Organic Industry Funds Young Farmer Training, As USDA Still Focuses on Conventional Farming

by Rona Fried

The US Congress recently passed the gigantic Farm Bill, which has to be reauthorized every five years. This was a good round for organic agriculture – the Organic Trade Association (OTA) says they got most of what they lobbied for.

But it’s always striking to me how much more support there is for conventional agriculture than for organic. Even in the best of scenarios, organic gets a tiny percentage in comparison.

In the Farm Bill, among the funds OTA successfully lobbied for:

  • $15 million a year for the USDA national organic program, up from $11 million in 2012 and $5 million in 2008
  • $20 million a year for organic agriculture research and assistance, unchanged from 2010-2012
  • $5 million for the Organic Data Initiative (unchanged from 2008)

About 20% of the $956 billion Farm Bill goes to agricultural subsidies, conservation programs, energy initiatives and other smaller programs. Clearly, organic agriculture still gets a tiny slice of the pie.

Even when it comes to training young farmers, education is geared to conventional practices. This article is about an initiative that supports future organic farmers, launched by organic farm certifier CCOF and UNFI Foundation (UNFI is the largest US organic products distributor).

Read our article, Farm Bill Supports Renewable Energy, Hemp, Organic Programs

Farm Bill

by Cathy Calfo

CCOF and UNFI Foundation
CCOF and UNFI Foundation are joining forces to address the dearth of direct financial support for youth interested in organic agriculture by launching the Future Organic
Farmers Grant Fund.

Driscoll’s, Organic Valley and Bradmer Foods have also pledged their support as additional partners. The aim is to support students in choosing careers that expand the growth and development of the organic industry. Additional partners are being sought to expand the fund for next year.

The US faces an epidemic shortage of farmers. In California, where more than half of the nation’s fruits, vegetables and nuts are grown, the average farmer is older than 60. The Future Organic Farmers Grant Fund’s goal is to grow the next
generation of organic farmers who can revitalize rural America.

Although many farming organizations likes FFA and Farm Bureau have granting programs that support students in pursuing agricultural studies, nearly all of these support the study of conventional agriculture. Initial research into these programs found that while the descriptions of several programs mentioned the concept of "sustainability," none stipulated the grant be used to study organic.

The Future Organic Farmers Grant Fund will provide $50,000 in direct grants to support at least 40 young people during 2014 and 2015 who are pursuing projects or studies specifically related to organic agriculture. Grants will be provided to qualified applicants in three program categories:  

  • Organic projects only within exiting agricultural grant programs that serve young people (K-12)
  • Higher education and vocational training in organic production
  • Direct grants targeting women, veterans and social disadvantaged communities.

In addition, the CCOF Foundation is developing three programs that support organic producers and provide consumer education about organic products; the Organic Training Institute, Hardship Assistance Grants-The Bricmont Fund, and the Buy Certified
Organic campaign.

Through the Organic Training Institute, CCOF Foundation will support current and prospective certified organic producers, processors, and handlers with a series of low-cost field days, workshops and webinars to help improve and grow their operations.

Trainings will be held in locations throughout California and via webinars on a range of topics: organic treatments for invasive pests and diseases; organic nutrient management; on-farm food safety planning; retail and wholesale marketing; and complying with organic regulations.

The Bricmont Fund is the only resource of its kind that provides direct financial hardship assistance to organic producers who have been hit by unforeseen circumstances. CCOF has provided more than $50,000 in hardship assistance grants through the Bricmont Fund’s annual grants since 2007. This fund helps offset certification costs for organic operations that have suffered losses due to extreme hardships such as drought, fire, invasive pest losses or other natural disasters.

In 2011, CCOF launched the Buy Certified Organic campaign to educate consumers about the true meaning behind the USDA Organic seal. Now under the CCOF Foundation, this campaign annually prints and distributes "Buy Certified Organic" postcards at
California farmers’ markets. Each postcard includes a "Buy Certified Organic" magnet, an explanation about the meaning of "certified organic," consumer tips for understanding farmers’ market signage, and reasons why people should buy certified organic products.

Foundation History

Between 2005 and 2009, the CCOF Foundation led the Going Organic project to provide information about organic certification and production to hundreds of agricultural professionals. The project helped 40 farmers convert more than 4000 acres to
organic production. Going Organic also has promoted the USDA organic seal.

CCOF’s membership of certified organic producers, processors and retailers has reached 2700 and today we certify more than 2 million acres of organic land. Organic seems to be everywhere from the local farmers’ market and farmstand to the produce sections and shelves of major retailers. 82% of Americans report they purchase organic products, but organic represents less than 5% of all agricultural sales.

Organic food is more widely accepted by the public and agricultural community than it was in 2002, so the barriers to going organic have changed. A greater challenge has become producers’ access to key resources that support their economic success and viability. In order to address this new horizon of challenges, the CCOF Foundation has designed its programs to support access to education and financial support, and to enhance consumer understanding of the meaning of organic.

It is through projects like these that the CCOF Foundation is going to help change the way the world eats – one farmer and one consumer at a time.


Cathy Calfo is Executive Director/ CEO of CCOF, Inc.

Reprinted from The Organic Trade Association newsletter, The Organic Report, Spring 2014 issue

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