Vermont Farmers Speak Out About USDA Organic Standards


Vermont Farmers Speak Out About USDA Organic Standards

Tyler Webb, Stony Pond Farm: The intent is always about the production, about the system, about working with the soil, about nurturing the landscape; about producing food in harmony with a system that provides so many other ecosystem services that benefit humanity.

And I feel like some of that’s been taken out. It’s been taken out for sure with the introduction of big agribusiness into organics.

Justin rich, Burnt Rock Farm: The hydroponics stuff just kind of came out of left field at about 100 miles an hour a couple of years back.

And once you start peeling that back you realize that’s kind of scary.

It’s kind of scary to have stuff that can’t even be marketed as organic in a country in which it’s grown, being shipped here, and called organic and displacing people who are trying to actually grow what we all believe the organic system always was – growing in the soil not in a grow tube.

Pete Johnson, Pete’s Greens: Everybody who’s involved in growing understands the differences here.

Dave Miskell interviews Pete Johnson for the Real Organic Project in a hoop house filled with vining squash

It’s hard when you’re in a supermarket and you see two tomatoes and they look kind of the same and they might taste fairly similar, but when you’re involved in production agriculture you understand how different it is to try to feed the soil in a greenhouse to produce a certain production goal as opposed to adjusting a chemical concoction in water.

Joey Klein, Littlewood Farm: The whole hydroponic twist seems to be a kowtowing to industrial agriculture and I don’t think it’s necessary at all.

I think there’s plenty of market for those people to grow their stuff and sell it. They don’t have to take our label.

Pete Johnson, Pete’s Greens: Where it’s really having a big effect in Vermont right now is on the dairy side where we had about a 10 year run where small organic dairies did really well.

They were able to make a living for a family with 30, 40, 50, 60 cows which was really exciting and really good for the culture of our region.

And those days seem to be ending.

Damien Boomhower, Bittersweet Valley Farm: Me and my grandfather sat down one day and we were talking about the future of when I was going to be able to buy the farm and pretty much didn’t see the chance of being able to buy the farm if we stayed conventional.

Holstein cows enter the barn on a rainy day at Boomhower Farm

Rich Larson, Larson Farm: Big corporations have taken advantage of loopholes and flooded the organic market with milk from animals that are basically in very large confinement operations.

It’s just they happened to be fed organic feed.

Lisa McCrory, Earthwise Farm + Forest: Being involved with pushing for strong pasture standards it took us nine years to really come up with good language that finally got adopted by the National Organic Program.

But as we see it’s hard to see those standards really being enforced on the larger farms. So that’s been really disappointing for me.

Another thing that I was really involved with and I’m disappointed in seeing that it still hasn’t come to fruition is the Origin of Livestock Rule and I think that as a result of that not being in place, the way we are right now with the current organic dairy world with huge dairy farms in place and an access to buying young stock from anywhere to start their new organic dairy operations, it’s totally watered down.

Lisa McCrory in the pasture with her cows at Earthwise Farm and Forest

What could have been a robust economic framework to continue having small scale organic dairy farms and we’re seeing the damage from what hasn’t happened within the National
Organic Program.

Vermont Farmers Losing Market Share Due To Unenforced USDA Organic Standards

Rich Larson, Larson Farm: We’re losing market share because the consumers have no way currently of knowing how the cattle are treated.

Damien Boomhower, Bittersweet Valley Farm: That’s the problem is now, now you’re pinching pennies and you’re still working just as hard and you feel like you’re not going in the right direction.

And then you look at your next generation and you’re like, man do do I really want this for them?

Pete Johnson, Pete’s Greens It’s clearly different. It should not be labeled the same in the marketplace and all of us who do this work day in and day out want to see that differentiated and it’s important.

Cynthia Larson, Larson Farm: And then as the meaning of USDA certified organic kind of lost its shine, we grieved. And then we were interested as soon as I heard about the Real Organic Project.

Cynthia Larson and cows in pasture with Rich Larson in the creamery

Richard Wiswall, Cate Farm: The Real Organic Project iscommendable in that they’re not charging farmers to be part of this program because it’s really important to have this differentiation of people growing in soil and not large confinement animal operations that are raising animals in boxes and calling them organic with organic inputs.

Andy Jones, Intervale Community Farm: What the Real Organic Project has done is to really call out the USDA and make that clear that these are things that really are being done in the name of organic that are not legitimately considered organic.

Intervale Community Farm fields in Burlington Vermont

Real Organic Project About Integrity of USDA Organic Standards

Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman, Full Moon Farm: To me the Real Organic Project is about the integrity of the term organic.

And as customers learn more and more that there’s 20,000 cow CAFO “organic” dairy farms or they hear that there’s organic food grown without soil and they might get sold that
as a good bill of goods, you know less energy or less this or less that, but in the long run you have to extract everything to make those things grow.

If we lose consumer confidence in the term organic then we lose the ability to raise food in this holistic way because economically, we won’t be able to survive.

Lisa McCrory, Earthwise Farm + Forest: So I’m really excited about being part of the Real Organic Project to see how we can really talk about the important aspects of a healthy organic farm from the soil up.

Tyler Webb, Stony Pond Farm: You know the foundation of organics: what’s good for the soil, is good for the forage, is good for the cows, it’s good for your family.

You know it’s a no brainer but some of that’s being corrupted and we count on projects like the Real Organic Project who are offering a ride on certification and opportunity
for folks to look at a label, not get confused, to know that USDA organic means this
but that, you know, when it’s Real Organic you’re getting this.