OPN Connect Newsletter 19 · July 6, 2017

Weekly Top 5: Organic News You Need to Know

1. Survey Says! 'few people understand meaning of organic label'

In a recent survey by Hamilton Place Strategies looked at the complexities and trends of the organic agricultural industry and the purchasing behaviors of the industry’s consumers and found consumer understanding of “organic” is lacking even among people who frequently purchase organics. Frequent and infrequent consumers alike place more responsibility with manufacturers than government to educate them on what “organic” means.
The survey of more than 2,382 respondents was conducted by Morning Consult, on behalf of Hamilton Place Strategies.
Read the full report here.
2. U.S. organic trade group gears up for bioponics debate

Containerized production of tomatoes


The Organic Trade Association (OTA) said it is reconvening its bioponics task force in anticipation of further work at the biannual federal organic policy meeting this fall in Jacksonville, Fla, recently reported by Sustainable Food News.

At the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB)'s spring meeting in Denver, the 15-member panel of experts recommending policy to the USDA's National Organic Program (NOP) again delayed a decision on bioponic growing methods and their eligibility for organic certification.

The NOSB uses the term bioponics to describe operations that grow crops without soil using solid and liquid fertilizers that are allowed in organic farming. The range of operations under this umbrella of food production systems include:

  • hydroponics - a method of growing plants with roots in a mineral nutrient solution in water without soil
  • aeroponics - a variation of hydroponics in which plant roots are suspended in air and misted with nutrient solution
  • aquaponics - systems that combine hydroponics and fish farming, known as aquaculture, where the fish effluent is used as a nutrient supply
  • containers - systems that grow crops in containers, and supply nutrients through the combination of solid fertilizers mixed into the growing media as well as liquid fertilizers delivered through irrigation systems
Nature Safe

Bioponics is a hot-button issue that has split the organic foods industry, with one side advocating for soil-based organic production only and the other citing ambiguity in federal regulations that should allow certification of soil-less growing operations.

Advocates for prohibiting hydroponics in organic products cite a 2010 NOSB recommendation to not allow organic hydroponic production because the systems are not soil-based.

Those in favor of certified-organic hydroponics point to the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 (OFPA), which does not include specific provisions for hydroponic production but allows such operations to be certified anyway, as long as they comply with existing requirements for organic crop production.

Organic Ag Products

Today, crops being grown by hydroponic operations include herbs, greens, tomatoes, peppers, berries, edible flowers and other produce items. A 2016 industry survey commissioned by the NOP showed 17 certifiers now certifying hydroponic and aquaponic operations, of which 30 are certified hydroponic operations, 22 are certified aquaponic operations and 69 are certified container-based operations.

OTA task force seeks to define production standards

Washington, D.C.-based OTA said its bioponics task force, which has met prior to NOSB meetings for the past year, "will continue its work on defining production standards for these types of operations, exploring compromise solutions to this topic, and providing substantive input to NOSB to help shape its recommendations."

Ocean Mist

At its biannual meeting last fall, the NOSB voted to continue allowing food grown hydroponically to be certified as organic. Members of the board said a controversial proposal up for vote needed further development, particularly refinement of the definitions surrounding the processes of hydroponics, as well as the related aeropnic and aquaponic systems, to give it a better understanding of the issues before it can make a final decision on the legality of hydroponics in organic.

3. Prince Charles: "Future of humanity may depend on organic farming"

Prince Charles has warned that the ‘very future of humanity’ may depend on organic farming.

Speaking as he celebrated the 70th anniversary of the Soil Association in London, the heir to the throne insisted that eco-friendly practices, which had once seemed so controversial, were now backed by ‘sound science’.

And he warned that they may be our only hope of reversing the drastic damage being caused to the environment, which could see large swathes of farmland destroyed forever ‘within sixty harvests’.

Charles, who has long practiced organic farming himself as well as being an advocate of it, told his audience: "So Ladies and Gentlemen, it is becoming ever clearer that the very future of humanity may depend to a very large extent on a mainstream transition to more sustainable farming practices, based of course on organic principles."

Source: Genetic Literacy Project, Hortidaily

4. UCSC - Center for Agroecology & Sustainable Food Systems - 50 years Outstanding in Their Field

Nestled in the coastal range above Santa Cruz, CA. lays a living piece of history that continues to make significant contributions to organic agriculture. Dating back to 1967 when master gardener Alan Chadwick transformed the rolling chaparral into a prolific organic garden, the Center for Agroecology & Sustainable Food Systems (CASFS) has evolved into a multifaceted research, education, and public service endeavor.  The work at their 33 acre organic farm continues to make an impact on organic producers locally and across the globe.

This vital but often underappreciated Center for Agroecology & Sustainable Food Systems (CASFS) resides within the Division of Social Sciences at UC Santa Cruz. Here, faculty, staff and students undertake a myriad of projects to improve agroecology and organic agriculture.  Their mission is to research, develop, and advance sustainable food and agricultural systems that are environmentally sound, economically viable, socially responsible, nonexploitative, and that serve as a foundation for future generations.

Agroecological Science is their Specialty

CASFS continues to support science and research that increases yields and optimizes nutrient use while decreasing off farm impacts and eliminating reliance on synthetic chemical inputs. Their work has made a significant contribution in the control of strawberry pests and diseases. They research various crop rotations to suppress pests and diseases and improve fertility, and have conducted variety trials for organic specialty crop production on the Central Coast.

Their efforts include studying cover cropping with annuals and perennials, conducting analysis of nutrient uptake in organic and conventional systems and they have experimented with “farmscaping” using native hedgerows and vegetative buffer strips to increase biodiversity.

Education Remains the Core of Their Work

CASFS’s educational component is far-reaching, serving audiences ranging from pre-K and elementary school students to local gardening enthusiasts. Through classes, conferences, public events, tours, and publications, CASFS teaches academics, researchers, policy makers, students, and the general public about sustainable agriculture and food systems. 

As part of the University system they are able to serve graduates and undergraduates in a variety of topics. UCSC students can take courses on agroecology, urban agriculture, domestic and international food systems, agricultural policy and food security. They work with CASFS through internships or independent studies developed in collaboration with faculty in a variety of campus departments.

From the youngest students to senior community members, their educational efforts are making a difference.

Apprenticeship Training Offers Practical on Farm Training

The CASFS apprenticeship model combines theoretical and practical instruction in organic farming techniques that have been successfully replicated locally and internationally.  You may know or be one of the many graduates that have established their own organic farms or gone on to do important work in the organic food sector.  Some graduates have taken part in international development projects, including programs in Nepal, Uganda, Kenya, South Africa, and throughout Central and South America.

Others have raised the standards of the organic food industry through their work with certification programs and retailers. See more on the Graduates at Work page for examples of what apprenticeship alumni have done with this hands-on training.

The growing interest in sustainable agriculture, organic food and issues of social justice underscores the need for the type of work conducted by CASFS staff, faculty, and students.

It’s been fifty years since Alan Chadwick applied his agroecological mastery to the UCSC Farm and Garden. Since that time CASFS has trained and nurtured generations of new organic farmers, built a model undergraduate experiential education program, and helped shape a more sustainable food system through research and policy efforts. 

Come celebrate their 50 years of work at the "First 50 Celebration & Symposium" at UC Santa Cruz, July 28–30th 2017. There will be a compelling lineup of speakers, workshops & tours, with good music, local food and time for mingling with old-timers (like me) and many newcomers to the sustainable agriculture community. You can join the fun by registering here.

5. Do Restaurants Need to be Certified to Serve Organic Food? If you want fresh organic food on your menu, do you have to be officially USDA certified organic?

Under current National Organic Program (NOP) regulations, retail operations, which include restaurants, are generally considered excluded and do not have to be certified organic. According to NOP policy, "Establishments that process or prepare, on the premises of the establishment, raw and ready-to-eat food labeled organic are exempt from certification." A restaurant may choose to become voluntarily certified organic though.

Just because you're not certified organic, doesn't mean your restaurant can't serve organic food. However, there are still rules that must be followed if you serve organic food.

Your best source of information is one, your local organic certifying agent and/or two, current NOP regulations. That said, below are some general rules that a restaurant serving organic food should follow.

  • Restaurants are responsible for verifying and maintaining the organic integrity of any products used on the premise.
  • Restaurants must ensure that the company or grower they buy from is in good standing with NOP regulations. Individuals who purchase goods for restaurants should check with the certifying agents of the operations they buy from to verify good standing. Or you can check the USDA list of suspended/revoked operations at the USDA Organic Program website.
  • Restaurants must prevent commingling and contamination of organic products with prohibited substances.
  • Restaurants must keep accurate records regarding products marketed and sold as organic.
  • Restaurants need to comply with product composition requirements and labeling requirements under current NOP regulations.
  • Restaurants who purchase organic food from small-scale organic producers who are exempt from certification requirements cannot identify the food as "certified organic." You can identify the food as "organic" on the menu though, even if your restaurant is not certified organic.

By Jennifer Chait - The Balance

“The organic produce industry has been enjoying good sustained growth.  Our company looks forward to continuing this growth with many more partners in the future.”  

- Doug Classen, The Nunes Company

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