Virginia Association for Biological Farming

2014 VBF Conference photo by Tisha McCuiston (116)

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VABF2015 Reminders

While you’re packing your bags for the Virginia Biological Farming Conference, remember these items…

–Potluck Dish to share at the Organic Foods Festival

–Silent Auction donation (Examples here)

–Seeds to share at the Seed Swap

–Musical instruments to play during the Friday evening jam

We can’t wait to see you in Richmond at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel!

PS – When posting on social media about the conference, please use #VABF2015. Thank you!

musicians at VABF

seed swap

VABF conference 2013 (3)

2014 VBF Conference photo by Tisha McCuiston (95)

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Sustainable agriculture conference time in Richmond Virginia!

Both fresh and seasoned farm-food authors will be speaking at the 16th annual Virginia Biological Farming Conference. Come meet them and ask them questions. Details on their workshops are available on our website.

Sustainable Agriculture authors at VABF2015Profitable, entrepreneurial, small acreage, high-value farming experts from Quebec and Atlanta will be speaking at the conference. Cashawn Myers, urban farm leader from Atlanta (left below), and Jean-Martin Fortier, market gardening expert from Quebec (right), will be sharing their experience and knowledge in multiple workshops during the conference. Numerous Virginia and regional farm experts and leaders will also be featured. See the full schedule of workshops here.

Sustainable Agriculture Experts at VABF2015

Virginia grain grower and VABF President, William Hale, will be addressing plenary sessions Friday and Saturday. Hale’s successful operation was recently the cover story in Country Folks farming magazine.

Don’t miss out on this incredible annual gathering of organic farmers. There’s still time to register online.

Register for VABF2015

More about the conference is available at and by contacting Sue Ellen Johnson, Executive Director of the Virginia Biological Farming Association: 540-422-9804.

2014 VBF Conference photo by Tisha McCuiston (8)

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16th Annual Virginia Biological Farming Conference!

2015 Virginia Biological Farming Conference
JANUARY 29-31 2015
Richmond, Virginia

at the Doubletree by Hilton Hotel
(same hotel as last year)

Virginia Biological Farming Conference Richmond Virginia

Join VABF & VSU in Richmond for the state’s premier gathering of organic producers and consumers:
the 16th Annual Virginia Biological Farming Conference!

On January 29, 30 and 31, 2015, more than 500 passionate supporters of sustainable, organic food, farming and gardening will participate in sessions covering such topics as bio-intensive market gardening, livestock guardian dogs, edible landscaping, organic orchards, urban agriculture, multi-species grazing, succession planting and many many more ecological agriculture interests.

3 Pre-conference workshops
25 conference sessions
Youth Program
Trade Show
Our annual organic foods festival potluck
Lunch & Dinner featuring local food
World Premiere of Virginia Soil Health Film Series
Book signings with authors
VABF annual meeting and board election

Volunteer Opportunities are Available

Become an Exhibitor or a Sponsor

custombuttonSee Full Conference Schedule

Thursday:   Pre-conference Intensives
Essential Tools & Techniques for the Small Scale Organic Vegetable Growers with Jean-Martin Fortier: $75
The Nuts, Bolts, and Business of Urban Agriculture: From Theory to Practice
with Cashawn Myer & Tenisio Seanima: $60
Edible Landscaping with Michael Judd and Ira Wallace: $60

Friday – Saturday Speakers & Topics
John Ikerd: Sustaining the Sustainable Ag Movement
Jean-Martin Fortier: A Bio-Intensive Market Garden
Cashawn Myers, Tenisio Seanima, Todd Niemeier: Urban Agriculture
Forrest Pritchard: Multi-Species Grazing
Natasha Bowen; The Color of Food
Michael Phillips: Walk Through The Orchard Year & Home Orchard Basics
Michael Judd: Edible Landscapes with a permaculture twist
Ellen Polishuk: Are you losing money with every carrot bunch you sell?
Margaret McGrath: Plant Disease Management for Organic Systems
Ben Coleman: Livestock Husbandry on Pasture,
Renard Turner: Livestock Guardian Dogs
Pam Dawling: Succession Planting & Asian Greens
Elizabeth Borst: Farmers and EBT—Doubling Returns
Mark Jones: Growing and Marketing Gourmet and Medicinal Mushrooms
Ira Wallace & Cindy Conner: From Seed to Seed: Planning and Planting for a Year-Round Harvest
Richard McDonald (Dr. McBug): Beneficial Insects and Farmscaping
Clif Slade: 43560 Project Update
Karl Hammer: An Integrated Compost/Poultry Enterprise (via Skype)
John Davidson and Clif Slade: Hands-on Irrigation
Laura Strawn, Adrianna Vargo, and Amber Vallotton: FSMA Readiness for Small-Mid Size Farms: A Proactive and Practical Approach in Virginia
Edmond Frost, Dan Gagnon, Mike Sands, Laban Rutto: Virginia Organic Research Update
Experiences with Multi-Farm and Cooperative Marketing
Virginia Markets for Organic: Panel Discussion
Plant Disease Roundtable

2014 VBF Conference photo by Tisha McCuiston (22)

Waverly Farms

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A Memorable Lunch

Earlier this month, Soil Food Web expert Elaine Ingham presented two full day workshops as part of the Virginia Farm to Table Conference. For the lunch on December 4th, VABF purchased produce, meat and other items from biological producers. We then turned these farm products over to the capable hands of Virginia State University’s Thompson Catering Chefs. We thank the chefs for preparing a delicious meal while caring for our ingredients. We also thank the producers for raising such high quality ingredients!

VSU Thompson Catering Chefs 2014Woodland Farm – Amelia – Beef
Waverly Farms – Burkeville – Greens
Victory Farms – Richmond – Apples, Potatoes, Greens
Tomten Farm – Green Bay- Greens
Slade Family Farm – Surrey County – Sweet Potatoes
Radical Roots – Keezletown – Garlic
Origins Farm – Hanover- Apples, Greens
Mattawoman Creek Farms – Northern Neck – Onions
Hungry Hill – Nelson County – Honey
Heartland Harvest – Mt Solon – Eggs, Flour
Croftburn Farm – Culpeper- Beef
Buffalo Creek Farm – Lexington – Beef
The Byrd Farm – Columbia – Butternut Squash

Organic Valley – Butter and Cream
Buttermilk Bakery – Petersburg – Donuts

We will be serving Virginia farm-food products at our upcoming Virginia Biological Farming Conference too. If you would like your products to be served there, please contact Janet Aardema.

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VABF’s FSMA Comments

The Virginia Association for Biological Farming (VABF) offered the attached comments on the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) supplemental proposed rules on Standards for the Growing, Harvesting, Packing, and Holding of Produce for Human Consumption (Produce Rule) and Current Good Manufacturing Practice and Hazard Analysis and Risk-Based Preventive Controls for Human Food (Preventive Controls Rule).

On November 11, 2013, VABF submitted extensive comments on the first Proposed Rules for Produce and Preventive Controls. We appreciate FDA’s efforts to make the Rules more practical for small and medium scale produce farmers. At the same time, upon review of the supplemental proposed rules, we remain concerned that several provisions in the Re-proposal could impose unwarranted burdens on our farmer members and other family farms across the US, and/or create barriers to the development and expansion of local, sustainable food systems. We address these issues in the attached pages.

Click here to see VABF’s Comments

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Proposed FSMA Rule

From Mark Schonbeck

Dear All,

Proposed FSMA RuleRemember last year’s all-out grassroots campaign, spearheaded by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) to submit comments to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on their proposed rules for the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA)?  Remember how hard we worked to ensure that the new food safety rules don’t put family farms out of the produce business and don’t slow the growth and evolution of sustainable local food systems?  While thousands of us in the field wrote individual comments from farmer, processor, and consumer viewpoints, the NSAC Food Systems Integrity Committee also stayed in close dialogue with FDA on the issues, and many NSAC member groups, including VABF, submitted comments on behalf of their constituencies.

Well, our work has paid off. FDA heard us and went back to the drawing board and reworked key sections of the Produce Rule (which regulates produce farms), and the Preventive Controls Rules (which regulates food processing businesses). This fall, FDA issued its “second draft” – a re-proposal of these sections of the rules. It is fairly unusual for a federal agency to issue a second proposed rule, and indicates that FDA wants to work with us to ensure that the rules protect food safety and are workable for producers and processors at all scales.

The re-proposal makes a substantial improvement over the first proposed rule. However, much more work needs to be done to ensure that the rules and their implementation do not impose excessive costs on small farms and businesses, and do not create unwarranted barriers to conservation, ecological farming practices, and the growth of local sustainable food systems.

We need farmers, processors, and consumers of organic / sustainable / local food to give their input to FDA between now and December 15!

Below are links to several documents that can help you develop your comments and inform/engage others in this vital campaign:

For more information on FSMA, visit NSAC’s web page on FSMA,, which includes links to:

Thank you – and I apologize for the short time line and my tardiness in getting this out to you all.

Mark Schonbeck
VABF newsletter editor and policy liaison

Additional Information Regarding FSMA Rules

Specific remaining issues that must be addressed in the final FSMA
rules include:

  1. In the re-proposed rules, FDA definitions of “farm” and farm activities such as harvesting, packing, and holding, still have the potential to limit farmers’ ability to expand local food systems through aggregation, food hubs, farm-to-school programs, etc.  For example, a group or cooperative of farmers who operate a shared packing and holding facility would be reguated as a “facility” under the Preventive Controls Rule, even though the new proposed rules recognizes these as low-risk activities that are considered part of a “farm” when conducted on farm.  This can pose a substantial barrier to innovative farmers developing new models for expanded local food systems that bring more revenue and deliver fresh high quality food to a higher percentage of community residents.  In addition, FDA still defines a “farm” as “in one general physical location,” which could be interpreted to treat farmers who own and operate two non-contiguous properties as operators of “facilities” subject to both Rules.  FDA definitions must be clarified and broadened in order to remove unwarranted barriers to low-risk aggregation, packing,and holding activities that are essential to the growth of local food systems.  For more on this issue, visit the NSAC page on operating a farm/facility.
  2. Annual sales thresholds used to determine whether a farm is exempt from the FSMA rules ($25,000) or can meet a simplified set of requirements (“qualified exemption, $500,000); and to determine the regulatory approach for food facility businesses, are variously based on “all produce,” “all human food,” or a”all food,” which creates confusion as well as barriers to farm diversification.  For example, a farm producing over $500,000 annually in products not covered by FSMA that seeks to diversify into covered produce (e.g., salad greens, strawberries) would have to comply with the full Produce Rule, even if the covered produce sales are within the exemption or qualified exemption thresholds.  The cost of such compliance would likely make the divesification economically infeasible.  We are asking FDA to base exemption thresholds for the Produce  Rule on sales of covered produce, and thresholds for the Preventive Controls Rule on sales of food items covered by this Rule.  For more on this issue, visit the NSAC food covered product page.
  3. The re-proposed rule still fails to clarify that CSAs, CSA drop-off points, multi-farm CSA’s, farmers’ markets, farmstands, and other direct-to-consumer venues are not “facilities” but are “retail food establishments not subject to the Preventive Controls Rule.  We need to push FDA to include this simple clarification, which is mandated in the FSMA legislation itself, in the final rule. For more on this issue, visit the NSAC direct to consumer page.
  4. In a positive development, FDA dropped the 9-month interval between application of uncomposted manure and harvest, and the 45 day interval between compost application and harvest, and are instead planning to research the manure issue in order to develop a more science-based application interval.  Ath this time and throughout FDA’s process of researching and developing proposed regulations for “soil amendments of animal origin”, it is vital that producers provide input to FDA regarding the importance of compost and/or manure in their nutrient management and soil improvement practices, and how they manage and use these materials to protect food safety while providing needed fertility.  For more on this issue, visit the NSAC page on manure and compost.
  5. Regarding the re-proposed rule still fails to recognize that many conservation practices, such as riparian buffers and beneficial habitat plantings can also help protect produce safety in crop production fields.  They do not encourage implementation of these conservation practices, and could still deter farmers from installing conservation plantings.  In the final rule, FDA needs to define “co-management” of conservation and food safety concerns and encourage implementation of win-win conservation plantings and practices.  In addition, FDA needs to clarify that its deferral of the 9-month manure rule also means that a 9-month interval between grazing a field and the next food harvest is not required. For more on these issues, visit the NSAC page on conservation and on animals.
  6. Regarding the use of surface water for irrigation of produce crops, the re-proposed rule offers greater flexibility, but it still requires a costly and burdensome water testing protocol without adequate scientific justification.  One of the positive aspects of the new rule is that it assumes that bacteria in applied water undergo a ten-fold (one log unit) dieoff every two days; thus a water source that somewhat exceeds standards can be used if applied a sufficient number of days before harvest so that die-off brings it within the standard.  We need producers to let FDA know how the current proposed water standards would impact their operation, and how the standard might be modified to reduce testing costs while still adequately protecting food safety.  For more on the water issue, visit the NSAC page on agricultural water.
  7. Although farms with annual sales under $500,000 and food facilities with annual sales under $1 million may qualify for modified (simplified) compliance requirements (also called “qualified exemption”), FDA retains broad authority to revoke the qualified  exemption and subject the farm or facility to the full regulation if they think there is a food safety problem.  While the re-proposed rule has improved the process and includes a route for producers and processors to regain the qualified exemption upon correcting the problem, the rules remain sufficiently vague and inconsistent that they do not protect farmers from unfair and arbitrary revocations of the qualified exemption.  For example, the “material conditions” on which a revocation might be based remain inadequately defined.  We need to push FDA to establish a clear, fair, and consistent process for alerting qualified-exempt producers of a potential problem and how they can correct it, as well as for suspension and reinstatement as appropriate.  For more on exemptions and modifications, visit the NSAC page regarding the Produce Rule and/or the page regarding Preventative Controls for facilities.
  8. The re-proposed Preventive Controls Rule requires facilities to implement “supplier verification programs” for certain foods, which could entail an on-side audit for farms who are already complying with the Produce  Rule.  This provision imposes an additional burden on farmers who want to sell to a food processing facility, and it also conflicts with the statutory language of FSMA. For more on this issue, visit the NSAC page on supplier approval and verification.
  9. Estimated costs of compliance with the Produce rule and Preventive Controls rule remain high enough that FDA anticipates that some small farms and facilities may go out of business, fewer people will start farming, and more farmers will have to seek off-farm income. The added costs of entering produce farming could have a particularly severe impact on beginning farmers  In addition, the re-proposed Preventive Controls Rule includes two new and costly requirements: environment testing (food prep surfaces, etc), and product testing.  FDA must find ways to reduce costs of compliance, and at least make the new environment and product testing “guidance” and not regulation.  For more on these issues, visit the NSAC page on Environmental and Product Testing, or on costs to facilities of on cost to produce farmers.
  10. FDA is requesting comment on how much record keeping should be required of farmers who pack and hold produce from other farms. Farmers should not be required to keep any more detailed records than they normally would in the course of doing business, such as invoices showing produce purchases and sales.  For more on these requirements, visit the NSAC page on record keeping requirements.

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