Dig Deeper


What the Organic Industry is Really Like

By Peggy Miars, OMRI Executive Director/CEO

A number of people have told me that they believe strongly in organic ideologies, but not in certified organic food. I can certainly understand that perspective, but I get frustrated when I hear questions like, “Aren’t the organic standards being watered down by corporate interests?” In twenty years of working in the organic industry, I can say that has not been my experience.  Most of the people working on organic standards are truly committed to organic principles, and I commend them for the difficult decisions they face. Who would take on such a challenging role if they didn’t believe strongly in the founding principles of organic agriculture?

What I have witnessed is a consistent and not always friendly conflict between the ideals of availability and integrity. So many standards decisions come down to a choice between making more organic food available to more people, something that could be seen as benefitting larger companies, and restricting organic food to an ideal that is perhaps difficult to achieve on a larger scale. These two concepts are sometimes at odds, but they are certainly not mutually exclusive. Regardless, the compromises made have led to sour (organic) grapes on a number of occasions.

The organic standards for food produced on a commercial scale are hard to relate to, and certainly involve materials and processes that would not come into play if we were making the same food in our own home kitchens where traceability and supply chain dynamics are not involved.  From reading the organic standards themselves, it’s nearly impossible to discern what is and isn’t allowed in organic food. I have attended multi-day trainings focused entirely on understanding the standards! They are certainly not clear or accessible to most consumers.

The situation is made even more difficult when it comes to understanding the National List – the USDA list of substances allowed and prohibited in the production of organic food. Most of these substances are not ingredients, but rather tools such as fertilizers, health care aids and processing sanitizers that organic farmers and processors are allowed to use to make organic food. For example, synthetic zinc sulfate is considered an effective footbath for maintaining hoof health in cows. Zinc sulfate isn’t in our food, but it’s a synthetic tool that the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) recently recommended to be added to the National List, for footbaths only.

The National List is often the center of confrontations in the organic industry. Any additions to or removals from the list have to be carefully weighed, and each substance is re-evaluated every five years to determine whether there are suitable alternatives. In fact, the semi-annual NOSB meetings provide the venue for three or four day marathon debates, where oral and written comments are presented to the board concerning materials on the agenda. Commenters include certifiers, farmers, processors, companies that make fertilizers and other inputs, nonprofit groups and individual citizens. It is during these meetings that the NOSB votes to recommend changes to the National List. (See our post on the National Organic Standards Board for more information.)

OMRI always sends representatives to the NOSB meetings, not only to understand the votes but also to offer comments on specific materials. We never advocate for or against allowing particular materials. However, since we review the majority of products used in organic production, we rely on clear guidelines for what is and isn’t allowed. Most of our comments relate to whether proposed changes would be enforceable or how those changes might impact the marketplace.

What I have seen as a meeting attendee over the past eight years is that those who participate in the organic industry are careful about these decisions, and about organic food. I do not see the volunteer board making decisions so that corporations will make more money. The NOSB members weigh each decision carefully, and they have to make some really hard choices that I would not want to make. I’ve witnessed board members personally struggle with difficult decisions that are not black and white.

I have seen some really interesting debates at these meetings, and for the most part the debates are congenial and not personal. It is clear that opinions differ. However, there have been times when personal attacks and finger-pointing have taken place. All of the people at the meetings are passionate about the organic standards, so it’s not surprising that some people would have an intense response to a proposed change. However, I would hate for anyone to think that this is the norm, or typical of the NOSB debate process. We have all disagreed personally with an NOSB decision at one time or another, and it’s important that we voice our opinions. But opinions don’t make a person “bad” or “good” – they are just opinions.

If it were up to you, where would your interests lie? Before you answer, think about what the world would look like if large companies could never achieve organic status, because they just don’t have the tools to produce large amounts of food through one operation. Without the incentive of the organic label, would they use more toxic pesticides and hormones? Looking at it another way, are smaller farms at risk of being pushed out of the organic market because large companies are allowed to compete? Difficult questions indeed!

Peggy New

Peggy Miars has been OMRI’s Executive Director/CEO since 2010. She came to OMRI from California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF), where she served for six years as the Executive Director/CEO. She holds a Bachelor of Business Administration degree from Western Michigan University and completed post-graduate courses in nonprofit management at Regis University in Colorado Springs. Peggy has worked in the organic industry for more than 18 years, previously in marketing and management positions with Earthbound Farm, Whole Foods Market, Granary Market, various nonprofit organizations, and her own marketing consulting business. She completed IOIA inspector training for crops in 2007 and has had further IOIA training in both the NOP and Canadian Organic Standards.

Farm Photo Friday: June 26, 2015

Every Friday we share some snaps from our 333-acres in Kutztown, PA. Our photographers? The staff members who keep this farm chugging along. Enjoy a sneak peek at what’s going on here at Rodale Institute! 

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If you weren't able to make it to our organic BBQ, Grills Gone Wild, don't worry. Farm Photo Friday will give you a quick recap: the event created so much buzz, even the honeybees showed up! In this photo, Michael Schmaeling, Facilities Team Member, gives a bee demonstration in our Honeybee Conservancy.

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 "But mom, he always gets the top bunk!" Visit the piglets at our Hog Facility ribbon cutting ceremony. Keep your eye out for more information!

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Every week, teenagers from the area come to Rodale Institute to work on the farm. Our beanstalks aren't quite as high as Jack's, but the bean-harvesters seemed to enjoy them anyway.

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When Dan Kemper, Strategic Support Team Member, first grafted these tomato plants in April, they were as puny as a pencil. Now, they're a few feet high, and are producing plump, bright red fruits. Nice job, Dan!

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Volunteer Mike Horvath was caught laughing while planting flowers in the garden. When we told him there was no fun allowed while working, he replied, "But I'm not working - I'm volunteering!" You got us, Mike.

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Everybody's hands have been smelling like basil this week. While some of the staff harvested dozens of barrels full, others spent time in the kitchen, preparing glass jars of farm-fresh pesto!

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Executive Director, 'Coach' Mark Smallwood, shows off his pesto-making skills. His secret ingredient? Sunflower seeds! Toss them into a food processor with basil, olive oil, parmesan cheese, and garlic for a light summer pasta sauce or bread topping.

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Speaking of Coach, the staff celebrated his birthday with a Rodale Institute themed cake. (And there's still leftovers in the fridge - but don't tell anyone!)

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Coach, is that you again? We caught him in action while talking to a group from MOM's Organic Market.

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With the new sign installed, the Boiron Medicinal Garden is all made-up for it's debut tonight at the ribbon cutting ceremony!

Don't forget...Show your organic love! 

Farm Photo Friday: June 19, 2015

Every Friday we share some snaps from our 333-acres in Kutztown, PA. Our photographers? The staff members who keep this farm chugging along. Enjoy a sneak peek at what’s going on here at Rodale Institute! 

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It's almost here! Megan Kintzer, Director of Development and Communications, is proudly carrying our Grills Gone Wild sponsor banner. We're so excited to get our organic BBQ on. This Sunday, join us for finger-lickin' food, wagon tours, live music, and more! Check out the Father's Day event on our website for more info.
See you on the farm!

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They grow up so fast! This small Kestrel is no longer the ball of fluff we saw last week. Today it was tagged for identification by folks at Hawk Mountain. Kate Harms, Research Technician, was beaming for hours after she was able to hold this beautiful bird.

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Returned back into its cozy box, the baby Kestrel was home just in time for super.

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Chamomile and Calendula are blooming for the Boiron Medicinal Garden grand opening! Rodale Institute has partnered with Boiron USA to create a medicinal garden with charming brick pathways and popular plants used for homeopathic remedies. Join us at the ribbon cutting ceremony on Friday, June 26 by RSVPing here!

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Why did the chicken cross the road?

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Because it's moving to a new home! (Soon – Lord Baltimore likes to plan ahead). Staff and interns are joining forces to finish the large chicken coop. As the pigs rotate around to fresh pastures, the coop will trail behind. The chickens will scratch the manure, removing pig parasites from the ground!

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Your Funny Farm Friday Photo this week is brought to you by ASC Intern Larry Byers. He spotted Petunia praying for pink muck boots!

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It was raining while Dave Reynolds, Veteran Farming in Training, was planting in his garden. Good for the plants – bad for this photographer's camera!

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We love Rodale Institute's newest member, the garden "peace frog!" We think he's telling us to sleep in that extra hour tomorrow morning. Happy Friday!

Don't forget...Show your organic love! 

Research Director needed!

060614-947Rodale Institute is looking for a Research Director for the Vegetable Systems Trial (VST) to join our team!

 

Job description and qualifications are listed below. Interested applicants should submit a cover letter and resume to linda.carlson@rodaleinstitute.org

Job Title: Research Director, Vegetable Systems Trial (VST)

SUMMARY: The Research Director for VST will manage all phases of the project from design coordination through daily operations, data collection and analysis to outreach and scientific publications.

ESSENTIAL DUTIES AND RESPONSIBILITIES:

* Managing the long-term Vegetable Systems Trial (VST) and working with the Strategic Solutions Team (SST) to produce peer-reviewed publications.

* Coordinate day to day operations including but not limited to: field operations - tillage, planting, crop maintenance, harvesting, crop data collection, soil sampling, insect monitoring etc. Laboratory operations – sample preparation, sample analysis, and working knowledge of general laboratory protocols.

* Work with the SST and Communications team to create outreach and education publications, including but not limited to bulletins, fact sheets, and newspaper and web articles.

* Be able to develop curriculum for instructing beginning and existing farmers in organic agriculture for vegetable production.

* Work with Rodale Institute team members to complete research activities, including field and lab work. This includes but is not limited to the VST.

* Assist in developing an outreach and education, peer-to-peer, extension network for farmers and ranchers.

* Develop collaborative and productive relationships with internal and external partners.

* Work with advisory board to design project and program features to ensure applicability to real world grower conditions.

* Oversee the timely execution of grant funded projects, including budget management, timeline management, and instructions for field and lab technicians related to VST.

* Analyze and interpret scientific data.

* Conduct workshops and presentations at the Rodale Institute and worldwide.

* Work with Grants Manager to submit grant proposals for additional funding for research, education, and outreach activities.

QUALIFICATIONS:

* Minimum of four years in field and/or laboratory research experience and familiarity with vegetable crop production in the northeast and/or mid-Atlantic region.

* Attention to detail and ability to develop and maintain high quality records and other documentation.

* Skills in working, collaborating, and communicating in a team environment with individuals of diverse backgrounds.

* Ability to prioritize multiple activities.

* Excellent organization skills with demonstrated written and oral skills for communicating technical information to growers and extension personnel.

* Strong background in statistical analysis of field trail results.

* Evidence of publications in peer-reviewed journals.

EDUCATION:

* Master’s or Doctorate degree in Plant and/or Soil Science with specialization in Horticultural Crop Science, Entomology, Plant Pathology or Plant Physiology.

TRAVEL:

Some travel is required.

Farm Photo Friday: June 12, 2015

Every Friday we share some snaps from our 333-acres in Kutztown, PA. Our photographers? The staff members who keep this farm chugging along. Enjoy a sneak peek at what’s going on here at Rodale Institute! 

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The heat doesn't keep Sabrina Myoda, Garden Intern, from mulching the homestead garden with hay all afternoon!

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Stephanie Zimmerman, Strategic Solutions Team Member, is teaching a group of staff members how to do the daily animal chores. They'll tour the farm and get down and dirty with the animals! Here, the group learns to care for pigs in our brand-new Hog Facility.

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Stephanie leads the group to the goats. The first step to learning the animal chores is to actually...step! Over fences, that is. Looks like someone's already mastered that one!

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You'd think that in the summer months, our goats need more water than usual. But Stephanie explains that they actually drink less than in the winter months, since much of their water needs are met from the plants they chow down. The high grasses and clover you see now will be mowed by the goats in no time!

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Could there be too much fluff in one picture? Huddled inside a nest box are seven-day-old American Kestrel chicks! Kate Harms, Research Technician, explains that these small falcons are declining in number. We're happy to have them at Rodale Institute!

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Justin Barclay, Veteran Farming Program Coordinator, is visiting his Nigerian Dwarf goat friend, Zorro. It all started when Justin complimented Zorro's impressive goatee.

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If you think our pigs are big eaters, watch these Nigerian Dwarf Goats. They'll go to great heights for a snack!

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Speaking of snack, our Garden Store now sells mouthwatering, fresh baked bread from Saxman Breads! Pictured here are some of the staff's favorites: Farm Grain and Everything Focaccia. Not pictured: Sourdough, Honey Wheat, Rosemary Focaccia, and this photographer sneaking a slice! You can also find these breads at the Organic Allentown Farmers Markets.

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Lizzie Wilson, Livestock Intern, is spending quality time with the pigs. In return, they are cleaning off the bottom of her shoe!

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Learn the secret to why our pigs are so happy at our Organic Pastured Swine Field Day on June 24!

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I bet your dad would love to take a ride on this cool wagon, enjoy Rodale Institute farm scenery, and chow down on finger-lickin' organic barbeque. Bring him to our Grills Gone Wild event on Father's Day, June 21! Visit our events page for more information on the family-focused BBQ!

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Lord Baltimore is heading out early for the weekend. Something about beating the beach-goers traffic on the way to the shore!

Don't forget...Show your organic love! 

Farm Photo Friday: June 5, 2015

Every Friday we share some snaps from our 333-acres in Kutztown, PA. Our photographers? The staff members who keep this farm chugging along. Enjoy a sneak peek at what’s going on here at Rodale Institute! 

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Everyone on staff is pitching in to plant in the Boiron Medicinal Garden – just in time for the weekend wedding. Not only are the plants and flowers beautiful to our guests, but they can actually be used as herbal remedies!

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Here, Maggie Saska, Plant Specialist, is placing Calendula, a plant known for healing cuts, infections, and even the digestive tract, into the soil.

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Remember the tiny piglets that were born just two months ago? You would never be able to tell by their size, but they’re still the same piglets that snuggle together for an afternoon nap!

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We didn’t have to wait too long for another litter, though. Welcome to the farm, guys!

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"I'm ready for my close up!" This little one is already a camera hog.

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David Douds, USDA Research Microbiologist, has been at Rodale Institute evaluating the role of cover crops and mycorrhizal fungi inoculation in vegetable systems. Mycorrhizal fungi (say that five times fast!) are naturally-occurring soil fungi that enhance the uptake of soil nutrients. In other words, fungi might not sound exciting, but in the soil, it does some spectacular stuff!
Speaking of fungi, we're teaching a Backyard Mushroom Production class in June. Register now!

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In the distance, Michael Schmaeling, Facilities Team Member, is spending time with our honeybees. It's nice to see them buzzing and back to work after a long, silent winter (the bees, that is!).

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Back at the workshop,  Mark Fabian and Michael Schmaeling, Facilities Team Members, are constructing a brand new honeybee box. Looks like one happy hive is going to have new hardwood flooring!

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Don't worry – Dan Kemper, Strategic Support Team Member, is not going to be attacked by what he's holding. It's actually one of many asparagus crowns that Dan is planting into a long, deep trench.

Don't forget...Show your organic love! 

How can we feed a nation without big agriculture?

By Renee Ciulla

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Red Tomato Founder Michael Rozyne and John Lyman, of Lyman Orchards. Photo by Chris Cartter

“Some food hubs are building infrastructure to store food year-round which creates an actual response to the question: ‘How can we feed a nation without big agriculture?’” noted Kate Petcosky, New Entry Sustainable Farming Project’s Food Access Coordinator in Lowell, MA. “At this point, we are aggregating from 30 different refugee or immigrant beginning farmers, and moving about $16 0,000 worth of produce. Our farmers can’t be at farmers markets every day, so we are taking over the direct consumer relationships.”

According to the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service, “a regional food hub is a business or organization that actively manages the aggregation, distribution, and marketing of source-identified food products primarily from local and regional producers to strengthen their ability to satisfy wholesale, retail and institutional demand.” In many parts of the country, there are wide gaps in local distribution and processing infrastructure, making it difficult for regional growers, such as those farming with New Entry, to access markets. Food hubs fill a market niche that the current food distribution system is not adequately addressing, failing to connect small-scale producers to wholesale market channels. Additionally, food hubs can build the capacity of local producers and engage buyers and consumers to rethink their purchasing options. In this way, hubs are becoming the building blocks for viable local and regional food systems. According to the National Good Food Network, “While many regional food hubs are local food distributors, they are much more than this. Food hubs are examples of innovative, value chain-based business models that strive to achieve triple bottom line (economic, social, and environmental) impacts within their communities. They do this by offering a suite of services to producers, buyers, and the wider community.”

In 2013 a National Food Hub Survey was conducted by the Wallace Center at Winrock International and MSU Center for Regional Food Studies. The survey resulted in several notable findings from the 107 food hubs that were interviewed. Conclusions indicated that food hubs across the country are increasing to broaden the distribution infrastructure for local food. From the survey, “62% of food hubs began operations within the last five years, 31% of food hubs had $1,000,000 or more in annual revenue and the majority of food hubs were supporting their businesses with little or no grant assistance.” The participating food hubs were asked to identify their greatest operational challenges which included, “managing growth, balancing supply and demand, access to capital, finding appropriate technology to manage operations, negotiating prices with producers and/or customers and finding reliable seasonal and/or part time staff.” Additionally, 96% of food hubs indicated that demand for their hubs’ products and services was growing.

“...31% of food hubs had $1,000,000 or more in annual revenue and the majority of food hubs were supporting their businesses with little or no grant assistance."

It is unsurprising that the progressive green state of Vermont boasts several food hubs. One shining example is the Intervale Food Hub located in Burlington, VT.  They are an online local foods market offering year-round delivery operated by a team of five employees. Intervale “collaborates with ecological farmers and food processors in the region to provide the community with an array of the highest quality foods.” Owned by the Intervale Center, the hub is committed to cultivating a local economy that sustains healthy food, farms, land and people. Over 30 farmers in Vermont work with the hub and are attracted by the stable, year-round market and fair prices (slightly higher than standard wholesale). Intervale also provides ongoing technical assistance and support, which enables farmers to grow and process more food, diversify production, develop specialty products and push the limits of Vermont’s growing season. From 2008-2010 the hub purchased $400,000 from farmers with an 80% annual growth in sales. Annual farm sales range from $1,000 to $30,000 per farm and there are many multi-farm collaborations (which improves farmer camaraderie and efficiencies in marketing and distribution).

The close relationship between the producers and the hub is made apparent to members through the hub’s goal of providing 100% transparency and traceability. Members are offered a variety of options such as “The Vermont Vegetable” which is a showcase of fresh vegetables, herbs, and fruit. This costs $55-$60 per week and is delivered weekly. For meat eaters, there’s “The Omnivore Package” which includes “The Vermont Vegetable” plus a combination of local meat, dairy, and specialty products. Also available are salmon, seafood, cheese, eggs, meat and bread.

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Colorful heirloom tomatoes ready for shipment.

Another food hub, Windham Farm and Food located in Brattleboro, VT, is an aggregation and delivery service providing access to local food. Richard Berkfield, Executive Director, explained that everything is done online. Farmers post what they have on the website, customer orders are due by Monday and deliveries occur soon after. This food hub began in 2009 and already by 2014 their annual sales were $213,000. Their largest sector is retail followed by public schools. Interestingly, senior living centers have also been a large market, accounting for 30%. “Collaborative efforts between buyers and sellers,” Berkfield believes, “are at the foundation for how [the hub] has worked so well. A lot of people came to the table to make this happen.”  This collaboration is key even for cold storage, which for example, has been done in high schools. One challenge they have to consider is that half of the Vermont schools have less than 100 students. This means that they could easily spend $100 of hub money to get $100 of produce delivered. Efficiency always has to be kept in mind. Berkfield feels that “total transparency is also a must.” Windham Farm and Food posts the cost for the farmers, the cost of distribution ($1.50/mile) and employee pay rate ($18/hr). Most of the farmers are “seasoned and well-established” so they are able to make up for the wholesale pricing through their retail markets. The hub sales only amount to 5% of the farmers’ total sales. Berkfield has found that it is a challenge for small farmers to be a part of the hub because of the required $1 million insurance liability.

Located farther north in the state of Vermonth, Green Mountain Farm Direct, is a regional food distribution system that provides Vermont farm products to schools and other institutions. Program Director Catherine Cusack, shared that they began in 2009. The order sizes have been growing and around 50% of the food goes to schools. “Since the school season and growing season don’t perfectly line up,” explained Cusack, “schools mostly order dairy, meat, flour, storage crops, frozen corn and frozen squash.” The rest of the products at Green Mountain are delivered to senior homes, grocery stores, prisons and hospitals. Cusack has found that Meet & Greet dinners have been a successful way to introduce the farmers to the consumers. An annual local food tradeshow offers a chance for relationship building. Green Mountain is currently looking for a USDA Local Food grant to help with marketing efforts – one area they want to strengthen. At this point they don’t have their own trucking but instead partner with delivery truck operations in their area. They hope that in time this food hub distribution system will assist farmers in northern VT to “scale-up” their operations.

A unique example of a food hub started by farmers on the seacoast of New Hampshire is Three River Farmers Alliance. This collaboration among three farms (Heron Pond Farm, Meadow's Mirth Farm and Stout Oak Farm) provides an online marketplace of locally grown and produced food. Their goal is for the farms to work together to meet the growing demand for local, sustainable food in the area. In past years, these three farmers had been selling to the same wholesale institutions, all driving separate vehicles to complete deliveries. Instead, they decided to unite forces and combine their wholesale produce onto one website. By Friday morning of each week, they list available items for sale where customers can then place orders using a Three River mobile app or from the website until midnight on Monday. The orders are reviewed and sent to the farmers on Tuesday so the items can be harvested, prepared and delivered by Wednesday and Thursday. Chefs on the seacoast who receive emails, texts and calls weekly from these farmers have been enjoying the ease of this system of ordering.

In the neighboring state of Massachusetts is Red Tomato, established in 1997 and located in Plainville, MA. They are “an ambitious non-profit that works its heart out to deliver fresh, great tasting produce while cultivating a more sustainable, ethical food system.” Through many years of experience, Red Tomato has developed innovative systems that rely on existing wholesale distribution in their area to deliver local food to grocery stores, produce distributors, restaurants, schools and colleges across the Northeast. They are proud to include over 48 local farmers who provide an impressive array of food items. Full descriptions of each farm with videos and pictures can be found on the Red Tomato website, educating consumers about production practices, farm histories and more.

When Red Tomato first began, they owned and operated their own warehouse and trucks. Staff would drive to farms to pick up the product, store it and put it back on a delivery truck. After several years of “trying to do it all,” they realized this system was actually limiting their growth. In 2005, the decision was made to divest the warehouse and trucks, instead relying on farmers with storage capacity to aggregate products, and have farmers, distributors or logistics companies to move the product to its final destination. Susan Futrell, Director of Marketing, shared that at Red Tomato their biggest accomplishment and biggest challenge is the same: “…bringing all of the elements that matter to us – top quality, incredibly fresh produce, fair prices to the farmer, transparency at every level, local/regional supply, environmental stewardship, farm ID & stories that reach all the way to the shopper, and efficient orders for the customer – and delivering all of that via a wholesale supply chain at a competitive, fair price. The dominant supply chains are not set up to make any of this easy for mid-size, local farms. It takes a huge amount of collaboration, coordination, creativity and just plain hard work to make it happen. We're proud that, more often than not, we do right by the farmers we work with, and make their fabulous produce available to consumers in the local grocery store.”

To get a sense of how local produce goes to market, visit Red Tomato's website for a short video:

 

Out in Ann Arbor, Michigan situated 45 minutes west of Detroit, consumers and producers are also trying to find ways to efficiently move food. The Wastenaw Food Hub’s mission is to “provide facilities and market channels to increase the economic viability of diversified farms, develop small businesses, and provide community benefits that will strengthen our food system and local economy.” By developing a food hub facility and network, they hope to create a thriving community of “triple bottom line” farm and food businesses to achieve a sustainable regional food system. The Washtenaw Food Hub is a limited liability corporation formed in 2011 by successful organic growers and professionals in food service, project management and real estate. They are ambitiously restoring a historic 16-acre farm with the mission to serve public and institutional demand for local food as well as strengthen farm and food businesses. This hub plans to be a single point of contact for local food purchasing, processing, aggregation, storage and distribution. Their shared-use Value-added Processing and Commercial Kitchen Facility for qualified businesses bring the hub closer to reaching their overall sustainability goals.

The scale of food hubs can range from a few farmers joining forces casually online, to an all-encompassing source of local food marketing, processing, aggregation and distribution. The Puget Sound Food Hub in Mount Vernon, WA, aims large and casts a huge food system net. Located on the intriguing coast of north-west Washington, speckled with islands and west of the majestic Cascade Range, their goal is to increase access to locally grown food as well as improving market access and economic sustainability for northwest Washington farms. Currently, farmers can proudly state that their products are entering restaurants, hospitals, preschools, grocery stores, commissaries, home-delivered meal programs, childcare centers and universities. At the beginning, the Puget Sound Food Hub was initiated as a weekly wholesale market in a parking lot of the Skagit Valley Food Co-op. There was no online ordering or streamlined payment system, no cold storage and no aggregated delivery. Today, the Puget Sound Food Hub is a network of farms and partners operating cooperatively in the Puget Sound region to market and distribute locally produced food.

Farmers are ensured that their product is never mixed or combined with another farmer’s product. A box of product is packed at the farm and stays in that box with traceable identification labeling back to the farm that produced it. In their words, “It’s not a warehouse store selling nameless, faceless ‘local.’” The hub ensures food safety and manages risk by requiring all hub aggregation sites and distribution partners to create and comply with GAP and HACCP plans, and requiring everyone along the supply chain to carry appropriate licenses and product liability insurance coverage. An eligibility checklist is required for all farmers interested in applying. Examples include obtaining a business license, paying $50 for an annual membership, following marketing guidelines, having at least one year of direct marketing experience and providing proof of coverage for a $1M or $2M policy. After these steps are completed, farmers receive login credentials to the Puget Sound Food Hub website.

Another inspiring organization, The North Valley Food Hub, is located in Chico, CA, approximately 1.5 hours north of Sacramento. The North Valley mission is to provide “critical services to both growers and wholesale buyers that include creating a one-stop shopping platform for buyers and a marketplace for growers to post and promote their products.” The hub also serves as a centralized facilitator for creating and expanding local food markets in California’s North Valley.

It was through many deliberate and intelligent steps that the decision was made to form the North Valley Food Hub in the summer of 2014. It started in 2009 when the Local Food Systems program was established at the Northern California Regional Land Trust. The first step was to begin the Buy Fresh Buy Local, North Valley campaign. In 2011, the program systematically measured the North Valley region’s capacity to feed itself with locally produced food by comparing crop production patterns with consumption patterns. Remarkably, the estimates showed that 70% of consumption needs could be met with local production in the region. A survey given to 200 growers and 25 wholesale buyers confirmed that, “20% of growers were not producing at capacity from a lack of consistent markets, 79% of growers said they would grow more if there was a market and 55% said they would use a food hub if one was available in the region.” Furthermore, buyers stated that the difficulty of managing the logistics of buying from multiple growers kept them from sourcing more food locally. The research made it very clear that the local food system for the North Valley region would not flourish without infrastructure like a food hub, an online purchasing system, cold-storage and eventually coordination of transportation logistics.

Interested farmers can begin by creating a profile on the website. Once verified by the North Valley Food Hub Market Manager they can begin listing their products and quantities. This can help farmers overcome the challenges and logistics related to managing multiple relationships, sorting out food safety requirements and marketing. As for interested buyers, they also create an account, agree to the terms of the service and need to be verified by the Market Manager. The buyers can purchase from multiple growers through one order and can also aggregate like-products from different growers in order to meet larger volume demand. North Valley Food Hub is an excellent example of how thoughtful research can result in a meaningful and necessary addition to a region’s food system sustainability.

In 2011, FarmAid estimated that there were over 100 food hubs in the USA and numbers were on the rise. By 2013, the National Food Hub Survey was sent to 222 food hubs revealing the growth in just two years. While this article only highlighted a handful of hubs and their impact on the food system, there are hundreds of unmentioned individuals working to answer the question posed by New Entry’s Petcosky, “How can we feed a nation without big agriculture?”

 

Resources:

New Entry Food Hub: http://nesfp.org/world-peas-food-hub

Intervale Food Hub: http://intervalefoodhub.com/

Windham Farm and Food: www.foodconnects.org/windham-farm-and-food.html

Green Mountain Farm Direct: www.greenmountainfarmdirect.org/

Three River Farmer Alliance https://www.threeriverfa.com/

Red Tomato: http://www.redtomato.org/about/

North Valley Food Hub: http://northvalleyfoodhub.com/farmers/

Wastenaw Food Hub: http://washtenawfoodhub.com/contact-us/#

Puget Sounds Food Hub:  http://www.pugetsoundfoodhub.com/farmers/

A Guide for Scaling up Food Hubs by New Entry: http://nesfp.org/resources/guide-scaling-food-hubs

 

 

 

Transform Fava Beans to a Delicious Dish

 

Eric Skokan is a chef, author, and owner of Black Cat and Bramble & Harerestaurants in Boulder, Colorado. Photo courtesy of Kristin Boyer Photography.

By Eric Skokan

Fava beans are hard to beat for flavor, versatility and soil health. They remain somewhat unfamiliar to most Americans, and they come bearing baggage — rumor has it, fava beans are “difficult” in the kitchen.

But as a longtime chef, I urge you to resist the rumor-mongerers. Preparing fava beans for eating requires a little bit more work than a bouquet of red oak leaf lettuce. But the work is not onerous. And the payoff is exceptional.

For starters, fava beans are legumes, and fix nitrogen in the soil. This saves money and time — no need to broadcast nitrogen amendments to soil that has been fortified with favas. So the payoff begins long before the first farmers’ market sale, with rejuvenated soil.

It continues in early spring, before the pods are harvested. At Black Cat Farm in Boulder, Colorado, where we farm 130 acres to supply our two restaurants and our farmers’ market stand with vegetables, meats, herbs, and more, we plant a bed of favas to supply us with greens as well as beans. The greens taste like favas, and they sauté like spinach. Early in the season, when your market and restaurant customers start coming down with spinach fatigue, you surprise them with fava greens.

And then you astonish them – with fava flowers. The edible flowers are captivating, gorgeous, multi-hued blossoms that carry fava flavor with great delicacy and nuance.

Finally, the pods, the long, curved sleeves packed with plump beans. We harvest a lot of young favas, and urge customers to slick them with olive oil and salt and toss them on the grill until blisters begin appearing on the skin. The next step is a breeze: commence eating. No need to open the sleeves and scrape out the beans, no demand for the removal of the jackets that encase the beans. The juvenile pods, hot from the grill, are a treasure.

Mature fava beans do require a little bit of work, but it is not a big deal. For example, fava beans make a superb hummus, and my approach does not require the removal of the jackets from the beans. You simply open the sleeve, remove the beans with their jackets, boil them until tender, toss them in a food processor with garlic, sesame oil, lime juice and salt. The dish is a wonder.

Plenty of dishes for mature fava beans will demand slipping-off the jackets from the beans, and this is the “difficult” part that the rumor-mongerers love to crow about. The work can be mildly time consuming, but I don’t find that it is any more toil than cleaning, peeling and dicing carrots for a dish. With the beans, once the jackets have been doffed, it is time to move on to the next bean. There is no back-and-forth with a vegetable peeler, no meticulous cutting.

Fava beans remain fairly exotic in most part of America, which is a gift. We find that an awful lot of our farmers’ market customers are food-savvy, and always on the hunt for new vegetables and varieties. And for those who sell to restaurants, too, are likely to find eager buyers. Good chefs live for local, seasonal treasures like fava beans and will find ways to quickly incorporate them into their menus.

A cover crop that we eat and sell? A plant that gives us early greens and flowers, young fruit that petitions for one style of dish, then mature fruit that wants a variety of different preparations? A one-of-a-kind flavor?

Even if fava beans were indeed “difficult,” I would grow them. But really, they are a cinch.

Eric Skokan is the chef and owner of Black Cat and Bramble & Hare restaurants in Boulder, Colorado. In addition, he grows (organically!) and raises nearly all his own vegetables and meat for the restaurants and a farmers market stand. Last year he published his first cookbook: Fork, Farm, Food which was an IACP finalist for best cookbook of the year. More information can be found at http://farmforkfood.com

A Taste of Urban Agriculture

by Renee Ciulla

The trend of eating healthy, local food and knowing the farmer who produced your food has moved far beyond the UrbanAg3countryside. City residents play a significant role in the local food movement as well. In fact, when researching urban agriculture it’s incredible to realize that cities not only produce impressive vegetables and are home to legitimate farmers, but they also grow large amounts of farm-based education.

Even the United States Department of Agriculture has noted the importance of city gardens. Secretary Vilsack began the People's Garden Initiative in 2009 as an “effort to challenge employees to create gardens at USDA facilities. It has since grown into a collaborative effort of over 700 local and national organizations all working together to establish community and school gardens across the country.” They believe that the simple act of planting a garden can help unite neighborhoods in a common effort and inspire locally-led solutions to challenges facing our country. As of November 2014, there were 2,116 People's Gardens in all 50 states, three U.S. territories and eight foreign countries with 3.9 million pounds of produce donated. Recipients range from Homer, Alaska on the Southern Kenai Peninsula to San Carlos, Arizona on the Apache Reservation working with Youth and Family Gardens.

Interestingly, the Trust for Public Land, a U.S. national, nonprofit organization that conserves land for parks, gardens and open space, has also taken interest in the urban agriculture movement. For example, in Boston TPL has partnered with the organization, Green City Growers. Soon after the 1st urban agriculture zoning law went into effect in Boston, the TPL noted that the city owned over 2,000 vacant lots totaling around 500 acres. By working with urban ag groups, they are able to assist with water connections which can cost around $20K. The TPL currently hopes to get a total of 3 acres in production while working with Green City Growers. Of course having political leaders in place who support urban agriculture is also an important key to the puzzle. According to Karen Washington, President of the NYC Community Garden Coalition, “Land tenure in a city is always a political issue. Your land tenure is only as good as the current administration.” Washington works tirelessly in New York City neighborhoods to bring fresh food to local residents. She stressed that, “Urban agriculture isn’t just about preservation. You’ve also got to look at job creation, economical development and ownership. We need to talk to urban developers about keeping some open space. This is necessary for future generations.” Fortunately, there are now several American cities with urban agriculture ordinances such as Portland, OR, Minneapolis, MN, Seattle, WA, Detroit, MI and Cleveland, OH.

An extraordinary urban agriculture site that shouldn’t be overlooked is The Food Project, producing on over 70 acres in Boston, Lincoln, Lynn, Beverly, and Wenham, Massachusetts. Heather Hammel, Volunteer and Outreach Coordinator, stated that they work with approximately 2,700 untrained volunteers every year. Many come on a regular basis, but others come as part of corporate, community, and school groups. The Food Project has CSA programs in Metro Boston, Lincoln, Beverly, and Lynn and sell at three farmers markets. There are 404 households who are a part of the market-rate CSAs and another 161 households who participate in a subsidized CSA program called the Farm to Family Program. According to Hammel, their priority is, “…establishing an urban farming enterprise that suits the needs of the community and also can incorporate fluctuating numbers of youth and adult volunteers and staff. The Food Project gauges its success by the experience of their youth and adult volunteers and reactions and purchases of local customers.”

UrbanAg1Danielle Andrews, the farm manager of The Food Project, emphasized the significance of the City of Boston creating urban agriculture zoning in December 2013. Furthermore, they were fortunate to have had former Mayor Menino who supported urban agriculture and youth development work. “These new laws for zoning were a result of private individuals and businesses wanting to be involved in urban agriculture work,” explained Andrews, “and the City seeing the need for zoning in order to shape the movement and ensure safety and fairness.” An important tip for those who are pursuing urban agriculture enterprises is to look up when a Town’s Comprehensive Plan is due to be updated, so efforts can be made to rewrite the zoning codes.

In recent years, The Food Project has turned to high end markets (mostly selling salad greens, pea and radish shoots) to bolster their income. Andrews has found that the mixed vegetable sales to the local community does not generate much income and requires a lot more work than the salad greens and shoots. One of the more unique crops they have grown in the past is okra, and their most profitable are: salad mix, arugula, baby spinach, pea and radish shoots and tomatoes. Customer favorites include: salad greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, collards, garlic, habaneros, shishito peppers and kale. Andrews’ final contemplative thoughts carry a broader message; “I worry a lot that people are turning to urban agriculture for food access, but I think it is quite limited from that perspective. It is best used as an educational and social change tool because by engaging consumers in the act of agriculture we have a unique opportunity to engage them in food system change. This is the true worth of urban agriculture.”

Another urban agriculture example also in the city of Boston is Green City Growers. Augusta Nichols-Even, the Marketing Director, walked me through their dizzying array of farm projects. Although the farms aren’t certified organic, they all employ organic methods. The largest farm is ½ acre, atop Whole Foods Market in Lynnfield, MA. According to Nichols-Even, “The land/rooftops we farm on are generally privately owned by residential or corporate clients, and we also farm at schools and other municipal locations. We are in talks to lease municipal lots in Somerville and East Boston.” Many of their clients are residential; they’ve installed over 450 raised beds and continue to maintain about 150 every year. Additionally, they have a dozen corporate gardens at sites like Google, Verizon, National Grid and Athena health. These sites donate half or all of their produce to the food bank, Food for Free, in Cambridge. Proudly, Augusta shared that in 2014 over 1,000 pounds of organically grown produce was donated from the corporate gardens. Green City Growers does not have a CSA or sell at markets, but plans to have farmstands at many of the municipal lots established this year to serve the immediate community. Tomatoes have been their most profitable and popular crop. The Urban Agriculture ordinances that have passed in Somerville and Boston have minimized any conflicts related to growing food in the city. To reduce soil contamination they grow in raised beds instead of directly in the soil. As for urban chickens, each municipality still has their own rules which require the staff to be vigilant about understanding the differences.

One of their most significant achievements will hopefully be mirrored by other urban ag groups across the country. They have partnered with Whole Foods to create the largest rooftop farm in New England and the first rooftop farm on a grocery store. Equally incredible is that they created raised bed gardens and educational programming at all 5 elementary schools across the City of Beverly. Nichols-Even highlighted exactly what this means; “…every third grader in all of Beverly learns how to grow their own food over the course of the school year, and classroom curriculum is woven into garden lessons to enhance their learning.” Another exciting development for Green City Growers is working with one of the largest real estate companies, Boston Properties, who regularly includes GCG on new construction projects to incorporate edible green space. “The challenge,” says Nichols-Even, “has been to shift the mindset of municipalities and corporations. Urban farming isn't just something cute for retirees who listen to NPR to fill their days with; it's an increasingly important element of urban life that should be included in every urban planning discussion and project.”UrbanAg2

Jennifer Hashley, Director of New Entry Sustainable Agriculture Project, feels that with all future urban and non-urban ag projects, the issue of leases must be incorporated and given top priority. Located in Massachusetts, this non-profit manages semi-urban incubator farms for future farmers to try out farming without a huge investment. From Hashley’s experience leasing land for New Entry, she has come to believe that, “A 5-10 year lease just isn’t long to fully feel ownership. Building soil and infrastructure takes time… 99 yrs would be more appropriate!” When considering elements of a good land lease, please check out examples provided by Land For Good and Equity Trust, whose contacts are listed in the Resources section at the end of this article.

Land trusts can also play a prominent role in urban agriculture and are familiar with the importance of effective leases. In the opinion of Margaret DeVos, Executive Director of Southside Community Land Trust located in the city of Providence, RI, “Rhode Island is incredibly progressive when it comes to agriculture. Rhode Islanders don’t worry about zoning laws because plant production and raising chickens are both ‘legal’.” Interestingly, RI is the second most expensive state to buy agricultural land ($11,800/acre), so Southside is working hard to make farming possible. Urban Edge Farm, one of the many Southside farms, is 15 acres and has a land easement placed through a partnership with The Nature Conservancy. The land is leased to 7 farmers who can stay as long as they want. When they are ready to leave, Southside will help them search for land.

Moving west across the country to the state of Kentucky is Louisville Grows, founded in 2009 by Mason Roberts. Their mission is “to grow a just and sustainable community in Louisville, Kentucky, through urban agriculture, urban forestry, and environmental education.” Programs include community gardens, Love Louisville Trees, the Seeds and Starts Garden Resource Program, and the Urban Growers Cooperative. Louisville Grows coordinates the Cooperative by organizing a time and tool bank, assisting in land access, coordinating sales and delivery with retailers and growers, and by providing low-cost seeds and plants. Louisville Grows offers an impressive assortment of services include educational opportunities related to sustainability and social justice, free or subsidized plants and seeds for home and community gardeners, community space to garden and education for beginning gardeners, increasing Louisville’s tree canopy through coordinated volunteer training and plantings and coordinating and distributing produce from urban farmers to neighborhoods with limited access to fresh food. Staff at Louisville Grows directs residents of Louisville to the VAP STAT website, which provides users with a wide list of properties governed by the Louisville Metro Government and other city wide agencies. Their motto is “from vacant spaces to productive places,” and they recently awarded several groups with land parcels through the Lots of Possibility competition. VAP STAT is a necessary link for successful urban agriculture initiatives.

On the West coast in the city of Seattle, visitors are often struck by the large plots of verdant, organized raised beds in substantial numbers appearing in every neighborhood. These food-producing beds are a part of the P-Patch Program, a community gardening program of the City of Seattle's Department of Neighborhoods, open to Seattle residents. For the past 40 years, staff have partnered with volunteers, local non-profit organizations, Seattle Housing Authority and other agencies to support, develop and manage community gardening in Seattle. In total, there are now 88 P-Patches distributed throughout the city, with plot size ranging from 40 and 400 ft². The community gardeners are producing food on almost 15 acres of land and in addition steward 18.8 acres for the public. The name, P-Patch, originated from its first community garden, Picardo Farm. The gardeners are required to complete a minimum of 8 hours of community work per year in order to take part in the program. Furthermore, there are plot rental fees including a $27 application fee and $13 for each 100 ft² of garden space.

In 2013 Seattle P-Patch Market Gardens provided produce for approximately 57 households over 20 weeks. There are two community supported agriculture (CSA) gardens located in and worked by residents in Southeast and Southwest Seattle. Each garden also sells produce on site at a weekly farm stand. The P-Patches are a stellar example of an open space resource for all members of the community. Hopefully they motivate other cities in the USA to provide green places to share love of gardening, cultivate friendships, strengthen neighborhoods, increase self-sufficiency, create wildlife habitat, relieve hunger, improve nutrition and enjoy the recreational and therapeutic benefits.

Resources:

Green City Growers: www.growmycitygreen.com

The Food Project: www.thefoodproject.org

Boston Urban Agriculture Zoning: http://www.cityofboston.gov/food/urbanag

Southside Community Land Trust: http://www.southsideclt.org/about

Urban Edge Farm, a Southside farm: http://www.southsideclt.org/urbanedge

New Entry Sustainable Agriculture Project: www.nesfp.org/

NYC Community Garden Coalition: www.nyccgc.org

Trust for Public Land: www.tpl.org

Land For Good: www.landforgood.org

Equity Trust: www.equitytrust.org/

Louisville Grows: http://www.louisvillegrows.org/

USDA’s The People’s Garden: http://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/usda/usdahome?navid=PEOPLES_GARDEN

P-Patch Community Gardens Seattle: http://www.seattle.gov/neighborhoods/ppatch/

Farm Photo Friday: May 8, 2015

Every Friday we share some snaps from our 333-acres in Kutztown, PA. Our photographers? The staff members who keep this farm chugging along. Enjoy a sneak peek at what’s going on here at Rodale Institute!

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All hands on deck! Together, all the employees stepped up to help weed and prepare the gardens for the upcoming weddings! Even the cat is getting in on the action!

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Xena and Houdini don't have any weeds in their pen, so they decided to sleep in.

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Spring flowers mean it's go time for the bees to pollinate! Come see what all the buzz is about at our honeybee conservancy!

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These hives aren't just placed randomly. They're arranged in the shape of an octagon and face South East. This is where the sun rises, which is beneficial for the bees and helps them to build wax.

IMG_8207One small step for hog; one giant leap for hog kind! The future is in sight for the hogs as they begin to transition into the Hog Facility.

IMG_8223"I call dibs on the bigger bed!"

By the end of the summer, these orchards will be filling up with Liberty and Empire apples. But for now, we are enjoying the summer flowers!

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The farm has exploded with flowers and greenery! Take the afternoon to enjoy the scenery with us by signing up for a tour or attending an upcoming event! If you're wondering, all that white stuff isn't snow! It's kaolin clay, a natural chalk-like substance that we use to keep insects from eating the plants. It's safe to humans and doesn't hurt the insects. Think of it this way:  if you had to eat through an inch of chalk to get to the apple, would you eat it?

IMG_8274Can you imagine how this brick pathway will look this weekend? We can! Beautiful flowers, a beautiful wedding and a beautiful bride!

IMG_8299Aaron Kinsman, Media Relations Specialist,  is bringing down the hammer with style!

IMG_8304Jesse Barrett, Organic Allentown Program Manager, and Dan Kemper, Strategic Support Team Member, are getting down and dirty while weeding!

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There's a new animal in town! Heather Kaiser, Communications Intern, brought in her new puppy, Cooper. There was a collective "awww!" in the office!

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Rick Carr, Compost Production Specialist, and Jesse Barrett, Organic Allentown Program Manager, are building the very first Organic Allentown vertical growing gardens! Check them out at Lehigh valley heritage museum in Allentown.

Don't forget...Show your organic love!