Welcome to the 2nd 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


Dear Friends,  
 
What an exquisite month May is. We embrace each Michigan season for its unique qualities, as the constant change defines our lives, but the beauty of each May is a sensory delight for which there is no equal!
 
The splendor of the season coincides with days filled with tasks beyond even superhuman effort to complete.  Thus, this request will be brief and on point;  MOFFA needs your support as a member to continue our work and fulfill the mission that we all truly believe is imperative in these frenzied times – “Promoting organic agriculture and the support and development of food systems that revitalize and sustain local communities”.  We have existed as a membership/dues funded and all-volunteer non-profit for 20 years with a legacy of yeoman’s work by many dedicated individuals. Your Michigan Organic Food and Farm Alliance has touched the lives of countless individuals and organizations and in some small part raised the consciousness of our community to the paramount significance of preserving an organic environment.
 
NOW is the moment to renew or become a member of MOFFA. In order to accomplish our education, outreach, and policy work, that many of you indicated a priority in the recent survey, we have hired a part-time administrative assistant and a part-time conference coordinator.  Quite honestly, the projects we have taken on require hours beyond the many our volunteer board members can contribute.
 
The only aspect of devoting time and energy to this great collective of individuals that is difficult to perform is the solicitation of monies to effectively operate. If it were so that we could function without asking you for financial support it would be the ultimate “gift”. Realistically though this is not the case, our membership dues have remained the same for years for the simple fact we attempt to maximize every dollar and do not want to seek from our membership any more then is absolutely necessary. All capital raised is through your generosity with yearly dues and an occasional sponsorship, with the exception of minor income from book sales as an exhibitor at conferences. MOFFA is not currently a grant funded entity; thus for it to continue offering useful services and opportunities we need your support.
 
As we attempt to envision our role as we enter out third decade (or more accurately our fifth decade as our predecessor Organic Growers of Michigan existed for 20 years prior), MOFFA seeks to assist to unify our organic community by bringing all partners together to speak with a more persuasive voice.  The membership survey which generated invaluable input, gave us insight into this need. A huge thank you to all for the great response.
 
I believe in MOFFA - and am dedicated to the work - because there is no greater necessity then to heal and preserve this planet’s air, water and soil. Please be a Michigan Organic Food and Farm Alliance supporter in any manner you are able – your membership will be a tremendous assist!  Download applications or renew at the web-site – www.moffa.org
 
Heartfelt Thanks,
John and The MOFFA Board of Directors


The Michigan Organic Conference is alive and well and evolving. Our annual conference is slated for November 10, 2012. This event marks MOFFA’s 20th anniversary. This Harvest celebration event will be held for the first time in Flint, Michigan at the Sarvis Center, and quite possibly at other adjacent institutes on the Flint “cultural campus”. Look for a “Save the Date” notice soon with details –keynotes, format, etc.


Volume 2, Issue 3

June 2012


Susan Houghton, Organic Farmer and True Innovator

It is with great sadness that I share this news. Our friend, Susan Houghton shared her life with many of us, teaching, organizing and innovating. She was one of the very earlier adopters of hoophouses and also a co founder of Organic Growers of Michigan, a farmer-founded and based organization to help other farmers manage their farms using sustainable practices and grow organically. Below is her obituary and note that memorial donations are being accepted by Giving Tree Farm in Lansing, Mi where she developed a program of vegetable, herb and flower production that aided (and still does today) persons who were impacted by an injury and then need assistance to regain occupational skills. Not only did she develop a profitable organic produce business but also served many persons with the opportunity to engage in the healing virtues of growing food while they grew in confidence and ability.  I will miss Susan- her wisdom, enthusiasm and sense of adventure.

Memorials for Susan may be given to the Giving Tree in Lansing, MI.

Vicki Morrone

Yvette Berman: MOFFA Board Member since 2008

We know well over 30+ years ago, people who bought organic products were seen as “alternative” shoppers.  Since we’ve been eating organically as a family for over 7 years, it’s been a delight to see more consumers, and supermarkets embrace organics as it melds into mainstream.  Definitely, there are many more choices now, and the growth for organics will continue to rise. 

Beside the growing trends, my husband and I joined MOFFA in 2008 to become more connected with growers in our locale so we could find the freshest, organically-grown foods to feed our family, and to learn more about Organics.  Also, we had been a member of various CSA’s for several years, and it gave us many opportunities to walk the farms and get to “know your farmer.”  Those experiences will always be precious to us and our young children as we became connected to our food, and how it was grown.  It’s those moments of “food revelation” that we set our sights on what is pure, real food (grown organically), knowing these products offer the best possible nutrition. 

To a greater extent, we felt that the more we buy locally, the more we take back control of our food system.  Every organic purchase makes a difference, whether direct from the farmer, a food producer, or merchant, this transaction improves lives and the greater community.  Our primary interest in MOFFA was to support an organization that was passionate and focused on creating a greater awareness to organic food production and mostly, to educate the consumer. 

I was asked to join the Board by the Chairman, Jim Bingen after attending the Michigan Organic Conference (hosted by MOFFA).  As a business owner, I truly felt that I could share my passion with like-minded folks, and help make a difference in the Michigan organic community.

And The Survey Says...

           As many of you know, this year is MOFFA’s 20th anniversary.  In an effort to ensure that we are as productive and constructive for the next 20 years as we have been for our first 20, we conducted a survey to evaluate our membership status, where we stand in the eyes of our members,  and where our members see us going in the future.  The survey was available online through our MOFFA website throughout the spring, and we had a total of 97 respondents!   We have summarized some of the results to share with you. 
 
Who we are:
Approximately 67% of participants in the survey are new members who have been a part of MOFFA between 0-5 years and roughly 68% are over the age of 50. Only 4% were under 30 years of age.   About two-thirds (62%) had either paid membership dues (21%) or were planning to pay member ship dues (47%) for 2012.  The other respondents either no longer planned to be a member (8%) or thought they would be a non dues paying “member” (23%) – which unfortunately is not an option other than in the survey.  With only one in five respondents having paid dues, should one question the future of MOFFA as a membership organization?
 
The respondents were equally split by gender.  Over half of participants were from a rural setting (55%), with the remaining people split between urban and peri-urban settings.  We were pleased to find out that MOFFA is made up of a diverse group of people, including gardeners (37%), educators (36%), farm marketers (35%), CSA growers (14%), and of course, consumers (57%) (more than one option could be selected).  However, 58% of respondents are an organic grower in some capacity with 12% responding as growing both organic and conventional.   Other categories included wholesaler (9%), retailer (15%) and processor (20%)
 
The Current and Future role of MOFFA: 
Past and current activities that members deemed most useful included the annual Michigan Organic Conference (39% very useful, 39% useful), electronic newsletter (19%, 56%), political advocacy (30%, 36%), the Eating Organically Guide (23%, 45%), and MOFFA website (6%, 51%). .     
 
The responses we received for a future direction of MOFFA are diverse and reflective of the numerous challenges currently facing our food system.  A few general themes arose throughout the survey regarding the value of current and potential future activities.  Political advocacy (72.6% high priority, 24% moderate priority) at the local, state, and national level was by far the largest role that our members felt MOFFA should play in the future.  When asked what policy priorities MOFFA should focus on, we had a large number of very different responses, but GMOs, GAP certification, maintaining fair organic standards, and fighting to increase current federal programs aimed at organic producers, researchers, and extension were a few common themes. 
 
The second priority was providing contact information of organic producers and marketers (45%, 43%).  Similar in priority were a) organic education at all Michigan farming conferences (45%, 38%), b) the Michigan Organic Conference (45%, 39%) and c) promotion of beginning farmer based programs (34%, 51%).
 
An additional theme that emerged from survey responses was a need for an organization like MOFFA to work towards building bridges throughout the numerous constituents in the organic community.  With the many organizations that now exist in Michigan with similar goals, we need people to take the role of collaborators to make sure we are all working together and not duplicating efforts.  Additionally, there exists a need for better bridging between consumers and producers, such as providing consumers with contact information of organic producers and marketers.  Finally, people see a need for increased opportunities for networking among our members in the organic community. 
 
One question we had going into this survey, was with all the many conferences and workshops occurring throughout the state that teach the value of organic producing, principles, and purchasing- Is there still a need for the Michigan Organic Conference?  We were pleased to discover that an overwhelming number of respondents (82.6%) stated that they did still feel that there is a need for an annual Michigan Organic Conference. 
 
So that led us into our next question, what topics would MOFFA members find most useful at the Michigan Organic Conference?  The two topics that the largest number of members deemed having a high priority are specialty crops (41% high priority, 38% moderate priority) and programs directed at beginning farmers (41%, 41%).  A trade show and exhibit area for learning about products and services  and presentations on new marketing ideas such as famer coops received the highest combinations of high (38%/36%) and moderate (46%/47%) priority votes.    Other topics that respondents deemed as having moderate priority are new marketing ideas, coalition building between food and farming organizations, organic livestock production, organic field crops, urban agriculture, and regional food systems.  Seventeen of 97 survey participants responded that they would like to be involved in planning the Michigan Organic Conference. 
 
We were really pleased with the results of the survey, and we sincerely thank all who participated.  The MOFFA board members are continuously looking for ideas on how we can better serve our members, so we appreciate any comments or suggestions.   Additional information from the open ended questions will be provided in the future. 
 
Carolyn Lowry and John Biernbaum

On the Policy Front:
Michigan Cottage Food Law Amendments

 
              Amendments to the Michigan Food Law passed in the Michigan Senate yesterday (5/23/2012) by a 28 to 7 vote.  The bills now go back to the House, which passed a similar version of the bill on February 15th by a vote of 106 to 1. The bill will likely be in front of the Governor in the near future.
               Some of the amendments altered the recently passed Cottage Food Bill.  The Cottage Food Bill allowed individuals and businesses to process and/ or bake certain specific foods in home kitchens.  These foods can be sold legally to the general public under the law if the sales are direct from the farmer to the consumer, such as on farm, farmer’s market, and consumer supported agriculture sales (CSA’s.) The food has to be clearly labeled to show that it was not made in a certified kitchen; the original cottage food law had a cap on product sales revenue of $15,000.   The amendments to the Food Law, if signed by the Governor, will raise that limit to $24,999.
            Michigan Organic Food and Farm Alliance was one of the supporters of the Cottage Food Bill and gave testimony at the House and Senate agriculture committee hearings for the bill.  MOFFA supported the bill as an economic stimulator that would help producers to more easily sell products to their customers and each other, would help farmers to test products without having to build a certified kitchen first, and would help ease food insecurity by allowing people to buy and sell local products from their neighbors.
            MOFFA’s Policy Chair attended the Senate Hearing on the proposed amendments on April 18th 2012. MOFFA uses membership funds to stay informed about what is happening in the Legislature and to promote the policies that our membership supports. We are able to advocate for and even work to introduce legislation because of your continued contributions.  If you are interested in becoming a member of our Policy Committee, please contact us through our website at moffa.org.

Written by:
Chris Bardenhagen
MOFFA Policy Chair
chris.bardenhagen@gmail.com



Young Farmer Looking to the Future


As a young farmer, I appreciate the opportunity to be an active member of MOFFA. It has been great to get to know other organic farmers across the state and to connect with elders that can mentor me along the way. I am really looking forward the revival of MOFFA. I hope that this years celebration event/conference, this fall, will give us a chance to reconnect and discuss what MOFFA members envision for the organization in the coming years!

Meilssa Hornaday with Thornapple CSA at AppleSchram Orchard in Charlotte, MI



April 18, 2012 Food Law Amendment Meeting Recap

            MOFFA did not take an official position on the amendment at the hearing but attended to hear the arguments and stay involved with the process.   Many good arguments were put forth both for and against the amendments. Senator Hune began by stating that the purpose of the Cottage Food Bill was to “… get the government out of the way.”  He contended that by raising the limit to $24,999, the government is getting even more out of the way, and this is in line with the original intent of the bill.  Opponents countered by saying that these bills are getting the government out of one person’s way, but not the other- and sometimes at the expense of the other.  People who produce $25,001 of product or more are still subject to certified kitchen regulations. There was a large amount of testimony against the raising of the limit; people cited abuse of labeling at farmer’s markets; producers not playing by the rules at farmer’s markets in regards to food safety; and there was a sentiment that the Cottage Food Bill has created unfair competition to the people who have previously spent thousands of dollars on certified kitchens to create their businesses.
            There were also several individuals and groups present that testified that they only supported the Cottage Food Bill because of the $15,000 limit, a level which a considerable amount of time was spent on determining.  One person said that their intention for the original bill was to allow Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, the FSA and similar organizations to be able to work without interference.  Others spoke in contrast to Senator Hune, stating that the original purpose of the bill was to allow people to use their homes as incubator kitchens, and if they found a product that worked for their operation, they would be expected to build a certified kitchen.  There were agency concerns about the amount of strain that would be put on septic systems that were designed for the home and not commercial use.  There was an incident cited where barrels of honey were purchased from a producer, repackaged by an individual, and resold as a cottage food product.  Many people had food safety concerns about the Cottage Food law and increasing the amount of revenue allowed.
            Very few people came in direct support of the amendment. Drew Montri of the Michigan Farm Market Association testified that MIFMA has both members that support and oppose the increase. She felt that more time was needed to see what the real effect of the original cottage food law is. 
            Tonia Ritter, speaking for Farm Bureau, felt that more time was needed to figure out what is really going on out there.  She stated while Farm Bureau supported the Cottage Food Bill, they wanted to see more teeth in the law, such as random inspections and registration, and that how to monitor cottage food operations should be part of the discussion.  She stated the need for a balance between risk and overregulation.
            The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development agreed with MIFMA and Farm Bureau that the limit should stay at $15,000 until more is learned.  There have only been a handful of food safety complaints so far, but as the law is new, they are anticipating the possibility of more complaints in the future, and would like to see how that plays out before the limit is raised.  MDARD stated that Illinois producers must register with the state to sell under their cottage food law and must pay a $20 to $30 registration fee.  This gives the state the ability to trace a problem when it happens.
            In short, the air was filled with skepticism and opposition of the amendments.  If there would have been a stronger showing of supporters some of the positive economic benefits of the law to date might have been established.  Judging from the Senate hearing, whether the amendment passes or not, we might see further amendments to the Michigan Food Law introduced in the future that will be aimed at increasing food safety by means of registration and some monitoring of Cottage Food establishments.
 
Written by:
Chris Bardenhagen
MOFFA Policy Chair
chris.bardenhagen@gmail.com
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