Free Consultation Service Helps Farmer Achieve Organic Certification
by Anna MacDonald Dobbs
photos provided by Olde Carthage Farm
Olde Carthage Farm is the first certified organic produce farm in Moore County, NC, a milestone that would not have happened without CFSA’s free organic transition consultation service.
“If we had not had access to this program, we would not have become certified organic,” said farmer Jonathan Godfrey, “And if we weren’t certified, I wouldn’t be selling my product. We would be struggling right now.”
Godfrey, who has a Master’s degree in Extension from NC State University, had attended workshops on certification, but found those experiences to be discouraging. “We were about ready to give up,” he said.
With help from his parents, wife and brother, Godfrey started farming the family land in 2010. Olde Carthage successfully certified 5.3 of 50 acres earlier this year after working with Eric Soderholm, CFSA’s Organic Transition Coordinator. The Godfreys now grow and sell organic blueberries, blackberries, muscadine grapes, tomatoes and peppers.
“Working with Eric was an uplifting experience, and that was the reason we pushed forward,” Godfrey said.
Before Soderholm visited Olde Carthage Farm in person, he and Godfrey had upwards of 10 phone conversations. Soderholm meticulously reviewed farm records and certification paperwork, and he researched pressing questions related to production techniques and certification requirements.
“Eric really eased our minds,” Godfrey said. “He described the inspection process and gave us an understanding of what we’d face. He was so thorough. When he said that we would be fine, we felt confident.”
Soderholm pointed out areas where the Godfreys needed better documentation. For example, he helped them develop a standard protocol for cleaning equipment and a cleaning log. “The certifier wanted to see that,” Godfrey said.
Soderholm was also able to increase their efficiency by helping the Godfreys narrow down records they actually needed to keep. Godfrey, who works full-time off the farm, estimates that he spends 25 percent of his farm time on paperwork. “You need to be confident that you haven’t wasted that time, and it’s hard for a new farmer to know that,” he said.
Godfrey has an undergraduate business degree and had several motivations for pursuing certification, including market differentiation. He credits Moore County Extension Agent Taylor Williams for encouraging him to think about organic certification as a smart business move, especially for a new farm establishing a customer base.
Certification has paid off, literally. It allows Godfrey to build instant trust with customers who care about what they feed their families and how food is grown. He describes selling at Market alongside five other blueberry vendors, “I sell everything I take. I have a line when we start, I finish quick, and I go home.”
Godfrey also notes, “There is so much more to organic certification. We really want to be good stewards of the land.”
A history of growing conventional tobacco on the land, followed by commodity corn and soybeans, had taken a toll. “Irrigation practices had ruined the pond, and there was a tremendous amount of erosion,” he said. The family has worked to irrigate more responsibly from a catchment pond, build beneficial insect habitats, and install wildflower buffer zones.
Godfrey continues to use Soderholm as a resource as he plans for the future. “Long after his responsibilities to us were done, I’ve picked up the phone and called him,” he said. Godfrey hopes to eventually transition to full-time farming, develop a year-round income stream by certifying additional vegetable crops, and increase the number of certified organic acres at Olde Carthage Farm.
Find Olde Carthage Farm!
Olde Carthage Farm
2270 US-Highway 15-501 Carthage, NC 28327
Markets: Pinehurst Farmers’ Market, Fearrington Farmers’ Market, On-farm certified road stand