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The Prying Mantis

No Justice, No Peace – reflections on organic farming, CSA and domestic fair trade.

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Massaro Community Farm in the Year of Covid-19

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Masked and gloved, workers at Massaro Community Farm sort and pack carrots. Alanna Gilbert is wearing the Vermont cap. Photo by Caty Poole.

By Elizabeth Henderson

“Farming through a pandemic has been an exhausting, but exciting, endeavor. The hardest part has been the lack of social connection. Our community is one of the biggest parts of our CSA; it’s part of our mission statement: Keep farming, feed people, build community.” Alyssa DesRosier, Assistant Farm Manager

The COVID -19 crisis has exposed minor cracks and deep craters in the US food supply chain. Dairies that sold milk to processors that only supply restaurants and food services had the heartbreaking task of  dumping millions of gallons of milk.When giant meat processing plants closed down because so many of the workers were infected, hog farmers had to “euthanize” thousands of hogs by drowning, shooting and suffocating. Ordered to reopen when the administration declared that it is essential to maintain the meat supply, at least 32,099 meatpacking and processing workers have contracted the virus and at least 109 have died. The crisis has also revealed that family-scale farms that are deeply embedded in their communities have been able to pivot nimbly to make high quality, locally grown and processed foods available while keeping everyone – farm family, farm workers and customers – safe.

By March 20, within days of the Covid-19 shut down, Massaro Community Farm in Woodbridge, CT. was taking orders via email and a week later running a new on-line store not only to sell winter greens from their own greenhouse, but to offer products from neighboring farms that had lost markets when restaurants and schools closed. To learn more about how the farm made this switch so quickly and what it cost them to do so, I called lead farmer Steve Munno to hear his story.  As a fellow member of the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA) Interstate Council and co-chair of our policy committee, I wanted to get a snapshot while memories are fresh and collect the details so that our policy committee can advocate for the real needs of our farmer members before state and federal governments where decisions are underway on allocating stimulus funds that may help farms survive the pandemic.

Steve Munno has been the Farm Manager since the start of Massaro Community Farm eleven years ago when he answered the call for a farmer who could organize a CSA combined with hunger relief and educational programming. Having trained at UC Santa Cruz and then worked with the Food Project, Steve was excited to shape a farm that would combine organic farming with food justice. In answer to my question about the origin of his commitment to social justice, Steve replied, “The injustices of our world, my own privileges and the need to actively work for change were evident early on, so these are the initial seeds.  From there, over the years I got to study and work with people and at organizations where social justice was a pertinent part of the conversation or integral to the mission.” By 2020, the farm had an executive director and a staff of eight, including an education director, a CSA with 250 shares, sales at local farmers’ markets and area restaurants. In addition to commercial sales, Massaro has made a commitment to donate 10% of all production to local hunger relief agencies. The farm has given away over 65,000 pounds of food since 2010, raising funds to pay for the donations and educational programs with such annual community building events as an on farm dinner and a bikathon.  Steve lives in the farm house with his young family, his wife and two children, Vivian who just turned 3 and Miles who will have his first birthday in August, so farm safety also means family safety.

Continue reading “Massaro Community Farm in the Year of Covid-19”

Address to Grand Opening of Cornell Organic Farm, May 2, 2002

By Elizabeth Henderson

I appreciate the chance to be here today (I would be less than honest if I did not add that my first choice would be to spend the day spading ground for our summer crops). On behalf of the organic community I would like to express our appreciation of this occasion: the inauguration of an organic research farm by Cornell.   We have waited for this moment for a long time.

Ever since I returned to NY in 1988, NOFA has been asking Cornell to allocate some of its farmland to research in organic agriculture that would benefit organic farmers and other farmers as well.  I do not want to talk about the resentments we have felt towards Cornell for neglecting what we think is an incredibly important direction, not just for us as organic farmers, but for all human society.  And I do not want to talk about our anger and apprehension that Cornell has helped push farmers out of business by advocating the “get bigger or get out”approach and currying support from the so called life sciences multinationals.  Our work as farmers might have been easier with some researchers working alongside us, investigating the questions that we unearth every day – the simple ones – why do flea beetles plague our early season brassicas and eggplants? how can we reduce the pressure on our cucurbits from cucumber beetles and squash bugs?  and the more difficult ones  what are the optimal rotations for maximal yield and crop quality?-how do we create healthy farming systems in which we do not have to kill anything?  how can we and other farmers make a decent living for our families with money to pay enough to farmworkers so that the work that we love does not become hateful from the pressures of overwork and underpay?

You are setting out here at this new farm to do research on organic production, with a “focus on soil processes, crops rotations and crops using organic techniques, and the influence on pests and beneficial organisms.”  I am sure you are aware that using organic techniques does not mean simply substituting organic inputs for conventional ones.  The most basic organic technique is to observe your farm:  what are the complex interrelationships among crops, soils, wildlife.  As organic farmers, we take this circle wider – we observe the relationships between our farms and the surrounding community, between our region and the rest of the earth.  We try to intervene in ways that facilitate the healthiest and most cooperative interactions.  When a plant or animal becomes sick, we don’t grab for the sprayer or medication, we reflect on what might have caused that illness – is the balance of minerals in the soils out of wack, is there too much, too little, the wrong kind of protein in the feed.  When we have trouble getting an adequate price for our crops in the supermarkets, we don’t run to the government for subsidies, we work with the people who care about creating healthy food to build alternative economic structures – cooperatives, Community Supported Agriculture.  Our farms are our research stations where we try out new ideas every single growing season, and we are pleased to have this research station as well where organic farmers and people with more training in the scientific disciplines can work together.

Organic agriculture is not just a method of production – it is an attitude and an approach towards the world.  Organic farming has developed in this country without the benefit of university support, government subsidies or corporate influence.  Those of us who are farming are not growing wealthy, but we enjoy freedom in the truest sense of that word.  We have a vision for Cornell, New York’s Land Grant.  Cornell could become a leading force in making NYS a model of community food security and grassroots democracy, a state where no one suffers from malnutrition, where families want to raise their children, and those children want to stay because there is a stimulating culture and satisfying employment for everyone, where people from diverse backgrounds live together enlivened by that diversity.  We welcome you to join us in this work in the same spirit!

 

IFOAM Organic Spring 2020

Stephen Walker’s Summary of May 6 Town Hall
On May 6th, our wider organic community engaged in some more valuable thinking forward, in an online “Organic Spring 2020 Town Hall” meeting hosted by IFOAM NA, the North American body of the  International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements. We looked at “lessons from the pandemic,” including: shared challenges –  loss of markets, distribution bottlenecks, and labor shortages; steps all can make toward food system resilience; and scaling up to make organic agriculture the norm. International participants found optimism amidst COVID challenges through a lens of IFOAM’s vision –  worldwide adoption of ecologically, socially and economically sound food systems based on IFOAM’s Four Organic Principles of Health (of people and planet), Ecology (nourishing living ecological systems and cycles), Fairness (relationships with fairness among people and other living beings), and Care (for wellbeing of current and future generations).

The meeting featured panelists Liz Henderson, Monique Marez, Jennifer Taylor, and Arzeena Hamir.

Henderson farmed organically grown vegetables in Wayne County, NY for over 30 years. She works on policy with NOFA-NY, and is on the Board of the Agricultural Justice Project (AJP), a domestic fair trade certification. She described the development of the New York Organic Action Plan. A NYOAP infographic shows how everyone can contribute to change, starting with their own diet and home gardening, and all the way to influencing federal policy. She also chaired the Wayne County Farmland Protection Board. As its only organic farmer, she nonjudgmentally brought exciting and inspiring ideas from sustainable farming to her conventional colleagues, who were most impressed with her ability to get fair prices for her work, and with all the community involvement in her farm.

Monique Marez has worked in the food system since 1999. She is incorporating organic support while coordinating the Pueblo, CO emergency hunger relief response for the COVID crisis. Pueblo has the highest poverty rate in the State. 70% of residents are on food assistance; every child qualifies for a free lunch program. Her approach provides accurate information to citizens in this uncertain time; ensures efforts are inclusive, culturally responsive, healthy and nutritious, and create an opportunity to spark joy rather than food assistance stigma; and coordinates community food system leaders.

Jennifer Taylor is a Board Member for the Organic Farmers Association, Rodale Institute, National Organic Coalition, and Georgia Organics, and previously served on the NOSB. She is an advocate for underserved farming populations, supporting participatory capacity building strategies that enable well being and change through organic farming systems. Her participatory capacity building sessions enable participants to see the connection between the health of soil, plants, animals, food and the earth. She said, “we need to act inclusively and work to specifically share information, provide hands-on training and technical knowledge to the under served farming population about the benefits of organic agriculture. This is how organic can gain access and outreach into all communities. This is how we grow as organic nations. This is how we can grow organic agriculture outside of our own neighbors… This is how we will gain the global impacts of organic benefits in all environments. This is how we work together to grow organic and enable all human beings.”

Arzeena Hamir runs a 26-acre certified organic vegetable and fruit farm on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Her experience in starting a farmers cooperative applies as markets are changing due to COVID. By joining forces, farmers can gain access to markets that were previously closed to them. She discussed moving from competition to cooperation, including efficiencies through sharing resources.

Questions and discussion followed panelists’ opening remarks. When asked what policies would cover the full cost of ecological farming practices and pay fair prices, Henderson suggested a return to parity pricing (covering the full cost of production – true cost accounting) with supply management and required set-asides for conservation. This would be similar to 1930’s programs, but designed for the 21st century, including compensation for earlier systemic racism.

It was noted that there are many global issues that organic can help address, but we need to increase organic’s scale. Henderson said what we need are many small farms, rather than a few large ones – rather than a scale up, it’s a scale out, so more farmers can participate. Marez noted the power of evidence and research toward converting more farms to organic. Organic methods have positive outcomes, shown by research. This allows farmers of every scale to make decisions based on evidence. IFOAM NA Board President Brian Baker noted there are economies and dis-economies of scale.

As to “how do we influence government?” Marez replied, “get involved!” The advocacy work that actually changes the ways politicians think takes a lot of work. “There are a ton of different ways to get involved… Participate on a working group… Make meetings with local and state representatives… contribute comments… Participate in conversations.” Henderson noted development of farmer and farm worker coalitions and working with consumer organizations creates a majority that can make policy changes. Hamir noted success by having organic farmers in public offices. But, she cautioned, this means stepping back from an activist role, instead working to encourage the community to come forward, then being receptive.

Steve Crider, Consultant at Stone Soup Advisors, shared his Pacific Northwest perspective on responses to COVID. “The feeling here is this is our moment. We’ve been building towards this point for years now and this is our time. The seed that got planted years ago – food hubs, farm to school, local incubators, food banks… have all matured. Now we’re connecting the dots. This crisis has forced the issue and now there’s a new level of synergy and collaboration and a feeling of not waiting for permission, but, ‘let’s just do it!’ Seattle is screaming for local food. The county and city government is throwing open the doors and offering options, money, and space, and the region is responding. The frailty and unsustainability of the old system is now apparent to everybody. In the midst of this cloud there’s a light that people are feeling.”

Ann Baier, of the National Center for Appropriate Technology, has been working with a couple pastured poultry projects. She asked, “How do we take advantage of this moment when there’s a lot going on, but a lot of the relief has been directed in the same old ways? … Doing the really local stuff is really great, but in order to have the efficiency to make this really mainstream we’re going to have to figure out the regulatory and policy ways that meat is processed, meets regulations, and is safe… It’s a challenge and an opportunity.” Baker noted right-sized capacity is needed to serve new organic farmers, and we must make supply chains less complicated.

Henderson drew attention to the Green New Deal as an opportunity to put together a whole package of programs that would bring about the kinds of transformations under discussion – relocalizing markets, bringing community control to processing, changing the system that’s so concentrated. “In organic agriculture we have so many of the answers and it’s been frustrating knowing that we have the solution, and waiting for the opportunity to do it. This is our opportunity and we need to move on it and build big enough coalitions to make it happen.”

Marez added, “right now everyone is looking for creative problem solving solutions, and what is obvious to us as long term actors in the organic community is not going to be obvious to those engaging with organic for the first time. So, when we’re sharing concepts or ideas, it’s important that we’re carrying ourselves in an inclusive manner.” Take on an educational role. Show examples of successes. “But, for some, this will be so new. We don’t want to isolate or chastise… Now is the time to blow the lid off of assumptions and stand out as food system leaders, not just as an organic leader.” She further noted that IFOAM’s Four Principles of Organic Agriculture illustrate the link between organic and social justice and come back to food as a right, not a privilege. This thinking ladders up through all levels and sometimes requires taking a firm stance on principles.

Charlie Tilt, Hummingbird Wholesale, Oregon, noted that distributors’ ability to leverage partnered relationships translates farmer’s values to customers at a more cost efficient level. He emphasized that our economic system is competitive. Distributors can level their philosophical insight and value creation to practical outcomes. During COVID, they’re seeing an uptick in business which increases communication opportunities.

Chris Schreiner, Oregon Tilth Executive Director, noted he’s been considering the notion of “never waste a good crisis.” He said we should ask, in this time, “what parts of normal are worth rushing back to, and which are worth leaving behind?” He said he’s also thinking about Naomi Klein’s “shock doctrine” notion. As politicians are looking for solutions, we have opportunities, but, we should also remember that there are others with contradicting interests that are also trying to take advantage. He said, cruel as it may seem, the COVID crisis has accomplished what a lot of long-running global climate change efforts have failed to accomplish. He noted we must connect these dots for policy makers that are looking for solutions, and elevate organic agriculture toward the larger existential crisis of climate.

The Town Hall included some discussion about the NOP Standards not addressing all market demands, like strong regenerative practices, and social justice. Baker pondered ways to address this outside of a regulatory and market approach.  He observed, “a lot of what we’re seeing is cultural in nature, about changing human behavior at a more fundamental level, not just in response to market forces, but in response to people’s psychological stress over the current crisis. Consumers resonate with a food system based on Health, based on Care.” The longstanding discussion of fairness goes beyond a regulatory approach and is an important discussion to continue to have. Taylor said “This is the space where the Principles of Organic Agriculture come into play. If farmers implement principles on their farms, then, whichever way the label goes, we will still have sustainable systems.”

Fred Ehlert, a retired organic inspector, said we can bring along nonorganic consumers by educating them on how the food system works. Hamir added that as supply chains start to break, she’s seeing far fewer complaints about fair pricing for local food, as consumers recognize their dependence on long supply chains is not healthy. People now see a direct link between their consumer choices and the type of agriculture in their community.

In summary, the pandemic has taught the value of international cooperation, that we’re all linked, and that core customers are demanding that organic scale up. We appreciate IFOAM’s global perspective.

 

Stephen Walker

Accreditation & Industry Affairs Mgr.

MOSA Certified Organic

PO Box 821 Viroqua, WI 54665

608.637.2526

mosaorganic.org

 

 

Dynamic Equilibrium as a Goal for Your Farm: Running a Resilient Farm Business

by Elizabeth Henderson

For several years, I followed the engaging saga of the Arnosky’s farm in Growing for Market, a magazine popular among vegetable and flower farmers.  They added more flowers, more acres, more greenhouses, more employees.  Then they added vegetables.  And then they announced that they had no more time to write for Growing for Market, an activity they had seemed to enjoy.  While creative and adventurous in their farming techniques, the Arnosky’s turned out to be orthodox true believers in their business strategy.  The sign over the door of US business reads:  “if you aren’t growing, you’re dying.”  The ag. establishment bullies farms with the demand: “get bigger or get out.”  Are these good mantras for sustainable farm businesses?  Wouldn’t “resilience,” and ”dynamic equilibrium” be healthier goals to guide us in developing our farms? 

Achieving dynamic equilibrium or dynamic stability means finding a way to run your farm so that it does not run you into the ground.  Designing your farm for maximum resilience means that you can withstand the shocks of bad weather, business cycles, and the fragility of human existence.  Most of us who are doing market farming chose this path because growing vegetables or flowers or tending livestock is something we love to do.  We get satisfaction from living close to the earth, working outdoors, planting and seeing things grow, nurturing living creatures, using our bodies as well as our minds.  We can imagine small-scale farming as a wonderful style of life for ourselves and future generations.  The trick is to design our farms so that we do not destroy our love.  That means we have to find the right scale of activities, the number of acres we can handle, the optimum amount of equipment, the fairest markets, and the financial goals that will make our farming socially as well as environmentally sustainable.


Definitions:  Dynamic – “marked by continuous productive activity or change.” Equilibrium – “a state of adjustment between opposing or divergent influences or elements.”  Stability – “the strength to stand or endure.”  Resilience – “ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.”  Webster.


In the way that the writings of Sir Albert Howard, Robert Rodale, Masanobu Fukuoka and Rudolf Steiner, have helped us understand the meaning of farming in nature’s image, Jane Jacob’s book, The Nature of Economies (Vintage, 2001), is a guide to seeing how the human economies of our farms follow the patterns of natural systems.  Jacobs explains that there are “three master processes that govern successful economic life as surely as they govern the rest of nature: development and co-development through differentiations and their combinations; expansion through diverse, multiple uses of energy; and self-maintenance through self-refueling.”  Add to this her discussion of “stabilization through self-correction,” and we have a conceptual model for achieving dynamic equilibrium on our farms and local food systems.

Continue reading “Dynamic Equilibrium as a Goal for Your Farm: Running a Resilient Farm Business”

Book Review: The New American Farmer: Immigration, Race, and the Struggle for Sustainability by Laura-Anne Minkoff-Zern (MIT Press, 2019)

By Elizabeth Henderson

The new farmers whose stories Laura-Anne Minkoff-Zern recounts are Latino/a farmers who have miraculously managed, despite the many obstacles she enumerates, to move from farmworkers to farm owners in the US. Out of the dozens of farmers she interviewed, almost all use organic practices, though only two are certified organic. Since the NOFAs, as well as the National Organic Coalition and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, seek to become more inclusive and to join in dismantling the racism that distorts our society, we would do well to heed Minkoff-Zern’s recommendations for reaching out more effectively to Latino/a farmers.

Today, an assistant professor of Food Studies at Syracuse University, Minkoff-Zern started the research for this book as a graduate student in 2011 and traveled to five different regions of the country, including New York, where ag agency staffers, farmers market managers and other researchers helped her locate the farmers, many of whom speak little English and lack legal status.  As a result of her travels, she is certain that the US Agricultural census underestimates the true numbers of Latino/a farmers since many of them rent land, avoid government offices and have not been included in programs for farmers. She reports on a few programs that offer training for Mexican and other Latino/a farmworkers in becoming a farm manager or owner: the Small Farms Program at Washington State University, Crossroads Community Food Network in Maryland, Viva Farms in the DC area, the Latino Economic Development Center in Minnesota and the Agriculture and Land-Based Training Association (ALBA) in California. Over the twenty plus years, ALBA has helped launch dozens of Latino/a-owned farms through its courses and incubator. I have presented there several times on how to make your farm fair to the people who work on it. Although few of the ALBA students expected to hire non-family members, they appreciated the resources I shared on an integrated approach to farm safety and good working conditions.Screenshot (98)

With just a few interesting exceptions, the Latino/a farmers Minkoff-Zern has located farm on a small scale, from ten to forty acres, using “alternative farming techniques” they learned from family traditions, alternatives that are familiar to NOFA farmers and homesteaders. The Latino/a farmers grow a diversity of crops including many that are essential to the Mexican cuisine: feeding their own families healthy food is one of their major goals. Food sovereignty, control over their own food supply, is a crucial value for them.  Instead of chemicals, they use integrated pest management, employ mostly family labor and sell direct, often through farmers’ markets.

Continue reading “Book Review: The New American Farmer: Immigration, Race, and the Struggle for Sustainability by Laura-Anne Minkoff-Zern (MIT Press, 2019)”

Farmworkers Deserve Better: The Farm Workforce Modernization Act Does Not Solve the Farm Labor Dilemma

By Elizabeth Henderson

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Roxbury Community Farm CSA, a community-supported farm in Kinderhook, New York, is large enough to feed a lot of people, yet not so large that anyone has to work like a machine. (Photo credit: Elizabeth Henderson) https://www.roxburyfarm.com/home

Farmworkers, farmers and their organizations around the country have been singing the same tune for years on the urgent need for immigration reform. That harmony turns to discord as soon as you get down to details on how to get it done, what to include and what compromises you are willing to make. Case in point: the Farm Workforce Modernization Act (H.R. 5038), which passed in the House of Representatives on December 11, 2019, by a vote of 260-165. The Senate received the bill the next day and referred it to the Committee on the Judiciary, where it remains. Two hundred and fifty agriculture and labor groups signed on to the United Farm Workers’ (UFW) call for support for H.R. 5038. UFW President Arturo Rodriguez rejoiced:

“Today is a milestone because this bill will help bring stability to the agricultural industry…Agricultural workers will have stability for themselves and their families. No longer will children worry whether their moms and dads are coming home from work. The bill addresses the pervasive fear faced every day by the immigrant farm workers who perform one of the toughest jobs in America.”

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According to U.S. Department of Agriculture, close to 50 percent of all farmworkers remain undocumented. (Source: USDA Economic Research Service)

Smaller farmworker organizations, however—Familias Unidas por la Justicia, Community to Community Development, CATA, Farmworker Association of Florida and UFCW, who unite in the Food Chain Workers Alliance—vigorously oppose H.R. 5038. Why the split, and what does it mean for this bill and future steps toward comprehensive immigration reform?

Continue reading “Farmworkers Deserve Better: The Farm Workforce Modernization Act Does Not Solve the Farm Labor Dilemma”

DIY Direct Sales – the Reko System

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Finnish farmer Thomas Snellman explains how Reko Circles work at the Expo Champs-Bio at la Ferme aux Petits Oignons, September 1, 2019. The red dots on the map of the Scandinavian countries indicate the location of Reko circles.

By Elizabeth Henderson

From Finland, where organic farms and customers are far apart and neither CSA nor farmers’ markets ever caught on, comes Reko Circles, a system that may come in handy during this Covid-19 crisis!  This is how it works.  A farmer, or group of farmers, set up a closed Facebook page where you list the products you have available for the week with prices and photos.  You invite regular customers to place their orders with a set deadline.  Then you meet with them in an agreed upon place – a parking lot, a park, any convenient place with enough room for your vehicle and theirs.  In a short timespan, the customers pay you, take their prepacked order and depart. You could even set it up so that customer arrivals are staggered so as not to convene too many people at the same time.

Here is a video where Finnish farmer Thomas Snellman describes the Reko system that has grown in just a few years from two small circles to millions of dollars’ worth of sales from Finnish farms.  His explanation starts at 6.15, though you might want to watch from the beginning to get a sense of who Snellman is.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ETHa7MPEl1A&feature=youtu.be

Continue reading “DIY Direct Sales – the Reko System”

The Farm Laborers Fair Labor Practices Act – What It Means for Organic Farms

By Elizabeth Henderson

After twenty years of intense campaigning by farm worker advocates, the NYS Legislature passed S.6578 Ramos / A.8419 Nolan, the Farm Laborers Fair Labor Practices Act (in previous years known as the Farmworker Fair Labor Practices Act) and on June 18, 2019 Governor Cuomo quickly signed it into law. The passage of the bill was made possible by the new Democratic control of the NYS Senate as well as the Assembly which has passed similar bills year after year. The NY Farm Bureau vociferously opposed the bill, declaiming that the requirement for time and half overtime pay would wreck farming in the state. Farmworkers hailed the passage as a victory for basic labor rights and fairness. As organic farmers, we salute the justice of finally ending the exclusion of farmworkers from labor protections and acknowledge their freedom of association.  We appreciate the legislative process, including lengthy public hearings where many farmers and farmworkers were able to express their views, and the resulting compromises, while far from perfect, are at least steps in the right direction. Until farmers can afford to pay living wages and full health and retirement benefits to farm workers (and to themselves), we will not have a farming system that is truly worth sustaining.

Assemblywoman Catharine Nolan, one of the prime sponsors of the legislation, described the negotiations and compromises that went into shaping the final language:

“We tried to thread the needle in a fair way. We are listening to the farmers in our state. The original legislation had a 40-hour overtime trigger. We agreed, in the interest of moving forward and the unique challenges the farm industry faces, to go to a 60 hour trigger. We also made a change in the law so that people paying into unemployment for H-2A employees get a reduction in their unemployment. We put in a day of rest but that day of rest has to be agreed to and counts a day of rain as a day of rest. We also modified their ability to strike. That’s a very serious compromise in my part but we did agree, and the Farm Bureau, again, has been a part of the discussion, agreed to a no-lockout hardship type of process. Each step of the way we tried to match a compromise with the Farm laborers with a compromise for farmers and match them in tandem.”

The bill takes effect January 1, 2020, except for the housing requirement which takes effect a year later. Continue reading “The Farm Laborers Fair Labor Practices Act – What It Means for Organic Farms”

Root Solutions to Crisis for Family-Scale Farms

By Elizabeth Henderson

“Agricultural choices must be made by these inescapable standards: the ecological health of the farm and the economic health of the farmer.’ Wendell Berry, Right Kind of Farming

For almost 5 decades (50th anniversary coming up in 2021!), the Northeast Organic Farming Association  (NOFA) has been dedicated to supporting and expanding the community of farmers, homesteaders and conscious eaters who build their lives and livelihoods through agroecology – growing and consuming food, forage and other crops in as much harmony with natural processes and rhythms as we can muster.  We have been leaders in promoting buy local organic and alternatives to globalized industrialized chemical agriculture. To enable shoppers to identify organically grown food, NOFA has put a lot of resources – time and energy -into developing and maintaining organic certification and the integrity of the organic label. Increasing public recognition of that label has helped save many generational farms and enabled the creation of new farms. But that label is not enough to keep family-scale farms viable.

For as long as I can remember (and I started farming in 1980), most of the farmers I know have supported their farms by someone’s off farm job – either the farmer or someone in the family. Under relentless and steadily increasing financial pressures, dairy farmers sell their cows and turn to field crops, raising cattle for beef or selling hay. Anything to keep the farm alive. Talented young farmers give it their all for five, even ten years – and then quit.  Experienced farmers, including organic farmers, go out of business – the farmers give up the struggle, sell what they can and find “real” jobs.  Development gobbles up farmland which has grown too expensive for a farmer to buy with farm earnings. The price farmers receive for crops does not cover all the costs of keeping farms viable, not to mention the extra costs of ecological or regenerative farming systems. The farm crisis is not over.

Can we find solutions? Continue reading “Root Solutions to Crisis for Family-Scale Farms”

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