Organics organization plows ahead
A coalition of organic food producers is scrambling to fill the void left when the Nevada Department of Agriculture on June 3 elected to stop its organic certification program.
The creation of Basin and Range Organics (BARO) was announced last week. A general meeting was held July 24 with teleconferencing statewide to keep those in the industry informed.
“The industry benefited as a whole when the state had organic certification program,” said Rob Holley, the livestock advisor on the BARO advisory council and operator of Holley Family Farm. There is a sense of community and support within the organic industry to create a private organization to continue the program, he said.
“The organization is not together yet but we have a good start going,” said Marcia Litsinger, vice chair of BARO.
Creating a new organization for organic certification in the state was essential, said Litsinger who, with her husband Steve, operate Churchill Butte Organics in Stagecoach, a one-acre farm they call a “market garden.” They’ve had organic certification for about 17 years and are considered pioneers in the industry in northern Nevada.
Without the state certification program, “the only option for organic farming is to go to another state,” for certification, Litsinger said. “It’s cost prohibitive.”
Besides the regular fees, farmers would have to pay mileage and time for a certifier to travel to their farm.
“Somebody would have to drive over from Davis (the closest certifier to this area) and how many miles is that?” It wouldn’t be just to Reno, either, she said. Some organic farms are in Winnemucca, Battle Mountain and even Ely.
“So it would put a lot of organic producers out of the organic business,” she said. “It just would be too much. If you’re not certified, you cannot sell to the public as organic.”
A lot of work remains to be done before BARO is certified by the USDA to become an organic certifier. It also comes with a price tag.
BARO must pay an initial fee of $500 to the USDA to start the process.
The Litsingers have spent about 80 hours on paperwork in the last week and a half preparing to apply to the USDA, in addition to the work it takes to run their organic garden.
“Once we have all our ducks in a row,” Litsinger said, it will take another $2,000 to $3,000 for a desk audit of the process and mechanisms the Nevada organization will use to ensure produce and meat products from organic farms are free from artificial pesticides and other chemicals.
“One of our chief obstacles is financial and getting started,” Holley said.
The organizers are seeking grant funding, as well as donations from private donors and support from the stakeholders in the organic industry.
The other major hurdle for BARO is time.
“The time frame involved is very short,” Holley said.
The process to receive accreditation to become an organic certifier averages a year, he said. The Nevada organic producers have 10-11 months before many of them will need to be recertified. If BARO isn’t ready, they’ll have to go elsewhere, or not get certified at all.
Certification is important, especially for families with children and other members who get sick from chemicals in foods, Litsinger said.
“How else can you be sure it’s free of chemicals,” she said.
With each meeting of BARO, Nevada organic farmers are closer to having a private, non-profit organization to provide organic certification.
Initially, it will be under the umbrella of the Healthy Communities Coalition, a 501(c)3 based in Dayton, and led by the advisory council until a permanent board of directors can be established.
Besides Litsinger and Holley, the advisory council members are Clint Koble, chair; Steve Litsinger, treasurer; Pat Lynch, secretary; and Garrett Gatewood, technical advisor.
Besides getting USDA approval, goals for the new organization are hiring a small staff, including a USDA approved certifier based in Nevada, providing and expanding USDA Organic Certifications, as well as training and supporting new organic farmers. Part of the mission also will be to inform and educate the general public about the advantages and availability of organics close to them.
“If organic farmers are going to support us, we’ll keep plugging along,” Litsinger said.
Nevada was honored in the 3- to 5-million population category, alongside Kentucky and Utah, while Alabama was awarded the Gold Shovel in the same Category. Other Gold Shovel Awards went to Texas, Georgia, Virginia, Arizona and Mississippi.