Exciting things are afoot on the farm for the 2015 growing season! The farm applied and was accepted last year into a matching enterprise grant program. This grant is providing half of the funding for our new propagation house which is being constructed this coming summer. In addition to the grant, this program involved a large amount of technical assistance and business planning. During the planning process, the idea came about of going for organic certification.
The dance of being an organic practices farm that is not certified has been an interesting one for the past five seasons. Like many other farmers who are not certified, we spun a myriad of terms to avoid using the word organic in our marketing and signage. ‘Sustainable’ was often our word of choice. It was great at the farmer’s market when customers inquired about whether or not we were organic and we could respond with, “We’re not certified, but we follow organic practices.” At that the point the customer knew us and we formed relationships based on their trust that we were farming with integrity.
From an ecological stand point, we are entering into a very scary time for the food chain. Honey bees, Monarch Butterflies and various song birds are literally the canary in the cage for a large scale experiment in the rampant use of pesticides in the agriculture industry. We’ve known from day one that our farm is a form of resistance against massive agribusinesses and the chemicals they support. At the same time, the rebels in us also balked at the idea of shelling out the money and time involved in applying for organic certification. It seemed to us it was just another agency trying to make money off of our already meager farm earnings.
What became apparent during the grant business planning process was that as the farm grows over the next five years, we may not have the luxury of meeting and chatting with every single customer that wants to do business with us. Without that face to face interaction the consumer has no way of distinguishing between our product, which is produced organically and another farm’s product which they call sustainable, when in fact it could be sprayed with who knows what and grown using chemical fertilizers that are ending up in our waterways and oceans. We’ve been sensitive to the term ‘greenwashing’ since day one. It hurts to watch conventional farmers sell plants and produce to consumers and know that the customer is assuming it is organic and ethically grown because they are at a farmer’s market or the product is local. This is why we always encourage customers to ASK their farmer and not assume they are purchasing an organic product.
So what were we to do as a small farm with limited resources? We couldn’t follow our plants and produce around with a bull horn yelling, “We don’t spray!” to every customer that comes into contact with our products, especially as our business grew. We also began to find that many of our potential wholesale customers could not purchase our organic produce for their organic products because we did not carry certification. So, we took the leap and dove into the long process of applying with Baystate Organic Certifiers.
The application process in itself is daunting to attempt as a small farmer who already wears so many hats in the business. The only time of year when there is time to go through the process is the dead of winter. The huge road block with this is that it is also the time of year when the farm has no income AND when many of the material expenses are incurred.
Enter team Fire Cider. This local company has taken their spin on a traditional tonic and turned it into a great example of a successful and ethically run business in our area. When Fire Cider was founded, they received community support from other businesses and they wanted to be able to extend this gesture to the next generation of sustainably minded entrepreneurs. They chose to assist a farmer with certification costs because they want to be able to source more ingredients for their product from local farms and not many in our area have organic certification. They also recognize that the food system needs to be fixed and consumers need to know that the products they consume (whether it’s a tonic or a turnip) is clean, safe and actually good for them. Coincidentally, the busiest time of year for Fire Cider Sales, a tonic that supports the immune system, is cold and flu season, the dead of winter. It was a perfect match.
Shortly after writing the painful check to our organic certifying agency, Fire Cider approached the farm about assisting with our certification costs. A program already exists which reimburses farmers up to 75% of the cost of certification, but it doesn’t happen until October. Fire Cider provided us with a loan for the 75% we will be reimbursed for and a donation to cover the remaining 25% of our expenses.
It was surprising for us to hear the great news that someone wanted to help us cover our certification costs, but we really shouldn’t be surprised after doing business in the Pittsfield area these past 5 years. Through all of it’s struggles, this community is emerging as a resilient and innovative area with a strong pulse in the sustainable food and business movement. We’re excited to announce that we are now certified with Baystate Certifiers as an ORGANIC producer. Thanks so much to everyone over at Team Fire Cider for lending a hand at just the right moment, we can’t wait to get growing in 2015!