Welcome to the 4th issue of the 2012 Michigan Organic Connections provided to you by Michigan Organic Food & Farm Alliance.
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A Letter From The Chair

       A mid-summer morn arrives with rejuvenating rainfall - the response from flora and fauna alike is a thankful sigh of relief. Having spent six decades on the planet no similar season has been witnessed, in this our “Water Wonderland”. Appreciative of where we are and what we have, but there is trepidation about where we are headed. All the age-old maxims could be applied but realistically we are in a time like no other!

      One of the key components to our 20th Anniversary Celebration this coming autumn, the 10th of November, is Collaboration.   Very simply stated by Webster’s Dictionary, collaboration means “to work jointly or together”. Michigan’s ecologically sustainable food networks, which at the bottom of the pyramid are anchored by our farmers and at the apex by all (as consumers), have a need to broaden and improve dialogue. MOFFA throughout the past 20 years has offered the knowledge and skills of its membership to further organic agriculture and the community food systems thus derived. During the era of the creation of the National Organic Program activism was at its peak because of the critical need to get it right. That work continues, but the foundation is solid. Just as I am writing this an alert came from NOP of five fraudulent organic certificates being perpetrated on the public!

      Much of the discussion at the MOFFA board of director’s monthly meetings has centered on defining our role as we move forward. The celebration on the 10th of November will have a segment for input and conversation on MOFFA in its 3rd decade.  Currently much of our effort has been to work with other events to (1) offer educational track sessions on topics relevant to each conference’s theme, (2) offer financial sponsorship, (3) exhibit - answer questions and concerns, provide information, and offer a fine selection of literature, and (4) host social networking sessions.  This we will continue to do.

      In addition our Policy Committee continues to stay abreast of state legislation and policy emanating from the governors office, partnering with like-minded regional and national organizations in matters of relevance to organic agriculture (i.e. farm bill, changes to NOP), and promoting programs to sustain the diversified small and beginning farmer as well as continuing to support our established successful organic growers.

            Recently we have entered into an agreement to participate with the Michigan League of Conservation Voters Education Fund to “further the conservation and environmental movement…. – a collaborative effort to build our collective political power”.
            Michelle Napier-Dunnings, the new director of MIFFS (Michigan Food and Farming Systems) and I have had exploratory discussions on establishing a cohesive connection between our organizations and how that synergy could manifest.
            The Student Organic Farm at Michigan State University is implementing a student loan program with MOFFA assisting in the fiduciary aspect. All decision-making rests with the SOF, we are there solely to offer what support would enable this great endeavor to actualize.
           It is MOFFA’s goal to work with a number of recently emerging dynamic organizations of young farmers, urban coalitions and newly engendered cooperatives in cultivating  a new  event  that will be associated with our  20th year  Harvest Celebration this November 10th.
            In a conversation with Jim Gerritson, president of Organic Seed and Trade Association, the lead plaintive in the suit against Monsanto’s GMO cross contamination, he made note of the fact that 20% of Maine’s farmers were organically certified, another 20% were farming following sustainable organic practices yet without the certification.  “Just think of the impact on state legislative policy if we were a voice of 40% of the farming community not 20%.”  Stand up and be counted.     

      We, who are of an older, once vocal generation, would do well to heed the call of today’s enthusiastic youth who demand more accountability from all sectors and desire the access to the tools and systems for a just livelihood. There is a constructive power to be derived from many individuals working together toward a series of common goals. We all have “skin in the game” – let not our egos and politics and geographic distance hinder us from finding that commonality which will produce real solutions.

       Listed to the right are the events which your Michigan Organic Food and Farm Alliance will help sponsor and attend this autumn and early winter. Sincerely would like to see you at one or all – especially November 10th in Flint.
John H.

Volume 2, Issue 4

July 2012

Southwest Michigan Harvest Fest - September 16thwww.fairfoodmatters.org
Growing Connections – September 23rdwww.htnetwork.org
Great Lakes Bioneers Conference, Detroit -  October 19th-21st www.glbd.org
Great Lakes Bioneers Conference, Traverse City – October 19th-21stwww.glbconfernce.org
MOFFA 20th Anniversary Harvest Celebration – November 10thwww.moffa.org
Glexpo – December 4th-6thwww.glexpo.com
Family Farm Conference – January 2013 – www.miffs.org
Northern Michigan Small Farms Conference – January 2013 – www.smallfarmsconference.com

Policy Committee Updates

            MOFFA is currently working with the Conservation League to promote beginning farmer policies. The Conservation League brings together many different environmental and related organizations to work on policy at the state level. The groups make individual proposals and then pick several to focus on for the upcoming legislative session.
            The MOFFA policy committee is proposing to work on mentorship and land acquisition programs for beginning farmers.  By working with the Conservation League we will be bringing these issues to the environmental policy community, and our continued participation in this community will aid in our efforts to make organic and sustainable agriculture issues known to state officials and to the legislature. If our proposal is chosen, MOFFA will continue to collaborate with other sustainable agriculture organizations to develop policy to aid Michigan’s beginning farmers. We will be able to contribute to our and the Conservation League’s efforts by volunteer lobbying and grassroots organization.  Look forward to periodic updates, and when the time comes, be ready to contact your local legislators!
Chris Bardenhagen
MOFFA Policy Chair
Chris Bardenhagen, MOFFA Policy Chair

What's New at MSU!!

MSU Organic Research:
This month we would like to highlight some of the organic research being conducted by Mathieu Ngouajio’s group in the Horticulture Department.  Their research encompasses many different aspects of cover cropping strategies and season extension for vegetables. For example, they are currently finishing up one project attempting to optimize the proportions of both rye and hairy vetch in mixtures, both with and without black plastic, for enhanced nitrogen availability and weed suppression.  Additionally, they have recently initiated a project that looks at combining various Brassica cover crops, used for biofumigation, with virtually impermeable film (VIF).  VIF film creates anaerobic soil conditions, and when combined with a biofumigant cover crop, shows great potential for disease suppression.   And finally, the Ngouajio lab is also looking at extending the tomato season in low tunnels, a lower cost alternative to high tunnels. 
Organics on Campus: 
The Bailey GREENhouse was constructed on campus in the Brody neighborhood during July.   The 30x72 passive solar greenhouse will be an important tool for connecting students in the residential environmental studies program to the Student Organic Farm and organic farming principles including composting to cycle nutrients.  The primary production will be culinary herbs for use on campus.   The plan is to have the production process certified as part of the Student Organic Farm systems plan and certification process.  The growing medium is compost made from soil, campus food residue, beef cattle bedding and other components.
Upcoming events: 
Sunday, October 7, 4pm has been set as the date of the Fourth Annual Hoophouse Gala at the MSU Student Organic Farm.  The SOF is open for tours prior to the seven course meal prepared from organic and local foods by MSU chefs.  The event supports programs at the SOF related to education of the next generation of organic farmers.  Seating is limited.  For ticket information contact Kim Garrison, Kellogg Hotel & Conference Center, 517-432-1966 or garris31@msu.edu.
By John Biernbaum and Carolyn Lowry

More Spring Survey Results

In the previous newsletter results from the multiple choice questions of the recent member survey were reported.  While between 90 and 100 responses were obtained for the 17 multiple choice format questions, about 30 to 35 comments were obtained for each of the three open-ended questions.  Following is an attempt to summarize many of the comments.

What other topics or activities are important for you to attend a Michigan Organic Conference?
Many of the answers can be characterized as either related to production, people or policy. 
  • Production topics included: weeds/pests, organic IPM, seed saving, crop pollinator practices, row crops for silage, sunflower for oil, organic fruit and year-round growing.
  • People topics included: consumer information, networking opportunities, engaging students from all Michigan schools, food quality and nutrition, history of organic agriculture and children’s activities.  
  • Policy topics included GMOs, right to farm, MI Good Food Charter, certification issues, current regulations, poultry rules, new farmer support and research funding.
  • A number of comments for this and the other open ended questions expressed the perspective that organizing the MOC may not be the best use of time compared to providing a policy voice in Lansing and with MSU. 
  • Five to six comments expressed a preference for MOFFA to work with other organizations and contribute to other conferences that have better supported planning processes.
  • A similar comment recommended smaller events instead of the “MSU” Conference.  The point was offered that “you don’t need a membership organization to run a conference”.
  • A limited number of constructive comments addressed concerns regarding the large role of MSU in the Michigan Organic Conference and support for efforts to have the MOC more independent of MSU.
Please list any specific organic policy priorities that MOFFA should focus on or address.
  • Advocate for the big picture and more year-round access to Michigan organic produce.
  • Federal policy such as farm bill and USDA programs like cost share, beginning farmer, crop insurance, and funding for research and public education.
  • GMO related issues including protection from contamination (pollen and pesticides) and labeling.
  • Certification related issues such as lower fees, an in state certifier, protecting standards and awareness of large organizations not following the details of the rules and MI representation of the NOSB.
  • Supporting new growers, mentoring growers, land acquisition for new growers.
  • Networking farmers and organizations (like OTA) and providing non-conference education activities like recommendations for books, web pages and webinars, etc.
  • What additional thoughts or ideas would you like to share with the current MOFFA Board?
  • Multiple comments related to networking or partnering opportunities with other organic organizations and building bridges between farmers and production systems. 
  • Consider helping to create a “FarmLINK” organization by working with other groups.
  • One response stated the highest priority for MOFFA was to provide a current and accessible list of organic producers so producers can find each other.
  • A call for policy related actions was also common.  Recommendations for MOFFA to be supportive of consumer and agriculture policy, including public education relative to characterizing local and organic and that they are not interchangeable.
  • Focus on “food quality” and help keep that part of the food system on track in Michigan.
  • Is MOFFA a farmer or a consumer organization?
  • Opportunities are also desired in the UP.
The comments and information gathered from the survey are being used by the Board as we continue our work of refining MOFFA activities and planning for the 20th anniversary celebration which in part will be an important forum for our membership to discuss future directions.

The MOFFA Board

MOFFA Update on Farm Bill

Hello out there MOFFA members. It is time for a check in about the Farm Bill! It’s all going down right now in DC. Even though we have several organic advocacy organizations fighting hard for us right now, they need us to stay on point and be ready to call in Congress at critical times!
Here is a link/url for an important post from Friday July 27th to the National Sustainable Agriculture Blog: http://sustainableagriculture.net/blog/house-farm-bill-extension/. Also, below is a point by point on organics in the Farm Bill thanks to Organic Farming Research Foundations policy updates. Details can be found at www.ofrf.org. Please join up for action alerts from NSAC and OFRF, if you haven’t already!
Farm Bill Wins for Organics, before extension of the Farm Bill:
  • No Changes to the National Organic Program, $5 million for technology upgrades to better serve organic farmers and the Secretary of Agriculture now has more authority to enforce organic standards and protect the organic “brand” from violations.
  • Mandatory funding was maintained for the Organic Production and Market Data Initiative, which surveys the growing organic industry, and the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative, which provides grant dollars to agricultural researchers. Note: Michigan Stateresearchers have received a significant portion of OREI grant dollars in the past.
  • Crop insurance for organic farmers has been improved. There is a new provision requiring the Risk Management Agency of USDA to pay out organic farmers the value of their losses at organic rates, rather than conventional rates.
  • Outreach and technical assistance for organic producers and coordination on organic certification through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) are maintained.
  • Beginning farmers get a boost from a provision that authorizes microloans for beginning, young, and small farmers, as well as a provision that restores important aspects of the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program.
  • Local food programs get strong support through an enhancement to farm-to-school procurement, Farmer's Market and Local Food Promotion Program fixes, and, quite notably, a provision that allows food stamps to be used for Community Supported Agriculture shares.
Farm Bill Losses, at this point:
  • The National Organic Certification Cost Share Program is repealed; eliminating funding that reimburses thousands of organic and transitioning farmers for a portion of their organic certification costs. (Funding for the Agricultural Marketing Assistance cost share program in 16 states, however, is not eliminated, but it is reduced by 10%. This means 16 states will still receive cost share funding.)
  • The National Organic Program is authorized to receive just $11 million per year. The Senate draft bill had funded NOP at $15 million a year.
  • The Environmental Quality Incentives Program-Organic Initiative (EQIP-OI) does not address the payment limit that applies only to organic farmers using EQIP.
  • The House bill dealt a major setback to working lands conservation programs, reducing the Conservation Stewardship Program by 30% and cutting funding by over $3 billion ($1 billion more than the Senate bill).
  • The bill cuts annual funding for the highly successful Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program nearly in half and keeps funding for the very popular Conservation Reserve Program Transition Incentives Program (CRP-TIP) at current levels - which will shorten the lifespan of the program to 18-24 months.

Melissa Hornaday

The Food Safety Modernization Act - What Is It All About?

The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) was signed on January 2012 and farmers across the United States became alerted that their farming practices may need to change to sell to certain markets.  What does this mean? The purpose of this act is to reduce food safety risks across our food systems.  It is creating a program for farmers to follow and verify that they are using safe food practices, from sourcing seeds, growing, packaging, harvesting and marketing.   Farms that will be required to follow these regulations are those that sell to indirect markets.

The objective of the act is to identify farm management practices that can be implemented on a farm that are economically feasible and able to be implemented. The intent is to create a way for farmers to demonstrate that they are making every effort possible to produce safe food while still remaining profitable.  Many farmers truly believe they ARE following safe practices but there just needs to be a few that are not to cause food illness outbreaks, causing hospitalization, chronic illnesses or even death. So FSMA not only identifies practices for a farm to maximize the safety of their food production but also how to maintain records to demonstrate that these actions are implemented accurately and uniformly. 

Some regulations being addressed are already part of the National Organic Program certification such as monitoring temperatures on compost and maintain records to show that process and maintaining a traceability system of the produce. Now the use of your records as an organic farmer have an additional value, demonstrating that you growing organic food and that you are producing it as safe as possible.   Some likely particulars for this Act indicate if you sell local (within 250 miles) or sell direct to the consumer then you will be exempt from FSMA. Also if you are a larger farm (over a specific gross amount of sales) then you will likely need to complete a Food Safety Plan and fulfill the FSMA requirements. The FSMA regulators are in the process of identifying a realistic way a diverse farmer can comply with these regulations, perhaps similar to the Whole Food Gap as has been suggested by many farmers. So, if you have an interest or need to pursue Good Ag Practices (GAP) certification for your farm and curious what the FSMA is all about there are numerous resources out there, including one that included some of the templates and examples to aid in understanding what is expected of a farm to become GAP certified (http://www.mifarmfoodsafety.org/).

Vicki Morrone

Got Suggestions?

MOFFA is looking for suggestions for future newsletter topics.  What subjects are you searching for more information on?  What topics have we been missing in our discussions?  Would you like to contribute to our newsletters... we would love to hear from you.  Please let us know!  Email us at:  moffaorganic@gmail.com

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