developed. Our work with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC), The Organic Trade Association (OTA) and the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (SSAWG), to name a few, has given strength and momentum to organic and sustainable farmers moving forward.

We invite you to support us as we are excited to see our work in action this year and making an impact in years to come!

Organic Spinach Production System Workshop

Interested in growing organic spinach? Want to learn more?

Don’t miss the Organic Spinach Production System Workshop on Thursday, February 9!

Held at the University of Florida Plant Science Research and Education Unit in Citra from 1pm to 4pm, this FREE workshop will cover all things spinach, including:

  • Organic spinach production challenges
  • Nutrient management using compost and organic fertilizer
  • Growing spinach under high tunnels
  • Fall and spring production comparisons
  • Microbial loads and postharvest decay
  • Postharvest handling and storage

Don’t miss this opportunity to learn! Be sure to reserve your spot today, space is limited! Register here!

This joint Kansas State University-University of Florida research & extension project is supported by the USDA Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) Food Security Competitive Grants Program (Award # 2014-68004-21824).

Gratitude and Thanks from Executive Director Marty Mesh

As I think back on this year and look toward 2017, I am filled with gratitude for the past and optimism for the future as, together, we have accomplished so much in growing the organic food and farming movement in Florida and beyond. There are so many challenges and so much work to be done going forward that it will clearly be a busy year!

This past year, we worked hard every day to increase access to organic, local food; support organic farmers; and provide information and resources to growers and consumers across the state. From expanding Fresh Access Bucks to more than 30 markets around the state to analyzing public policy and advocating for improvements in food safety, the Farm Bill and local food systems to hosting farmer workshops, we have worked towards making Florida’s organic food and farming movement a real political and economic force.

With your year-end, tax-deductible donation, we can maintain our momentum in 2017.

Next year marks our 30th year of fighting for organic farmers and strengthening local food systems. We have exciting plans for 2017 and want YOU to join us!

Connecting farmers with those who need us most

snap-fabIn 2017, Fresh Access Bucks will work with more than 45 direct-to-consumer outlets to benefit more than 18,000 SNAP recipients throughout Florida, massively increasing farmer revenue! The program will do this by training more than 350 farmer producers to accept SNAP/EBT at farmers markets and direct-to-consumer outlets around the state.

Growing the next generation of organic farmers

We are excited to continue our mission of educating organic farmers and equipping them with the tools needed for both short-term and long-term success. In addition to hosting multiple on-farm workshops in 2017, we are excited to again plan a statewide Organic Farmer Training workshop. Stay tuned for more details…we want you there!

Further, we are looking forward to continuing innovative ways to educate and train farmers about organic farming and local food systems.

Seeking change through collaboration

FOG will continue to drive public policy and advocacy on behalf of organic farmers and consumers who want to support such common sense priorities as better access to healthier food for all and for protecting our fragile natural resources. Our presence in Washington, D.C. for Hill days as well as active involvement with leading advocacy organizations has propelled organic and sustainable agriculture forward and helped broaden and deepen the understanding of its importance.

We have been fortunate to form supportive partnerships with like-minded businesses and organizations over the years and welcome more. The broader our networks become, the farther our impact can reach.

Your generosity is an act of hope

We are so thankful to those who support FOG – your contributions allow us to continue to invest in organic farmers, farmworkers and the education and research needed to help organic farmers be successful.

We need your support now more than ever – join us and let’s make a difference in our state and beyond.

Thank you in advance for your vital contribution.

Marty Mesh
Executive Director

Register NOW for Southern SAWG Annual Conference

We are excited to partner with Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (SAWG) to promote their Annual Conference! ssawglogo3-color-small

For over 25 years the Southern SAWG Annual Conference has been providing the practical tools and solutions you need at our annual conference. It is the must-attend event for those serious about sustainable and organic farming and creating more vibrant community food systems!

The conference will be held January 25-28, 2017 in Lexington, Kentucky.

The popular pre-conference events begin on Wednesday and include a great line-up of one-and-a-half day intensive short courses, Organic Agriculture Research Symposium (OARS), and then on Thursday, several exciting half-day field trips and mini courses. 

The general conference is held on Friday and Saturday. The general conference, with a wide variety of program offerings and 90 expert presenters, gives you the opportunity to learn vast amounts in a short two days! 

The general conference line-up includes 56 educational sessions, plus a state networking session for each of the 13 states in our region, and another 16 information exchange sessions where you get to exchange ideas and information with those who share your interests. 

Also included in the cost of the general conference registration are a trade show, research posters, and the Taste of Kentucky dinner.

Learn more about the conference and register here!