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10 Things You Should Know about the Organic Checkoff

Submit your comment about organic checkoff by April 19, 2017.
If you know what you want to say, click here and you’ll be taken directly to instructions to submit your comment and CFSA’s suggested talking points. If not, check out this blog post.


Organic seal with veggies

by Rochelle Sparko, CFSA’s Policy Director

In May 2015, the Organic Trade Association submitted a proposal for an organic checkoff program to USDA. In January 2017, USDA requested comments about an organic checkoff proposal similar to the one submitted by OTA. We’ve got a deep dive into some of the provisions of USDA’s proposal.

Comments about the USDA’s proposed checkoff program are due on April 19, 2017. USDA will then review all the comments on the Proposed Rules and decide whether to go ahead with an Organic Research, Promotion and Information Order (organic checkoff). If the USDA decides to start an organic checkoff program, it will publish a Final Rule which will address the comments they have received and lay out the details of the organic checkoff. CFSA will alert our certified organic farmer members should this happen. A separate Final Rule will explain how and when a referendum will take place, and which farmers will be eligible to vote either for or against implementation of an organic checkoff program. When do we expect all of this to happen? Since the Final Rule for both the program and the referendum will have to go through all of the vetting by various government agencies, Implementation before 2019 is highly unlikely.

 

How will the proposed checkoff program work?

Q: Who will have to pay into the checkoff program?

Some certified organic producers and handlers, as well as some importers of certified organic products will have to pay. Others can opt to pay, which they might want to do so that they have a say in who sits on the Board, so that they themselves can run to serve on the Board, and so that they can vote on whether to have an organic checkoff program at all.

  • Mandated Assessments: Organically certified producers and handlers who have gross organic sales for the previous marketing year in excess of $250,000, plus importers (not necessarily organically certified) who import greater than $250,000 in transaction value of organic products for the previous marketing year. Gross organic sales means the total amount the person received for all organic products during the fiscal year without subtracting any cost or expenses.
  • Voluntary Assessments: Those organically certified producers and handlers plus importers of certified product who are not mandatorily assessed but choose to participate in the program.
  • Producers and handlers who are in an existing Federal checkoff program have the choice between becoming part of the organic checkoff and continuing to pay assessments to the conventional checkoff program. If the organic checkoff is implemented, there will be no exemptions from other checkoff programs for organic producers and handlers. This is the case regardless of the farmer’s gross income. In other words, if a certified organic farmer has gross income under $250,000, and is selling a product covered by a conventional checkoff program, that farmer must participate in either the conventional or organic checkoff program. Some examples of products covered by conventional checkoff programs include: cotton, eggs, beef, dairy, pork, watermelon, mushrooms, soybeans, Christmas trees, blueberries, peanuts and sorghum.

 

Q: How much will assessed participants have to pay?

Each certified organic producer or certified organic handler with gross organic sales greater than $250,000 during the previous calendar year shall pay one-tenth of one percent (0.001) of net organic sales to the organic checkoff program. Sales of exports are currently excluded in any calculation of net sales. The proposal doesn’t say anything about whether the value of exports is excluded from a calculation of gross organic sales.

Net organic sales means total gross sales in organic products minus (a) the cost of feed and agricultural inputs used in the production of certified products and (b) the cost of any non-organic agricultural ingredients used in the production of certified products.

Agricultural inputs means all substances or materials used in the production or handling of organic agricultural products (e.g. fertilizer, lime, soil conditioners, agricultural chemicals, beneficial insects, other approved materials for pest control, seed, plants, vines, trees, feed purchased for livestock, etc.).

 

Q: How much money will the checkoff program generate?

The USDA estimates that the assessments will total $25.3 million in the first year based on USDA census information, reports from importers, and their projection of net organic sales.

 

Q: How will the money collected be used?

Reimbursement to the USDA for costs involved in running the program. There is no limit on what this might cost. This is paid out first.

Next, staff and administrative costs for the Board and program will be deducted next before evaluating what funds are available for Programs, Plans or Projects. The program staff and administrative cost, plus whatever costs the Board has, can be no more than 15 percent of total assessment raised. Reimbursements to the USDA are not included in the 15 percent.

The remaining funds are used to Programs, Plans or Projects. The use of any of the funds has to be approved by USDA. Because the program is run through USDA, which prohibits disparaging or degrading other products, checkoff funds may not be used to claim that organic products are “better than” conventional or “more healthy than” conventional. The funds cannot be used to advocate before the National Organic Standards Board or for a particular position on any regulation or statute.

The Board (more about who is on the Board below) will determine how funds will be used, within certain parameters, so we don’t know exactly how the funds will be divided between research and promotion. Here’s what the proposal lays out:

  • No less than 25% will be used for research and at least 50% of that will be used for agricultural research.
  • 25% will be allocated to information with at least 50% of that allocated to producer information. This includes extension activities like disseminating research to FSA or producers.
  • 25% is allocated to promotion.
  • 25% is discretionary.

So what might this look like in terms of dollars?

Organic Checkoff Budget $million
USDA AMS Projection of total assessments raised 25.30
USDA administration cost (OTA’s projection)  (0.30)
Board and program administration at 15%  (3.80)
Available for Programs, Plans and Projects (PPP) 21.21
Research allocation (25% of total for PPP) 5.30
      Agriculture research (50%-100% of research allocation)    2.65-5.30
      Other research    0.0-2.65
Information allocation 5.30
      Information for producers (50% -100%of information allocation)    2.65-5.30
      Industry and consumer information    0.0-2.65
Promotion for expanding organic markets 5.30
Discretionary funds 5.30

 

Q: When are payments due?

All payments must be received by the organic checkoff program no later than March 31st for the previous calendar year in which the product was ‘produced, handled or imported.’

 

Q: How will USDA enforce checkoff?

Payment into the checkoff program will be enforced in accordance with the requirements laid out in The Commodity Promotion, Research, and Information Act of 1996. Penalties range from a court order to comply with the program to fines of $1000-$10,000 per violation. Because there is already a database of certified organic producers and handlers, it will be relatively simple for USDA to determine who hasn’t paid into checkoff. Late payment (90 days after the end of the year) of the assessment will result in a late payment fee and the collection of interest on the amount overdue.

 

Q: How much paperwork will I have to do?

It depends on whether you will be paying into organic checkoff, claiming that you are exempt from checkoff because of your gross income, or are paying into another checkoff program.

Just paying into organic checkoff:

Producers and handlers who either have to or choose to pay the assessment and whose crops/livestock aren’t covered by another checkoff program will calculate their net organic sales (remember this is gross sales less certain inputs) for the previous year ending on December 31st, multiply it by 0.001 and submit a check to the program by March 31st.

In addition to a check, producers and handlers have to submit a report that would include, but not be limited to, the entity’s name, address and telephone number, and the value of its net organic sales. They need to maintain books and records to document their gross income and the deductions used to determine net income and retain those records for at least two years beyond the applicable calendar year.

Eligible for a different checkoff program:

Producers or handlers who are part of a commodity with an existing conventional checkoff will have to apply annually for exemption from assessment by that program. Before the start of the calendar year, producers and handlers will fill out a form and submit it to the Secretary of Agriculture requesting an exemption from assessment by the conventional program to ensure that they would not have double deduction. These producers and handlers would have to prove that they paid into the organic checkoff the previous year. It appears that producers would need to request refunds if conventional checkoff deductions are taken when farmers receive payment, for example dairy, beef and lamb.

If the entity is part of a State promotion program rather than a Federal program, the USDA will “encourage” those programs to recognize the Federal program. Entities can apply for an offset of 25 percent of the payment to the federal program to compensate for monies paid to a State or Regional program if the State and Regional programs

Not mandatory assessed and choose not to be voluntarily assessed:

These producers and handlers will apply annually, prior to January 1st, for exemption by supplying proof that they had gross organic sales of under $250,000 in the previous year. They would submit to the program past shipment/sales data that would document their gross organic sales. They would need to maintain books and records that document the amount of gross sales, and retain those records for at least two years beyond the applicable calendar year. The Organic Research and Promotion Board (Board) would then issue a certificate of exemption for that calendar year.

Those producers and handlers that are part of a conventional checkoff program and choose not to pay into the organic checkoff will have to pay into their conventional program. The existing exemption for organic producers and handlers exempting them from the conventional programs would disappear.

 

Q: Who serves on the Organic Research and Promotion Board? What does the Board do?

The proposal includes a 17 member Board including 1 non-voting member and a quorum of 9 members. Board members are appointed by the Secretary of the USDA. The Board is made up of:

    • 7 either mandatorily or voluntary assessed producers, one of whom has to be from the following list of states: Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia;
    • 1 voluntarily assessed producer grossing under $250,000;
    • 5 mandatorily or voluntarily assessed handlers;
    • 2 mandatorily or voluntarily assessed product processors;
    • 1 mandatorily or voluntarily assessed importer; and
    • 1 public member at-large who is a non-voting member.

The first time a Board is appointed, nominations will be handled by the Department and the Organic Trade Association. The terms for service of the initial Board shall be staggered for two, three and four years. Board members will only be reimbursed for travel and other expenses but not for their time. After the first Board is appointed, future Board members will be selected following voting among those the Board member will represent. The top vote getters in each category will be submitted to the Secretary, who will select a nominee from among the two submitted names for each seat.

Members of the Board have a number of powers and duties. They are responsible for hiring and setting the salary of one or more people to implement the checkoff program; for advertising, holding and keeping minutes of Board meetings; to develop programs, plans and projects using the checkoff funds; investigate violations of the checkoff program, to recommend changes to the assessment rates, and more.

 

Q: Who gets to vote on whether there should be an organic checkoff program?

The first time there is a referendum, producers, handlers and importers who will have to pay into the checkoff program get one vote. Voluntarily assessed entities can vote if they sign an affidavit promising to pay into the program for the majority of years before the next referendum. Every domestic, certified organic entity in the NOP database will receive a ballot by mail.

Every seven years, there will be another vote to determine whether the majority of participants want to continue or disband the checkoff program. Voluntarily assessed entities have to sign an affidavit to participate in the majority of the next seven years in order to vote as well as showing that it paid into the program for a majority of years since the last referendum. Dual covered entities (those that could pay into either the organic checkoff or commodity-based checkoff program) must show they paid into the organic checkoff rather than the commodity-based checkoff for the majority of years since the last referendum. A new organic farm must demonstrate that it has paid into the organic checkoff for all years since it received its certification in order to vote.

Ballots are cast by mail, in person at the local FSA office, or in another way established by USDA.  The program will be implemented if a majority of those voting agreed to it.

Choose Your Own Adventure on the 22nd Annual Piedmont Farm Tour

PFT 2017 Collage

 

You’ve got a map, a ticket (good for a whole carload of people), a thirst for knowledge, a willingness to get a little dirty and the whole weekend ahead of you.

 

Sounds like the setup for one of those Chose Your Own Adventure books from the 1980s, right? Well, kind of. There’s definitely adventure and you’re in control of your route, but instead of chasing mythical creatures, you’ve got the opportunity to get up-close and personal with 35 sustainable farms in the Triangle area on the 22nd Annual Piedmont Farm Tour, 2-6 p.m. April 22-23.

 

The family-friendly (and budget-friendly) two-day event features farms spread across Alamance, Chatham, Orange, and Person counties. The tour really does have something for everyone. Just a small sampling of the things you’ll have the chance to experience: sheep; buffalo; ducks; pasture-raised cattle; vegetables; and solar power and hydroponics in action. Each farm showcases innovative tools for farming sustainably with respect for the natural environment and animal welfare. At each farm, you’ll find a variety of farmer-led and self-guided tour options.

 

Get up close and personal with the baby goats at Celebrity Dairy

Get up close and personal with the baby goats at Celebrity Dairy

 

Choose your route to see a variety of farms across the region!

PFT 2017 Kick Off FarmsGet an early start with SEVEN Kick off Farms!

You’ve asked for longer tours and we are delivering! A select group of farms will open their gates early — starting at noon on both days. At these seven farms only (indicated by stars on the interactive map) you can get a jump start on your farm tour adventure. The extra hours add another layer of excitement to the day, depending on where you chose to start. Please remember, only these special farms will be open early so please wait to visit all other farms until the tour officially begins at 2pm.

 

Plan your Farm Tour Route!

To maximize farm touring time and minimize driving, we suggest picking a favorite farm per day as a starting point and choosing 2-3 other great farms nearby. There are about 60 miles between the northernmost and southernmost farms, so try to choose farms within about 15-20 minutes of each other. Check out the list of farms below, follow the link to their website or Facebook page, and plan your route based on their locations. Once you factor in driving time, you’ll likely need to budget 1-1.5 hours per farm. Plan to visit 3-4 farms per day

Dreaming up your perfect farm tour adventure? Start by picking out your number one, MUST SEE farm, and then choose 2-3 nearby farms for variety. Add a Kick-off Farm in the mix so you can to start your day early!

 

Farm Tour GuideThe guide has all the information you’ll need: a full description of each farm and their products; which farms hold more appeal for children; which are offering snacks or lunch (for an additional fee); and where you’ll find restrooms. In your Farm Tour Guide, you’ll find the farm tour map has been drawn across three regions: Farm Tour North, Farm Tour Central, and Farm Tour South.

 

Google Map: Use the interactive google map to plan your self-paced tour. Farm Tour regions are color coded on the google map: Farm Tour North Farms have green icons,  Farm Tour Central Farms have yellow icons, Farm Tour South farms have red icons.

 

There’s no rule that says you must stay within the color coded groups; you can visit ANY farm in ANY order! Your car pass gives your group access to all 35 farms on both tour days.

 

Farm Tour North

Stoney Mountain Farm

Stoney Mountain Farm

 

Find the Farm Tour North map on page 5 of your printed guide, or check out the GREEN farms on the google map. For a sample route on the Farm Tour North Map, you might start your day at a kick-off farm (Stoney Mountain Farm OR Sunset Ridge Buffalo Farm), head to a nearby produce farm for an early afternoon tour (Nourishing Acres), take a break and grab a snack at a diversified farm with animals AND veggies (Cedar Grove Windy Hill Farm), and finish off with a trip to Open Door Farm to pack the cooler with microgreens to then head home and whip up a farm tour inspired dinner for the family. Mix and match your own adventure trail from the farms in this region below! 

 

 

Farm Tour Central 

Plow Girl Farm

Plow Girl Farm

 

Find the Farm Tour Central map on page 8 of your printed guide, or check out the YELLOW farms on the google map. Kick off farms in this region include Minka Farm, Woodcrest Farm, AND Peaceful River Farm. For a sample route in the Farm Tour Central area, we’d start out with a kick-off farm at 12, and then choose 2-3 nearby farms to get a variety of farm tour fun in at a diverse selection of farms. For example, if you wanted to see the adorable barn animals and orchards at Minka Farm, you could start your tour at this kick off farm at 12 and still have time to visit neighbor farm, Fickle Creek Farm (chickens, shep, lams, cows and pigs) for a late lunch of grass-fed beef hotdogs or Polish sausage. From there, head down the road to Dancing Pines Farm to see their year-round produce production in hoop houses, or a bit farther to visit Rocky Run Farm (chickens and intensive vegetable and fruit production) or, in the opposite direction, to Woodcrest Farm (grass-fed beef, pork, dairy cattle, chickens and produce, plus a super cool blacksmith shop and if you’re still hungry: farm-raised BBQ plates!). Finish up your day at RambleRill Farm and bring home farm-fresh products from their new farm store. 

 

Farm Tour South

Reverence Farm

Reverence Farms

 

Find the Farm Tour South map on page 13 of your printed guide, or check out the RED farms on the google map. Okay, the Farm tour South region is ACTION PACKED!!! Luckily there are TWO kick off farms – Reverence Farms and Braeburn Farm – where you can get started early and then work your way through the Southern farm tour region at your leisure. Consider spending one day visiting Pittsboro Farms, one day visiting Saxapahaw farms, and/or a day visiting Snow Camp/Siler City Farms. The Snow Camp and Siler City Farms would also make great additions to a selection of 2 or 3 farms in either the Pittsboro OR Saxapahaw Area. 

The farm tour is an incredible opportunity to see where your food comes from, to meet your local farmer and see first-hand how they grow and raise sustainable crops and livestock.

 

So gather your group, plan your adventure trail and don’t forget to pack a cooler (to store the produce, eggs, cheese, meat, and other farm products). We can’t wait to see you at the 22nd Annual Piedmont Farm Tour.

 

Tour tickets purchased in advance are $30 per car for all farms, all weekend. Become a CFSA member and you’ll save $5 more on advance tickets! Tour is rain or shine.

Buy-Now

 

 

Day-of tickets are $35 (available at the first farm you visit). Or, visit Weaver Street Markets in Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Hillsborough or one of our many other ticket locations across the Triangle to pick up your printed guide and buy your car pass!

The event is co-sponsored by CFSA and Weaver Street Market, an essential partner in building the Piedmont Farm Tour into a Triangle institution over the past more than 20 years. Tour proceeds support the work of CFSA.

Japanese Sweet Potatoes, Indian Spicy Peppers and Snake Gourd

How an Organic Farm In Alamance County Grows the Flavors of Childhood for Immigrant Communities in the Triangle 

by Elizabeth Read, CFSA’s Communications and Development Director 

Clay Smith of Redbud Farms shows off his field of extra large garlic, a variety prized by South Asian customers. Photo by Elizabeth Read

One of the best parts of working at CFSA is gaining a greater understanding of the innovative ways that farmers are able to solve problems. Sometimes that means figuring out how to hack the perfect tool to keep something from going haywire, but other times it means recognizing a space in the market where your product meets a real need. Having the knowledge to meet unmet needs is not something that comes from browsing seed catalogs, it comes from building a relationship with customers and really knowing what fruits and vegetables they are looking to cook with – but just can’t get anywhere else.

 

When Clay Smith and his wife, Nancy Joyner, started Redbud Farm, a certified organic produce farm on his family’s fallow tobacco fields in 2009, they wouldn’t have been able to dream of some of the crops they grow now. And it is not just because farming inherently requires farmers to adapt to a changing marketplace to keep their farm successful. It’s because they had never eaten or heard of those vegetables, let alone grown them for market before. But thanks to a request from a customer at Western Wake Farmers Market, Redbud Farm is now a vital part of the North Carolina Japanese cooking scene.

The greenhouse at Red Bud Farm. Photo by Elizabeth Read

The greenhouse at Redbud Farm.                       Photo by Elizabeth Read

 

Keiko Ueda was already a Redbud customer when she mentioned to Clay and Nancy that she dreamed of being able to eat a variety of Japanese sweet potato variety that she remembered from her childhood in Japan. She just couldn’t find it in North Carolina, where she teaches Japanese language and cooking classes. The sweet potato is a staple vegetable in Japanese cuisine and Keiko’s uncle had grown it on his certified organic farm in Japan.

 

Already growing Carolina Ruby and a few other sweet potato varieties on their Alamance County farm, Clay and Nancy saw an opportunity to supply a product to a niche market. Working with NC State’s sweet potato micro-propagation lab, Clay was able to source a certified organic slip of the variety Keiko remembered eating. In that first year, Clay grew a few hundred pounds of the Japanese sweet potato. Keiko, deeply integrated in the Triangle Japanese immigrant community, helped connect Redbud’s produce with eaters throughout North Carolina. “Soon after we began selling the Japanese sweet potatoes to Keiko, we began to receive ‘Thank You’ emails from Japanese folks all across central North Carolina.” Today, Clay and Nancy grow well over 1,000 pounds of Murasaki sweet potatoes and sell almost all of them through Keiko and a few other regular Japanese customers at Western Wake Market.

 

Carolina Ruby and Japanese Sweet Potatoes.
Photo by Elizabeth Read

Carolina Ruby and Japanese Sweet Potatoes

 

This isn’t the only time Clay and Nancy have been able to be savvy farmers and respond to a market opportunity. Clay had spent time in India as part of the Peace Corps, and was a frequent customer of Indian restaurants in North Carolina. He soon found out that chefs at these restaurants often struggled in finding specific varieties of peppers needed to create the right spice in traditional dishes. He worked with chefs to grow those native peppers, and they can now be found on menus throughout the Piedmont. Redbud Farm also grows some Indian vegetables to sell to the many Western Wake customers from India. These include bitter gourd, snake gourd, bottle gourd and a small purple eggplant. Redbud Farm also participated in the 2014 CFSA organic broccoli variety trial. The trial was in response to another market need – the supply gap for organic broccoli grown in the Carolinas. With Redbud’s participation, CFSA was able to test to see the best varieties of broccoli to grow in the Carolinas.

 

While farmers often get stereotyped with the notion that they are all growing the same kind of kale, the truth is often something much more like what Clay and Nancy experience. If farmers all grew the same variety of tomato or pepper, they wouldn’t be able to stay in business for long. In response, you’ll find farmers at your local market using business ingenuity to find new customers.

 

Satisfying this market need for a specific sweet potato variety is a terrific example of how the relationship between a farmer and his or her buyer goes beyond the weekly market transaction. It gives an opportunity for the buyer to connect with the farmer – and this instance, impact an entire community.

 

Farmers Clay Smith and Nancy Joyner with their grandson, Jameson, on the farm.                   Photo by Elizabeth Read

Okfuskee Farm: Young Farmers Use Holistic Management as Innovation

by Cindy Flowers, CFSA Intern

Bronwyn, Holland and Bobby Tucker. Photo by Bronwyn Tucker.

Bronwyn, Holland and Bobby Tucker. Photo by Bronwyn Tucker.

 

The Farm in Silk Hope

From the road at Okfuskee Farm, you see a modest farm house, a packing shed, a double green house, a freshly planted shade house and grass growing across gradually terraced fields dotted with young trees. What you may not see, at least not from a passing glance, are the animals Okfuskee Farms is known for–their sheep and pigs.

You’ll have to spot them among the dense grass, where young farmers, Bobby and Bronwyn Tucker have put them out to graze intensively, methodically moving them around the property. The Tuckers see the livestock and the crops at Ofkuskee as tools in the farm’s holistic soil management plan, and, second to that, as part of the farm’s offerings.

This was not always the case. Bobby started farming this 20-acre plot of land in 2008 using permaculture and sustainable practices to raise mostly pigs and market crops. Even though he was using sustainable farming techniques, the long, hard hours had Bobby close to a burnout when Bronwyn came into the picture. She brought the idea that their quality of life should be part of Ofuskee’s well-defined farm vision even if maxium output was not achieved. These days Bobby and Bronwyn focus more on producing lamb and less on growing crops which gives them a better work life balance.

“Being a happy, financially solvent family farm seems like a great mission,” she adds.

Photo by Cindy Flowers

Photo by Cindy Flowers

 

 

Okfusksee Farm’s Holistic Management as Innovation

Holistic Management is not a new concept but, as Bronwyn explains, it has become the “planning and decision making framework that guides both our farm and personal lives.” Their holistic plan has helped “simplify and connect major ecosystem processes with the tools of grazing, animal impact, rest and human creativity, all while minimizing the use of technology.”

Okfuskee Farm pasture. Photo by Cindy Flowers.

Okfuskee Farm pasture. Photo by Cindy Flowers.

Today, the farm implements simple, low-impact technology: specialty hand tools for digging, pruning and grafting; no-till planters; a wood chipper; a flail mower; portable electric fencing; and GIS and CAD for planning and designing grazing and planting patterns and well as computer based record keeping.

Bobby and Bronwyn think about farming at Okfuskee farms as “building an ecosystem above and below the soil.”  “In our climate,” the Tuckers explain, “we can often get away with a ‘less is more’ approach to land management.”

As a part of their Holistic Management plan, the farm boasts native fruit and nut trees, planted alongside berries, and standing over lower-lying native plants like yarrow and dandelion, chosen for their climate-specific hardiness and planted with the curve of the land in a Keyline design to optimize water retention. The over 400 woody plants have been selected based on what would be optimal for the soil and climate.

“Holistic management helps us effectively make decisions as a family across the spectrum of social, environmental and financial perspectives,“ said Bobby.

Photos by Cindy Flowers.

Photos by Cindy Flowers.

Some of these plants aren’t for the market either, but grown for the livestock to graze. The rest, especially the onions and greens grown year around in the greenhouse, are for the market.

Farmer as Activist for Small Farms

Okfuskee Farm has been lucky to take advantage of government grant programs, like the New/Beginning Farmer Cost Sharing grant through NRCS’s EQIP program to install a solar well and water distribution system. This system allowed the farm to optimize livestock and crop rotation, capitalizing on their Holistic Management plan with a deep focus on efficiency and conservation. “The payback from this investment is immeasurable.”

Because of his experiences as a new farmer, including his experience with government grant programs, Bobby participated alongside 30 other farmers in a “fly in” trip to DC to lobby on behalf of small-scale farmers. Bobby said he “was able to personally attest to the first-hand benefits provided to our farm through programs supported in the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition’s (CFSA is a partner) bills as well as discuss the challenges faced as a new farmer.”

The trip was sponsored by NSAC with travel assistance from the policy wing of the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association. Bobby advocated for the Local Farms, Food and Jobs Act and the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act.

Bobby positively recalls his experience meeting with Representatives, and now focuses his activism toward the local level of government. He is pursuing a Holistic Management Certificate in hopes that he and Bronwyn can consult beginning farmers on land, soil and water management. “We want to pioneer new ideas for both preserving and helping to improve the viability of farms in our community.”

Where can you find Okfuskee Farm Products?

Okfuskee Farms participates in a multi-farm CSA, sells their produce to Terrastay, a local farm aggregator, and sells their meat directly to Rose’s Meat Market, Vimala’s Curryblossom Cafe and Sethi’s Restaurant. Okfuskee Farms also hopes to supply lamb to First Hand Foods, a North Carolina pasture-raised meat distributor, in the coming season.

What will you see on the tour?

Photos by Cindy Flowers.

Photos by Cindy Flowers.

Follow @OkfuskeeFarm on Instagram and Facebook for an exclusive preview since this is the farm’s maiden year on the Piedmont Farm Tour, April 22-23 from 2-6PM. The farm has a walkable gravel drive that makes for easy viewing of all the farm has to offer, including:

  • An active double green house with rain water retention system,

  • A newly planted shade house,

  • Momma pigs and piglets (yes, PIGLETS!),

  • Holistic farm tools like a no-till planter, prepping roller and a three point hitch wood chipper that is used for agroforestry management and mushroom production,

  • An old Ford Tractor,

  • Water retention pond,

  • Solar panels,

  • And more!

Make sure to look down at the grass! You won’t see any sheep here. The sheep grow on a neighboring 20-acre pasture and are finished on the farm’s fields. The first round of sheep will move onto the farm’s fields in the summer.

Okfuskee Farms is one of 7 new farms on the 2017 Piedmont Farm Tour. The 2017 #Piedmontfarmtour is April 22-23 from 2-6pm, advance tickets are $30 per car for all farms, all weekend; day of registration is $35. Click here to see the full brochure.

Cindy Flowers, former Marketing Director at Deep Roots Market in Greensboro, is a graduate student in the NC A&T School of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences and intern for the 22nd Annual Piedmont Farm Tour. She has a certificate in Sustainable Livestock Management from CCCC and is a long time advocate for sustainable farming, small producers and North Carolina’s local foods system.

Organic Gardening: Creating healthy soils, organic fertilizers, and pest management strategies

Photo by Lori L. Stalteri

Photo by Lori L. Stalteri

By Aimee Colf, Horticulture Agent, Anson Cooperative Extension

The definition of acceptable “organic” methods may vary greatly between gardeners because no standard definition exists for organic gardening at the homeowner level. Meanwhile, commercial growers must complete an organic certification process and adhere to National Organic Standards. These growers rely on the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) which determines products approved for use on certified organic operations. Compared to conventional gardening, organic options for insect pest, disease, and weed management are fewer in number.

Organic gardening involves practices aimed at building soil health and plant nutrition.

In this article we will address creating a healthy environment for soil microbes, types of organic fertilizers, and specifically, insect pest management.

Soil Microbes

Soil microbe abundance and microbial activity are, in general, proportional to the amount of organic matter in the top 12 inches of soil. Organic plant matter feeds bacteria, fungi, protozoa, nematodes, earthworms, other soil microbes, and invertebrates, resulting in humus. These soil organisms convert fixed compounds into products and nutrients available for plant uptake.  This biological system creates a thriving soil community while creating good soil structure, promoting water infiltration, drainage, soil aeration, and vigorous root growth. Mucilage and gummy complex sugars, produced by soil microbes, help bind soil particles together into aggregates which build soil structure.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Research indicates that the ideal growing medium for plants is 35- 50% air space. There are many organic and inorganic materials and practices that can be used to increase pore space, or improve water holding capacity. Soils can be made looser and more friable by double digging, or creating raised beds. Double digging small gardens loosens two layers of soil, about 24 inches down, to make conditions more favorable for plant growth.

Consider incorporating 25-50% organic amendment per volume of native soil. Common organic amendments include the following composted materials: kitchen scraps, manure, sawdust, wood chips, yard waste, or vermicompost. To amend a soil to 50% organic material per volume, spread 2 inches of an organic amendment over the soil and work down 8 inches. Then, apply a second 2 inches of compost, and work that in. This is also a perfect time to incorporate lime or pre-plant fertilizers. These organic additions automatically build temporary raised beds. Shape rows with a bow rake to help shed excess precipitation. As materials break down and the soil begins to level out, add additional amendments to maintain the benefits.

Soil test results can provide baseline data on pH, nutrient needs, and percent humic matter. In mineral soils or soils that have poor tilth, the addition of organic matter will loosen soil, increase air space, and promote water infiltration. The addition of organic matter also improves soil buffering capacity, or the ability to withstand pH fluctuations. This explains why rich organic soils or clay soils require more lime in order to change the pH, compared to sandy soils.

Fertilizers

Fertilizer recommendations are the other part of your soil test results, often recommending various amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium to feed soil and plants. Since nutrient composition of animal manures and composts can vary widely, it is prudent to submit a waste sample through your local Extension office before use. Some common organic sources are listed below:

  • Nitrogen – cotton gin trash, fish powder, feather meal, fur, hair, hoof and horn meal, fish meal, dried blood meal, corn gluten meal, soybean meal, alfalfa meal
  • Phosphorus – bone meal, ash, cotton gin trash, colloidial phosphate, cotton seed meal, leaf mold, fish meal, poultry manure
  • Potassium – cotton gin trash, wood ash, plant/animal ash, langbeinite

The addition of organic material, fertility amendments, and green manures can lead to increased soil microbial activity and humic matter content compared to synthetic fertilizers. This impacts soils chemically as well. Cation exchange capacity is increased. Cations are positively charged ions such as calcium, magnesium, and potassium. Organic and alternative amendments increase the negative charge in soils and the capacity to attract and retain cations on soil particles. Overall these inputs can result in greater enhancement of soil biological, chemical, and physical characteristics, resulting in greater soil quality and disease suppression over time.

Pest Management 

In addition to soil health, organic amendments, and fertilizers, pest management presents another challenge to organic gardeners. While effective, organic pesticides are minimally toxic to the environment and non-target organisms. The important thing is to be able to positively identify pests versus beneficials and monitor both populations regularly so that, if needed, pest management strategies can be started before they reach devastating levels.

Sometimes the insect can be caught in the act making identification easy, other times you are left with only visual signs of damage which require more detective work. It helps to know the life cycle of insects so that various stages can be identified. Unfamiliar pest specimens can be brought to your local county extension agent for identification.

If a pest problem has reached an action threshold in the garden and landscape it may indicate sub-optimal growing conditions, or possibly an ecological imbalance. Organic pest management places an emphasis on biodiversity and optimal growing conditions to build the garden’s natural resistance to pests. Rather than directly treating a pest, a gardener’s pest management strategy may instead focus on conservation or habitat enhancement to attract more beneficials into feeding and breeding in the problem area.

Ambush bug (Phymata sp.), a beneficial insect often found on flowers. Source: David Cappaert, Bugwood.org

Ambush bug (Phymata sp.), a beneficial insect often found on flowers. Source: David Cappaert, Bugwood.org

One tip is to take note of the insect pests you have struggled with in the past and concentrate on strategies to manage those. But also be aware of recent climatic conditions. For example, Colorado potato beetles may be more numerous after a mild winter. Unusually wet springs favor slugs, and dry summers favor spider mites.

5 Steps to a Pest Management Program:

  1. Monitor – Scout your garden often. Examine the trunk, stem, and underside of leaves. Look for symptoms (like chewed leaves) and signs (egg masses) of both pest and beneficial insects in the garden.
  2. Identify – Correct plant identification is essential. Identify the host plant and learn what characteristics are normal throughout the season and stage of growth. Become familiar diagnosing abiotic symptoms, versus pest or disease symptoms in order to choose the proper corrective action. Similarly, learn to identify insects in their various life stages.  Recognize the signs they leave behind and the patterns of damage they cause.
  3. Evaluate – Determine if the pest has reached the action threshold. What is the level of damage? Is the insect population growing? Are insect pests spreading to neighboring plants? Have you noticed the presence of any beneficial insects (lacewing larvae or ladybird beetles)? Will the plant recover on its own? Is there a better location where the plant will not be as susceptible? Once you know the extent of the problem, make the appropriate management decision.
  4. Implement – Often multiple methods of intervention must be employed. This is called integrated pest management. It is easier to intervene while pest levels are still low. It is also easier to manage the immature stage of insects rather than larger mature ones.
  5. Evaluate – What were the results? Remember, it is not necessary to eradicate every individual insect pest. The goal should be to manage them to an acceptable level in which the plant will be able to recover or damage kept to an acceptable level.
Spotted lady beetle (Coleomegilla maculate) feeding on eggs of Colorado Potato beetle. Source:  Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University, Bugwood.org

Spotted lady beetle (Coleomegilla maculate) feeding on eggs of Colorado Potato beetle. Source: Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University, Bugwood.org

The integration of cultural, biological, physical, and/or chemical management strategies can help prevent many problems from becoming serious enough to affect plants or yields. Below is a brief description of each:

  • Cultural controls emphasize plant health and are inexpensive measures to prevent infestations. This includes choosing well-adapted cultivars with insect and disease resistance, choosing proper planting location, time plantings during the weak point of a pest’s life cycle, and practicing good garden sanitation. Others include managing soil fertility, cultivating weeds, and mulching to reduce pests.
  • Biological controls blend natural defenses into your management plan. One example is parasitic wasps seeking host insects for larval development. It is possible to enhance the habitat for beneficial insects so they do much of the pest management for you. Learn more about the beneficial insect you want to attract, the plants they prefer, and their life cycle needs as they emerge and scout for prey. Be aware that microbial sprays can also negatively affect some beneficial insects.
  • Physical barriers are available to protect plants. They start with the basic hand-picking, water sprays, floating row covers, tree bands, cut worm collars, light traps, and pheromone traps. Diatomaceous earth, copper strips, tanglefoot barriers, wrapping fruit in paper bags, and covering in kaolin clay are other types of physical barriers. Pheromone traps are not effective at significantly reducing larval populations but may be helpful in monitoring movements of adults. Be sure to place pheromone traps in locations away from areas to protect, rather than drawing pests into the garden.
  • Some organic insect controls are chemical (botanical, inorganic, microbial, and petroleum-based). Chemical controls can be integrated into a management plan if garden pests are out of balance and overwhelming other management options. There are a few synthetic pesticides, like some horticultural oils, OMRI approved for organic pest management.  However, it is important to remember that pesticides, organic or synthetic, are still toxins designed to kill pests, and should be treated as such.

No matter your level of organic adoption, or if you choose to do some combination of conventional and organic, your garden will see benefits from actions to improve soil health and tilth, attention to fertilizer requirements/amendments, and improved abilities to identify the different life stages of pests and beneficials, as well as knowing what, if any, actions to take.

Using the Whole Chicken

Chicken Butchery Basics

by Meredith Leigh, author of The Ethical Meat Handbook

Learning to use the whole chicken (or other bird) is one of the most foundational things you can do to support ethical meat. Why? It ensures that the farmer can profit from the entire animal, eliminates processing fees from the equation, and contributes to a better kitchen economy in the home. You’ll benefit from better prices per pound when you use the whole bird, and you’ll get more meals from a purchase.

Below you’ll find basic a chicken butchery technique, excerpted from The Ethical Meat Handbook: A Complete Guide to Home Butchery, Charcuterie, and Cooking for the Conscious Omnivore. These simple cuts will boost your ability to work with the whole bird for any recipe – from roasting to frying, braising or smoking. For recipes, and more butchery techniques, such as de-boning, visit ethicalmeatbook.com to purchase The Ethical Meat Handbook.

 

How to Butcher a Chicken

Chicken is a great place to hone your cutting skills. We’ll cover the standard, eight-piece cut, and offer a slight variation, which will come in handy when you’re frying chicken.

Begin by removing the wings. Stretch the wing as far as you can and move the joint up and down to find the socket. Using a semi-flexible boning knife, cut the wing off at the shoulder, aiming for the space between the ball in the arm bone and the socket in the shoulder.

Pull on the wing to discover the joint, and remove.

Pull on the wing to discover the joint, and remove.

Variation/Confession: I’m not big on the stand-alone chicken wing, so I like to cut the wing off with a bit of breast meat to accompany. To do this, simply angle your knife at about 45 degrees from the wishbone and cut off part of the breast as you remove the wing.

To remove some breast meat with the wing, cut at a 45-degree angle, downward from the wishbone, and then remove at the shoulder bone, as if you were removing the wing only.

To remove some breast meat with the wing, cut at a 45-degree angle, downward from the wishbone, and then remove at the shoulder bone, as if you were removing the wing only.

Next, free the oysters. This will assist you in pulling the legs off intact. The oysters are the small, round, tender pieces of dark meat located on the chicken’s back, one on either side of the spine. You’ll find them right at the spot where the legs join the body, and this is where you’ll make the first cut, across the back.

You’ll see the oysters on either side of the spine. Use your boning knife to make small cuts close to the bone, undercutting the oysters and scooping them free. Leave them attached to the skin.

Cut across the back to access the oysters.

Cut across the back to access the oysters.

Freeing the oysters.

Freeing the oysters.

Now, flip the chicken back over so it is breast up, so you can remove the legs. Stretch each leg out at the hip and cut through the skin until you see meat.

Cut through the skin between the breast muscle and the leg to access the leg joint.

Cut through the skin between the breast muscle and the leg to access the leg joint.

Find the hip joint by gently wiggling the thigh to and fro, following accordingly with your knife. Pull back on the entire leg, peeling it away from the breast. You’ll eventually pull the hip out of joint, after which you can follow through to remove the oysters along with the entire leg.

Pull back on the leg to dislocate the hip. Then, you can easily complete the cut through the skin to remove the leg with the oyster attached.

Pull back on the leg to dislocate the hip. Then, you can easily complete the cut through the skin to remove the leg with the oyster attached.

Next, divide the drumstick from the thigh. First, identify the seam of fat at the joint, and begin your cut there. Once you’ve cut into the meat, you’ll be able to see the joint clearly, and cut directly between the bones for a clean break.

Separating the thigh from the drumstick.

Separating the thigh from the drumstick.

The next step is to remove the backbone. You can use poultry shears for this if you’re nervous, but it’s not that tough to do with your boning knife. Just come at the spine at about a 45-degree angle, making close, downward cuts parallel to the spine. If your knife gets too vertical, you’ll run into resistance, so as long as you keep that nice, slight angle, you’ll be fine.

Keep your knife at an angle to remove the backbone.

Keep your knife at an angle to remove the backbone.

Finally, split the breast. In between the two breast pieces is the sternum, or breast plate. I make straight cuts down either side of the keel in the breastbone and then start pulling the breast meat off of it with my hands, running fingers under the meat and close to the bone. Once you’ve exposed enough of the bone that you feel like you can pull it out, do it.

You’ll be left with breast meat that has ribs attached. You can remove the ribs by hand if you like, or use your boning knife to separate them from the back of the breast muscles.

After making straight cuts along either side of the keel bone, begin pulling the breast muscles away from the bone, using your hands.

After making straight cuts along either side of the keel bone, begin pulling the breast muscles away from the bone, using your hands.

About the author: 

Over the past 15 years, Meredith Leigh worked as a farmer, butcher, chef, teacher, non-profit executive director, and writer,  all in pursuit of sustainable food. She has developed a farmer co-op, founded and catalyzed non-profit ventures, grown vegetables, flowers, and meats, owned and managed a retail butcher shop, and more. She’s a single mom, and,   the author of  The Ethical Meat Handbook: A Complete Guide to Home Butchery, Charcuterie, and Cooking for the Conscious Omnivore.  Says Meredith, “Above all, I am committed to real, good food, as a means to connect with people, animals, and plants, learn new skills, create intentionally, stay inspired, and experience deliciousness.”

 

Food Labels 101: Organic, Cage-Free, Grass fed, Natural

What exactly do all these terms and claims really mean, and how do you know which ones are trustworthy?

by Callie Casteel,  Animal Welfare Approved certifies and supports independent family farmers raising their animals to the highest animal welfare standards, outdoors on pasture and range. AWA is a program of A Greener World.    

Chickens

In general, unless the claim is being checked by an independent third party, the integrity of a food label is only as reliable as the individual or company making it. As a shopper, understanding what label claims mean—and don’t mean—will help ensure your expectations are met (and as a producer, that your products are appropriately valued).To help people make informed decisions about certification and food purchasing, Animal Welfare Approved (AWA) and our parent organization, the nonprofit certifier A Greener World (AGW), created Food Labels Exposed, a free guide to the most commonly used label claims (see below). Here are just a few examples:

ORGANIC/CERTIFIED ORGANIC is a verified claim with a legal definition. All products sold as organic must meet the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Organic Program standards. In general, organic production limits the use of chemicals, pesticides, hormones, antibiotics and other inputs. However, it fares poorly when it comes to animal welfare, and does not strictly define production practices related to space per animal or outdoor access.

NOTE: USDA released final rules mandating stronger animal welfare standards for certified organic livestock farmers in 2016, but there are significant questions about when (or even whether) these rules will be implemented. Some of the specific provisions, include: Prohibits physical alterations that cause stress in livestock; Provides minimum indoor and outdoor space requirements for poultry; Redefines “outdoors” to exclude porches, covered areas attached to the poultry house and Offers specific standards for humane treatment during transport and slaughter. You can read the full rules here.

 

Photo submitted by Callie Casteel, AWA

Photo submitted by Callie Casteel, AWA

GRASS FED is legally defined by the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), but actual production practices can vary greatly. Consumers should be wary of any grass fed label claim NOT verified by a trusted third-party certification. What’s more, unless it’s accompanied by an additional certification, a grass fed label refers only to the animals’ diet: It does not tell you if an animal was given routine antibiotics or hormones, or offer any other assurances about animal welfare or the environment. Although all grass fed label claims require official FSIS approval before use, a signed statement (affidavit) from the farmer is typically considered “sufficient documentation”—meaning many farms are never even audited. Certified Grassfed by AGW is the only label to guarantee animals are 100 percent grass fed for life and managed according to high welfare standards, outdoors on pasture or range, with annual farm audits.


CFSA is on a mission to bring local, organic food to your table from a farmer who shares your values. Join us!

 

PASTURED/PASTURE-RAISED is one of many label claims that do not have a legal or regulated definition. While it implies animals were raised outdoors on pasture, there is no way to know—unless it’s accompanied by a third-party certification that requires pasture-based management, such as Animal Welfare Approved. The perceived value of the pasture-raised claim makes it ripe for greenwashing by unscrupulous food manufacturers.

Without third-party verification to high-welfare standards or visiting the farm in person (and having the agricultural expertise to evaluate it), you’re probably still buying industrially raised products.

 

CAGE-FREE also has no legal or regulated definition. While it implies animals are raised outdoors on pasture, this claim is highly misleading: “Cage-free” chickens, for example, are often raised indoors in overcrowded, enclosed barns.

 

NATURAL/ALL NATURAL is one of the most misleading label claims. Consumer surveys show most people think it refers to how animals are raised. Yet a “natural” label has nothing to do with how animals are raised. As legally defined by the USDA, it applies only to how meat is processed after slaughter.

 

NO ANTIBIOTICS ADDED (for red meat and poultry) is legally defined by the USDA FSIS and used on labels for meat or poultry products on an affidavit (signed statement) basis to claim animals are raised without antibiotics. Yet there is no independent third party verification system in place to ensure it’s true.

A ban on antibiotics might seem like a good thing: The routine use of antibiotics for disease prevention in intensive food animal systems is leading to antibiotic resistance, where medically important antibiotics become ineffective in humans. However, even with the best pasture-based, high-welfare management, animals can fall ill and need treatment. Farmers selling into “premium” antibiotic-free markets face the difficult choice of withholding treatment and maintaining market premium, or treating the animal and losing money. It’s also worth noting that every farmer who uses antibiotics must observe a legal “withdrawal period” before slaughter or selling milk. So when antibiotics are used appropriately, there should never be antibiotic residue in your food. Increasing awareness of this has led to criticism that “antibiotic-free” production is more marketing gimmick than public or animal health benefit. The best way to address antibiotic resistance is to use these medicines responsibly only to treat actual sickness in high-welfare, pasture-based systems that do not depend on routine antibiotic use. Only two food labels ensure this: European Union Organic and Animal Welfare Approved.
NON-GMO/NON-GE New USDA FSIS rules mean food manufacturers can only make non-GMO claims if the product is audited by a third-party certification body with clear and transparent non-GMO standards. This is a good thing for consumers who want assurances the food they buy really is non-GMO. However, buying “Non-GMO” labeled food does not necessarily mean you’re helping the environment or improving animal welfare. The only third party label that currently offers a Non-GMO assurance and addresses these wider animal welfare and environmental concerns is Certified Non-GMO by AGW.

 

HUMANE claims are widely used by food manufacturers to convince consumers they are supporting higher welfare farming practices. But there is no legal definition or minimum agreed welfare standard for the term “humane,” and this claim is increasingly found on products where animals are raised on dirt feedlots or indoors in confinement systems. In a recent New York Times review of animal welfare certifications, Consumer Reports said “the only [label] we have any confidence in and think gives you value for your money is Animal Welfare Approved.” Without third-party verification to high-welfare standards or visiting the farm in person (and having the agricultural expertise to evaluate it), you’re probably still buying industrially raised products.

 

FLE pic Food Labels 101

Want to know more? Looking to buy food that’s good for people, animals and the planet? Check out AGW’s searchable directory to find Animal Welfare Approved, Certified Grassfed by AGW, or Certified Non-GMO by AGW products near you.

Use our free Food Labels Exposed guide to help navigate common claims and terms used for the production, marketing and labeling of meat, dairy, eggs and other farmed products—available for download and from the App Store and Google Play.

Interested in certifying your farm or products? Reach out to your Regional Farmer & Market Outreach Coordinator.

 

(M)eat Local

How Two Women Passionate About Feeding Their Families’ Humanely Raised Meats Are Connecting North Carolina’s Pasture-based Livestock Producers with Local Food Lovers, Restaurants, and Retailers

by Jennifer Curtis, Firsthand Foods

Jennifer Curtis and Tina Prevatte, the founders of Firsthand Foods

Jennifer Curtis (right) and Tina Prevatte (left), the founders of Firsthand Foods

Hi!  We’re the owners of Firsthand Foods, a women-owned Durham-based meat business specializing in local, pasture-raised beef, lamb and pork. 

We run a mission-driven business that was built to help North Carolina’s pasture-based livestock producers thrive. In a world where commerce is dominated by global supply chain arrangements, small-scale producers are often denied access to market opportunities. Our aim is to change that by building out a robust market for locally sourced, humanely-raised meats while keeping our core values of transparency, equity and community at the forefront.

 

We first connected as business owners around a shared passion for using business as a tool for generating social and environmental good. We’re also moms, whose kids love to eat meat. When we met eight years ago, we were disheartened by the lack of local, sustainably-produced proteins available where we like to eat and shop. So we rallied around that problem and today you can find our meats at numerous area restaurants and natural foods grocery stores in the Triangle and Triad, as well as being offered by multiple home delivery services.

 

meat

The biggest hurdle for livestock producers who want to sell their meats locally is what we like to call the “whole animal utilization” challenge.  A good way to lose money fast in the meat business is to slaughter an entire beef animal for the ribeyes and have no market for the ground beef. So we buy whole animals from producers so they don’t have to worry about finding a home for all the parts. The 65 producers in our network get to focus on what they do best – raising animals humanely outdoors on pasture without growth-promoting antibiotics or added hormones.

 

While sustainable production practices are essential, meat quality and consistency are equally important.  It doesn’t do much good to raise an animal with utmost care if the end result isn’t pleasing to the customer.  Producers make decisions every day that ultimately impact meat quality – forage management, sire selection and breeding, nutrition and feeding considerations.  But in the conventional meat industry, producers rarely if ever get feedback on how their management practices influence meat quality.  Their animals are shipped off to feedlots or massive slaughter facilities and never discerned from the countless other animals moving through those systems. That’s why we work closely with our producers to provide feedback on size, marbling, color, and other qualities that result in a great eating experience. We want to build their capacity as producers while we build market opportunity for their products.

 

The 65 producers in our network get to focus on what they do best – raising animals humanely outdoors on pasture without growth-promoting antibiotics or added hormones.

To work with Firsthand Foods, farmers drop their animals off at one of three cooperating USDA-inspected, Animal Welfare Approved small-scale meat slaughter plants. These family-owned businesses based in rural counties are key partners for us. They do the hard, and often under-appreciated, work of slaughter and meat fabrication. They create the meat cuts and value-added products that our customers desire. We currently purchase 8 beef, 18 hogs and 4 lamb per week and sell most of our meats fresh to restaurants, retailers and food service accounts. It takes about 80 different wholesale customers on a weekly basis to utilize all the parts of these animals.

 

Geoff and Jane Glendhill of Cedar Grove Windy Hill Farm raise beef for Firsthand Foods. Photo from Firsthand Foods' Facebook page.

Geoff and Jane Glendhill of Cedar Grove Windy Hill Farm raise beef for Firsthand Foods. Photo from Firsthand Foods’ Facebook page.

 


CFSA is on a mission to bring local, organic food to your table from a farmer who shares your values. Join us!

 

A few highlights from the Triangle:

From Firsthand Food's Facebook page

Steak from Firsthand Food Farmers at Lantern Restaurant in Chapel Hill. From Firsthand Food’s Facebook page

  • Pork neck bones and feet are the basis for ramen broth at Dashi,
  • Beef shoulder goes into burgers at Bull City Burger and Brewery,
  • Top round becomes roast beef at Lucky’s Deli,
  • Lamb necks become a braised dish at Garland Restaurant,
  • Pig ears are featured at Pizzeria Toro,
  • Ribeyes are dry-aged at The Durham Hotel, and
  • Beef cheeks find a home at The Eddy.

And of course, without our retail partners, we’d be hard pressed to sell all of our sausages, ground beef and ground lamb.  Indeed, on the average, about 60 percent of an animal ends up as a ground product!

 

Our Evolving Ethic – Eat Less, Pay More

Our goal as business owners is to help build a supply chain for local meat that creates healthy delicious products, compensates everyone fairly, takes care of the planet, and reinvests in our community.

 

Gerald Miller from H&H Farm Photo from Firsthand Food's website.

Gerald Miller from H&H Farm, one of Firsthand Food’s farmers.
Photo from Firsthand Food’s website.

One of the challenges to growing the market for local, pasture-raised meats is that the cost to the consumer is often twice that of confinement-raised meat products. Compared to indoor houses and crowded feedlots, local pasture-raised production is less efficient, takes more time and is best managed on a smaller scale. But its these more responsible production systems that a growing number of consumers are demanding – humane conditions for animals, a fair price to the farmer, eliminating routine use of antibiotics and added hormones, building soil quality and protecting natural resources.

 

In the past six years, Firsthand Foods has directed over $5.2 million in to our local food system.

In our journey into the local meat industry, we’ve gravitated toward an “Eat Less, Pay More” ethic.  It’s a cultural shift toward eating less meat overall so that we can afford “the good stuff.”  If we all eat less meat, we reduce the demand for mass-production.  And if we accept a higher per pound price for what we do purchase, we can pay farmers fairly for the work involved in raising animals humanely.  We’re proud to report that a full 75 percent of the revenues we generate every year go back to the farmers and family-run meat processors in our supply chain.  In the past six years, Firsthand Foods has directed over $5.2 million in to our local food system.

 

One way to make the “eat less, pay more” philosophy a practical reality is to consider using pasture-raised meats as flavor-enhancing ingredients rather than center-of-the-plate features. We’re in the process of developing recipe cards (see two below; also available in cooperating retailers and on our website) that feature our products as accompaniments, alongside hearty portions of beans and vegetables. A favorite is Lentejas, a Spanish lentil soup that features our chorizo sausage. And a recent addition to our collection is an Indian chili that features garbanzo beans and ground lamb. Of course there will always be special occasions worthy of splurging on your favorite steak or roast but week-to-week, it makes sense for meat to play a smaller role.

 

We invite you to try our pasture-raised meats and “eat less, pay more” philosophy. We’ve noticed that it has moved us in alignment with our core values. Eating less and paying more makes it easier for us to honor the hard-work and sacrifice involved all along the supply chain – the land, the animal, the farmer, the processor, the distributor, the restaurant, and the grocery store all make it possible for us to enjoy good local meats.

 

Less is More Recipes

FHF recipecard 5x3 indianlambchili FHF recipecard 5x3 indianlambchili FHF recipecard 5x3 lentejas FHF recipecard 5x3 lentejas

 

 

Home on the Range

Four Davidson County Ranchers Ruminate on Grass-fed vs. Grain-finished beef

by Ryan Jones   |   Photography by Grace and Cary Kanoy
Originally published in Davidson County Magazine

The Charolais cattle at Jeff Boyst’s BN Acres.

The Charolais cattle at Jeff Boyst’s BN Acres.
Photo by Grace and Cary Kanoy.

 

From the time they’re born until they reach full maturity, the cows on Jeff Boyst’s 100-year-old farm, BN Acres, graze on nothing but grass. Depending on the season, the herd of about fifty Charolais cattle enjoy a rotating crop of rye, millet, fescue, orchard grass, and sorghum-sudan grass.

 

“If you take care of the pasture you’re going to have good animals,” says Boyst, who took charge, after his grandfather’s passing in 2007, of the farmland at BN Acres. “It’s a delicate process to make sure we’re giving them the right grass for the right end product.”

 


CFSA is on a mission to bring local, organic food to your table from a farmer who shares your values. Join us!

 

Despite the careful attention given to his fields, Boyst said the meat his cows produce will still vary in taste based on several factors. “It depends on how sensitive your palate is. Grass-fed beef might be called gamey or wild, depending on what the animal has been eating and what foods they’re eating at different times of year. In the fall they may eat more leaves and in the springtime they might get into wild onions or garlic and you might taste that in the beef.”

 

The cattle at BN Acres are exclusively grass-fed.

The cattle at BN Acres are exclusively grass-fed. Photo by Grace and Cary Kanoy.

 

Beyond the subtle flavor differences caused by a wild diet, the most notable distinction between grass- and grain-fed meats has to do with fat content and composition.

 

Marbling refers to the amount of fat appearing in a cut of meat and is the basis for the United States Department of Agriculture’s grading system. Prime meat has the highest marbling content while Choice and Select meats have decreasing amounts of marbling, respectively. “A grain-fed product will have very white marbling. [Grass-fed cows] are naturally a leaner animal with a different type of fat deposit that tends to be more yellow due to the chlorophyll in plants,” said Boyst.

 

Proponents of grass-feeding tend to place less emphasis on this traditional system for measuring quality, preferring instead to focus on the perceived health benefits of a leaner product with increased Omega-3 fatty acids, lower levels of HDL (bad cholesterol), and higher levels of LDL (good cholesterol).

 

Cedar Creek Ranch

One of Cedar Creek Ranch’s Holsteins.
Photo by Grace and Cary Kanoy.

“We have a niche market, but it’s a good market,” explained Beth Phelps—she and her brother, Jeff Perryman, co-own Buck Creek Farm in Midway, N.C. “A lot of people don’t raise all grass-fed beef because it takes longer for the cows to mature (two years versus sixteen months for a grain-fed cow) and raising them is more labor intensive.”

 

“The extra time and effort is worth it,” Phelps said, “because there are always going to be people looking for a healthier option. We started this farm just for our family, not intending to sell products to other people.” She hopes to increase processing from around five Angus and Belted Galloway cattle a year to processing twenty cattle a year.

 

“Grass-fed beef may only be about fifteen percent of the meat market, but it will always be there because people will always choose it,” said Boyst, acknowledging that grass-fed will likely never overtake the grain-fed beef market due to profit margins. “[But] people who are health conscious will find us and seek us out. We continue to choose grass-fed products because we want to offer something the market doesn’t typically offer.”

 

The jury’s out on whether or not grass-fed totally trumps grain-fed finished beef. Most knowledgeable farmers and consumers are more interested in leaving it to personal preference than preaching about a superior product. “I’m a true believer that all beef is good,” said Chris Yokeley of Yokeley Farms in Wallburg, N.C. “My goal is to give people the best eating experience they can have.”

 

Yokeley Farms' Chris Yokeley Photo by Grace and Cary Kanoy

Yokeley Farms’ Chris Yokeley. 
Photo by Grace and Cary Kanoy

 

Yokeley started raising cattle when he inherited his father’s herd of Red Angus. His father ran Yokeley Seeding Company. Yokeley’s herd currently consists of about thirty Red Angus, Shorthorn, and Durham Red cattle (a cross between Red Angus and Shorthorn). They spend their entire lives in an open pasture eating grass, only receiving supplemental hay and corn for the last few months before they’re harvested. “We make all the hay we feed them; we raise all the corn and grind it ourselves,” said Yokeley.

 

“We wanted to expand to something a little different than just Red Angus, so we started researching by taste. I tried some Shorthorn filets on the grill with just salt and pepper. When I bit into the Shorthorn filet it just melted in my mouth. I knew from that moment, that was where we were going,” said Yokeley. He began crossing breeds for the Durham Red—“I truly think that breed is the best of both worlds.”

 

Dan Kurtz of Cedar Creek Ranch raises Holstein cattle, which are typically used in dairy production. Like Yokeley, he does not strictly grass-feed his cattle, but he does emphasize the humane treatment of his animals. His calves are bottle-fed and then given free reign of a pasture for the duration of their lives.

 

Dan Kurz of Cedar Creek Ranch.

Dan Kurtz of Cedar Creek Ranch.

 

Kurtz believes that knowing where your food comes from is more important than a grass-fed label. “One-hundred-twenty years ago everyone knew what agriculture was. They understood where things came from. Now we’ve got four to six generations removed from agriculture. If people read on a label that the product came from some place close to them, it makes them feel better.” Yokeley agreed, “You ought to know your farmer … visit farms and ask questions.”

 

“I don’t see competitors,” said Boyst. “When we run into each other at the store, we trade information. We network and work together. Our desire is to provide a good product to our community.”

 

As Yokeley says, “I don’t see the local food movement as a fad. It’s not going away. I think people are tired of preservatives and chemicals. People want to eat clean and feel good about what they’re eating, whether it’s produce, poultry, or beef. It’s just a great feeling knowing that when I sit down with a plate of food, everything on it came from a farm!”

A Call to Action: Supporting Farmers and Protecting Farmland in the Triangle

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By Edgar Miller, Government Relations Director for the Conservation Trust for North Carolina

Across the Triangle, farmers face a range of complex forces putting farmland and their livelihoods at risk. In the more rapidly developing counties in the region (Durham, Orange, Wake), on average one of every five acres of farmland has been lost to development over the past 20 years. The Conservation Trust for North Carolina, alongside community partners, met with more than 100 agricultural resource professionals, farmers, community leaders, and other stakeholders to address this concern and develop a comprehensive strategy for protecting farmland and enhancing the local food economy.

The resulting, “Triangle Farms for Food: Strategy + Action Plan,” offers six regional strategies encompassing more than 70 action items to protect farms and assist farmers in Chatham, Durham, Johnston, Orange, and Wake Counties. The report also recommends six place-based strategies that focus on local assets and opportunities to address the multiple causes of farmland loss and build a stronger local food system throughout the region.

Nearly one-quarter of the Triangle’s almost two million acres is farmland.

According to the USDA Agricultural Census:

  • In 1997, the five-county Triangle region had nearly 550,000 acres of active farmland.
  • Over the past 20 years, more than 80,000 acres (15 percent) of farmland were lost to development.
  • The region’s population grew by almost 30 percent from 2000-2010, putting even more pressure on farmland targeted for expanding infrastructure needs.

While this pressure did result in the loss of farmland, the growing population in the region has fueled the demand for locally-produced food. Direct market sales from farmers to consumers increased by more than 80 percent between 1997-2012, with direct sales to consumers totaling $3.65 million per year. Yet this is just a drop in the bucket of total food sales in the region approaching $4 billion.

If the region achieved the Center for Environmental Farming System’s 10 percent local food consumption goal, an additional $400 million in direct economic impact would be generated for the area’s economy. How can we make this happen?

Regional strategies

Implementing Regional Strategies

First and foremost, we need a coordinated approach by local and regional government agencies to protect farmland and agricultural communities. Much progress has been made in the region to integrate farmland preservation in local planning and land-use efforts, but more needs to be done.

The report uses a comprehensive Geographic Information System (GIS) methodology to prioritize the best farmland in the region. Farms for Food identifies nearly 800 parcels comprising more than 50,000 acres in rural areas of the region and 65 parcels totaling 850 acres in urban areas.

Key action items include designating agricultural priority areas and enterprise zones at the county level and expanding incentives for farmers to join Voluntary Agricultural Districts (VADs), while developing strategies to connect urban growers with vacant or underutilized publicly-owned lands.

In addition, we must value farmers and farmland and continue to support programs that assist and educate new farmers. The average age of farmers in the state is approaching 60 years old. We must develop new strategies such as incubator farms, expanded community college curriculums, regional farm schools, and other cost-effective methods to educate new farmers.

Other action items include building partnerships with agriculture development organizations to implement branding and marketing strategies that link local food production and farmland preservation, and providing new farmers with access to affordable, productive farmland through land link programs, conservation easements, and long-term leasing agreements.

Furthermore, from a market perspective, we must create a comprehensive local food infrastructure that supports economically-viable local farm operations through more extensive food and farmer business networks and business incubator programs. To increase the demand for local food products we need to promote employer-sponsored Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs, institutional procurement of local foods, and expanded nutritional assistance program benefits for fresh and locally produced food.

Finally, we need a significant increase in state and local funding for farmland preservation and agricultural development.

Assuming an average value of $7,500 per acre for farmland in the region, to permanently protect just 40 percent of the 50,000 acres of high-priority farmland identified in the report, it would take $75 million dollars to acquire easements on the land.

Blue – Top scoring rural farm parcels. Red – Top scoring urban farm parcels.

Blue – Top scoring rural farm parcels. Red – Top scoring urban farm parcels.

The Role of Land Trusts

Easements typically reduce land value by approximately 50 percent. Land trusts are working to pass these savings along to new farmers by selling the conserved land to them at agricultural land values through “option to purchase at agricultural values” or “OPAV” language in easements. These acquire-protect-sell programs have been very successful in protecting tens of thousands of acres of farmland nationally and making the farmland available to new farmers at reasonable prices.

To incentivize these efforts, the state should consider reinstating the conservation tax credit for donated agricultural easements and provide additional tax incentives for landowners that lease or sell farmland to new farmers. Programs to enhance farm and food businesses’ access to capital and low interest loans for land and equipment are needed to enhance farm profitability and address food insecurity issues and improve local food access.

Promoting Place-Based Strategies

In addition to the regional strategies, the report recommends six place-based strategies developed from input received from stakeholders throughout the region, GIS results, and recommendations in county-approved farmland protection plans.

These strategies focus on supporting larger farming operations in southeastern Johnston County and western Chatham County; expanding new farming operations and transitioning existing farmland in northern Orange and Durham counties, including agritourism opportunities; developing urban agriculture in Durham and Wake counties and small farm networks along the Wake and Johnston county line; and maintaining and protecting a “farm ring” around Siler City in western Chatham County.

The place-based strategies provide an excellent starting point for local food councils and local and regional government entities to secure the long-term future of agriculture in the region and secure the region’s ability to meet a portion of its food needs.

The report estimates that 225,000 acres of farmland will be needed in the future in the Triangle just to meet 10 percent of the region’s food needs from local sources. This is more than half of the remaining farmland in the region.

The multi-faceted approach laid out in the report will be the most effective way to keep farmland in farming, support current and new farmers, advance agricultural awareness and build a strong local food economy.

F4F Cover

Farms for Food was made possible with grant support from the Triangle Community Foundation and Sustainable Foods NC, with special thanks to project partners including Community Food Lab, Triangle Land Conservancy, Eno River Association, Center for Environmental Farming Systems, and Carolina Farm Stewardship Association.

If you are interested in efforts to implement the action items in the report, please contact Edgar Miller, Conservation Trust for NC director of government relations and farmland protection, at edgar@ctnc.org.

ABOUT EDGAR MILLER

Edgar represents North Carolina’s 23 land trusts before the North Carolina General Assembly and other state and federal agencies. He led the successful effort to establish a Voluntary Agricultural District in Davidson County, where he lives and has a small hop farm, and is a member of the N.C. Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation Trust Fund Advisory Committee.

ABOUT CTNC

For 25 years Conservation Trust for NC has saved the places you love – streams, farms, parks, forests, trails, and vistas. We work with local land trusts, landowners, communities, and government agencies to protect North Carolina’s natural treasures for all people – forever. We protect land along the Blue Ridge Parkway, assist 23 local land trusts, and connect people from all walks of life to the outdoors. More information can be found on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.