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What Does It Take To Be A California Certified Farmer?

Would you like to make a living as an organic farmer?

FarmersGoing Organic recently became the educational component of the non-profit, Transition to Organics, Coachella Valley, which is dedicated to helping local farmers make the switch from pesticide farming to organic methods. We asked Paul Palodichuk, general manager of the Coachella Valley Certified Farmers’ Markets, to tell us what steps are required to become an organic farmer and how to become certified and eligible to sell what you grow at the farmers’ market.

Here’s What It Takes To Become A Certified Organic Farmer
by Paul Palodichuk

Paul_PalodichukNot only is the consumption of organic foods on the rise, the number of California Certified Organic Farmers is increasing, and for a number of reasons. Organic farmers receive premium prices for their products, their farming protects natural resources and supports local economies, and organic products are healthier because they’re free from synthetic pesticides, genetically modified seeds, preservatives and additives.

Certainly, it takes time and effort to become a California Certified Organic Farmer, but if the growth of organic farming is any indicator, it appears to be considerably worthwhile and rewarding.

To learn more about what it takes to be a California Certified Organic Farmer,
we turned to local resident expert, Paul Palodichuk, who manages the Farmers’
Markets in Palm Springs, Palm Desert and La Quinta.

Is there a difference between a certified farm and a certified organic farm?

PAUL: It’s important to distinguish that becoming a certified farm in California does not automatically make it a “certified organic” farm. There is a particular process to become a certified organic farm that includes; paying for and submitting an application to a third party certifier, such as California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF)—a USDA accredited organic certifying agency and trade association, as well as formulating an Organic System Plan (OSP).

What are the requirements to become a Certified Farmer?

It takes a lot to become a Certified Farmer in the state of California. Since certification helps smaller farms, it is usually the small to mid-size farms that apply. The farm must contact their local county where they plan to grow or are growing produce. Then they must fill out an application prior to inspection, with very important information, from size of farm, type of commodity, variety they plan, or are growing, how much is planted, how much will be harvested, where there will be storage, and what season it will be harvested.

After completing the application, and it is accepted by the County Agriculture Supervisors office, the farm will have its first, of many, County Agriculture inspections. This is to make sure the farmer grows the produce he/she is selling. Once county-inspected and the inspection fee is paid, the farm will be issued a Certified Producer Certificate (CPC) with all the required information verifying the farm. These CPC’s must be available, even to the public, at all times when a farm is selling at a Certified Farmers’ Market. Farmers’ Markets also inspect farms to be certain that the farmer is staying true to their CPC status.

Why would a farmer choose to be certified?

CarrotsHere are some good reasons:
•  A chance to be part of the growing number of farms within the growing number of Certified Farmers’ Markets in California. (Certification does not necessarily guarantee a spot in a Certified Farmers’ Market.)
•  Integrity. Commitment.
•  Often selling in your county or adjacent county
•  Reaching local buyers
•  Helping boost a local economy through the “true fruits of one’s labor.”
How is it possible to know where your food comes from?
In California, there is a way. The California Certified Farmers’ Market program was established in 1978 by Governor Jerry Brown. Governor Brown signed legislation known as the Direct Marketing Act. This enabled California farmers to sell their own produce directly to consumers at locations designated by the Department of Agriculture.

How can a farmer who wants to sell at Farmers’ Markets become eligible to do so?

Regarding Farmers’ Markets, the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) website states, “Until 1977, regulations required farmers to properly pack, size, and label their fresh fruits, nuts, and vegetables in standard containers to transport and sell in markets anywhere other than the farm site. Certified Farmers’ Markets in 1977, by Department regulations, exempted farmers from packing, sizing, and labeling requirements. The direct marketing of agricultural products through CFMs benefits the agricultural community and consumers. CFMs provide a flexible marketing alternative without disrupting other produce marketing systems. The high quality and fresh produce brought to the CFMs by its producers creates a diverse market and also provides the consumer with opportunity to meet the farmer and learn how their food supply is produced. CFMs provide a great opportunity for small farmers to market their products without the added expenses of commercial preparation. This increases their net income and makes it possible for them to stay in business. There are approximately 700 certified farmers’ markets and approximately 2,200 certified producers.”

How Much Does Organic Certification Cost?

According to the USDA, actual certification costs or fees vary widely depending on the certifying agent and the size, type, and complexity of your operation. Certification costs may range from a few hundred to several thousand dollars. Before you apply, it is important to understand your certifier’s fee structure and billing cycle. Typically, there is an application fee, annual renewal fee, assessment on annual production or sales, and inspection fees.

Can a farmer sell direct through Consumer Supported Agriculture?

CSA_girlAccording to LocalHarvest, “For over 25 years, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) has become a popular way for consumers to buy local, seasonal food directly from a farmer.

“Here are the basics: a farmer offers a certain number of “shares” to the public. Typically the share consists of a box of vegetables, but other farm products may be included. Interested consumers purchase a share (aka, a “membership” or a “subscription”) and in return receive a box (bag, basket) of seasonal produce each week throughout the farming season.

1)  Advantages for farmers: get to spend time marketing the food early in the year, before their 16 hour days in the field begin.

2)  Receive payment early in the season, which helps with the farm’s cash flow

3)  Have an opportunity to get to know the people who eat the food they grow.

It’s a simple enough idea, but its impact has been profound. Tens of thousands of families have joined CSAs, and in some areas of the country, there is more demand than there are CSA farms to fill it. The government does not track CSAs, so there is no official count of how many CSAs there are in the U.S. LocalHarvest has the most comprehensive directory of CSA farms, with over 4,000 listed in the grassroots database.”

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