The Massachusetts chapter of the Northeast Organic Farming Association. NOFA/Mass welcomes everyone who cares about food, where it comes from and how it’s grown

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This article comes from the NOFA/Massachusetts 2015 December Issue Newsletter

By Laura Davis

Roberto at Eva's

Imagine your customer’s delight when they find out you decided to apply for organic certification. Imagine the new customers that will come your way because you have certified organic food. Imagine being able to get a better price for the food that you worked hard to produce because you decided to certify. These are results noted by  farms and handlers that certified in 2015 after receiving some help from the NOFA/Mass Organic Assistance Program.

What are you waiting for? Pull out your phone and text or call me now at 508-596-1651. We can set up some time to get going on your organic certification paperwork.

The farmers and handlers that we worked with in 2014-15 for the most part had been operating under five years. Organic certification gives your customers the confidence that you are following the National Organic Program standards.

The NOFA/Mass Organic Assistance Program started in September 2014 through a contracted project with the USDA called Sound and Sensible, through which the USDA was trying to make organic certification more straightforward for those wanting to certify their farm or product. The response from members looking for help with their organic system plan was overwhelming. Of the 12 farms that asked for help from NOFA/Mass, 8 operations applied to Baystate Organic Certifiers and were approved for certification prior to June of 2015. Others will likely be working on their paperwork again in their off season.  

One newly certified operation is Eva’s Farm Organic Butcher Shop in Middleton, MA. Roberto and Barriann Alonzo opened their butcher shop about a year ago and contacted NOFA/Mass to get help with their Organic System Plan. They wanted to be able to buy certified organic meat from farmers and be able to cut according to the customers’ preferences. For an organic handler, it is important to be able to insure that organic and non-organic products cannot commingle, so record keeping and process control was critical to keep both meats separate. Eva’s Farm is currently approved to be able to cut, sell, and package organic chickens and beef as well as some pre-packaged meat products. What is exciting is that the direct supply chain is now in place for a certified organic farmer to sell meat to Adams Farm Slaughterhouse in Athol (also organically certified) and then to Eva’s Farm Organic Butcher Shop. Roberto will cut and package meat fresh for the customer all the while insuring the organic integrity of the meat.

Those who were fortunate to work with us during the 2015 growing season were not charged for this service because the USDA paid the project fees that helped us make the service available for free. NOFA/Mass and Baystate Organic Certifiers believe this is a valuable service for farmers. In order to fund the program for the coming year, we will be asking for a reasonable hourly fee.

The average time spent with each farm is about 10 hours for one application. Some farms only needed 4 hours of help; some needed 24 hours. This all depends on the size of the farm and whether the operation wants to certify crops, livestock, dairy, poultry, pickles, wild crops and/or sprouts.  Time spent also depends on the farmer’s computer aptitude and existing records. When surveyed after the fact, farmers who used the service in 2015 believed that the assistance would have been well worth a small fee.

Give me a call, tell me about your operation, and we can talk through expected costs. I can be reached at 508-596-1651 or lauradavis@nofamass.org. Time to assist NOFA/Mass members who want to certify livestock and crops will be charged at $20/hour plus applicable mileage if required. NOFA/Mass non-members, and operations requiring a handler application, will be charged $40/hour plus applicable mileage if required.

An Organic Certification Assistance discount is one of the many benefits of being a NOFA/Mass member. To become a NOFA/Mass member and see all the benefits that membership offers, visit www.nofamass.org/membership

There are many different ways to get help depending on your situation. Applications for organic certification are separated by crops, poultry, livestock (ruminant or non-ruminant), wild crops, sprouts, dairy, and handling/processing. Below are some of the services offered through the Organic Certification Assistance Program:

  • Phone Consultation: Need help with a question on the application? Not sure what the question really means? A phone consultation can help us determine approximately how much time will be required to assist you and approximate cost. Up to 1 hour is free.

  • Review of application: Hard copy or electronic review of application dossier completed by operator. This is done prior to you sending the dossier to the certifier. It helps to insure that your package is complete.

  • Collaboration on application: Shared file on which both operator and coordinator can collaborate together on Dropbox to complete the paperwork.

  • Farm visit: A great way for me as coordinator to get a better picture of your operation in order to help with the certification process, especially if you have a multifaceted operation. This is not always geographically possible but will be discussed during your consultation call. Mileage to and from farm will be charged at the IRS allowable rate.

  • Phone questions: If there is a question that needs an answer from a Certifier, I am a phone call away and can discuss difficult questions without having to identify the farm. Certifiers are not allowed to consult with their clients, but the NOFA/Mass Certification Assistance Coordinator can.

My farm has been organically certified for crops since April 2013. Baystate Organic Certifiers has trained me for this NOFA/Mass position to be able to assist you. In addition, I have just completed a one-week organic inspector’s course through the International Organic Inspectors Association (IOIA) which further educated me about how organic inspectors inspect organic farms.

I look forward to speaking with you soon!

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