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FOG’s statement to U.S. House Agriculture Committee Farm Bill Listening Session

Below is FOG’s statement to the U.S. House Agriculture Committee in Gainesville, FL on June 24, 2017.   

I’m Marty Mesh, ED of Florida Organic Growers, a non-profit that we established in 1987. I personally started growing organically in 1973. FOG provides outreach and education to farmers and consumers as well as operates an accredited certification program.  We collaborate in organic research projects and in other educational project work.  As the largest certifier on the eastern seaboard, we certify operations nationally and internationally in all scopes. FOG also operates a Statewide FINI funded project potentially benefiting all Florida direct market growers and SNAP users and has long been a leader in widely recognized food system improvement projects.

You should have heard the figures, the 75 billion dollar global marketplace, the fastest growing sector of ag since 1990, etc. The organic industry has provided a viable economic opportunity for many farmers who otherwise may have gone out of business amongst declining commodity prices and farm consolidations. Organic has also provided an entryway for many young and beginning farmers. For the State of Florida this has resulted in over 450 organic businesses. With real Federal investment that number could be a lot higher and the ROI on that investment would be impressive. The National Organic Certification Cost Share program is a vital program for many of those new entries and family scale operators to be able to participate in the organic marketplace.

Organic is a voluntary regulatory program that provides uniform, consistent standards in order to meet consumer expectations. We need adequate authority, accountability, and resources for the National Organic Program. This is necessary to keep pace with industry growth, to continue to set standards, and to carry out compliance and enforcement actions in the U.S. and abroad.

Increased funding for research on organic production methods is CRITICAL to the survival of organic farms and growth of the sector. Support for the flagship Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) program will ensure that organic farmers can continue to meet the unique challenges they face and farmers interested have good research to base decisions on.  UF has received over $4 million in funding to conduct organic research, including several grants funded through OREI that have been critical to the success of Florida organic farmers. This at a University who told me years ago that growing organic blueberries in Florida was just not possible.  Now a few miles from here, there are over 200 acres of organic blueberries. UF offers an organic degree program originating from a small SSARE grant that FOG wrote and implemented.

We also have an opportunity in this farm bill to facilitate transition to organic by improving access to land and capital; and investment in infrastructure, and targeted technical assistance. Existing USDA conservation, rural development, and other potential programs such as transitional certification can help encourage growers to check out a sector which presents an economic opportunity to deal with supply side shortages.  It is way past time to adequately invest resources in the fastest growing segment of agriculture providing multiple benefits.

Thank you for the opportunity to provide remarks today. The organic industry looks forward to working with the committee in developing the next farm bill.

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.

Conservation Stewardship Program accepting applications

A major farmer and rancher funding opportunity is now available!

USDA is currently accepting initial applications for Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) – a national program that rewards farmers for protecting and enhancing natural resources on their working lands. CSP funding includes expanded options for conservation activities and an increased minimum payment to help smaller-scale producers. Contracts may include cover crops and rotational grazing to ecologically-based pest management.

Interested farmers should visit their local NRCS office and fill out a short form by February 3, 2017 to take advantage of this opportunity.

Learn more here!

 

Scholarships Available for 2017 Organic Agriculture Research Symposium

The Organic Farming Research Foundation is pleased to announce the availability of a limited number of scholarships to help with the cost of attending the 2017 Organic Agriculture Research Symposium (OARS), taking place on January 25-26, 2017 in Lexington, Kentucky, immediately preceding the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group Conference (SAWG).

Scholarships up to $350 will be awarded based on the need and merit of the applicant. The scholarship funds may be used for symposium registration ($90-$120), travel and one night of lodging.

Learn more here.

 

 

Organic Farming Research Foundation accepting abstracts for symposium

The Organic Farming Research Foundation is seeking submission of research abstracts for presentation at the 2017 Organic Agriculture Research Symposium (OARS), taking place on January 25-26, 2017 in Lexington, Kentucky, immediately preceding the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group Conference (SAWG).

The symposium will feature researchers from all disciplines related to organic farming and food systems, and other systems of sustainable agriculture that employ techniques compatible with organic standards.The intent of the symposium is to provide current information to farmers, ranchers, extensionists, educators, agricultural professionals and others interested in organic agriculture.

The deadline is October 1!

Learn more here!

Florida Organic Growers partners in launch of video series to help demystify organic certification

Florida Organic Growers (FOG) and Little Bean Productions have cooperated with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Organic Program to launch a video series called Organic Certification Made Simple: Bite by Bite as part of the USDA Sound and Sensible Initiative, a campaign that aims to make organic certification more accessible, affordable and attainable.

The multi-part series provides a step-by-step overview of organic production requirements and the process of organic certification—by farmers, for farmers. Featuring both farm footage and animation, the videos aim to be easily digestible and succinct; each video covers a different topic so viewers can pick and choose to watch the videos that correspond directly with their interests or questions. Viewers can watch the whole series to get a holistic overview of the entire certification process.

“Our series is meant to help direct-market growers who are using sustainable practices understand that getting certified organic may not be a huge stretch for them,” said FOG Executive Director Marty Mesh, “and many consumers and wholesalers are looking for certified organic products, so getting certified could open up markets for them and make their businesses more viable.”

Throughout the 26 videos, farmers discuss their firsthand experiences with obtaining organic certification and why they decided to pursue it. One segment follows a direct market farmer on his journey through the organic certification process to show viewers how the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) organic regulations translate to practices on the ground.

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“Many see organic certification as a daunting process, but Bite by Bite is full of visually engaging practical information while highlighting peer-to-peer communication with all the organic farmers we feature,” said Shelley Rogers of Little Bean Productions, director/producer of the series.

FOG was one of 14 organizations awarded a project contract with a goal to advance the USDA National Organic Program’s (NOP) Sound and Sensible Initiative by identifying and removing barriers to certification and streamlining the certification process.

To view the video series, please click here.

Welcome from Pam Smith, President of FOG Board of Directors

Hello! My name is Pam Smith. Nowadays, I am a consumer of organic foods. But, in the 1970s, I was a farmer of organic watermelons.

Before I became a farmer, I was a counselor at a women’s health center and a graduate student in anthropology. One day, two of my fellow counselors came to me and said that they could tell I was miserable as a graduate student and that they would like to have me quit school and join them in farming. They were among the first in a new wave of organic growing. There were five of them, I made six.

Our first year we grew three acres and our second year, we grew 30 acres! I was a city girl—I had absolutely no experience in nature. I grew up in Los Angeles in an apartment surrounded by asphalt.  Farming was my introduction to the natural world.

I had two favorite jobs – I loved tilling and I loved harvesting. Tilling is started in the winter time here in Florida so it was cool in the fields. It was peaceful. I walked along slowly, figuring out which little seedlings looked the very strongest and then I tilled out the competitors close by in order to give the strong ones the best chance of survival and health. It was very satisfying and now when I look back at it, I see that it was also very meditative – just me, the birds and the little bitty new plants.

As the season progressed, so did tilling efforts. The plants became larger but they still needed those weeds cut out because weeds are by nature very fast growing and strong as heck. So now there was the challenge of finding the weeds under the now-vines of the watermelon plants. But it was still relatively cool out and it was still very satisfying to find those weeds and eliminate them, knowing that this is how we would have big, healthy watermelons come harvest time.

I had to learn to love being covered in dirt and I had to learn to be flexible with weather patterns.

I am thrilled to be part of the FOG Board of Directors and leading the organic food and farming movement in Florida.

We would love for you to join us as a Friend of FOG member. You can join at any level and know you are supporting an organization that works diligently to change the landscape of organic food and farming in Florida!

Join today!

Gratitude is the greatest form of love.

Sarasota Market 2

As we all know, February is love month and there’s no better way to show your love and care other than to support your local farmers.

Visit your local farmers market and purchase directly from the farmers or buy into a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program.

We support local farmers in a myriad of ways.

Join FOG as a member and grow with us as we further the organic food and farming movement!

 

Farmer Friday: Food safety and Big Bear Farms

It’s our last Farmer Friday! Today we are chatting about food safety!

Each Friday in November and December, we are excited to bring you stories of what Florida Organic Growers (FOG) has accomplished in the organic and farming industry and how its impacted farmers, consumers and the community while spotlighting farmers in Florida who have benefitted from our work.

We encourage you to join us as a member to allow us to continue this invaluable work.

The Food Safety Modernization Act and Big Bear Farms

The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) is the first major overhaul of our nation’s food safety regulations since 1938 and it includes new requirements for produce farms and for facilities that process produce and many other types of food for people to eat.

FSMA was signed into law in January 2011. It gives the FDA broad new powers to prevent food safety problems, detect and respond to food safety issues, and improve the safety of imported foods. Specifically, FSMA requires FDA to establish new regulations for standards for produce production (the Produce Rule) and food safety measure for facilities that process food for human consumption (Preventative Controls Rule).

After receiving tens of thousands of comments last year, FDA announced that they would re-propose parts of two main rules. FDA just ended their comment period two weeks ago for the re-proposed rules.

FOG has been at the forefront in advocating for revising of the FSMA rules and our partnership with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) has allowed us to reach the masses about food safety and its costly burden on family farmers.

It was vital for farmers, consumers, and food advocates to comment as there is a real risk these rules will put farmers and food entrepreneurs out of business and make sustainable and organic agriculture, local food, and conservation efforts collateral damage.

Big Bear Farms, a Certified Organic blueberry and vegetable farm in Plant City, will be greatly affected by these new rules. blueberry_bushes1_250x166

“FDA took the strictest regulations and applied it to all farms. Many rules they are proposing do not apply to smaller farms,” said Ken Der, owner of Big Bear Farms.

“The cost to the smaller farms has to be minimal otherwise it will put us out of business.”

The farm is also certified for Produce GAPs Harmonized Food Safety Standard for Field Operations and Harvesting. Both certifications are with Quality Certification Services, a certification program under FOG.

If FMSA doesn’t work for ALL farmers, then it doesn’t work for safe food, and it doesn’t work for us.

Please join us as we continue to advocate for family farms and become a FOG member today!

 

Farmer Friday: Fresh Access Bucks and Venus Veggies

Fresh Access Bucks and Venus Veggies is where it’s at today for our Farmer Friday!

Each Friday in November and December, we are excited to bring you stories of what Florida Organic Growers (FOG) has accomplished in the organic and farming industry and how its impacted farmers, consumers and the community while spotlighting farmers in Florida who have benefitted from our work.

We encourage you to join us as a member to allow us to continue this invaluable work.

Fresh Access Bucks: Increasing access to local food for all

In 2013, we received a Specialty Crop Block Grant from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) to develop the Fresh Access Bucks program to increase access and affordability of Florida grown fruits and vegetables to low-income Florida residents and to increase sales of Florida grown fruits and vegetables to Florida consumers.

We work with currently 20 markets statewide to incentivize the use of SNAP benefits (formally known as food stamps) to purchase healthy produce directly from Florida farmers at participating markets. We do so by doubling the amount of money a shopper with a SNAP card has to spend on Florida grown produce. For example, an individual spending $10 on produce at a participating market can buy $20 worth of fresh, local produce.

This program is transforming Florida communities because it expands access to affordable healthy, local foods, increases fruit and vegetable consumption for vulnerable families and enhances local economies, farm viability and farmers markets.

Jeff Troup and Karin Grunden, owners of Venus Veggies, a Certified Organic farm in Venus near Lake Placid, have benefitted greatly from the program. Venus veggies 1

“Fresh Access Bucks has made a difference in our community,” said Karin. “As an organic farm, we have received more customers because it enables a wider variety of people to purchase organic food that might not otherwise be able to. It also allows customers to try new foods, such as golden beets and romanesco, which they would not normally purchase.”

Fortunately, the 2014 Farm Bill includes the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) Program that represents the first time there has been federal legislation to support programs like Fresh Access Bucks and was born out of successful efforts like FOG’s, Wholesome Wave and the Fair Food Network, among others. FOG is the statewide organization that leads the way for Florida’s farmers market SNAP incentive program.

venus veggies 2To learn more about our Fresh Access Bucks program and find participating markets throughout the state, please visit our Fresh Access Bucks page.

FOG’s works to advocate for the expansion of local food access and increase business for family scale farmers.

Please join us as we continue our fight for this next generation of family scale farmers and become a FOG member today!