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‘The Southern Harvest Cookbook’ + Sneak Peek Recipes

By Cathy Cleary, cookbook author and CFSA member

Editor’s Note:

The Southern Harvest Cookbook is a new cookbook written by CFSA member, Cathy Cleary which features seasonal and regional recipes, stories, plus interviews with some of North Carolina’s famed Chefs Vivian Howard, John Fleer (Rhubarb), and Andrea Reusing (Cooking in the Moment), and includes the brilliant photography of Katherine Brooks.
Fifty-percent of the proceeds from sales of the cookbook will go toward food justice causes and sustainable agricultural initiatives. CFSA is one of the causes that Cathy selected, and we are feeling utterly grateful for her generosity.
Cathy wanted to give fellow CFSA members a sneak peek, so below she shares an article and two recipes Chocolate-Ginger Sweet Potato Pie and Whiskey-Braised Sweet Potatoes from her book, The Southern Harvest Cookbook.
All photos by Cathy Cleary, unless otherwise noted.

Sweet Potatoes by Cathy Cleary

The Sweet Potato Underground

I wonder how many of us grew up thinking sweet potatoes could only be served mixed with loads of brown sugar or dripping with toasted marshmallows. I personally did not wake from this sweet potato sugar coma until age 21 when a companion convinced me to try them roasted in their skins and adorned with nothing but butter. I fell in love with both the companion and the orange-fleshed tuber.

Fortunately for me, this humble root grows well in North Carolina, which produces more sweet potatoes than any other state in the US according to the USDA. Joe Evans, owner of Paper Crane Farm explains,

 

“Sweet potatoes definitely grow well here in the mountains around Asheville. I’d say our main challenge compared to the piedmont is the cold. Sweet potatoes are a long season crop that take anywhere from 90-120 days to reach maturity. Our growing season is shorter here than in other parts of the state.”

 

Sweet potatoes don’t grow from seeds. They are one of those fascinating regenerative vegetables. Plant a sweet potato and it will grow baby sweet potatoes. Onions, ginger, turmeric, cassava, and so-called “Irish” potatoes all fall into this crazy category.

In order to get a jump on the long growing season most farmers plant “slips” — leafy green sprouts grown out of a mature potato. They purchase the slips or grow them in a greenhouse until there is no danger of frost in the spring, then plant them in outdoor fields.

Young plants need lots of water, but once those slips take hold miraculous things happen. Vigorous vines take over entire fields, or in my case entire front yards.  All summer long, as people walk past our house, they ask what vine is taking over the sidewalk. When savvy gardeners walk by, they ask what varieties of sweet potatoes we grow.

Those leafy vines are great conversation starters, good ground cover, and the leaves themselves are incredibly delicious. I like to season them with smoked paprika, dry them in the oven and eat them like crunchy kale chips.

Chrisan Klak, co-owner of Blue Meadow Farms in Hendersonville grew up eating taro leaves, and sweet potato leaves are a good stand-in. “I’m Filipino and we use them in Philippino culture and Asian culture. Usually, a lot of the recipes that I follow for sweet potato greens are using taro leaves, but they have a similar texture and flavor so I just use them in lieu of taro leaves.”

We don’t grow taro leaves in these parts, but nutrition consultant Katherine Wilson explains,

 

“Sweet potato greens can be cooked in the same way as spinach, chard, and other leafy greens, and they may contain more nutrients than spinach.”

 

In the fall, leaf covered vines get cut all the way back and roots should be harvested before first frost. Annie Louise Perkinson, co-owner of Flying Cloud Farm told me “Frost can ruin them, but also we don’t want them to get too big because people don’t want to buy a six-pound sweet potato.”

I can speak from experience when I say cooking a six-pound sweet potato takes some time. I almost always end up with something roughly the size and shape of a football when I harvest. After showing it off for several days, I light up the wood-fired oven, have a pizza party and as the oven cools down overnight, the enormous sweet potato football bakes. In the morning, warm tender sweet flesh is ready to eat with butter or sorghum whipped cream for breakfast.

Perkinson agrees with me that roasting is one of the best ways to cook these sweet miracles. “I love leftovers because you can do anything with them, put them in soups, stews, quesadillas or pie.”

Their versatility may be obvious, but when those marshmallow topped, brown sugar baked casseroles come out of the oven we rarely think about nutrition. Wilson says,

 

“Actually sweet potatoes are packed with nutrients, they help boost immune function, eye health, cell growth, blood sugar regulation, and are a great addition to an anti-inflammatory diet.”

 

She contends they are best without added sugar.

As if versatility and nutrient density were not enough, the variations in color shape and size are almost endless. This year I grew round yellow fleshed Painters, orange oblong Beauregard’s, and lanky white Nancy Hall’s. Cut up and roasted all together, they hardly look like the same vegetable.

The sweet potato edition of Crop Stories, a “Zine” edited by André Joseph Gallant, describes varieties of purple-fleshed Okinawan, dark red Georgia Jets and bright gold skinned Vardaman sweet potatoes.  This informative journal combines planting, growing, and management information as well as essays devoted to conditions for immigrant laborers working in sweet potato fields, stories of passionate farmers, and intriguing recipes like Sweet Potato Adult Milkshake.

I may make adult milkshakes a new household tradition. They should work well alongside my other traditions; Whiskey Braised Sweet Potatoes and Chocolate Ginger Sweet Potato Pie listed below.

Cathy Cleary's Chocolate-Ginger Sweet Potato Pie, by Katherine Brooks

Chocolate-Ginger Sweet Potato Pie

Recipe from The Southern Harvest Cookbook by Cathy Cleary
Photo by Katherine Brooks
Serves: 8

Crust

4 tablespoons butter
¾ cup semisweet chocolate chips
1¼ cup graham cracker crumbs
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon powdered ginger

Filling

2 cups baked, peeled and mashed sweet potato
½ cup packed brown sugar
½ cup half and half
2 eggs
1 teaspoon powdered ginger
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ cup chopped crystallized ginger

Topping

3 tablespoons half and half
½ cup semisweet chocolate chips
¼ cup chopped crystallized ginger

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. For the crust, melt butter in microwave or saucepan. Add chocolate chips and continue to melt stirring until smooth. Combine with remaining crust ingredients and press into a 9-inch deep-dish pie pan.

For the filling, combine all ingredients in a bowl or electric mixer and mix well. Pour filling into crust and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour. The filling will be starting to brown on edges and will puff slightly in the center.

Meanwhile, heat half and half for the topping in microwave or saucepan. Add chocolate chips and continue to melt, stirring until smooth (Note: when melting chocolate be sure to only use completely dry utensils—water causes chocolate to seize up).

Sprinkle pie with ginger and drizzle with chocolate sauce. Allow to cool at least 15 minutes before serving.

 

Cathy Cleary's Whiskey Braised Sweet Potatoes

Whiskey-Braised Sweet Potatoes

Recipe from The Southern Harvest Cookbook by Cathy Cleary
Serves: 8

ingredients

¼ cup plus 2–3 tablespoons whiskey or bourbon, divided
1½ cups water
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon chipotle pepper puree (optional)
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
6 cups (2 pounds) peeled and cubed (1-inch) sweet potatoes
1 teaspoon cornstarch
½ cup toasted pecans (optional)

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. For the crust, melt butter in microwave or saucepan. Add chocolate chips and continue to melt stirring until smooth. Combine with remaining crust

In a wide-bottomed sauce pot combine ¼ cup whiskey, water, butter, brown sugar, salt, chipotle and nutmeg. Bring to a simmer and add sweet potatoes. Spread potatoes so that they are all at least partially submerged in liquid. Cook uncovered at a low simmer for about 20 minutes. Test a potato to make sure they are cooked through. If they need additional cooking time, cover and simmer 5–10 additional minutes.

Mix 2 tablespoons of whiskey with cornstarch, add to simmering sweet potatoes and stir until thickened. Taste and add additional 1 tablespoon of whiskey, to taste. Sprinkle with toasted pecans before serving.

 

About The Book
The southern garden produces delights in all four seasons, from asparagus to tomatoes, apples to collard greens. Make use of the bounty of your garden or farmers’ market with new twists on familiar favorites. Recipes for Apple Radish Salad and Bacon Apple Burgers break up a fall parade of crisps and crumbles. Instead of roasting, make Whiskey Braised Sweet Potatoes (recipe above) or Sweet Potato Peanut Stew and add greens to Shrimp and Grits. Recipes for preserving herbs, pickling peaches and berry jams mean that your harvest will never go to waste. Let experienced gardener and cook Cathy Cleary walk you through four seasons of fresh, flavorful cooking.

 

About The Author
Cathy Cleary began cooking and baking at the ripe age of four. In 2000, she opened the West End Bakery Café in West Asheville, which quickly became an iconic eatery, and in 2014 published The West End Bakery and Café Cookbook to satisfy requests to share her recipes. Cathy and her husband own a small farm outside Asheville where they grow as much food as possible. Cathy is a contributor to the Carolina Table: North Carolina Writers on Food, and her website includes a blog of stories about her adventures in the kitchen and garden.

Hydroponics and the Organic Label (Part Four)

By Glenn Kern, CFSA Organic Policy Coordinator

Welcome, readers, to this fourth and final installment of CFSA’s blog series about hydroponics and the USDA Organic label.

(Part one, two, and three.)

By now, those of you who have been monitoring the hydroponics debate will have learned that at the beginning of November, the National Organic Standards Board delivered what has been widely reported as a “win” for proponents of allowing hydroponics under the Organic label. This final post will discuss what occurred at the NOSB meeting in Jacksonville, the regulatory effect of the Board’s decision, and possible next steps for the NOP and NOSB.

Part Four

The vote 

As discussed previously, in preparation for the Fall 2017 NOSB meeting, the Crops Subcommittee presented the full Board with four separate proposals related to container-based growing systems: (1) to prohibit aeroponics from Organic certification; (2) to define hydroponics as a container-based growing method wherein crops are supplied with more than 20% of their required nitrogen from liquid feeding and more than 50% of their required nitrogen from fertilizer added after planting, and to prohibit such systems from Organic certification; (3) to define aquaponics as a sub-type of hydroponics and to prohibit such systems from Organic certification ; and (4) to allow container-based production systems to become certified only if both the 20% and 50% nitrogen limits are not exceeded.

The week before the NOSB meeting, the Board heard six hours of public comments from stakeholders during online conference calls. Several days later in Jacksonville, the Board heard another seven hours of comments from concerned farmers, handlers, certifiers, industry associations, consumers, and other advocates who were present. These thirteen hours of live comments were in addition to more than 2,300 written comments submitted by stakeholders from across the country. Not all of these comments focused on hydroponics—there were dozens of other regulatory issues on the NOSB’s agenda in Jacksonville—but many did.

Proponents of Organic hydroponics urged the Board to reject the Crops Subcommittee’s proposals. Many of these commenters touted hydroponic farms as efficient systems that use less water than traditional field-based operations, minimize fertilizer runoff, create opportunities for growing fresh food in urban areas and, relatedly, present a viable option for aspiring farmers who don’t have access to farmland. Proponents also pointed out that hydroponic systems can be operated without the use of synthetic pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers which are prohibited under the USDA Organic regulations.

Some hydroponic farmers who were present in Jacksonville told the Board that the 20% and 50% limits on nitrogen were unworkable for their operations. Others—including some container farmers who produce berries in compost or soil-based growing media—said that while their systems could potentially comply with these nitrogen limits, compliance would come at the cost of increased nutrient leaching (due to an excess of soluble nitrogen being present at times when plants would be incapable of sufficient uptake) or huge increases in labor costs (due to the need to replace liquid feeding with compost amendments). Some container farmers argued that the 20% and 50% limits were arbitrary and not capable of enforcement by certifying agents—arguments with which some certifying agents agree.

Opponents of allowing hydroponics under the Organic label focused their arguments on the importance of soil in organic farming. Some pointed to specific provisions of the Organic Foods Production Act and the USDA Organic regulations which are interpreted by many farmers and Organic stakeholders as requiring in-ground production, soil tillage, and crop rotation. Many soil farmers spoke about the history of organic agriculture and the soil-focused philosophical heritage from which the USDA Organic program was created. They objected to what they view to be a dishonest attempt by hydroponic farmers to take advantage of the market demand for Organic food without committing themselves to the underlying principles of organic agriculture.

In contrast to the assertions by hydroponic growers that container-based systems are resource efficient, some advocates of soil farming pointed out that hydroponic systems often require large amounts of electricity and lack carbon sequestration capability. Soil farmers also argued that, in contrast to the letter and spirit of OFPA, hydroponic farms are not capable of increasing on-farm biodiversity in comparable ways to traditional organic farms.

In the end, the Board voted 14 to 0, with one abstention, in favor of the proposal to prohibit aeroponics. But as to hydroponics, aquaponics, and nutrient limits for container production, the Board voted 8 to 7 against the Crops Subcommittee’s proposals. Board members who voted against the Crops Subcommittee’s proposals gave varying reasons for their decisions, ranging from the importance of food access in urban areas to a concern that the proposed 20% and 50% nitrogen limits were arbitrary. Those who voted in favor of prohibiting hydroponics stated their positions in different ways, but they were united in their belief that the Organic regulations should not be interpreted oramended to allow for soilless production systems.

What it means 

 

To be clear, the Board’s vote to reject the Crops Subcommittee’s proposal is not equivalent to a vote in favor of allowing hydroponics. There was no proposal to expressly allow hydroponics on the Board’s agenda and, consequently, no recommendation for pro-hydroponic rulemaking was possible. As explained previously in this blog series, the current position of the USDA National Organic Program is that OFPA and the Organic regulations do not categorically prohibit hydroponic or other container-based systems.

The result of the Board’s vote is that, with the exception of aeroponics, the NOSB will not be making any new rulemaking recommendations to the NOP with respect to container-based systems.

Rather, a hydroponic system may be certified Organic if an accredited third-party certifier determines that it complies with all applicable provisions of OFPA and the Organic regulations. Historically, some certifiers have been willing to approve hydroponic operations while others have not, and the NOP has not offered certifiers guidance in making this determination.

The result of the Board’s vote is that, with the exception of aeroponics, the NOSB will not be making any new rulemaking recommendations to the NOP with respect to container-based systems. Thus, the NOP is left with the Board’s standing 2010 recommendation that hydroponic operations—as therein defined—should be prohibited from obtaining Organic certification. However, the NOP previously determined that the 2010 recommendation was too incomplete to be relied on for comprehensive rulemaking. Consequently, individual certifying agencies will (for now) continue to decide whether a particular hydroponic or aquaponic growing system is eligible for Organic certification.

The upshot of the Board’s vote is that the regulatory uncertainty and inconsistency for hydroponics under the Organic label has not been resolved. Nonetheless, the Board’s unwillingness to recommend a categorical ban on hydroponic operations does signal to container-based growers who currently market their products as certified Organic that they may continue to do so without fear of imminent regulatory changes affecting their businesses. This relative certainty is the “win” for hydroponics that the Board delivered.

Next steps 

Could the NOP proceed with rulemaking despite the failure of the NOSB to provide a recommendation at the Fall 2017 meeting? In theory, yes. Will the NOP do this? Probably not.

The NOP, not the NOSB, is responsible for deciding whether and when to propose new Organic regulations. OFPA and the Federal Advisory Committee Act require that the NOP consult with the NOSB on issues related to the implementation of the law, and the NOP has fulfilled this statutory obligation with respect to hydroponics. Furthermore, the NOP is not limited to issuing regulations that align with recommendations from the NOSB. However, given the degree of influence that the NOSB’s recommendations have historically commanded, the divisive nature of the hydroponics issue, and the NOP’s previous inaction in the absence of a comprehensive recommendation on hydroponics from the NOSB, it seems unlikely that the NOP will proceed to rulemaking.

Some Organic stakeholders and NOSB members have suggested that a separate “Organic Hydroponic” label may be a possible long-term solution. At the very least, this option would require the NOP to issue new regulations containing firm definitions and standards for hydroponic production, as well as requirements that producers and handlers disclose the use of this production method on applicable products. This option would provide consumers with information about the origins or their food without prohibiting container-based systems from obtaining certification. Although the 2016 Hydroponics Task Force addressed the feasibility of an alternative labeling option in its final report, the NOSB itself has not evaluated this option as part of its work agenda. That may change in 2018.

Needless to say, whichever direction the NOP and NOSB go from here, we’ll keep you posted!

We hope this has been a helpful discussion, and as always, don’t hesitate to get in touch with me at glenn@carolinafarmstewards.org with questions or comments!

Food from the 2017 Sustainable Agriculture Conference

Pumpkin Bisque

Pumpkin Bisque

Reviews from this year’s conference were unified in praising the work of conference Food Coordinator, chef Isaiah Allen. As both a chef at The Eddy Pub and a farmer at Rocky Run Farm, Isaiah is able to provide a specialized perspective of growing and cooking local, seasonal ingredients. He has graciously provided us with the recipes of some of the most talked about dishes from this year’s conference: the Pumpkin Bisque and Sea Island Peas with Moroccan Tomatoes. Good news for those looking for a vegan dish that shines on their Thanksgiving table, the pumpkin bisque received raves from all eaters at our conference. Chef Allen encourages everyone to try the pumpkin bisque, but cautions us that the Sea Island Peas recipe is for more advanced home cooks.

Pumpkin Bisque

  • 5 lbs pumpkin, roasted
  • 2 lbs, yellow onion, peeled and chopped
  • 2 lbs carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 2 oz. canola oil
  • 3 oz. garlic, minced
  • 2 oz. ginger, minced
  • 1 quart coconut milk
  • 2 quarts water
  • 1 Tbsp. cinnamon
  • ½ cup sorghum syrup
  • 2 Tbsp. sage, chopped
  • kosher salt

 

Cut the pumpkin in half and roast in a convection oven until soft.  Let pumpkin cool and scoop out the flesh.  Sautee the onions and carrots in the canola oil until browned.  Add the garlic, ginger, and cinnamon and saute for another minute.  Add the water, coconut milk, sorghum, and sage.  Bring to a simmer.  Puree and add salt to taste.

Recipe by Isaiah Allen

Chef at The Eddy Pub

Owner of Rocky Run Farm

Sea Island Peas with Moroccan tomatoes

  • 2 lbs. peas soaked and boiled
  • 1 Jalapeno thin sliced
  • 1 yellow onion thin sliced
  • 4 tomatoes cut into wedges
  • 1 bunch green onions cut on a bias
  • 1 oz. fresh ginger grated
  • 2 oz. minced garlic
  • 1 Tbsp. ground cumin
  • 1 Tbsp. Paprika
  • ½ tsp. cayenne powder
  • 2 Tbsp. Chili powder
  • 1 tsp mustard seed
  • 2 oz. brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. black pepper
  • 1 tsp. onion powder
  • 2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 ½ cups canola oil
  • ½ apple cider vinegar

 

Method: Soak the peas in water for at least 6 hours to hydrate.  Strain the water.  Add the peas to a pot and cover with clean water.  Simmer until soft.  Drain and chill.

Put the green onions, yellow onions, jalapenos, garlic, ginger, and tomatoes in a large metal bowl. Add the vinegar to the bowl.  Blend all the dry spices together.  Heat the oil on the stove.

NOTE:  The next few steps need to be done quickly.  Make sure you ready the process and have everything ready.  DO NOT overheat the oil.

Wet your fingers and sprinkle a few drops of water into the pot of oil.  Wait for the oil to pop.  After the popping stops add all the mixed spices.  The mixture should sizzle as the spices cook.  Quickly cut the heat and pour the oil over the vegetable mixture.  Let cool before placing in a cooler.  Mix the tomato mixture with the peas and serve.

Recipe by Isaiah Allen

Chef at The Eddy Pub

Owner of Rocky Run Farm

 

 

Hydroponics and the Organic Label (Part Three)

By Glenn Kern, CFSA Organic Policy Coordinator

(Part onetwo, and four.)

The Debate

Once again—neither the Organic Foods Production Act nor the USDA Organic Regulations expressly prohibit or allow certification of hydroponics. Without a legislative amendment or a federal court specifying otherwise, it is the job of the National Organic Program (NOP) to make a determination about how the existing law should be interpreted with respect to hydroponic production systems. Unless and until new regulations are finalized, the NOP and its accredited certifiers can continue to stand on the OFPA provision permitting “other production and handling practices…not prohibited or otherwise restricted…unless it is determined that such practice[s] would be inconsistent with the applicable organic certification program.” Since the beginning of the Organic program, the NOP’s interpretation of the law has been to allow hydroponic systems as long as an accredited certifier determines that the system complies with OFPA and all applicable Organic regulations. The result has been undesirable regulatory inconsistency.

One option available to the NOP is to issue “administrative guidance”—non-binding advice from an agency about how best to comply with a federal law. Such guidance could be written to assist certifiers in deciding whether a hydroponic system is in compliance. However, the NOP has on multiple occasions indicated to the NOSB that a formal rulemaking is likely required in order to adequately address the regulatory inconsistency of hydroponics certification. To that end, the NOP has asked the NOSB to provide a comprehensive recommendation on hydroponics that could be used as the basis for new regulations. What this recommendation should be is the subject of much debate among Organic stakeholders and the members of the NOSB.

In a nutshell, opponents of allowing hydroponics argue that several provisions of OFPA and the Organic regulations already impliedly prohibit hydroponics or, at the least, counsel against its inclusion under the Organic label. In particular, opponents point to those provisions pertaining to the management of soil and nutrients, arguing that hydroponic and other “soil-less” systems are inherently incapable of complying with these requirements and should therefore be prohibited. Many opponents also argue that allowing “soil-less” systems would be contrary to the spirit and intention of the Organic Foods Production Act, which was itself the product of an agricultural movement that stressed improving the ecological health of soil as a means of producing environmentally sustainable, healthy food.

NOP’s interpretation of the law has been to allow hydroponic systems as long as an accredited certifier determines that the system complies with OFPA and all applicable Organic regulations. The result has been undesirable regulatory inconsistency.

In response, advocates of including hydroponics under the Organic label often argue that there are multiple possible interpretations of the relevant provisions of OFPA and the USDA Organic regulations, and that depending on which interpretation one chooses, the requirements pertaining to soil and nutrient management could be viewed as either inapplicable to “soil-less” systems or as capable of being achieved by at least some hydroponic models. Some advocates argue that in certain hydroponic systems, the functional equivalency of “soil ecology” is created through the cycling of resources and interactions between crops and microorganisms. Proponents of hydroponics also assert that properly designed hydroponic operations conserve natural resources and minimize negative environmental impacts in a way that is consistent with the spirit and intention of OFPA.

It must be stressed that neither of these brief synopses adequately expresses the full range or nuance of opinions about whether hydroponics should be eligible for Organic certification. To learn more about the various positions taken by stakeholders on this issue, I recommend starting with the 2016 Hydroponic and Aquaponic Task Force Report, mentioned in Part 2 and available here.

Just in case you’re interested, what follows is a list of key provisions of the USDA Organic regulations and OFPA that underpin the debate about whether the NOP should prohibit hydroponics. If you want to read the text, just click on the statute citation.

(a) USDA Organic Regulations

(i) 7 CFR §205.200, General

(ii) 7 CFR §205.203, Soil fertility and crop nutrient management practice standard

(iii) 7 CFR §205.205, Crop rotation practice standard

(b) Organic Food and Production Act (7 U.S.C. Chapter 94)

(i) 7 U.S.C. §6513, Organic Plan

From a legal standpoint, the National Organic Program has the first say about whether hydroponics should be prohibited from obtaining Organic certification. From a practical standpoint, the NOP’s decision is probably also the last say, at least for a while. Theoretically, Congress could amend OFPA to expressly allow or prohibit hydroponics under the Organic program. As of right now, Congress does not appear ready to weigh in on this issue.

A Chronology of Previous Treatment by the NOSB and NOP

The discussion of whether and how to expressly regulate hydroponics under the Organic label has been ongoing since at least 1995. What follows is a rough historical outline of the hydroponics issue as dealt with by the NOSB and NOP.

(a) 1990 – Organic Foods Production Act

Through OFPA, Congress gave the USDA authority to create and administer a federal Organic marketing label. As noted previously, OFPA does not expressly prohibit hydroponics from certification.

(b) 1995 – NOSB Recommendation for Specialized Standards for Hydroponic       Production in Soil-less Media 

In the years preceding the NOP’s publication of the USDA Organic Regulations (in 2000), the NOSB carried out its advisory role by making recommendations to the NOP about what the impending regulations should say. In a 1995 recommendation, the NOSB stated that “[h]ydroponic production in soilless media to be labeled organically produced shall be allowed if all provisions of the OFPA have been met.” However, this recommendation was not included in the final USDA Organic regulations. The written transcript of the NOSB members discussing this 1995 recommendation indicates that some members of the Board were concerned about whether hydroponic production was consistent with the “philosophy” of organic agriculture.

(c) 2000 – USDA Organic Regulations

In 2000, the NOP published the first USDA Organic Regulations. Again, neither these regulations nor any subsequent additions or amendments to them expressly prohibit hydroponics from being certified Organic.

(d) 2003 – NOSB Crops Subcommittee Recommendation for a Guidance Document Relative to Hydroponics and Other Soil-less Growing Systems  

In 2003, the NOSB voted to publish a discussion document produced by the Crops Subcommittee on the subject of whether hydroponics could be certified Organic. The NOSB also recommended that the NOP not proceed with any rulemaking for hydroponics until a formal rulemaking recommendation was offered by the NOSB.       

(e) 2008-2009 – Crops Subcommittee discussion documents

At the NOSB meetings in 2008 and 2009, the Crops Subcommittee presented additional discussion documents related to “soil-less” growing systems in preparation for a final NOSB recommendation.

(f) 2010 – NOSB Recommendation: Production Standards for Terrestrial Plants in Containers and Enclosures

In 2010, the NOSB made a formal rulemaking recommendation to the NOP that included language about hydroponics. In its recommendation, the NOSB concluded that hydroponic production systems, as defined by the Board, could not be certified. The Board stated:

“Observing the framework of organic farming based on its foundation of sound management of soil biology and ecology, it becomes clear that systems of crop production that eliminate soil from the system, such as hydroponics or aeroponics, cannot be considered as examples of acceptable organic farming practices. Hydroponics…certainly cannot be classified as certified organic growing methods due to their exclusion of the soil-plant ecology intrinsic to organic farming systems and USDA/NOP regulations governing them.”

(g) 2010 – 2015 – No rulemaking from the NOP 

In the wake of the 2010 Recommendation from the NOSB, the NOP declined to issue new regulations that would prohibit hydroponic operations from obtaining Organic certification.

(h) 2015 – Hydroponics and Aquaponics Task Force

In 2015, the NOP established the Hydroponics and Aquaponics Task Force to conduct additional research and analysis of “soil-less” production systems. As described in the resulting report, “the task force was comprised of sixteen diversely qualified individuals that represented both the soil-based organic and hydroponic communities.” The NOP’s goal was to obtain more information about the types of hydroponic production systems being used commercially and about how these systems might fit—or not—within the regulatory framework of OFPA and the USDA Organic Regulations.

(g) July 2016 – Publication of Task Force Report 

The Hydroponics and Aquaponics Task Force Report was published in July. The report is split into three parts, each written by a separate subcommittee.

One subcommittee sought to clarify the 2010 Recommendation from the NOSB. The resulting report concluded, like the 2010 Recommendation, that hydroponic production systems could not be certified Organic under existing law and USDA regulations.

A second subcommittee wrote in support of allowing at least some models of hydroponic production to be eligible for Organic certification. This report includes analyses of various hydroponic production models and presents arguments for how these different models should be regulated by the NOP.

The third subcommittee reported on possible “alternative labeling options” that could be employed by the USDA in the event that hydroponic production is ultimately allowed by the NOP.

(h) Fall 2016 – NOSB meeting

At the Fall 2016 NOSB meeting, the Crops Subcommittee presented a proposal to allow hydroponics. This proposal, had it been voted on by the full Board, would have required a two-thirds vote of all NOSB members in order to overturn the previous 2010 NOSB recommendation that soil-less production should not be eligible for certification.

However, the Subcommittee itself voted 5 to 2 against the proposal and the full Board did not vote on it at all. Instead, the Board raised questions about the wording of the proposed recommendation. As described in the Crops Subcommittee’s Spring 2017 discussion document, “it was noted [by the Board at the Fall 2016 meeting] that if the vote were to result in a failed motion, there would be no recommendation going forward from the NOSB to the NOP. Therefore, the NOSB did not vote on the proposal, but voted to send it back to the Crops Subcommittee for further work.”

At the Fall 2016 meeting the NOSB did pass a resolution—not to be confused with a formal recommendation—stating that a consensus of the Board was of the opinion that purely water-based hydroponic systems could not be certified organic under existing regulations.

(i) Spring 2017 – Crops Subcommittee discussion document.

At the Spring 2017 NOSB meeting, the Crops Subcommittee presented a discussion document originally formatted as a proposal for recommended rulemaking. This document was not ultimately offered as proposal to be voted on by the NOSB because it was determined that new NOSB members needed additional time to study the issue.

The Spring 2017 discussion document offered new definitions for hydroponics, aquaponics, and aeroponics. The text of the document also proposed that these production models be prohibited from Organic certification.

(j) August 2017 – NOSB public webinar discussion on hydroponics, aquaponics, aeroponics and container-based production.

On August 14, the NOSB held a public webinar for the purpose of discussing possible rulemaking recommendations for hydroponics, aquaponics, aeroponics, and container-based systems. During this webinar, the Crops Subcommittee presented draft proposals prohibiting “soil-less” systems based on definitions used in the 2010 NOSB Recommendation. The Crops Subcommittee also presented a draft proposal for regulating soil-based container systems.

Both the Crops Subcommittee and the Board as a whole were divided on the issues of (1) whether enough information about various container-based growing systems is presently available to warrant a rulemaking recommendation to the NOP, and (2) if so, whether such recommendation should be to prohibit or to allow certification of hydroponics.

(k) Fall 2017 Meeting – Crops subcommittee proposals

In preparation for the Fall 2017 NOSB Meeting in Jacksonville, the Crops Subcommittee voted (by simple majority) to submit the proposals listed below for a vote by the full Board. Again, the NOSB has multiple options: it can pass a proposal as written (and issue a formal recommendation to the NOP), make non-substantive changes and then pass a proposal, reject a proposal, or refer a proposal back to Subcommittee.

Proposals

(i) Aeroponics – proposal is to prohibit from Organic certification.

(ii) Aquaponics – proposal is to prohibit from Organic certification. Recall that the definition of “aquaponics” used in this proposal incorporates the definition of “hydroponics,” below. 

(iii) Container-based production – proposal is to prohibit from Organic certification all container production of plants which does not meet the following criteria: “a limit of 20% of the plants’ nitrogen requirement can be supplied by liquid feeding and a limit of 50% of the plants’ nitrogen requirement can be added to the container after the crop has been planted. For perennials, the nitrogen feeding limit is calculated on an annual basis. Transplants, ornamentals, herbs, sprouts, fodder, and aquatic plants are exempted from these requirements.”

(iv) Hydroponics – proposal is to prohibit from Organic certification. Recall that the term “hydroponics” as used in this proposal is defined as a production system which does not fall within the percentage limits on liquid and after-planting nutrition found above.

 

Coming up next week :

The Fall 2017 NOSB meeting in Jacksonville, Florida, October 31 – November 2.

The issue of hydroponics in Organic agriculture is complicated. Stakeholders who believe hydroponics should be prohibited and those who believe it should be allowed each make valid points, and almost everyone agrees that hydroponic crop production has a place within our current food production system. Ultimately the question is one of administrative law and discretion: how should the NOP interpret the Organic Foods Production Act in creating regulations that deal expressly with hydroponics? The NOSB may provide its answer next week.

Look for Part 4 of this blog series to be published in mid-November with an analysis of the Board’s decision in Jacksonville.

Thanks for reading, and don’t hesitate to get in touch with me at glenn@carolinafarmstewards.org  with your questions and comments!

Hydroponics and the Organic Label (Part Two)

By Glenn Kern, CFSA Organic Policy Coordinator

(Part onethree, and four.)

(A) What exactly are hydroponic production systems?

As noted above, hydroponic production is one of multiple different methods of commercial crop production that are distinct from the traditional practice of growing plants to maturity in the open ground. The NOSB and NOP have long recognized the need to define and distinguish between these less traditional growing methods in order to determine whether some should be prohibited under the Organic label.

Though less prevalent on a commercial scale than they are today, hydroponic production systems were in use in the United States when the USDA Organic regulations were being drafted in the late 1990s, and both the NOSB and the NOP discussed them in the context of the Organic label. The final regulations, published by the NOP in December 2000, did not explicitly regulate hydroponics, and supplemental information published by the NOP during the rulemaking process indicated that allowing for the possibility of rule-compliant hydroponic systems was an intentional choice.

At present, a deepening problem of regulatory inconsistency demands the urgent need for additional clarification from the NOP. Without USDA rules that expressly address hydroponic and other container-based production methods, some USDA-accredited Organic certifying agencies have been willing to approve these non-traditional methods, while other certifying agencies have not.

What follows is a basic typological framework for the production systems that the NOSB and NOP are currently attempting to define and classify. Keep in mind that the definitions listed here are not found in existing law or USDA regulations—rather, they are proposed definitions from the NOSB and are by no means set in stone. It should also be stressed that within each category listed below there are in fact multiple distinct production models in use by commercial growers. An analysis of these many individual models is beyond the scope of this blog post. For readers who want to learn more about the range of container-based production systems being used today, I recommend starting with the 2016 Organic Hydroponic and Aquaponic Task Force report, which will be mentioned again in Part Three and is available here.

Without USDA rules that expressly address hydroponic and other container-based production methods, some USDA-accredited Organic certifying agencies have been willing to approve these non-traditional methods, while other certifying agencies have not.

(i) Container-based growing systems

In 2010, the NOSB made a formal recommendation to the NOP regarding the use of container-based production systems. As defined in that recommendation, a “container” is “any vessel and associated equipment used to house growing media and the complete root structure of terrestrial plants and to prevent the roots from contacting the soil or surface beneath the vessel, such as, but not limited to, pots, troughs, plastic bags, floor mats. etc.” The Crops Subcommittee’s pending proposals on container-based systems for the Fall 2017 meeting in Jacksonville use the same definition.

In other words, container-based growing systems involve growing plants somewhere other than in the ground. However, the “growing media” used in container-based commercial systems can vary significantly. For example, the containers could be filled with soil or a soil-and-compost mix. Alternatively, the containers could be filled with a completely liquid growing media. As will be made clear below, in the latter case, the production system would be considered both “container-based” and, by necessity, “hydroponic.”

For the purposes of this typological framework, the category of “container-based growing systems” encompasses each of the following sub-categories, all of which involve the production of crops in “vessels” used to prevent plant roots “from contacting the soil or surface beneath….” However, it’s important to note that there are container-based growing systems which do not fit into any of the categories listed below.

(ii) Hydroponic growing systems

At the Spring 2017 NOSB meeting, the Crops Subcommittee presented to the full Board a discussion document that included a proposed definition of “hydroponics.” The full Board did not vote on the proposed definition, and therefore no formal recommendation was made to the NOP regarding how such systems should be defined in the USDA Organic regulations.

Consequently, there is no current NOP definition of hydroponics. The NOSB has produced three slightly different definitions of hydroponics in recent years:

(a) In 2010, the NOSB made a formal rulemaking recommendation to the NOP in which “hydroponics” was defined as “[t]he production of normally terrestrial, vascular plants in nutrient rich solutions or in an inert, porous, solid matrix bathed in nutrient rich solutions.”

(b) In a Fall 2016 proposal, which neither accepted nor rejected by the full Board, the Crops Subcommittee defined “hydroponics” as “the growing of normally terrestrial vascular plants in mineral nutrient solutions with or without an inert growing media to provide mechanical support.”

(c) The definition of “hydroponics” presented by the Crops Subcommittee at the Spring 2017 meeting is “[t]he production of normally terrestrial, vascular plants in nutrient-rich solutions, or in a medium of inert or biologically recalcitrant solid materials to which a nutrient solution is added.” This definition encompasses both pure liquid hydroponic systems, in which plant roots are actually suspended in liquid, and “aggregate” hydroponic systems, in which plant roots are suspended in some sort of inert or recalcitrant substrate and are “bathed” in a liquid nutrient solution.

The Crops Subcommittee’s Fall 2017 proposal on hydroponics uses a definition that is notably different from the previous three. Rather than focusing on the type of growing media being used or the plants being cultivated, for the first time in a formal proposal, the Subcommittee has defined a hydroponic system according to the percentage of a crop’s total nitrogen requirement that is supplied using liquid and other outside fertilizer sources, as follows:

(d) “Hydroponics (for the purposes of this proposal)…[is defined as] any container production system that does not meet the standard of a limit of 20% of the plants’ nitrogen requirement being supplied by liquid feeding, and a limit of 50% of the plants’ nitrogen requirement being added to the container after the crop has been planted.”

Many production systems that allow plant roots to float freely in liquid nutrient solutions, which by design depend solely on this method for delivery of fertilization, would clearly fall within this definition. However, even systems that use some amount of soil or compost as growing media but which exceed the percentages listed above would be considered hydroponic.

(iii) Aquaponic growing systems

As with “hydroponics,” the NOSB has produced multiple definitions of “aquaponics” in recent years:

(a) The 2010 rulemaking recommendation from the NOSB described aquaponics as “systems [that] combine the features of both hydroponics and aquaculture. This is done by recirculating the effluent from fish tanks and using it as a source of nutrients for vegetables grown hydroponically, using sand or gravel as media. Nitrifying bacteria convert the fish effluent, primarily ammonia, to nitrite and then nitrate, which the plants can use.”

(b) In its Fall 2016 proposal to the full Board, the Crops Subcommittee defined “aquaponics” as “[a] system in which plants are grown in waste water from aquatic organisms, which in turn purify the water.”

(c) In its Spring 2017 discussion document and Fall 2017 proposal, the Crops Subcommittee has defined “aquaponics” as “a recirculating hydroponic system in which plants are grown in nutrients originating from aquatic animal waste water, which may include the use of bacteria to improve availability of these nutrients to the plants.  The plants improve the water quality by using the nutrients, and the water is then recirculated back to the aquatic animals.” The Fall 2017 Proposal thus incorporates the new percentage-based definition of hydroponics.

Although the use of aquatic animals—usually fish—to produce available nutrients distinguishes aquaponic systems from other hydroponic systems, aquaponics is typically thought of as a subtype of hydroponics.

(iv) Aeroponic growing systems    

“Aeroponics” is defined the same way in the Fall 2017 Crops Subcommittee proposal, Spring 2017 Subcommittee discussion document, the 2016 Subcommittee proposal, and the 2010 NOSB rulemaking recommendation: “a variation of hydroponic [production] in which plant roots are suspended in air and misted with nutrient solution.”

(B) The current regulatory situation 

According to §6512 of the Organic Foods Production Act (“Other production and handling practices”), “if a production or handling practice is not prohibited or otherwise restricted under [OFPA], such practice shall be permitted unless it is determined that such practice would be inconsistent with the applicable organic certification program.” Any such determination would be in the form of rulemaking by the National Organic Program.

As noted by the NOSB Crops Subcommittee in its Spring 2017 discussion document, “[t]he National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) has taken up the issue of hydroponics several times in the past and has made several recommendations to the National Organic Program. To date, the NOP has not undertaken rulemaking based on any of the NOSB recommendations.”

Consequently, the current regulatory position of the NOP is that hydroponic production systems are eligible for Organic certification if production is accomplished in full compliance with OFPA and the USDA Organic regulations. However, without additional regulations or guidance from the NOP spelling out what exactly “full compliance” means in the context of hydroponic or other container-based production systems, certifying agencies have been left to make the determination themselves. As noted above, some certifying agencies have concluded that hydroponics can be Organic, while others have concluded that it cannot.

According to a 2016 survey of Organic certifiers conducted by the NOP, a total of 17 agencies responded that they were willing to certify hydroponic and aquaponic operations (out of a total of 80 certifiers accredited by the USDA). At that time, there were 30 certified hydroponic operations, 22 certified aquaponic operations, and 69 “other” certified container-based operations (some of which might be classified as hydroponic under the Fall 2017 definitions).

Though opinions about hydroponics vary among members of the NOSB and the wider community of Organic producers, handlers, and consumers, everyone seems to be in agreement that the regulatory uncertainty surrounding certification of hydroponics is confusing and risks undermining the public’s trust in the Organic label. Yet, counterbalancing the need for the NOP to develop additional regulations quickly is the need for such regulations to be comprehensive, well-researched, and consistent with the spirit and text of OFPA.

Coming up next week

Please don’t hesitate to email me at glenn@carolinafarmstewards.org with comments or questions, and thanks very much to those of you who have already gotten in touch to voice your opinion. If you want to know more about hydroponics and the Organic label, make sure to stay tuned for next week’s post, listed below.

Part Three : October 24  

  • What arguments are being made in opposition to and in support of allowing hydroponics to be certified Organic? 
  • What have the NOSB and the NOP done in the past to address this issue?

Hydroponics and the Organic Label (Part One)

hydroponic lettuce

By Glenn Kern, CFSA Organic Policy Coordinator

(Part two, three and four.)

On October 31 through November 2, 2017, the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) will hold its fall meeting in Jacksonville, Florida. Among the many issues that will be discussed by the Board is the question of whether crops grown in hydroponic production systems should be eligible for Organic certification under the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) and the related USDA Organic Regulations. The NOSB, in its capacity as a federal advisory committee, may soon issue a new recommendation on hydroponics to the National Organic Program (NOP), the office of the USDA responsible for overseeing the Organic label.

The National Organic Standards Board and the National Organic Program have been grappling with the question of hydroponics for years without a clear resolution.

At its core, the difficulty of the hydroponics issue arises from statutory and regulatory ambiguity: neither OFPA nor any USDA Organic regulation expressly prohibits or even defines “hydroponics,” thus leaving open for debate the question of whether this production practice should be eligible for Organic certification. Compounding the problem is the fact that hydroponic production systems are conceptualized as existing on a continuum of different growing methods—along with other container-based growing systems, greenhouse production, and of course traditional crop farms where plants are grown in the open ground. Defining and distinguishing between the less traditional growing methods on this continuum has proven to be a thorny task for the NOSB and the NOP.

I’m writing today because we at CFSA would like to know what our members think about hydroponics and whether this production practice should be eligible for Organic certification. CFSA staff will be in attendance at the NOSB meeting in Jacksonville, along with many other stakeholders in the Organic industry. We won’t be submitting comments about hydroponics to the Board in October, but we may take a position at a future meeting if we learn that our members will be affected by any proposed regulations either prohibiting or allowing hydroponics.

What follows is the first of four installments in a series of blog posts about hydroponics and the Organic label. The second and third installments will be published on October 17 and 24, respectively. The fourth installment will be published after the NOSB meeting in Jacksonville and will provide a synopsis of any decision the Board makes about hydroponics.

For those of you who are already familiar with the debate and are ready to put in your two cents, please feel free to email me with your comments at glenn@carolinafarmstewards.org. All replies are confidential and we’d be grateful to hear from you.

If you want to learn more about what hydroponic growing systems are, what the law and regulations say, and what arguments are being made by those in favor of and opposed to allowing hydroponics, read on!

Part One

(A) The Regulatory Roles of the NOSB and the NOP           

Before diving into the specifics of the debate about whether hydroponics and other container-based production systems should be “certifiable,” it may be helpful to review the relative roles of the NOSB and the NOP in creating USDA Organic regulations like those being contemplated for hydroponics.

The National Organic Program (NOP) is an office of the USDA located within the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS). As a part of a federal administrative agency, the NOP is responsible for implementing legislation passed by Congress—in this case, the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 (OFPA), which is the same law that authorized the USDA to create the NOP. The NOP, like all other administrative entities, must implement legislation in accordance with the Administrative Procedures Act (APA), another law passed by Congress that governs the functioning of administrative agencies, including the process of “rulemaking.” Rulemaking—i.e. the creation of regulations—is one of the means by which administrative agencies carry out the obligations imposed on them by Congress. A “rule,” as defined by the APA, is the “whole or part of an agency statement of general or particular applicability and future effect designed to implement, interpret, or prescribe law or policy or describing the organization, procedure, or practice requirements of an agency….” Put another way, regulations are legally binding statements (“rules”) made by a federal agency to its staff, to citizens, to industry, and to other parts of government about how a law will be implemented. 

Although writing the USDA Organic regulations is the sole responsibility of the NOP, Congress included a provision in the Organic Foods Production Act designed to ensure that the NOP would receive input from private citizens and stakeholders throughout various sectors of the Organic industry. OFPA directed the Secretary of the USDA to establish the National Organic Standards Board, a federal advisory committee whose purpose is to assist in the development of standards for substances to be used in Organic production and to advise the Secretary (through the NOP) on any other aspects of the implementation of OFPA. The specific composition of the NOSB is dictated by OFPA. The 15-member Board must include:

(a) four individuals who own or operate an organic farming operation;
(b) two individuals who own or operate an organic handling operation;
(c) one individual who owns or operates a retail establishment with significant trade in organic products;
(d) three individuals with expertise in areas of environmental protection and resource conservation;
(e) three individuals who represent public interest or consumer interest groups;
(f) one individual with expertise in the fields of toxicology, ecology, or biochemistry; and
(g) one individual who is an Organic certifying agent.

The NOSB is further divided into seven Subcommittees, which are responsible for conducting research and analyses and drafting proposals for consideration by the full Board:

(a) Executive;
(b) Certification, Accreditation, and Compliance;
(c) Crops;
(d) Handling;
(e) Livestock (including Aquaculture);
(f) Materials (including GMOs); and
(g) Policy Development.

Key activities of the Board include:

(a)  Assisting in the development and maintenance of organic standards and regulations;
(b)  Reviewing petitioned materials for inclusion on or removal from the National List of approved and Prohibited Substances;
(c)  Recommending changes to the National List;
(d)  Communicating with the organic community, including conducting public meetings, soliciting and reviewing public comments ; and
(e)  Communicating, supporting and coordinating with the NOP staff.

The NOSB typically meets twice per year, once in the spring and once in the fall. These meetings are open to the public and are the means by which the Board formally carries out the advisory role for which Congress intended it to serve.

At each NOSB meeting, subcommittees present to the full Board their discussion documents and policy proposals related to specific regulatory issues. For each issue, the NOSB hears live and written testimony from the public before deliberating and voting on whether to adopt a discussion document or proposal. An adopted discussion document creates a record of research and analysis conducted by a subcommittee; generally speaking, a subcommittee will provide the full Board with one or more discussion documents on a particular regulatory issue, sometimes over the course of several years, before it provides the Board with a policy proposal. Once a policy proposal is offered to the full Board by a subcommittee, the Board may respond in a variety of ways, including but not limited to (1) adopting the proposal as presented by the subcommittee, (2) amending the proposal in a “non-substantive” manner before adopting it, (3) rejecting the proposal, and (4) referring the proposal back to subcommittee for further development. Any proposal that is adopted by the Board is conveyed to the NOP as a “recommendation” to be used as guidance in its enforcement and rulemaking efforts.

Importantly, the NOSB’s recommendations are not binding on the NOP. As stated in the NOSB Policy and Procedures Manual,

“The USDA cannot delegate its authority as a regulatory body to private citizens, even when those private citizens are appointed by the Secretary to provide advice. Therefore, the NOSB cannot direct USDA or bind the Secretary through its actions; for example, it cannot obligate funds, contract, make NOP staffing decisions, or initiate policies of its own accord.”

However:

“[T]he unique nature of the NOSB and its relationship with the NOP, as established through OFPA, requires that the volunteer Board, which regularly receives stakeholder input through public comment, must work collaboratively with the NOP. Similarly the NOP, as required through OFPA, must consult and collaborate with the NOSB.”

When the NOSB Board meets in Jacksonville, Florida at the end of October, its members will consider proposals presented by the Crops Subcommittee that address various “non-traditional” growing systems, including hydroponics. Specifically, one of the Subcommittee’s proposals is to expressly prohibit hydroponic growing systems from obtaining Organic certification. A more detailed discussion of the Crops Subcommittee’s proposal, including how it has chosen to define “hydroponics” and other non-traditional growing systems, will be included in the second and third installments of this blog series.

There is no guarantee the Board will actually vote to pass or reject the Crops Subcommittee’s proposal as written; rather, the Board may refer the proposal back to the Subcommittee for more development. Some members of the Crops Subcommittee are opposed to the current proposal and have submitted a written analysis of their “minority view” for consideration by the larger Board. Furthermore, based on a public webinar discussion held by the NOSB in August, the Board as a whole appears split on the issue of whether a rulemaking recommendation for hydroponics is appropriate at this time, and if so, what the recommendation should be.

Coming up next: 

That’s all for now, folks! Please don’t hesitate to email me at glenn@carolinafarmstewards.org if you have comments or questions. If you want to know more about hydroponics and the Organic label, make sure to stay tuned for the remaining installments, with release dates and discussion topics listed below.

Part Two : October 17 

  • What exactly are hydroponic systems and how are they different from growing food in the ground?
  • What is the current regulatory treatment of hydroponic agriculture within the Organic program?

Part Three : October 24    

  • What arguments are being made in opposition to and in support of allowing hydroponics to be certified Organic? 
  • What have the NOSB and the NOP done in the past to address this issue? 

Part Four : TBD (mid-November)    

  • What happened at the NOSB meeting in Jacksonville, Florida?          

NC FarmLink and WNC FarmLink Merge Databases to Further Develop Partnership

By Suzanna Denison, Director of WNC FarmLink

NC FarmLink and WNC FarmLink have recently merged their databases in an effort to form a stronger and more unified partnership of farm linking organizations in North Carolina. Both organizations were formed within the last five years to serve different regions of North Carolina. Now, their combined efforts not only aid farmland access for both beginning and expanding farmers but also with farmland preservation. Farmland loss is an increasing risk across the state due to retiring farmers and development pressure. According to the 2012 Census of Agriculture, between 2007 and 2012, North Carolina lost 2,695 farms and approximately 60,000 acres of farmland.

“We are thrilled with this merger and strong partnership,” says Suzanna Denison, Director of WNC FarmLink. “We are excited to move forward together as a more unified team for both farmland access and preservation in North Carolina.”

FarmLink services provide opportunities for farmers and landowners to connect in order to make farmland matches possible.

Now there is a single database in North Carolina for those seeking land and those looking to find a farmer in order to keep their land in agriculture. Further information can be found on the NC FarmLink website: http://www.ncfarmlink.org/. While on this website, farmers can look for available farmland with searchable terms such as acreage, county and current farm production. Landowners can search the farmer profiles for someone to farm their land and farmers can search these same profiles for aspiring farmers to continue farming their land when they retire. Both of these options provide a web tool that can help make farmland matches possible and ultimately assist in the preservation of North Carolina’s farms. WNC FarmLink provides land matching support services to the western region of the state, including one-on-one consultations, workshops, and technical and legal land access support. The NC and WNC FarmLink services are free.

The goals of NC and WNC FarmLink include:

  • Providing a web-based farmland matching service, where users can search and pursue matches on their own.
  • Providing resources and service provider information, which can help support the farmland access or transition process.
  • Creating farmland access opportunities that support local agriculture and economies.
  • Ensuring farmland preservation in North Carolina through these farmland matching services.

“At NC and WNC FarmLink, we want to help ease the challenges in either finding land to farm or someone to farm your land,” Denison says. “Not only do we provide farmland matching tools, we also offer on the ground support to determine if it is a viable land match, as well as one-on-one consultations and technical support in lease arrangements, farm financing and other factors key to successful farmland access or transition.”

WNC FarmLink will be presenting on FarmLink services in North Carolina at this year’s Sustainable Agriculture Conference, on Saturday November 4th, during first morning session from 8:20-9:20am. We hope to see you there!

About NC FarmLink:

NC FarmLink connects farmers, landowners and service providers in North Carolina as a free land access web tool co-managed by the Center for Environmental Farming Systems and WNC FarmLink. It is collaboratively managed and supported by a network of partners across the state. For more information, visit: ncfarmlink.org. 

About WNC FarmLink:

WNC FarmLink matches farm and forest landowners with new and experienced farmers eager to find land to farm in WNC. The program is a free service to WNC residents. WNCFL offers personalized one-on-one consultation, provides group workshops to help beginning farmers negotiate equitable leases and prepare logistically and financially for long-term land tenure and purchase, which is a major obstacle for beginning farmers. For more information, visit:  wncfarmlink.org.

Suzanna Denison is the director of WNC FarmLink. For more information, please contact us at: (828) 785-4284, info@wncfarmlink.org or  http://www.wncfarmlink.org/

Find your pasture-raised Thanksgiving Turkey from a CFSA member farm!

Turkeys at Up On Cedar Knoll Farm

By Marianna Spence, CFSA Membership Coordinator

A local, pasture-raised Thanksgiving turkey is a wonderful way to honor the tradition of the season – celebrating bounty, harvest, friends and family. In addition to being given lives on pasture, the turkeys you’ll find from CFSA Member Farms in this list are also nutritionally better for you. Pastured birds eat grasses and legumes that contain Vitamin A and omega-3 fatty acids, nutrients that are known to reduce cholesterol. Pastured birds also have more access to adequate space, fresh air, sunshine, and exercise, and thus maintain better physical health than confined birds. With more exercise, birds maintain a lower fat content, which is healthier for the bird and the consumer (Source: https://rodaleinstitute.org/establishing-a-small-scale-sustainable-pastured-poultry-operation/).

What good things – time outdoors, good feed and pasture, sunshine, or humane processing – could possibly have been given to a turkey sold at a big box grocery store for as low as $0.47/pound? Not much, unfortunately. So use your Thanksgiving feast as an affirmation of your commitment to sustainable agriculture or as a good excuse to start a new tradition!

Check out this list we’ve put together of CFSA Member farms raising turkeys for the holidays. You’ll find contact information, details on how to order, and a description of their turkey production practices. If you don’t see a farm close to you, you can expand your search by talking to farmers at your local market or asking your favorite farm-to-table restaurant where they source poultry. A quick chat with the farmer or perusal of their website should inform you that their production practices align with your values.

Gobble, gobble! (Tip: Our regions are large! If you don’t see anything in your region, check an adjacent region.)

Jump to: Western NC, Charlotte Metro NC, Triangle NC, Eastern NC, Midlands SC, Pee Dee SC, Lowcountry SC

Western NC

Against the Grain, Holly Whitesides
Location:  Zionville, NC
Websitehttps://www.facebook.com/Against-the-Grain-361910290501120/, http://www.atgfarm.com/
Preferred contactatgfarm@gmail.com
How to order: Sign up through home page of website or through facebook page link. We take reservations with a $25 deposit, while availability lasts.
Farming practices: We raise our turkeys on pasture and with GMO-free feed. We move them to fresh pasture every 2 days, ensuring fresh forage and humane living conditions for the birds. We offer both contemporary and heritage breeds, for pick up either at the Watauga County Farmer’s Market or at the farm.

Cloud 9 Farm, Janet Peterson
Location:  Fletcher, NC
WebsiteCloud9Farm.net
Preferred contact:  https://www.facebook.com/janet.d.peterson or 828-628-1758
How to order: Call or PM on facebook to reserve  a white, broad breasted turkey with a phone # and email. No payment required until pick-up. We do commissioned raising of turkeys in small numbers. For 2017 we have 15 extras to sell to the public so get your order in today! $5/lb
Farming practices: We are grateful that turkeys fertilize out pastures by free ranging and eat non-gmo grains, with fresh air, sunshine and well water. We harvest on farm with our meat handlers license and are doing small batches now (first week of Nov.) They are coming to weight early (15-20 lbs) so we prefer that you take them when you get the phone call and freeze yourself. We have limited freezer space but can freeze for you.

Charlotte Metro NC

Lazy Heron Farm, Holt Akers-Campbell and Hailey Sowden
Location: Norwood, NC
Website: www.lazyheronfarm.com, www.facebook.com/lazyheronfarm
Preferred contact: lazyheronfarm@gmail.com or (615) 727-3640
How to order: Email and place your order!
Farming practices: Pasture-raised broad-breasted white turkey moved 3X daily. Non GMO-feed.

Triangle NC

Fern Creek Farm, Jon Meader
Location: Creedmoor, NC
Website: https://ferncreekfarmnc.comwww.facebook.com/FernCreekFarmNC
Preferred contact: ferncreekfarmnc@gmail.com (secondary contact by phone, Rosie Pyle is our customer care contact at 919-741-8973)
How to order:  Email us with your name and contact number to reserve your whole, fresh Thanksgiving turkey. We require a $25 non-refundable deposit within 7 days of making your reservation. The deposit can be paid by credit card over the phone, or mail a check to the farm address above. We will take reservations until Nov. 10, 2017, if space is available. Turkeys will be processed the weekend before Thanksgiving and we will arrange delivery or pick-up with our customers before Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2017.
Farming practices: Our turkeys are free-range and raised in a large, wooded area on our farm where they can forage on wild plant material and insects. They are also fed high-quality, all-grain feed that does not contain medications or animal by-products. We do not give any antibiotics or any type of medication to our poultry.

Cypress Hall Farms, Robert Elliott
Location: Louisburg, NC
Website: www.cypresshallfarms.com, www.facebook.com/cypresshallfarms
Preferred contact: Cypresshallfarms@gmail.com
How to order: https://squareup.com/store/cypress-hall-farms/item/turkey-deposit-1
Farming practices: Cypress Hall Farms raises free-range heritage turkeys in our pastures. These turkeys are hatched, grown, and processed here on the farm and are available for pick-up only during the week of Thanksgiving. Sizes are first come first served so reserve early!

Dawnbreaker Farms, Ben Grimes
Location: Hurdle Mills, NC
Website: www.dawnbreakerfarms.com, www.facebook.com/dawnbreakerfarms
Preferred contact: ben@dawnbreakerfarms.com
How to order: Reservations can be made online here (https://form.jotform.us/70745861256159) or in person at the farmer’s market, on farm, by email (ben@dawnbreakerfarms.com) or phone (919-903-0200).
Farming practices: Dawnbreaker Farms raises pasture-raised, GMO Free Thanksgiving Turkeys. Our flock of non-GMO Broad Breasted White turkeys are rotated to fresh pasture weekly where they graze, hunt grasshoppers and bask in the glorious fall sun. A Dawnbreaker Farms turkey is a centerpiece with a story to tell and a flavor that will be remembered well after the guests return home.

ChickCharney Farm, Julie Gauthier
Location: Wake Forest, NC
Website: http://www.chickcharneyfarm.com/
Preferred contact: Email to info@chickcharneyfarm.com or by text to 919-830-7940
How to order: Taking orders at Wake Forest Farmer’s market, online at http://www.chickcharneyfarm.com/, email to info@chickcharneyfarm.com or by text to 919-830-7940
Farming practices: We raise turkeys a very old-fashioned way. All stages of the cycle occur here at the farm – from the day our turkey hens lay eggs to the bird on our holiday table. Our rare heritage breed Beltsville small white turkeys and Narragansett turkeys are raised full-time on pasture, and they are fed a locally grown diet containing heirloom (non-GMO) varieties of grain. We process the turkeys at the farm, and customers can pick their bird up fresh at the farm by appointment in time for Thanksgiving, Christmas, or other special occasion.

Homestead Harvest Farm, Jan Campbell
Location: Wake Forest, NC
Website:  http://www.homesteadharvestfarm.com/ www.facebook.com/Homestead-Harvest-Farm-248088267269/
Preferred contact: email homesteadharvestfarm@gmail.com or call/text 919-608-2502
How to order: Email, call or sign up at the Midtown Farmer’s Market on Saturdays 8-Noon or at the Carrboro Farmer’s Market on Wednesdays 3-6pm. We take a $20 deposit to hold the reservation with the balance due upon delivery. We have 8-16 pound birds and usually sell out by mid October
Farming practices: Homestead Harvest Farm raises free-range Bourbon Red turkeys. We use Non-GMO grains for extra protein and harvest on site the day before delivery. Our delivery dates are Nov. 18th in Raleigh and Nov. 21st in Carrboro with pickup from the farm available on Nov. 22nd.

Ninja Cow Farm, Dan Moore
Location: Garner, NC
Website: http://www.ninjacowfarm.com/
Preferred contact: Email or text to dan@ninjacowfarm.com or 919-810-2530
How to order:  We take deposits in store only. Here is a link to our turkey announcement. http://ninjacowfarm.com/thanksgiving-turkeys-ready-pre-order/.
Farming practices: The turkeys are pasture-raised, no-GMO feed. They come from Brittany Ridge Farm, who provides rabbit and chicken to Vivian Howard of A Chef’s Life. We are a retail outlet for Brittany Ridge, one of our partner farms.

CATHIS Farm, David Pflugfelder
Location: Lillington, NC
Website: www.facebook.com/CATHISFarm
Preferred contactcathisfarm@gmail.com
How to order: Send an email asking to order a turkey and we will reply with an invoice for the deposit
Farming practices: We raise broad-breasted whites from day old poults for 15 weeks. They are all rotated weekly on pastures of millet and buckwheat and are fed a certified organic feed grown locally in North Carolina.

Fickle Creek Farm, Ben Rickard, Bryan Horton, and Noah Ranells
Location: Efland, NC
Website: http://www.ficklecreekfarm.com https://www.facebook.com/Fickle-Creek-Farm-169913859892/
Preferred contact: Order form
How to order: Kindly use online order form at bit.ly/2017fcfturkey. Turkeys are sold on a first come, first served basis using our online order form. A $50 deposit is required to reserve a turkey. The order form is updated if we are sold out or if turkey parts (breast, wings, thighs, drums, backs, and livers) are available.
Farming practices: We raise Broad Breasted White turkeys on pasture. They are fed only a vegetarian feed and processed at an animal welfare approved processing facility.

Reverence Farms, Suzanne Nelson
Location: Saxapahaw, NC
Website: https://reverencefarms.grazecart.com/, www.facebook.com/reverencefarm
Preferred contact: Email reverencefarms@gmail.com
How to order: There is an option this year to choose a fresh or frozen turkey. Both are processed within the month of November, we are just looking to add a larger pick-up window. Frozen birds are $6.99/lb and fresh are $7.99/lb. Pick-up for fresh turkeys will be Saturday, November 18th from 12pm – 4pm at our farm: 2301 Austin Quarter Rd.
Saxapahaw, NC 27253. If you requested a frozen bird, you can pick-up at Reverence Farms Café (6956 NC-87, Graham, NC 27253) starting November 14th during regular business hours, Tuesday-Saturday 8am-8pm. Or if you are part of our Mobile Farm Store delivery service, your bird can be delivered on our November delivery day of Thursday the 16th.
Farming practices: Reverence Farms is a thriving polyculture where animals are treated with reverence and grace and all critters eat a species-appropriate diet. The hens follow our dairy cows and sheep with the pigs in a rotation that regenerates the land and provides the best nutrition for all animals.

Eastern NC

Fort Clux Farm, Rebecca Larkin-Martinez & Tom Martinez
Location: Castalia, NC
Website: https://www.facebook.com/fortclux/http://www.fortclux.com
Preferred contact: fortclux@gmail.com
How to order:  Place a non-refundable $25 deposit at https://squareup.com/store/fort-clux, choosing your preferred size. Pick up a fresh turkey the weekend before the holiday and pay the balance (= market price x weight – deposit) for the turkey.
Farming practices: We raise free-range laying chickens, turkeys, Katahdin/Dorper sheep and bees. We supplement their grazing, when necessary, with locally grown hay and non-GMO feed, grown and milled locally. All our animals range during the day and return to a more protected space at night. Additionally, we have guardian dogs who help alleviate predator issues.

Midlands SC

Up On Cedar Knoll Farm, Jackie Cavallin & Steve Acuff
Location: Blythewood, SC
Website: www.facebook.com/UpOnCedarKnoll, www.uponcedarknoll.homestead.com
Preferred contactuponcedarknoll@aol.com or 803-240-6512
How to order: Reservation is by receipt of $20 deposit. Let us know by phone or email desired weight range and if preferred frozen or fresh chilled ($8/pound). Reservations are currently being accepted and open until all reserved. Harvest dates for 2017 will be Nov 4th (for frozen) and Nov 18th (fresh chilled). Pick up on farm only, no shipping. Balance due at pickup, cash or local check.
Farming practices: Heritage Bourbon Red Turkeys. We are NPIP, SC Small Flock Certified and also DHEC licensed for on farm processing. We raise our birds cage-free on wooded pastures. Average weights for Bourbon Reds after processing are 7-11 pounds for young hens, 11-20+ pounds for young Toms, each will vary. Smaller to mid range weight birds reserve out quickly!

Five Forks Sustainable Farm, Lisa and Taylor Rees
Location: Pageland, SC
Website: www.facebook.com/Fiveforkssustainablefarm/
Preferred contact: Email to fiveforksfarmer@gmail.com
How to order: Prefer email or personal message on Facebook to order turkeys, letting us know approximate desired weight. Price is $4/lb, with pickup at Union County Farmers market or at the farm. Can deliver with small delivery charge.
Farming practices:We are raising a small flock of 30 Broad Breasted Bronze and White turkeys on pasture with supplemental feed. Order early for best selection of desired weight.

Pee Dee SC

Maypop Farm, David White
Location: Darlington, SC
Website: www.freerangechicken.com
How to order: Visit orders@freerangechicken.com, or our website at www.freerangechicken.com, or you can also order turkeys through the Ovis Hill Farmers Market, http://www.ovishillfarm.com
Farming practices: Free range on pasture managed without chemicals, fed no antibiotics or growth promotants.

Lowcountry SC

Fili-West Farms, Nathan Boggs
Location: Vance, SC
Website: https://www.facebook.com/filiwestfarms, www.filiwestfarms.com
Preferred contact: filiwestfarms@yahoo.com
How to order: Pay turkey deposits and order online at https://www.mkt.com/filiwestfarms/turkey-deposit. Please note what size turkey you’d like in the “Notes” section, $5/lb. We will take orders through Sunday, Nov. 19, 2017, or until we run out of inventory.
Farming practices: We offer fresh pasture-raised broad breasted white turkeys for Thanksgiving. All of our birds are moved to fresh grass daily in order to keep both the birds and the pasture clean and healthy. Fresh air, sunshine, forage, and a high quality un-medicated feed from Bartlett Milling all conspire to make this the best turkey you’ll ever eat!

 

FDA Presses Pause on FSMA

By Roland McReynolds, CFSA Executive Director

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) made several big announcements recently that will slow the enforcement of rules for safely growing produce under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). These delays are welcome by the entire produce industry, and farmers hope that these are first steps in reforming FDA’s approach to regulating the production and marketing of fruits and vegetables.

On Sept. 13, FDA published a proposed rule that would extend the deadlines for farms to comply with rules about water used in crop production. Although most of the FSMA Produce Rule comes into effect beginning in January 2018, the water standards currently take effect in Jan. 2020 for farms with over $500,000 in produce sales; Jan. 2021 for farms with sales over $250,000; and Jan. 2022 for those with sales less than $250,000 but greater than $25,000. The new proposed rule shifts each of those deadlines another two years down the road, to 2022/2023/2024. FDA is taking comments on the proposed rule until Nov. 15. If the agency’s review of comments goes quickly, the extended timeframe could become official early in 2018.

The day before, in a speech at a meeting of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA), FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb promised that Produce Rule compliance inspections for the largest farms, which had been due to start in Jan. 2018, would now be deferred until 2019. FDA published the final Produce Rule in 2015, but has not yet published promised guidance documents that would help farms and state governments understand how to interpret the language of the rule.  State departments of agriculture have become increasingly concerned that they won’t be able to fairly apply the rule without this kind of guidance and training for their inspection staff.

And finally, FDA issued a fact sheet addressing a major scientific flaw in the water rule that had water quality experts in an uproar. Essentially the agency provided a list of laboratory test methods it will accept, in addition to the one very expensive and rare one it named in the text of the Produce Rule.

These adjustments are important, but by themselves are not enough to avoid the debilitating punch coming for U.S. farms and food makers from FDA’s current FSMA scheme. For example, the water rules are incredibly complex and open to interpretation, with testing targets that are not supported by water quality science. CFSA and dozens of other farm groups, along with researchers and state officials, have been saying since the draft water rules were published in 2013 that the FDA approach needs to be scrapped (an article published in Food Safety Magazine last month ably summarizes the scientific concerns). Simply delaying rules that will be impossible for many farms to comply with forces the inevitable reckoning down the road, but won’t stop it from ultimately happening.

In announcing the proposed water rule extension, FDA stated it “plans to engage with stakeholders to learn more from farmers, state regulatory partners and other stakeholders about the diverse ways water is used and ensure that the standards will be as practical and effective as possible for all farming operations.” Whether that intention includes a genuine willingness to give up the unjustified burdens in the current water rules remains to be seen.

FDA must shift its approach and create a system that supports farms of all sizes to implement realistic food safety risk management, instead of its apparent focus on building legal tools for prosecuting farmers.

Even without interpretation standards, inspector training programs, or approved regulatory training materials written in Spanish, FDA has been moving forward with its plan to start enforcing FSMA. It has doled out millions of dollars to state governments to fund creation of state-based FSMA compliance programs, and has kept representatives from agriculture at arms-length on those plans. As a result there has been poor transparency about what farms can expect, and confusion among states, as the main Produce Rule compliance deadlines loom. And in exchange for its money, FDA has forced states to start compiling ‘inventories’ of all the farms that could possibly grow produce, including so-called exempt farms, raising huge questions about the privacy of farm information and adherence to Congressional protections for farms that were written into FSMA. No one really knows what FDA will do with its new Produce Rule authority when it kicks in, but the examples from the agency’s history in food safety regulation are discouraging.

Certainly putting off the first official enforcement of the Produce Rule makes good sense, and farmers will be glad to take this much progress. But more is needed: FDA must shift its approach and create a system that supports farms of all sizes to implement realistic food safety risk management, instead of its apparent focus on building legal tools for prosecuting farmers.

Any farm that grows crops covered by the Produce Rule needs to start preparing for how to handle the day when a government inspector shows up to do a FSMA inspection. A great place to start is the two-hour workshop on a farmer’s rights and responsibilities in such a visit that we are presenting at this year’s Sustainable Agriculture Conference. And CFSA’s Local Produce Safety Initiative provides a variety of resources to help farms improve food safety practices.

The incredible efforts of farmers and sustainable agriculture advocates have made a difference in shaping FSMA every step of the way, winning important protections for local food and ensuring key parts of the rules are grounded in science. But fixing FSMA is not a marathon, it’s an ultra-marathon. We have to continue to press the states, the FDA and Congress to make the rules sensible, and protect farmers and food entrepreneurs’ ability to bring healthy, sustainable, local foods to more people.

From Weddings to Goat Yoga, It Has Gotten More Complicated to Do Agritourism on North Carolina Farms

By Rochelle Sparko, CFSA Policy Director

In July 2017, Governor Cooper signed into law the Farm Act of 2017. With support from NCDA and Farm Bureau, Senate Bill 615 moved through the Senate and House with relative ease. One provision has captured the attention of small scale farms and beginning farmers. Section 8 of the Farm Act of 2017 restricts the ability of beginning farmers and small scale producers to engage in some types of agritourism on their farms.

In Section I, I take a look at the state of the law prior to July 2017. Section II describes the circumstances that led NCDA and Farm Bureau to engage in a concerted effort to change the law. In Section III, you will learn what’s changed as a result of the Farm Act of 2017. Finally, in Section IV, I offer farmers actions they can take if their farm enterprise is or will be adversely affected by the change in the law.

I. What WAS the law?

The state of North Carolina authorizes local government to enact zoning ordinances. See NC General Statute Section 153A-340. Zoning ordinances set some limits on how property owners may use their land. These ordinances cover property use issues ranging from how close construction can get to the property line, to what kinds of uses happen in particular areas to keep the heavy industrial activity separate from the community swimming pool. Zoning rules also require that people purchase permits in order to build on their property.

A number of years ago, North Carolina decided that farms would NOT be required to comply with zoning ordinances when constructing structures for use in farm operations. This makes it less expensive and less time consuming for a farmer to, say, build a barn for her cattle, a washing and packing shed for his vegetables, or a storage building for their tools.

The state law said that there were five ways that counties could  determine whether a piece of land was a farm, and therefore could use the exemption from zoning law. (1) a farm sales tax exemption number issued by the NC Department of Revenue; (2) a copy of a property tax bill showing that the property was assessed using the present use value of the land; (3) a copy of the farmer owner or operator’s Schedule F IRS form from the most recent tax year; (4) a forest management plan; or (5) a Farm Identification Number issued by FSA.

As more and more people are interested in having farm experiences, some farmers have used this exemption to build structures on their farms for agritourism: a shop or stand from which to sell their products, a dining space and commercial kitchen for hosting on-farm events like weddings, dinners or corporate retreats, a heated space where people can drink cocoa after time spent in a corn maze.

II. Why did public and private agricultural entities lobby for changes to the law?

A couple of conflicts between rural communities and new land owners led to an effort to make the zoning exemption for farms more restrictive. Because there is money to be made from holding events on farms, investors have purchased farmland and constructed expensive venues designed to host weddings or other events. New landowners have relied on one of the exemptions to zoning law, specifically that the land purchased came with a farm identification number issued by the FSA, to construct these venues without complying with local zoning ordinances.

Rural neighbors of these new venues complained that these new venues were being treated as farms despite engaging in very little agriculture because they were able to purchase land that already had an FSA number from a prior owner’s use. The Department of Agriculture heard these concerns, and pressed for a change to the zoning exemption law in an effort to restrict or eliminate use of the exemption by landowners who are not primarily farmers.

III. What is the law now?

The General Assembly passed the North Carolina Farm Act of 2017(Farm Act of 2017) and it was signed by Governor Cooper on July 12, 2017. As soon as the governor signed the bill, the North Carolina law about which farms are exempt from local zoning ordinances changed.

The Farm Act of 2017 limits the ways that farmers can prove that they are operating bona fide farms in order to qualify for the exemption from zoning ordinances. From July 12, 2017 onward, if a farmer wants to construct a farm building on their property, they can no longer use an FSA number as evidence that they are operating a bona fide farm. Farmers are still able to use the other four methods of proof to prove that they are bona fide farms when building buildings for agricultural purposes other than agritourism. As a quick reminder, the four remaining ways to prove a farm is bona fide:

  1. A farm sales tax exemption number issued by the NC Department of Revenue;
  2. A copy of a property tax bill showing that the property was assessed using the present use value of the land;
  3. A copy of the farmer owner or operator’s Schedule F IRS form from the most recent tax year; or
  4. A forest management plan.

The General Assembly narrowed even further which farms can construct buildings for the purpose of agritourism. Only those farms that meet one of two criteria may construct such structures without complying with zoning laws. Those criteria require that the farmer show the county:

  1. A farm sales tax exemption number issued by the NC Department of Revenue;
  2. A copy of a property tax bill showing that the property was assessed using the present use value of the land;
Note that North Carolina law has restricted access to the farm sales tax exemption number to farms grossing over $10,000 since 2014. This means that beginning farmers and farmers who have years with low yield due to adverse weather, illness of the farmer, etc. will not be able to use method #1. Also worth keeping in mind is that present use valuation is only available to farms with at least five acres in horticultural production or ten acres in row crop production, making it impossible for many farms in the state to access the present use valuation program. Thus, a large number of farmers will be barred from using the exemption method #2.

The Farm Act of 2017 defines agritourism as, “any activity carried out on a farm or ranch that allows members of the general public, for recreational, entertainment, or educational purposes, to view or enjoy rural activities, including farming, ranching, historic, cultural, harvest-you-own activities, or natural activities and attractions.” Further, “(a) building or structure used for agritourism includes any building or structure used for public or private events, including, but not limited to, weddings, receptions, meetings, demonstrations of farm activities, meals, and other events that are taking place on the farm because of its farm or rural setting.”

The Farm Act of 2017 addresses what happens should a farm with a sales tax exemption or a present use property valuation build a structure for agritourism and then, within three years of the construction, no longer qualifies for either the sales tax exemption or the present use valuation. At that time, the structure will become subject to the applicable zoning and development regulation ordinances adopted by the county. CFSA expects that the farms most likely to be harmed by this provision will be farms that do not qualify for present use valuation (smaller than 5 acres in production) who experience one or two years with less than $10,000 in income. These farms will be subject to this “clawback” provision in the law, and will, at a time when money is tight, be forced to bring these farm structures into compliance with local zoning ordinances.

CFSA does not know how individual counties will enforce this new law. We have been told by sources at NCDA that structures used both for agritourism AND other agricultural purposes should be considered an agricultural rather than agritourism use, but the law does not clearly state this.

IV. What can I do if the new law is hurting my business?

If your farm business will be hurt by the changes in the law, there are several things you can do. You should call the NC Department of Agriculture and let staff there know what’s happening to your business. Phone calls to NCDA are what put this issue on the Department’s radar in the first place; they should be made aware if the changes they asked for are hurting farmers.

You should also contact both your state senator and representative and let them know that this new law is adversely impacting your business. Tell them that you’d like to see the General Assembly make some changes to the new law in 2018 to help protect farms like yours.

Go to your county Farm Bureau’s policy meeting this fall and make sure to support changes to Farm Bureau’s policy book that will enable farms like yours to get the zoning exemption. Without this change, it is likely that Farm Bureau will continue to support the new law that limit which farms get state support and which don’t.

Let CFSA know how the new law affects your farm. Email CFSA’s Policy Director, Rochelle Sparko, at rochelle@carolinafarmstewards.org or call or text her at 919-410-7645. CFSA needs stories from farmers to convince the General Assembly to make changes to the new law. If you don’t tell us what’s happening on your farm, there’s nothing CFSA will be able to do to try and change this law.