National Organic Program "Final Rule"

Peter Worsley pwors at svn.net
Sun Dec 24 10:58:11 EST 2000


I hesitate to weigh in on this topic. Usually I delete all the messages
regarding the new organic rules, and go on to growing-related topics
that interest me. But I'd like to describe a program we are starting
here in Marin County, California, about 40 miles North of San Francisco,
CA.

First of all, I think the situation here is a little different from that
in many other parts of the US. This is a very affluent area, one of the
most affluent areas in the US. People here are passionate about their
food, and passionate about their environment. They also tend to be
highly educated and well informed. Those of us who farm here are
fortunate to have such a supportive customer base, whether at farmers'
markets, restaurants, or produce markets. The downside, of course, is
that land prices are obscenely high, and land is hard to come by at any
price. I lease from two nearby ranches which have been in existence for
more than 100 years.

California has an organic registration program which has been in
existence for many years. To use the word "ORGANIC", you must be
registered with the state. Basically, you send in your fee (minimal),
describe your land and your growing practices very briefly, and
presumably obey the state regulations, which are the same as the new
federal rules, and pretty much the same as those of 3rd party certifiers
such as CCOF, QAI, Oregon Tilth, etc. In 5 years, I've been inspected
once, with about a week's notice.

But about 5 years ago, a group of organic growers in the county got
together with county ag officials and started a program called Marin
Organic. This is a 3rd party certification program administered by the
Marin County ag department. It is also, of course, a marketing tool for
us growers, and a guarantee for consumers that our products are not only
in compliance with the law, but also are produced according to a set of
guidelines having to do with soil, water, and wildlife habitat
preservation, fair labor practices, and ethical business practices. In
addition, produce sold using the Marin Organic label must be produced in
Marin County, with some small allowable percentage of non-Marin
ingredients.

The result, for the farmer, is much lower certification cost (the
program is partly funded by county government, partly by grants from
environmental non-profit foundations, and partly by grower-paid fees).
The program is run by a board of directors, some of whom are farmers,
some of whom are marketing types, some of whom are environmentalists,
and some of whom are county ag officials. In addition, we are working
with county officials we have known and worked with over the years,
there are workshops to help new farmers through the certification
process, and the program is understood and supported not only by growers
but by the public at large, who see the survival of small farms as the
only way to protect open space from the voracious demands of well-heeled
real estate developers. One of the main reasons I became involved is
that I saw the program as the only way I could justify becoming 3rd
party certified, and the only way I could deal with the new federal
regulations, which will be administered on a local level by the Marin
County Agricultural Commissioner's office.

Maybe Marin is the only place a program like this could work, I don't
know. But for those of you grumbling about the new federal regs, and I
sympathize, believe me, you might do well to support a program something
like this in your own local area.

Best holiday wishes to all- Peter



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