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Florida Organic Growers Stance on Hemp and Medical and Recreational Marijuana

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Background:

Cannabis, both as hemp and marijuana, has proven itself as a beneficial agricultural product. Hemp has long been used across the world as a viable and sustainable option for textiles and industrial products. Cannabis provides a multitude of medicinal benefits from the alleviation of chronic pain to reducing anxiety. Opening up the hemp and marijuana industry has the potential to bring in billions of dollars in sales and create hundreds of thousands of jobs across the United States.

Florida Organic Growers (FOG) has long been in support of the legalization of cannabis in both forms. Our founding visionaries understood the importance of cannabis early on and we have largely been in support of regulations and bills that bring us closer to the legalization of cannabis, while also protecting Florida consumers and our environment.

Support of Bill # CS/CS/HB 333:

House Bill 333 proposes a state hemp program aimed at creating a legal and regulated hemp industry that promotes the cultivation, processing and selling of hemp and hemp products. The 2018 Farm Bill removed hemp from the list of controlled substances which makes it now federally legal to grow and sell hemp. Hemp, according to the Farm Bill, cannot contain more than 0.3 percent THC. The Farm Bill also asserts that state departments of agriculture must devise a plan per their state’s governor and chief law enforcement officer that must be approved by the Secretary of USDA before it may commence. FOG is in full support of House Bill 333 as it understands the importance of regulation while also incubating a safe, viable market for the future of cannabis. House Bill 333 will beneficially open Florida’s doors to the benefits of the hemp industry for its usage in a textile form and as a dietary substance. House Bill 333 is an advancement in the right direction for the State of Florida.

Regulation:

FOG understands the impact cannabis could have on our economy and health. However, we also understand the need to enact regulations to protect consumers and the environment. Marijuana consumption, in its euphoric recreational form, needs to be exclusively limited to adults. Medicinal use of marijuana by minors must be first approved by a medical professionals. It must also be ensured that our ecosystem will be conserved. We need to protect not only consumers, but also the environment from the potential destruction caused by chemical laden agricultural practices as the marijuana industry grows.  Florida’s environmental livelihood and consumer health hangs in a fragile balance; we need to ensure policies and regulations are in place before the marijuana market booms in this state. FOG will be in support of any state and federal regulation that protects producers, consumers, and our land from any detrimental agricultural practices in the cannabis industry.

Decriminalization:

As Florida moves toward a legal and regulated marijuana and hemp industry, decriminalization of cannabis must be brought to the forefront of the conversation. Even as states enact law reforms for marijuana and as more move toward total legalization, arrests for marijuana make up almost 40% of all drug arrests and costs tax payers billions of dollars while damaging the lives of people caught with even miniscule amounts of the substance. According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report, marijuana arrests are up by 21% since 2017, despite ten states legalizing the adult use of cannabis. Racial inequality when it comes to such arrests are also an issue. African Americans and whites are shown to use marijuana at the same rate, however blacks are nearly four times as likely as white Americans to be arrested for marijuana possession according to the American Civil Liberties Union. FOG, as an organization founded on social justice for farm workers and other marginalized people, understands that reform is needed to break the perpetuating racial bias in the unequal treatment of people of color by decriminalizing cannabis and creating regulations that protect against such inequalities.

Future of Cannabis in Florida:

FOG wants to see Florida at the forefront of cannabis regulation, most importantly in the realm of organics. Currently, no US states have any organic standards outlined by their state agricultural departments. Consumers of cannabis, in all of its forms, deserve a product that is free from harsh pesticides and that is grown in a way that protects the environmental livelihood of our state.

FOG will support and advocate for any Florida state legislation that serves to protect consumers and the environment by regulating the possible adverse effects of conventional growing practices. FOG will work with state representatives to ensure that any cannabis regulation that makes it through the legislative process includes in it methods to protect our citizens and preserve the ecosystem of Florida.

We’ve seen numerous examples of the beneficial effects of both hemp and marijuana. It is time for Florida to join other states in the safe and regulated legalization of cannabis. FOG realizes the benefits of cannabis from a health and an economic standpoint and pledges to be on the right side of history in the path toward cannabis legalization. 

How You Can Get Involved?

Donations are one way you can assist FOG to advocate for organic/regenerative/sustainable agriculture! Your donations are direct towards:

  • Education about organic and sustainable agriculture locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally.
  • Promoting farmers markets, increasing access for SNAP participants to fresh healthy food and creating market opportunities for Florida small farmers.
  • Providing on-farm workshops for farmers to learn about specialty crops and organic certification.
  • Offering trusted, accredited, third party certifications of organic and food safety standards, expanding the certified organic market.
  • Working to improve public policy that promotes organic and sustainable farming and access to healthy food.
  • Advocating for social equity and just working conditions for all who labor in agriculture.

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


House Farm Bill Draft Falls Short

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After the House Agriculture Committee’s farm bill draft was released on Thursday April 12th, food and farming justice advocates immediately began speaking out in intense opposition for the majority of the bill’s components. Soon after, on Wednesday April 18th, the House Agriculture Committee met during markup, a process in which the bill is discussed, debated, and amended by the members of the committee. Unsurprisingly, there was nearly unanimous opposition expressed in response to the heavily partisan nature of the bill. This house draft of the bill, to be titled the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018, undermines the wellbeing of so many Americans who rely on the ability of the committee to create a favorable bill for all.

Collin Peterson, Minnesota’s ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee, began the full committee hearing on Wednesday at the hill with his opposition for the bill, setting the stage for many others to comfortably express their frustrations soon after. “A safety net for those who produce our food, and those who need help purchasing it, remains the most important work of this committee. I’m afraid that this bill poisons that”, he declared to the members as he commenced his speech. Major concerns of Peterson that he reflected to the committee include the changes to SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). He also admonished the lack of baseline funding for the Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Development Program, the lack of funding for citrus greening research, and the consolidation of Title 2 (The Conservation Title).

Proposed changes to SNAP funding would affect millions of the most vulnerable individuals who depend on the program, such as the disadvantaged, senior, and veteran Americans. Under the newly proposed provisions, nearly all individuals from the ages of 18 to 59 would be mandated to either participate in a weekly 20 hour workforce training or work part time in order to receive SNAP benefits. This provision would allocate an estimated $1 billion of farm bill spending annually to the workforce program alone. Currently, the farm bill allocates approximately 80% of it’s spending to the Nutrition Title, $70 billion in the last fiscal year alone, and serves 42 million Americans in need of food assistance. After a total of 23 hearings on SNAP, many are left disappointed by the result and believe that these changes would transition SNAP from a welfare program into a workforce program, straying from the underlying goal of nutrition assistance.

Another major change purported as beneficial comes from within title 2, Conservation. The House Agriculture Committee farm bill draft seeks to combine two of the most comprehensive conservation programs, by folding the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) into the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), but not without eradicating essential funding and necessary program components. This consolidation would provide a ‘ceiling’ on funding for CSP rather than a floor, allowing 25% or more of funding to be cut over a five year time span, decreasing the current $8.8 billion received under the 2014 farm bill. The consolidation of these programs fails to account for the different goals of the programs. EQIP is more of an on ramp for conservation efforts, while CSP helps foster advanced conservation efforts. These changes also fail to include some of the best components of the current Conservation Stewardship Program, such as payments for advanced conservation efforts and supplemental payments for diversification. Additionally, concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOS) would become eligible for these stewardship contracts. Although they carry very different weights within the farm bill, both the Nutrition and Conservation titles are indispensable components that should not be changed in such a way that infringes upon their past successes.

The draft completely eliminates funding for the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program, Value-Added Producer Grants Program, Organic Certification Cost Share Program, Rural Micro-entrepreneur Assistance Program, and more.  Many of these smaller pieces of the larger puzzle that make up the farm bill play significant roles within the bill, namely for rural farmers, local food security, and organic producers. The bill also fails to make any favorable changes that would expand opportunities for organic farmers within the Crop Insurance Title or the EQIP Organic Initiative. Despite reauthorizing the Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Development Program, which provides resources and technical training to new producers, the draft does not permanently reauthorize the program, nor does it allocate more funding for the program.  The sustainability of American agriculture depends upon the ability of policy makers to create a farm bill that reflects both the goals that the farm bill was originally built upon as well as the values of current and future farmers.

The first Farm Bill was created in 1993 under Roosevelt’s New Deal Legislation, with three overarching goals in mind: Fair food prices, adequate food for all, and to protect and sustain our country’s natural resources. Disappointingly, this draft in its current state is far from reflecting these once-envisioned values. Though the path to the 2018 Farm Bill has become more uncertain due to preceding events, the steadfast sentiments of the House Agriculture Committee members and Americans who have a great stake in the bill are being heard. The path thus far has been less than smooth, and the future of the Agricultural Act of 2018 depends on committee members to not only hear out the concerns of each other, but those who this bill will impact the most.

Please note: this post was written as the House Ag Committee was voting on the bill. Please visit the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition for breaking news on the 2018 Farm Bill.  

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

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)

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.

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!