Urgent Action on DARK ACT Needed + Opportunities, Events & More

By February 24, 2016Policy

Updates & Opportunities

The DARK Act is Back!

URGENT: Phone your Senators NOW about the need for GMO Labeling and to vote against the “Dark Act”

“Dark Act” Basics:
If passed, the “Dark Act” will prohibit requiring any labeling of GMO products. We encourage you to vote AGAINST the “Dark Act”.

Generally VABF has encouraged required labeling of any product made with genetically modified, including transgenic organisms. We have supported consumers “right-to-know”. The GMO industry, practitioners and proponents, should openly (and proudly) acknowledge the technology they use.

We support a generic statement on any “GMO” product that states “This product was produced with genetically modified organisms.” The statement should be immediately below standard food labels. More detailed information on the GE product could be made available online. Click here to email your Senators.

2016 Conference a Success!


The 2016 Conference was a success — with great local meals, a fantastic Taste of Virginia, busy sessions and full plenaries. We met most of our metrics. Thank YOU to our terrific volunteers, and everyone who attended, presented, brought food or got involved in other ways to make our Conference happen. If you haven’t yet responded to your evaluation via Survey Monkey please do.

Keep checking VABF’s enews for the 2017 Conference information. If you want to be involved with the 2017 Conference please contact a Board member!

2016 Board Elected at Conference

Second year of second term (elected 2015): Renard Turner  & Ira Wallace

Second year of first term (elected 2015): Jim Moyer

First year of second term (elected 2016): Lee O’Neill

First year of first term (elected 2016): Marianne CicalaDebbie GagonElliot StoneConnie Stone and Ryan Blosser

Get Involved in VABF

VABF has interesting opportunities for help with the Newsletter, Website and “tabling” at events around the state to promote our mission and organization. Contact any Board member to get involved!

2015 Organic Survey

USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service

USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service recently reported that organic farms sold a total of $5.5 billion in organic products in 2014, up 72 percent since 2008. They are now conducting the 2015 Certifed Organic Survey to provide more data for the industry. This information will be used to help determine programs, research, and support to better meet the needs of organic agriculture producers like you. Responding is important! Look for your survey in the mail. www.nass.usda.gov

VABF at the Virginia Grain and Soybean Conference

Ten days after our VABF Conference, I set up a VABF exhibit in the lovely Williamsburg Lodge. The goal was to increase Virginia’s grain and soybean farmers’ awareness of the markets for Virginia Grown Organic Grains.  Virginia’s grain producers control many, many acres. Their management affects our land, water and our food supply. Our display included information on Virginia organic buyers: New Country Organics, Ellwood Thompsons and Woodson’s Mill.  We also connected some non-GMO growers to the Culpeper Coop.

A display of William Hale’s Bloody Butcher corn attracted a fair amount of attention. Farmers of all ages seemed particularly interested in organic as a economically advantageous market. Approximately 20 farmers, 10% of attendants, walked away with VABF newsletters and Non-GMO reports. In his keynote, Virginia Tech Economist David Kohl indicated that 28% of grain growers are interested in organic production. Keynotes from lobbyists for corn, wheat, soy and soy associations focused the group on the next administration and the need for more farmer involvement in policy advocacy. — Sue Ellen Johnson

USDA Expands Insurance Options for Farmers Transitioning to Certified Organic Agriculture

New coverage lowers risk for producers and strengthens farm safety net

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced a new step to support farmers transitioning to certified organic production, by expanding a crop insurance option to allow producers to purchase insurance coverage that better reflects their product’s actual value. Producers transitioning to certified organic production can now use the Contract Price Addendum to cover their crops at a higher price than traditional crops. More information from the USDA here.

Job Openings at VABF Member Businesses

A variety of positions including interns, farm managers and more

Click over to the Opportunities & Actions Page on our website for listings from VABF members: Farmstead Ferments, Manakintowne Specialty Growers, Virginia Growers, Virginia Vegetable Company, Brightwood Vineyard and Farm and Plenty!

More Opportunities

Events & Workshops

Maximizing Your Marketing

VSU, Petersburg, March 7 & 21, April 4 & 18

VABF Members are eligible for a 50% class fee discount!

Four-part workshop series to help beginning farmers understand and implement a marketing strategy in 2016. In this hands-on marketing series, beginning farmers will confidently write a marketing plan, create a logo, brochure, market display, signs, and webpage at Virginia State University, Randolph Farm Pavilion. Contact Mollie klein at mklein@vsu.edu or call (804) 524-5960 by March 1st.

Virginia Berry Production and Marketing Conference

March 1- 4, Williamsburg, VA

We suggest VABF members attending the Conference be sure to ask about ORGANIC or IPM -No Spray Berry Production systems.This year’s conference is combined with the North American Raspberry and Blackberry Association’s (NARBA) annual conference which will take place on March 1-4 in Williamsburg, VA. Click here for program information.

Packing House Best Practices

Hillsville, VA – March 2, 9:00 am – 4:00 pm

This workshop focuses on assessing and managing food safety risks in the produce packinghouse environment, and covers sanitizers and other best management practices.  It will take place inside the Farmers Market building of the Southwest Virginia Farmers Market inHillsville, VA. The $20 workshop fee covers lunch, refreshments, and written educational materials for the workshop.  Plan to arrive between 8:30 and 9 to sign in; program will start promptly at 9.

Pre-registration is required – call Carroll County Extension at 276-730-3110.

Food Safety Best Practices for Farmers Market Growers

Wytheville, VA – March 9, 9:00 am – 4:00 pm

This workshop will present a risk-based framework to help producers assess production, harvest, and post-harvest practices in relation to produce safety.  It will take place in room 219 of the Grayson Building at Wytheville Community College. The $20 workshop fee covers lunch, refreshments, and written educational materials for the workshop.  Plan to arrive between 8:30 and 9 to sign in; program will start promptly at 9.

Pre-registration is required – call Wythe County Extension at 276-223-6040.

Introduction to Getting Your Hands Dirty!

April 13-18, Warrenton, VA

The Northern Piedmont Beginning Farmer Program is pleased to announce their new class series, Introduction to Getting Your Hands Dirty! This 6-week course is intended for serious gardeners and beginning farmers who want to sharpen their production skills by broadening their basic level knowledge of the tools and concepts of professional crop production.
April 6: Free orientation to outline program
April 13-May 18: Classes on Wednesday evenings, 7-9 PM
April 23 and May 14: Saturday labs and farm tours, 2-4 PM
Cost: $100
Contact Jim Hankins, fauquieredfarm@gmail.com, 540-533-6500

More Events Here


Virginia Farmer Conversation Video Series

Virginia Beginning Farmer & Rancher Coalition

The Virginia Beginning Farmer & Rancher Coalition sat down with the owners of five farms across Virginia to talk with them about their enterprises. They asked them how they got started in farming, where they sell their products, how they handle their labor, and so much more! The five farms that will be featured in these videos include: Bellair Farm (Charlottesville), Porcello Farm (Charlottesville), Agriberry Farm (Hanover), Amy’s Garden (Charles City) and Browntown Farms (Warfield).  Watch the first video here.

Common Ground: Growing Money and Soil at Potomac Vegetable Farms

Videos Feature Ellen Polishuk

USDA-NRCS, Virginia Cooperative Extension and VABF have teamed up to tell the story of another Virginia farmer with a passion for improving her soil. This movie package focuses on the challenge of maintaining soil health while using tillage for efficient vegetable production. In the main profile movie, Ellen Polishuk shares how healthy soil and profitability go hand in hand at Potomac Vegetable Farms, an “ecoganic” vegetable operation in Purcellville, Virginia. Multiple associated technical clips explore the innovative blend of specialized equipment and soil building techniques that Ellen uses to offset the adverse effects that tillage can have on soil health. Watch videos on our website or on YouTube.

Virginia Forage and Grassland Council’s 2016 Winter Forage Conference 

Presentations available on YouTube

Watch conference presentations from this year’s winter forage series, Tall Fescue in the 21st Century: Understanding and Managing Tall Fescue in Grazing Systems. Click here to watch the videos.

What to Expect during an Organic Farm Inspection

Videos to take some of the mystery out of the process

As part of the USDA National Organic Program’s Sound and Sensible Initiative, the International Organic Inspectors Association created two videos on what producers can expect during an organic farm inspection.What to Expect at an Organic Farm Inspection

What to Expect at an Organic Livestock Farm Inspection

Conservation Stewardship Program

By Mark Schonbeck

2016 Conservation Stewardship Program

Now with vital new features for small, diversified, sustainable farms

Deadline for initial sign up – March 31 – contact your district NRCS office today to start the process

The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has just opened the 2016 signup period for the Conservation Stewardship Program or CSP.  Although  the anticipated thorough overhaul of the CSP has been postponed to 2017, this year’s program has one vitally important new feature:  a minimum per-contract payment of $1,500 per year for all CSP-eligible producers.  This is a major win for small diversified producers seeking to utilize and benefit from the CSP, and a change that the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition has advocated for the past couple of years.  We are most grateful to NRCS for taking this important step toward opening this program to a wider range of producers.  So – if CSP did not seem worth it in past years, check it out again for this year! In addition to financial and technical support from NRCS to improve your conservation practices, participation in CSP can strengthen marketing of your farm products as ecologically produced. 

In addition, the 2016 CSP offers a greater array of Conservation Enhancements for organic and sustainable producers, and for livestock producers undertaking improved grazing management practices.  Many of these practices offer a high “environmental benefit score” – resulting in higher per-acre payments for your CSP contract.  Note also that, even if you already rotate crops and use cover crops, increasing the level at which you do these practices (e.g., using a more diversified cover crop mix, choosing new cover crops for a key objective like breaking hardpan or fixing or cycling N; or tightening your rotation to further minimize or eliminate bare soil fallow periods) can earn points for a “new practice”.  Some examples of conservation activities rewarded and supported under CSP include:

Soil Health Crop Rotation

Adopting or improving a resource conserving crop rotation

Intensive Cover cropping in annual crops

Cover cropping in orchards, vineyards, and other woody perennial crops

Use of cover crops to fix N, scavenge N from the soil profile, or relieve compaction (deep rooted)

Use of cover crop mixtures

Conversion of cropland to grass-based agriculture

Intensive rotational grazing

Monitoring pasture health using pasture condition scores

Rotation of supplement and feeding areas.
Initial signup (deadline March 31) consists of a few relatively easy steps:

1 – Complete a simple 3-page NRCS application program used for all USDA conservation programs.

2 – If you do not already have a Farm Record Number, obtain one through your local Farm Services Agency (FSA) before you fill out the NRCS application.

3 – If you are applying as a business entity rather than as an individual, you will also need a Data Universal Numbering System (DUNS) number, and a current registration for the System for Award Management (SAM) before proceeding with a CSP contract application  These can be done on line – see attached pdf file for details.

The process of selecting your suite of conservation activities and completing the terms of your contract with USDA NRCS can be completed within a few weeks after your initial signup.

Other CSP news this year:

If you have a 2012 contract that is expiring this year, you can renew, with the same deadline for signup as for new contracts.

This year, Congress did not cut the CSP, so NRCS will be able to sign up a full 10 million acres this year (compared to  just 7 million last year) – so  the window of opportunity for all farmers is wider this year.

Your participation in CSP can help us all make this a stronger and better program for all producers, and especially for diversified, small to mid scale, organic and sustainable farmers.  The more of our farming sector that engages in this program, the greater our capacity to steer the 2017 overhaul in a direction that will markedly enhance program support for sustainable agriculture and family farming.

For more information, see attached pdf file, and also visit the receing NSAC blog on this year’s CSP, at  http://sustainableagriculture.net/blog/csp-2016-signup/. Another helpful resource from NSAC is the Farmers’ Guide to CSP, available at http://sustainableagriculture.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/CSP-Farmers-Guide-2015-final.p

Organic Farming Research News

From Mark Schonbeck

Taking Stock: Analyzing, Assessing, and Reporting Organic Research Investments: 2002-2014

Organic Farming Research Foundation

In 2014, the Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) received a USDA Organic Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) grant to review USDA funded organic research between 2002 and 2014 (funded through OREI and through the Organic Transitions (ORG) research program).  I have had the honor of helping OFRF with the analysis, working on contract over the past year or so.  I also gave a presentation on the findings of our project at the recent Virginia Biological Farming Conference at Smith Mountain Lake near Roanoke (see the Powerpoint presentation). There were only a handful of people at this session, and I want to share this information more widely with you all, as you might be interested to know more about organic research and how you can avail yourself of some of the practical information and products that have resulted.

FYI – in addition to the powerpoint presentation, click here to see a summary of our project’s findings to date, and a synopsis of the OREI and ORG funded research within the Southern region.

Over the next few weeks, I will be working with OFRF to gather input from farmers who have participated in OREI and ORG projects to learn more about how these projects seem from the farmers’ viewpoint.  If you have participated in any of the projects listed in the “Southern Region Handout” or other OREI / ORG projects based in other regions, and would like to provide your input through an informal phone interview with me, let me know ASAP by return e-mail – include your phone number and good times to call.

Also, if you have not participated in these programs, or are not USDA certified organic, yet have ideas, suggestions, or concerns regarding organic and sustainable ag research priorities, let me know. Feedback on the information about the OFRF project is also welcome and invited.


New Times: New Tools: Cultivating Resilience on Your Organic Farm Laura Lengnick, Cultivating Resilience LLC February 23, 2016

Design and Management of Organic Strawberry/Vegetable Rotations Carol Shennan, Joji Muramoto, University of California Santa Cruz March 2, 2016

Working With Local Organic Grains Stefan Senders, Wide Awake Bakery; Peter Endriss, Runner & Stone Bakery and Restaurant; Dan Avery, Dakota Earth Bakery; Steve Gonzalez, Sfoglini Pasta Shop March 8, 2016

Good Sense Food Safety Practices on Organic Vegetable Farms Chris Blanchard, Purple Pitchfork March 16, 2016

Unique Fly Control Methods for Organic Dairy Production Roger Moon and Brad Heins, University of Minnesota March 24, 2016

Impacts of the Food Safety Modernization Act on Diversified Organic Vegetable Farms Erin Silva, University of Wisconsin March 29, 2016

Evaluating Sprouted Grains on Grazing Dairy Farms Kathy Soder, USDA ARS April 7, 2016