Please support our policy advocacy work

Beginning Farmers Top the List Again: 2014 Policy Priority Survey results

Big thanks to the roughly 15% of Tilth Producers membership who responded to our 2014 Policy Priority Survey! We asked members to rate about 20 policy priorities from “not a priority” to “top priority.” Members were also asked to select ways in which they would like to engage in policy advocacy.

Summary of the results:

Policy survey 2014 image


Top 10 Policy Priorities for Tilth Producers of Washington Members, 2014:

Beginning farmers and ranchers
Farmland Preservation
Local food system development
GMO regulation
Access to fresh food for children & Seniors
Research and Education
Farm Bill
Renewable Energy

Beginning farmers and ranchers ranked as the top priority issue, with 98% of survey respondents listing it as a top or medium priority. Farmland preservation came in as a close second. Local food system development ranked third, but was identified by the most respondents as their “one top issue.” GMO regulation ranked fourth, four places above GMO labeling (not included in this list).

Other priorities, in order: Rural economic development, Organic standards, Fair competition, Organic research and promotion order (aka “check-off program”), Food safety regulation, Immigration reform, Socially disadvantaged farmers, Commodity and crop insurance reform.

Engaging in policy:

94% of members surveyed saw direct advocacy by Tilth Producers as an “important” or “very important” advocacy opportunity. 87% saw in-person meetings with legislators the same way. This was closely followed by local activities in my community, and then action alerts. 52% of members reported that our policy blog was “important” or “very important”.

Looking back:

This year’s top priority issue result, beginning farmers and ranchers, remains the same as in 2013. Farmland preservation, which ranked second this year, jumped from fourth place last year. Local food system development fell from top priority in 2012 to second priority in 2013 to third priority in this year’s survey, but continues to be identified as the most respondents’ “one top issue.”

Direct advocacy by Tilth Producers and in-person meetings with legislators continue to be ranked, respectively, as the most and second-most important ways to engage in policy advocacy. This year, local activities in my community surpassed action alerts for third place.

Moving forward:

Our forthcoming Advocacy Platform will include further details on how to engage with these priority issues in 2015. You can also get up-to-speed at the policy briefing session at the Tilth Producers conference in Vancouver. That session will be held Saturday, November 8, from 3:30 to 5:00 pm. To learn more, contact Policy Coordinator Ariana Taylor-Stanley, ariana@tilthproducers.org.


Genetic Engineering Regulation Roundup

An Overview of Genetic Engineering Regulations: Washington State and Around the Country

Advocacy efforts around the country have sparked action on county-, state-, and federal-level regulations of genetically engineered (GE) food. So far in 2014, 35 bills have been introduced in 20 states.


State Level
Washington State came close to mandating the labeling of GE food last year with Initiative 522. After organizers collected over 200,000 signatures, I-522 went to the state legislature, which voted to put the issue on the ballot. The initiative ultimately received 48.91% of the vote and did not pass.[6]

Following the failure of I-522, another measure concerning genetically engineered foods has surfaced. House Bill 2143 targets fish raised in natural freshwater and lakes. While the production of GE fish is already banned from Washington marine waters via WAC 220-76-100[7], this bill would expand the ban to include freshwater fish as well. The FDA has not approved GE fish for human consumption, but companies producing GE fish outside of the US are seeking approval[8].

County Level
San Juan County passed an initiative in November 2012, becoming the only county in Washington to ban the cultivation of all GE crops. The initiative makes it unlawful to “propagate, cultivate, raise or grow plants, animals and other organisms which have been genetically modified” in San Juan County. This initiative also implements enforcement provisions that include a potential gross misdemeanor.[9]


Federal Level

While the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) currently has regulatory jurisdiction over all GE food and food products, FDA does not mandate GE labeling. FDA currently supports voluntary GE labeling.[10]

US Department of Agriculture (USDA) organic certification prohibits the use of GE seeds or ingredients in certified products.[11]

In April, 2013, H.R. 1699, the “Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act”[12], was introduced by Senator Barbara Boxer and Congressman Peter DeFazio. H.R.4432, nicknamed the “Deny Americans the Right to Know (DARK) Act,” introduced April 2014, would block states from passing legislation to require GE labeling and permit products with GE ingredients be labeled as “natural”.[13] This bill would be a step backwards for the thirty states which have introduced GE-labeling related bills and initiatives. Neither bill is expected to reach a vote before the end of this congressional session.


State-level GE Labeling Action in 2014

State Senate bill House bill Initiative Introduced Status What does it do?
Alaska 128 215 - January, 2014 session ended labels GE food, prohibits “natural” on labels of GE food
Arizona - - Genetically Modified Organism Labeling Initiative n/a did not make the ballot Labels GE food
California 1381 - - February, 2014 session ended Labels GE food and ingredients
Colorado - - 48 n/a on the ballot in November Labels GE food, foods treated with GE material, animals eating GE food
Florida 558 1 - December, 2013 (SB), August, 2013 (I) session ended Label GE food with some exceptions
Hawaii 2521 - - January, 2014 session ended Labels GE food, seeds, and ingredients
Illinois 1666 3085 - February, 213 session ended Labels GE food, excludes GE ingredients
Indiana - 1196 - January, 2013 session ended Labels GE food, prohibits “natural” on GE food labels
Iowa 194 463 - March, 2013 session ended Labels GE food
Kentucky - 441 - February, 2014 session ended Labels GE foods , prohibits any reference to “natural” in GE labelling
Maryland 1991 778 - February, 2014 session ended Labels GE food, shelves, and containers
Massachusetts - 3996 - March, 2014 pending Labels GE food
Minnesota 821 - - February, 2013 pending Labels GE food and seeds
Missouri 533 - - January, 2014 pending Labels GE meat and fish
Nevada - AB 330 - March, 2013 session ended Labels GE food conspicuously
New Hampshire - 411 - February, 2014 pending Labels GE food
New Jersey 91 A1359 - January, 2014 pending Labels GE food
New Mexico 18 - - January, 2013 session ended Labels GE food
New York - 3525 - January, 2014 pending Labels GE food
Oklahoma - 2942 - February, 2014 session ended Labels GE food
Oregon 863 - 92 October, 2013 passed Prevents county-level food regulation
pending Labels GE food
Pennsylvania 1770 - October, 2013 pending Labels GE food and seeds
Rhode Island 7042 - January, 2014 session ended Labels GE food and redefining “natural”
Tennessee 1878 - - January, 2014 session ended Labels GE food
Utah - 205 - February, 2014 session ended Initiates multistate discussion of GE labelling agreements
Washington - 2143 - January, 2014 session ended Labels GE fish


[1] http://ballotpedia.org/Washington_Mandatory_Labeling_of_Genetically_Engineered_Food_Measure,_Initiative_522_(2013

[2] http://www.fridayharbornow.com/initiativemeasure20124.htm

[3] http://www.centerforfoodsafety.org/files/ge-state-labeling-fact-sheet-620141_28179.pdf

[4] https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/113/hr1699

[5] https://beta.congress.gov/bill/113th-congress/house-bill/4432

[6] http://ballotpedia.org/Washington_Mandatory_Labeling_of_Genetically_Engineered_Food_Measure,_Initiative_522_(2013

[7] http://apps.leg.wa.gov/wac/default.aspx?cite=220-76-100

[8] http://www.sequimgazette.com/news/251288681.html

[9] http://www.fridayharbornow.com/initiativemeasure20124.htm

[10] http://www.fda.gov/food/guidanceregulation/guidancedocumentsregulatoryinformation/labelingnutrition/ucm059098.htm

[11] http://www.fda.gov/food/foodscienceresearch/biotechnology/ucm346030.htm

[12] https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/113/hr1699

[13] https://beta.congress.gov/bill/113th-congress/house-bill/4432

Tilth Producers Policy Party 2014

Thanks to all of you who joined us for our 2014 Food & Agriculture Policy Party! It was a lovely evening with fabulous food and drinks, great people, and rich information sharing.

In this year’s (still open!) policy priority survey, members currently choose “direct advocacy by Tilth” as the top-ranking way for us to work towards better sustainable agriculture policy. We can’t do direct advocacy without your financial contributionIt’s not too late to contribute, so please consider making a donation to support our crucial policy efforts.

Pictures from the event:


A rapt audience learns about Tilth Producers of Washington’s policy advocacy work.



Thank you to all our amazing food donors!

Bainbridge Vineyards

Boldbrook Farm
City Grown Seattle
Delridge Grocery
Fish Tale Brewery
Flying Cow Creamery
Ralph’s Greenhouse
Second Spring Farm
Starvation Alley Farms



Nate Lewis of the Organic Trade Association, Justin McClane, and Tilth Producers of Washington board member Addie Candib.


DSC01695Thanks to Second Spring Farm for the beautiful flower arrangements!


DSC01702Tierney Creech of Common Ground Farm, the Washington Young Farmers Coalition, and the National Young Farmers Coalition; and Sophie Kauffman of the Washington State Farmers Market Association.


DSC01704The National Young Farmers Coalition took some video footage of young farmers at the party for a forthcoming short film on the Washington Young Farmers Coalition.


DSC01699Guests enjoying delicious fare and stimulating conversation.


DSC01706Tilth Producers of Washington’s Member Services Coordinator, Kate Nagle-Caraluzzo, introduces the organization.


DSC01714Tilth Producers of Washington Policy Coordinator Ariana Taylor-Stanley discusses Tilth’s role in connecting farmers to legislators to advocate for sustainable agriculture policy.

“My job is to pay attention to what’s happening in the policy realm which concerns Washington’s organic and sustainable farmers, and help farmers’ voices be heard. I’m not a lobbyist and I’m not even full time, but with Tilth’s hundreds of smart, savvy members, we get a lot done!”


DSC01717Tilth Producers of Washington board member Addie Candib shares her own experiences with policy work.

“Advocacy changes lives, and it changed mine. So if farmers are going to advocate for ourselves at the policy level, we need coaches. Someone to tell us where and when to show up and what to say. That’s why Tilth’s policy work is so important.”


DSC01725Jim Goche makes an impromptu pitch asking other attendees to join him in pushing the state and county Farm Bureaus to support small and sustainable farms.


DSC01726Sophie Ackoff of the The National Young Farmers Coalition.


DSC01692Tilth Producers of Washington’s Member Services Coordinator, Kate Nagle-Caraluzzo, talks with board member and WSDA Organic Program Manager Brenda Book.

Thanks for your support!

Got farm interns? Small Farm Internship Pilot Project Now Open!

Beginning July 1, 2014, Washington farms in Chelan, Grant, Island, Jefferson, King, Kitsap, Kittitas, Lincoln, Pierce, San Juan, Skagit, Snohomish, Spokane, Thurston, Whatcom, and Yakima counties, with annual sales of less than $250,000, may apply to  enroll in the Small Farm Internship Pilot Project (FIP). This program, directed by Washington Department of Labor and Industries, allows up to three interns (paid, stipend or unpaid) to work on a farm to learn about farming practices. The FIP applications are available on the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries website.

Farmers who wish to participate must meet the following criteria:

• The farm must be located in Chelan, Grant, Island, Jefferson, King, Kitsap, Kittitas, Lincoln, Pierce, San Juan, Skagit, Snohomish, Spokane, Thurston, Whatcom, or Yakima counties.
• The farm’s annual sales must be less than $250,000.
• The farm may hire up to three interns to learn about farming practices (paid or unpaid– minimum wage requirement is waived).

Stakeholder Advisory Group

Labor and Industries has convened a stakeholder advisory group to provide input on FIP. To participate, contact Kelly Kane at 509-324-2663 or kelly.kane@lni.wa.gov

Background on the Small Internship Pilot Project

FIP provides farms access to Labor and Industries (L&I) workers compensation insurance for on-farm interns. Participating farms must use a structured curriculum and provide educational, supervised opportunities for participation in farm work activities [1]. This program was successfully established in 2010 through legislation introduced by Senator Kevin Ranker. The program ran through 2011 in Skagit and San Juan County. All six of the participating farms responded with positive remarks overall regarding their experience with FIP.  A 2011 report on the program found that it enabled participant Anne Schwartz, owner of Blue Heron Farm and Tilth Producers Board Member, to “train interns in the use of essential farm equipment, something she was unwilling to do previously without workers’ compensation coverage” [2].

Pine Stump

Bills which would have supported the extension of the FIP program in did not pass in the state legislature in 2012 or 2013. Senators Ranker, Hatfield, Hobbs, Parlette, and Conway reintroduced it in 2014, this time passing a bill which which extended the program through the end of 2017. Tilth Producers, Washington Farm Bureau, Faith Action Network, Washington Sustainable Food and Farming Network, Viva Farms, and others collaborated on advocating to pass the legislation that resulted in this program, including sending staff and members to testify in on several occasions.

In a press release, the Department of Labor and Industries says of the project, “Prior to the internships, small farms exchanged informal on-farm education for stipend or volunteer labor. This put both farms and workers at risk because of the lack of insurance to protect against injury. Under this project, interns have workers’ compensation protection along with the opportunity for a valuable education and hands-on experience in farming activities.” [3]

Klickitat Canyon

The program also provides other benefits for both farmers and interns. In her testimony on behalf of the reestablishment of the pilot program, Anne Schwartz commented, “There is more time to explain details, teach new skills, interrupt work to take advantage of learning opportunities that I as an employer cannot afford to do when I’m paying employees $10-12 / hour and the clock is ticking” [4].


Learn more and apply to participate in the pilot program online: http://www.lni.wa.gov/WorkplaceRights/Agriculture/SmallFarmIntership/default.asp.


[1] http://apps.leg.wa.gov/documents/billdocs/2013-14/Pdf/Bills/Senate%20Passed%20Legislature/5123-S.PL.pdf

[2] http://www.lni.wa.gov/WorkplaceRights/agriculture/smallfarmintership/SmallFarmInternshipPilotLegReport2011.pdf

[3] http://lni.wa.gov/News/2014/pr140701a.asp

[4] Written testimony from February 26, 2014

From the marble halls to the field: Ben Barasky visits Local Roots Farm

Last April, Tilth Producers of Washington and the Northwest Farm Bill Action Group, in partnership with the Washington Young Farmers Coalition, hosted Congresswoman Suzan DelBene for a listening session and tour of Local Roots Farm. She liked it so much that she sent her D.C.-based agriculture staffer, Ben Barasky, to the district for his own tour this month.

The tour, in pictures:

Siri Erickson-Brown and Sam Bowhay, owner and manager, respectively, of Local Roots, welcomed Ben and a few other local farmers.


wireworm leeks
We headed to the fields to talk about the farm’s growing practices, including pest management. Field Manager Sam is considering applying for support from a farm bill research program like the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Extension (SARE) grant program or the new Crop Protection and Pest Management (CPPM) program’s Integrated Pest Management funding to find an organic control for wireworms.


food safety
In the farm’s processing area, Sam showed Ben the farm’s Food Safety Manual, a response to the forthcoming food safety regulations proposed by the Food and Drug Administration in compliance with the Food Safety Modernization Act. Adjusting to new food safety regulations is expensive and time consuming –  Sam spent over 40 hours this winter learning about food safety regulations and creating the manual – so we are glad to see funding in the latest federal budget for the new Food Safety Outreach Program.


This season-extending greenhouse was funded by a Specialty Crop Block Grant administered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Ben was impressed to see the impacts of this program, which he worked on farm bill language for, in person.


The full diversity of Local Roots’ crops is on display in the starts greenhouse. We discussed how diversification acts as a form of risk management for farms, talked about the need for more projects like that at Hearty Roots Farm in New York to make farm bill programs work better for diversified farms, and the pros and cons of Whole Farm Revenue Insurance.


The tour wrapped up with some local bounty for refreshments and casual conversation on the farm pad.


local roots
Thanks to Local Roots Farm, Sam, and Siri for hosting, to Ben Barasky for lending us your afternoon, and to Congresswoman DelBene for supporting sustainable faming!

Earth Day Reflections on Silent Spring and the Organic Movement

Happy Earth Day! Since the first Earth Day in 1970, April 22 has served as a reminder to consider how our actions can make the earth a healthier place for all its inhabitants. We also celebrate the victories of the pioneer environmentalists who fought to reduce pollution in our water and air through regulations and government oversight.

Last Monday marked the 50th anniversary of the death of Rachel Carson, a personal hero of mine and the author of the movement-launching treatise Silent Spring. Reflecting on the legacy of Silent Spring recalls the intertwined histories of the environmental and organic movements. Both movements are concerned with the health of the land and its inhabitants, and the two have marked tremendous victories over the past 50 years.

Ten years after the publication of Silent Spring, which chronicles the impacts of pesticide DDT on ecosystems and humans, the fledgling Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned the agricultural use of the pesticide. This was in response to a suit brought by the Environmental Defense Fund, which itself was formed in response to the impacts of DDT highlighted in Silent Spring.

Even the existence of the EPA is a testament to Carson’s impact. She had testified before Congress expressing her concern of an inherent conflict of interest due to the same agency – the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) – being responsible for both promoting the interests of agribusiness and regulating pesticides. Though Carson died of cancer in 1964, the Environmental Protection Agency she had advocated for was created in 1970, just months after the first Earth Day.

In recent years, the organic movement has focused more of its energy on collaboration with the USDA. In 1990, after years of advocacy efforts, Congress passed the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) which created the National Organic Program, housed in the USDA. National organic standards were implemented in 2002. Thanks to strong pressure from many in the movement, this year’s farm bill (the law that deals with policy affecting USDA) includes increased funding for organic programs.

Today there are over 5 million acres of certified organic farm and ranchland in production in the United States. Organic sales are growing and pesticide use is on a slow decline. Even as our movements occasionally end up head-to-head (for example, on wetlands buffers), it is important to remember our shared origins and the journey together.

“The choice, after all, is ours to make,” Carson concludes towards the end of Silent Spring. “If, having endured much, we have at last asserted our ‘right to know,’ and if, knowing, we have concluded that we are being asked to take senseless and frightening risks, then we should no longer accept the counsel of those who tell us that we must fill our world with poisonous chemicals; we should look about and see what other course is open to us.” And work towards that course together.

Update: After I posted this essay, Tilth member Larry Warnberg shared a powerful story about how Silent Spring impacted his life, and gave me permission to share it here:

“Thanks for the timely essay reminding us of Rachel Carson’s milestone. Her book was also a big influence on my life. Growing up in Longview I was exposed to a lot of DDT, riding my bike behind the fogger that regularly passed down the alleys of our neighborhood, adjacent to our backyard gardens where we grew a lot of food. School friends were dying of cancer, I had bone cancer at the age of 14. Someone brought me a copy of Silent Spring in 1964 which I read while lying in a hospital bed recovering from amputation of a big toe. That single book changed the trajectory of my life more than any other.

Silent Spring and my bout with bone cancer motivated me to get training in a helping profession. After grad school in clinical psychology I worked 4 years as a pediatric psychologist in a children’s hospital in Tulsa, OK. There I teamed with a social worker and the Docs treating cancer patients, and helping their families through the ordeal. That experience led me to seek work of a more preventive nature, eventually leading to oyster farming in Willapa Bay, developing methods of growing shellfish without using pesticides.”

- Larry Warnberg


The Recurring Silent Spring, H. Patricia Hynes, Pergamon Press, 1989





Silent Spring, Rachel Carson, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1962

Agriculture Policy Updates – Spring 2014

from the Spring 2014 Tilth Producers Quarterly “Policy Update”

Policy Party—Save the Date: July 27, 2014

Join Tilth Producers for our third annual Policy Party. Share appetizers and local beer and wine, hear updates on farm policy issues, and support our work advocating for sustainable food and farm policy on July 27 in Olympia, WA.

State-Level Farm Policy

Funding Farmers Market Nutrition Programs

Tilth Producers joined the Good Food Coalition in successfully securing an additional state investment of $200,000 in the WIC and Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Programs, which give low-income families and seniors money to spend at farmers’ markets, simultaneously feeding those in need and supporting local farmers. Despite being lower than our original request of $500,000 for the two programs, this was a significant victory in this year’s tight budget and the product of powerful coalition organizing, championed by the Washington Sustainable Food and Farming Network and the Washington State Farmers Market Association. 

Small Farm Internship Pilot Program

Tilth Producers helped to pass a bill this session authorizing the second phase of a small farm internship pilot program. This program will allow small farms in San Juan, Skagit, King, Whatcom, Kitsap, Pierce, Jefferson, Spokane, Yakima, Chelan, Grant, Island, Snohomish, Kittitas, Lincoln, and Thurston counties to take up to three interns per season to perform farm work, benefit from a structured educational program administered by the farmer, and receive Workers’ Compensation coverage. This is an extension of a successful pilot program that took place in 2010 and 2011 but was only available in two counties. The bill failed to pass in 2012 and 2013. Thank you to the allies who helped it succeed this year, including the Washington Farm Bureau and Faith Action Network! Contact us to learn more about participating in the program: ariana@tilthproducers.org or (206) 632-7506.

Cottage Food Law

Washington’s cottage food law allows the production of small amounts of certain low-risk food items in an inspected home kitchen. A bill was introduced this session to increase the amount of gross sales of these items under the law from $15,000/year to $25,000/year per producer, but did not pass.

Tax Fairness for Small Farms

Tilth Producers supports an effort to change property tax law so that farms under twenty acres receive the same tax benefits (having their land assessed at its agricultural value rather than full market value) as farms over twenty- acres. Currently “small farms” must pay full market value tax rates on the acre under the farmhouse. A bill was passed in the House this session to explore small-acreage farming and how it relates to the current-use program, but died in the Senate and so will not be enacted.


Farm Bill

Congress at long last has passed a new farm bill, which was signed into law February 7, 2014. The bill passed has many wins for local food and sustainable agriculture including an expanded Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program, support for the Organic Certification Cost Share Program, and many beginning farmer programs. However, it also cuts the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, aka food stamps) by $8 billion over the next ten years. Additionally, the final bill failed to include important commodity subsidy payment limit reforms that had been included in all previous versions. Our work is not over: stay tuned for updates as we work on funding appropriations and implementation of the new bill.


Genetic Engineering: Agricultural Coexistence

Tilth Producers submitted a comment in response to a USDA request for comments on potential outreach and education efforts regarding “agricultural coexistence” between all growers: organic, sustainable, conventional and GE-farmers. We recommended that rather than focus on education efforts, USDA implement mandatory mechanisms to prevent contamination of organic and other non-GE crops. These could include labeling, mapping GE crops, and mandatory on-farm practices for contamination reduction. Read our full comment online: bit.ly/gecomment


Lobby Days

Good Food and Farming Action Day was a success! Forty attendees came to Olympia in February for meetings with about 60 legislators, requesting that they support an additional investment in the Farmers Market Nutrition Programs. 42 legislators responded by endorsing our budget request, which was ultimately successful! 

Tilth Producers also met with all twelve of the offices of our state’s Senators and Congresspeople in Washington, D.C. in January to discuss priorities for farm bill implementation, following the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition winter meeting.

What does the 2014 Farm Bill mean for a sustainable food and farm future?

Wondering about the new 2014 Farm Bill? Check out this helpful info graphic from the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition!



More information on the new bill from NSAC:

Tilth Producers tells USDA: It takes more than education to prevent GE contamination

Tilth Producers submitted the following comment to USDA in response to their request for comments on the issue of “agricultural coexistence”. Submit your own comment online here (deadline: March 4, 2014).

Resources for submitting a comment:

National Organic Coalition alert

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition’s resource page


Tilth Producers’ video about submitting comments on regulations.gov (specifically about the Food Safety Modernization Act, but the online form works the same way)


Read comments in PDF form


The following comments are on behalf of Tilth Producers of Washington, a 600+ member organization of Washington state organic and sustainable farmers and allies. The issues of coexistence and contamination are of key importance to us as an organization of organic farmers. Especially where genetically engineered (GE) crops are concerned, Tilth Producers believes that the responsibility to prevent contamination falls on the patent holders of potentially contaminating crops and those who grow them, not their organic farmer neighbors.


In response to question 1, “As we seek improved communication and collaboration among agricultural stakeholders, we are interested in identifying information needs and exploring successful communication methods.”

The primary type of information needed in promoting agricultural coexistence is full transparency with regards to where GE crops are grown and who grows them. This can be achieved only by mandatory labeling of GE crops throughout the food supply chain, from seed and seed stock to ingredients in products on grocery shelves. An online, publicly-accessible registry of where GE crops are planted would also help to increase transparency.

In addition to complete information about which crops are GE and where GE crops are grown, information regarding best practices to prevent contamination should be shared. To ensure they are followed, the best practices should be mandated by law and enforced. USDA must use its authority to prevent GE contamination throughout the supply chain.

More research is currently needed into best practices for GE contamination prevention. Although there are suggested management practices associated with the use of many GE crops (such as recommended isolation distances) these are not always scientifically sound. For example, the recommended isolation distance for glyphosate-tolerant alfalfa is 900 feet to keep plants from cross-pollinating with non-GE fields. However, contamination from transgenes has been found in fields with a 1.5 mile isolation distance (NOC, 2010). More research is needed to identify truly effective means to prevent GE contamination. The following principles, outlined by the National Organic Coalition, should frame the process of developing means of preventing contamination:


Consumer choice – Consumers have the right to choose non-GMO food.

Consumer right to know – Consumers have the right to know where and how their food was grown.

Farmers Entrepreneurial Choice – Farmers must have the right and opportunity to grow food, feed, fiber, livestock, and fish that serve important and lucrative domestic and foreign markets.

Fairness – Personal and corporate responsibility must be upheld. If you own it and are profiting from it you are responsible for the costs associated with contamination prevention and any resultant damage from contamination.

Liability –Testing for contamination, establishing buffers, reimbursement for lost sales, loss of organic product premiums, clean-up and removal are the costs of doing business that must be borne by the GMO patent holder.

Precaution – The pre-market burden of proof of safety is on the patent holder. This includes comprehensive evaluation of health, socio-economic, and environmental impacts of GM crops and technologies.

Sustainability – Agricultural technologies and systems must be assessed for sustainability and those that facilitate further declines in family farming or erode the human and environmental foundations of American agriculture must not be allowed.

Health, Environmental and Economic Evaluation –Technologies that pose environmental, economic, and health risks should be evaluated before commercialization and tough choices must be made about whether their overall societal benefits outweigh their costs.

Parity – There must be a long-term commitment to supporting the vitality of diverse agricultural enterprises, including parity of public investment, infrastructure, marketing, technical assistance, research, and funding.

Transparency – Ongoing documentation, tracking and labeling systems must be established to monitor the movement of GMOs in the environment, seed banks, non-GMO seed stocks, and food.

Diversity – Society and agriculture will greatly benefit from the rapid reinvigoration of public cultivars and breeds to restore genetic diversity on farms, ensure greater farmer seeds/breeds choices, and to enhance national food security.

Once best practices are established, they must be enforced by a third party. Voluntary measures and education alone are not enough to ensure compliance. To help growers of GE crops understand their new mandatory responsibilities to prevent contamination, mandatory training should be provided, similar to current requirements for pesticide safety training.


In response to question 2, “As part of USDA’s outreach and education efforts, we are interested in identifying education needs and exploring the creation of ‘‘outreach toolkits’’ that will encourage communication, planning, and crop- specific practices to facilitate successful coexistence.”

More than education is necessary for the prevention of GE contamination and successful coexistence of GE and non-GE/organic growers. Best-practices for contamination prevention must be established and required of GE patent holders and growers. However, Tilth Producers understands that education is one component of preventing contamination. As an organization which conducts quite a bit of farmer-to-farmer education, here are some strategies we employ:

Conference: We hold an annual conference where farmers and agriculture professionals share strategies for successful farming in workshop format.

Journal: We produce a quarterly journal, written by staff, guest experts, and farmers which includes articles on a wide array of organic farming topics. The journal is published in print and mailed to our members, and is also available to them on our website.

Farm walks: We host a series of “farm walks” each year where farmers tour one another’s operations to observe innovative systems and learn new skills.


In response to question 3, “Farmers and others in the food and feed production chain have an important role in collaborating to make coexistence work, particularly with reference to stewardship, contracting, and attention to gene flow. As we seek to improve collaboration among those involved in diverse agricultural systems, we are interested in hearing what practices and activities that support collaboration are available or in use and how USDA can help make collaboration and coexistence work for everyone involved.”

Collaboration can only be achieved if the issue of GE technology is addressed with transparency. Currently it is hard for producers to know their legal rights surrounding GE contamination and if GE crops are being grown in their area. The establishment of an online registry would allow farmers to track where GE crops are being grown.

Collaboration and communication between farmers is not enough to foster successful coexistence. Contamination prevention is the responsibility of GE manufacturers and growers not organic farmers. Best practices for contamination prevention must be researched and required of those in the GE industry. Making GE growers accountable to USDA and not just their neighbors will improve collaboration and coexistence among agricultural sectors.

When contamination does occur, organic growers need a fair compensation mechanism. AC21’s crop insurance proposal unfairly places the burden on organic and non-GE growers to protect their fields from contamination. Contamination prevention and compensation should be the responsibility of manufacturers, producers and those who profit from GE technology not bystanders suffering from their impacts.

Thank you for reviewing these comments and for taking the rights and needs of organic growers into consideration as this process moves forward.



National Organic Coalition (NOC). Comments on Draft Environmental Impact Statement recommending the deregulation of genetically engineered alfalfa. Docket No. APHIS-2007-0044. (2010)

Agriculture Policy Updates – Winter, 2014

from the Winter 2014 Tilth Producers Quarterly “Policy Update”


Good Food and Farming Action Day: February 13

Have a say in state policy! Join us in Olympia on February 13, 2014 for the second annual Good Food and Farming Action Day. Meet your legislators and share which issues matter to you. Our top priority this year is restoring funding for the Farmers Market Nutrition Programs. (See below for details.) To RSVP or learn more, contact Policy Coordinator Ariana Taylor-Stanley: ariana@tilthproducers.org


Farm Policy in the Upcoming State Legislative Session

Funding Farmers Market Nutrition Programs

The WIC and Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Programs give low-income families and seniors money to spend at farmers’ markets, simultaneously feeding those in need and supporting local farmers. Our state has slowly cut the budget for this program over many years. This year, we are asking the state legislature to restore the programs’ original funding of $500,000. To endorse this campaign as a farm or organization, sign on at:bit.ly/endorsefmnp


Small Farm Internship Pilot Program

Tilth Producers continues to work toward passing a bill that would authorize the second phase of the small farm internship pilot program. This program would allow small farms in San Juan, Skagit, King, Whatcom, Kitsap, Pierce, Jefferson, Spokane, Yakima, Chelan, Grant, Island, Snohomish, Kittitas, Lincoln, and Thurston counties to take up to three interns per season who would perform farm work, benefit from a structured educational program administered by the farmer, and receive Workers’ Compensation coverage. Unpaid interns would not be allowed to replace paid, skilled labor and would not be considered employees under state law. This is an extension of a successful pilot program that took place in 2010 and 2011 but was only available in two counties. For the last two legislative sessions, the pilot program has been authorized in the Senate but not gotten to a vote in the House, and so has not been enacted.


Farmland Preservation

Tilth Producers will support American Farmland Trust on two advocacy goals this session: 1) An effort to fund a dormant funding authority established in 2002 through the Conservation Commission, which would fund a competitive program to buy conservation easements for land used by beginning farmers. 2) A request that the governor order a model mitigation policy which would require developers working on state-owned land to disclose impacts to farms, avoid them where possible, and compensate for them when necessary (this model can then be replicated in county comprehensive plans).


Cottage Food Law

Conversations have begun on introducing changes to Washington State’s Cottage Food law so that it includes opportunities for farmers. The current law primarily allows baked goods and standardized jams, jellies, and fruit butters. The fee is $230. Farmers have expressed concerns over the cost, the amount of paperwork required, and delays in the inspection and permitting cycle.


Farm Bill

Farm Bill negotiators have officially given up on passing a Farm Bill in 2013. A bill extending the expired extension of the 2008 Farm Bill until the end of January has been filed, but may not come to a vote if the negotiating committee believes it can reach a deal early in January. Either way, the committee expects a final Farm Bill to pass in January 2014. We hope the final bill will include support for beginning farmers, local food systems, organic farming, nutrition programs, and commodity subsidy reform.


GE Labeling

Initiative 522 received 49% of the vote in November, so Washington State will continue to wait for labels on genetically engineered food. Trudy Bialic and David Bronner of the Yes on 522 campaign write, “2013 general election turnout is the lowest ever recorded, skewing older and more conservative, and away from younger, more progressive voters driving the GE labeling movement. These “off-year” election results depict how viable a Washington State GMO labeling ballot measure would be in a presidential election cycle with much higher, younger, and more progressive voter turnout. While it is unfortunate I-522 did not pass, it has set the stage for victory in 2016.”

Tilth Producers would like to extend a special thank you to Trudi Bialic of PCC Natural Markets who was instrumental in building a broad coalition of businesses, organizations and individuals, pooling resources and engaging citizens across the state. A sincere thank you also to Steve Crider of Amy’s Kitchen, Steve Hallstrom of Let Us Farm, and the many others who wrote letters to the editor, talked to their neighbors, and educated themselves about the issue. This coalition of engaged citizenry will inform similar campaigns in other states and will further our state’s efforts to improve transparency in food production in Washington.


Food Safety

Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA)

Thank you to the many people who submitted official comments on the proposed FSMA Rules, at the Tilth Conference and otherwise. Our comments have made an impact! The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has announced that major changes will be made to the rules due to the large volume of feedback from farmers, researchers, and consumers. Key areas to be revised include the provisions for manure and compost (our top priority issue) and those for farms which engage in value-added processing. FDA has also announced that there will be an additional comment period on the revised rules next summer.


National Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement (NLGMA)

We are pleased to announce that the US Department of Agriculture has terminated the process of developing a national leafy greens marketing agreement. The NLGMA, modeled after leafy greens marketing agreements in California and Arizona, would have set up national opt-in food safety rules which wholesale buyers could choose to require farmers from whom they purchase to follow. The NLGMA was terminated due to potential overlap and conflict with FSMA. The NLGMA had threatened to discourage habitat and diversity on farms, so we are glad to see it laid to rest!


Take Action!

  • Endorse the effort to restore full funding to the Farmers Market Nutrition Programs: bit.ly/endorsefmnp
  • Attend the Good Food and Farming Action Day in Olympia February 13th! RSVP to ariana@tilthproducers.org

Congresswoman Suzan DelBene continues to champion organic, local food, and beginning farmer issues

Tilth Producers applauds first district Congresswoman and House Agriculture Committee member Suzan DelBene for standing up for local and organic farms as well as beginning farmers by signing on to three(!) recent “Dear Colleague” letters to fellow Representatives on those issues.

Since joining the House Agriculture Committee this year, Congresswoman DelBene has taken many opportunities to support sustainable farming, including joining the House Organic Caucus, co-sponsoring the Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act and Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act, and even braving the elements to tour Local Roots Farm with us in April.

If you don’t live in the first district, urge your Representative to support beginning farmer programs in the Farm Bill with a quick phone call:

1. Call the Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121

2. Ask the operator for your Representative’s office (not sure who represents you? find out online)

3. Ask to speak with the agriculture aide for your Representative. Tell them,

“Hi, my name is _____ and I am a constituent of Representative ____. I’m calling to urge my Representative to sign onto the Dear Colleague letter being circulated in the House in support of critical beginning farmer Farm Bill programs. [Explain why this issue matters to you.] To sign on, contact Alan Feyerherm in the office of Rep. Jeff Fortenberry. Will the Representative be signing on to this letter? Thank you!”

4. Tell us how it went – email ariana@tilthproducers.org with any feedback.


Looking for another way to plug into Farm Bill issues? Check out the USDA’s new #MyFarmBill campaign.

2013 Policy Priority Survey results are in!

2013 Tilth policy priority survey results

 The results of the 2013 policy priority survey, this year included within a larger member survey, have come in!


Top 10 priorities, in order:

Beginning farmers and ranchers

Local food system development

GMO labeling

Farmland preservation

Access to Fresh Food for Children & Seniors

Farm Bill

Research and Education


Organic Standards



Other priorities, in order: Socially disadvantaged farmers, Rural economic development, Food safety regulation, Fair competition, Immigration reform, Organic research and promotion order (aka “check-off program”), Renewable energy, Commodity and crop insurance reform


Primary differences from last year’s survey results:

- Beginning farmers and ranchers, which tied for third last year, is this year’s first priority

- Local food system development and GMO labeling, which were first and second, respectively, last year, moved to second and third

- Access to fresh food for children & seniors and Farm Bill, which took 7th and 9th last year, moved up to 5th and 6th

- Climate replaced renewable energy in the top 10

- The differences between categories are more subtle this year – perhaps due to the lack of a “high priority” option


Other points of interest:

- In a question which asked respondents to identify their “one top issue”, local food system development, which ranked second over all, was identified the most

- Both GMO labeling and GMO regulation were included as priority options, and GMO labeling score slightly higher

- The issue to which the most respondents (2.5%, twice as many as any other issue) responded “Not Applicable” was food safety regulation


View a summary of survey results here.

Tilth Producers endorses I-522, the Washington State campaign to label genetically engineered foods

500x500-Avatar-FarmIn two separate recent surveys1, 2, Tilth Producers members identified genetic engineering as one of our highest policy priority issues. In accordance with this priority, Tilth Producers has officially endorsed Initiative 522 to label genetically engineered foods. (Visit yeson522.com/endorse to do the same!)

Ballot Initiative 522 resulted from a heavily volunteer-driven signature gathering campaign in 2012 (with which many Tilth members assisted). Washington voters will find the initiative on ballots this November. If passed, I-522 will require genetically engineered (GE, also known as GMO) food to be labeled. Labeling requirements will apply to fresh produce (though the only fresh produce items with approved genetically engineered varieties are currently sweet corn and papaya), packaged/processed food items with GE ingredients, and GE seeds and seed stock.

Tilth Producers supports Washington consumers’ right to know whether their food contains GE ingredients. As an organic farming organization, we also welcome labeling as a means to increase oversight and accountability of GE crops and reduce the potential for cross-contamination.

Organic certification regulations require that organic farmers do not grow crops which have been genetically engineered. Many customers also seek out non-GE food. GE crops can contaminate non-GE ones both by cross-pollination and by seeds becoming mixed in storage or processing. Labeling will help to prevent this by increasing awareness of genetically engineered material on farms and in processing facilities. It will also help to increase farmer and consumer confidence that they are producing and purchasing a non-GE product when something is not labeled as GE.

Other potential genetic engineering concerns which labeling will help farmers and consumers avoid include ecological impacts, health hazards, and increasing corporate power.

Ecological impacts: Herbicide tolerance, one of the primary traits genetic engineering is used to confer, allows farmers to spray whole fields with herbicides without killing the tolerant crop. This leads directly to increased usage of herbicides, and also leads quickly to resistance developing in the targeted weeds, creating what is known as “superweeds” which can only be killed by stronger herbicides. The other primary commercially marketed genetic modification, adding a gene from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt, that causes plants to produce a protein that is toxic to caterpillars and some insects, can harm caterpillars of species which eat plants that grow near agricultural crops, including Monarch butterflies. Bt crops also quickly lead to resistant pests. Bt-resistance is an issue of special concern to organic farmers, who have long used small amounts of the Bt bacterium as an organic pest control.

Health hazards: Because the FDA considers GE food to be equivalent to non-GE food, few studies have been done to predict the potential impacts of eating GM foods over a lifespan. This is itself a concern, and what few independent studies have been done show troubling results. Inserting foreign genetic material alters the proteins of a plant, which can expose consumers to toxins, trigger allergies, and lead to the development of new diseases. One study by the American Academy of Environmental Medicine which fed GE corn to rats found a dramatic increase in infertility after three generations, as well as low birth rates and higher rates of infant mortality 3.

Corporate power: Despite misleading ad campaigns to the contrary, GE technology is primarily applied in food production as a tool for creating lucrative products. GE seed companies patent the new GE varieties and then sell both the seeds and a license to plant them for one year. One such company, Monsanto, has sued farmers for saving GE seeds to replant the next year, and even for saving seeds contaminated with their patented gene by pollen from neighboring fields. Additionally, engineering for herbicide resistance allows companies who produce both GE seeds and herbicides to sell more of the herbicide, as farmers are able to spray it over both crops and weeds.

Labeling gives consumers and farmers decision-making power over whether or not to consume or grow GE foods. It also provides a disincentive to food manufacturers to use GE ingredients, in the same way in which the recent federally-mandated labeling of the trans-fat contents of foods decreased the use of ingredients containing trans-fats. A manufacturer who fears the results of marketing a product which bears a “partially produced with genetic engineering” label may choose instead to change suppliers to those who can offer non-GE ingredients.

Over 90% of Americans believe GE food should be labeled, according to several recent surveys 4. If you are among them, join Tilth Producers in endorsing I-522 at yeson522.com/endorse.



1. http://tilthproducers.org/2012/07/policy-priority-survey-results-are-in/

2. [Link pending official release of Tilth Producers member survey results]

3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18191319

4. http://www.centerforfoodsafety.org/issues/976/ge-food-labeling/us-polls-on-ge-food-labeling

Revelations at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition Summer Meeting

Attendees at the 2013 NSAC Summer Meeting in Holland, MI

Attendees at the 2013 NSAC Summer Meeting in Holland, MI

The Meeting

After a year and a half hiatus, Tilth Producers was able to send a representative (me, Ariana, our Policy Coordinator) to the summer meeting of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC). The last NSAC meeting we attended was the 2012 winter meeting in Maryland, where we helped set the policy priorities for NSAC to focus on in its Farm Bill advocacy last year. Summer meetings do not repeat the priority-setting process, and instead focus on sharing policy updates and strategy-making. This one was in beautiful Holland, Michigan. It also happened to be the 25th anniversary of the coalition!

About 50 members of the coalition – ranging from other state-level farming organizations like us to larger national and international organizations like the National Young Farmers Coalition and Pesticide Action Network North America – along with 10+ NSAC staff members attended the meeting. Policy discussions focused on two items: the Farm Bill and the Food Safety Modernization Act proposed rules.

Ferd Hoefner toasting 25 years of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition

Ferd Hoefner, NSAC Policy Director, toasting 25 years of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition

Farm Bill

The Senate passed its version of the Farm Bill in June, which included significant commodity subsidy reform and support for many programs which support small, sustainable farms, but also slashed support for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, aka food stamps). Shortly thereafter, the House voted against its own Farm Bill, which had even deeper cuts to SNAP. Then the House proceeded to pass, entirely along party lines, a Farm Bill which included no Nutrition Title at all, and offered no chance of amendments.

In order for a new Farm Bill to be signed into law, those two bills now need to go into a process called conference, where Agriculture Committee leadership from both House and Senate will negotiate the differences between the two into one single bill. The current (extension of the expired 2008) Farm Bill expires on October 1st, so this process must finish before then, or we will again be left without a Farm Bill and lose many key programs, as happened last year.

As NSAC delicately reminds us in a recent blog entry, “Last year, most but not all farm bill programs were up and running again on January 1, after a three month hiatus, though priority sustainable agriculture programs for new and beginning farmers, minority farmers, organic farmers, and fruit and vegetable farmers as well as for rural job creation and renewable energy programs have irresponsibly been shut down this whole year

“It would be a grave step backwards for our nation’s farmers and consumers if these innovative, job creating programs are once again the causalities of Congress’s inability to do its job and pass a farm bill.  We intend to focus on this issue like a laser, whether Congress moves toward a new farm bill or another farm bill extension.”

Food Safety Modernization Act

More serious policy news came on the food safety front. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently released a set of proposed rules as directed by the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) which lay out new food safety regulations for produce production and food processing. Food safety is very important and all players in the food system bear responsibility for making sure food is safe to eat, but careless regulations pose the threat of putting smaller farms out of business by being too expensive or complex to implement.

To ensure that the final food safety rules issued by the FDA are scale-appropriate and feasible, it is crucial that many farmers read the proposed rules and comment on them. The comment period for the proposed rules is currently open until November 16th (it was recently extended another 60 days from September 16th). To learn more and comment on the proposed rules, go to sustainableagriculture.net/fsma

A few facts about the proposed rules:

- There are two rules which will have the most effect on farms: the Produce Rule and the Preventative Controls Rule

- Farms who sell less than $25,000 of food per year are exempt from the Produce Rule

- Businesses who gross less than $250,000-$1 million (the limit is still up for debate) qualify for modified requirements under the Preventative Controls Rule

- The Produce Rule addresses water testing, manure use, hand washing, animals on the farm, equipment and buildings, employee training, and sprouts

- The Preventative Controls Rule requires eligible facilities which manufacture, process, pack, or hold human food to create a food safety plan which includes hazard analysis, preventative controls, monitoring procedures, corrective actions, and verification

- Farms are expected to bear costs both in determining eligibility for the rules and in complying with them

As a beginning farmer myself selling less than $25,000 worth of produce per year, I had initially not paid too much attention to the new rules. It came as a surprise then, when I was describing my farm to another attendee at the meeting, and he mentioned that one of the rules might actually apply to me. “Aggregating” produce can qualify a farm to be subject to the Preventative Controls Rule, and my farm uses more than one plot of land to grow our produce and occasionally sells produce from neighboring farms and gardens. Suddenly, I feel much more urgency about submitting a comment! Stay tuned, because I will be creating a video of the comment submission process while I do it to help make it easier to understand for other farmers.

I am also happy to provide support for anyone who would like to make a comment but needs more insight into the rules or how they apply, or assistance with writing. Email ariana@tilthproducers.org or call 206.660.8958.

George Reistad, Michael Fields Agricultural Institute; Ariana Taylor-Stanley, Tilth Producers of Washington; Ariane Lotti, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition; James Robinson, Rural Advancement Foundation International USA celebrating 25 years of NSAC

George Reistad, Michael Fields Agricultural Institute; Ariana Taylor-Stanley, Tilth Producers of Washington; Ariane Lotti, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition; James Robinson, Rural Advancement Foundation International USA celebrating 25 years of NSAC

Next Meeting: D.C.

The next NSAC meeting, happening in January 2014, will take place in Washington, D.C. I look forward to participating then, not only in the policy priority setting process and the wonderful group of seasoned and rising advocates from around the country, but also in getting the chance to connect with the D.C. staff of the Washington State congressional delegation!

Second Annual Policy Party a Success!

Thank you to all who attended Tilth Producers’ second annual Policy Party on July 29th! It was a great success, from the weather to the food. We mingled with a wonderful group of attendees: from farmer pioneers of the organic movement to new advocates looking for a place to plug in. Tilth Producer’s Executive Director Michele Catalano hosted the event in her spectacular Madrona backyard. Thanks to generous donations from local farms and businesses, we served a full spread of local, organic fare, alongside Ponder Farms’ home-brew and Bainbridge Island Vineyards’ wine.

The remains of a beautiful spread of local organic food and flowers

The remains of a beautiful spread featuring local, organic food and flowers

The highlight of the evening was hearing Anne Schwartz share a history of Tilth Producers and the organic farming movement in the Northwest and beyond. Anne reflected on her first-hand experience of more than 30 years of successes in the struggle for a better food system. She focused on Tilth Producers’ role in launching Washington’s organic certification program and work with WSU to create the Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources and its organic agriculture major. Michele Catalano followed with an overview of Tilth’s current farmer-to-farmer education programs and some of our more recent policy victories – all efforts geared to ensuring the continued success of our farmers, both current and future.

Anne Schwartz addresses the Policy Party attendees

Anne Schwartz addresses the Policy Party attendees

Moved by these inspiring words, attendees at the party stepped forward to support Tilth Producers’ policy work. Thanks to their generous contributions we exceeded our event fundraising goal.


A big thank-you to these donors who provided food, drink, and flowers:

Alvarez Organic Farm

Bainbridge Island Vineyards and Winery

Blue Heron Farm

Central Coop

Grateful Bread

Laughing Crow Farm

Let Us Farm

Moon Rabbit Urban Farm

Olsen Farms

Ponder Farms


Razey Orchards

Seattle Wholesale Growers Market

Skagit River Ranch

Tall Grass Bakery


And to all of our wonderful attendees!

If you missed the event, you can support Tilth Producers’ policy work with a donation online, or keep up-to-date on policy issues by joining our listserv.

Congresswoman DelBene Listens

DelBene with CSA box

Congresswoman DelBene receives a sample CSA share from Local Roots Farm

There are a myriad of laws and policies at all levels of government which affect agriculture. Unfortunately, it’s easy for farmers to feel disenfranchised from engaging in advocacy because the issues are complicated, numerous, and shrouded inside the complicated systems that create policy.

To provide an opportunity for local farmers to connect to key legislative issues affecting agriculture, Tilth Producers of Washington, the Washington Young Farmers Coalition, the Northwest Farm Bill Action Group, and Local Roots Farm collaborated to host a listening session with Congresswoman Suzan DelBene on April 13th. We were fortunate to have twenty farmers and concerned eaters turnout on the coldest day of the month, and to have Siri Erickson-Brown and Jason Salvo, owners of Local Roots, and their employees Rawley Johnson and Sam Bowhay as great hosts for the tour.

Congresswoman DelBene is a great listener. Northwest Farm Bill Action Group Student Intern Danielle Gilmour reflected, “This was my first time meeting a congressperson, and I am so glad it was Congresswoman DelBene. She is approachable, attentive, and articulate.”

Sam talks

Local Roots employee Sam Bowhay welcomes Congresswoman DelBene to the farm alongside Siri Erickson Brown, farmer and co-owner of Local Roots Farm

After the event, we got further proof that the Congresswoman was listening: she has now signed on as a cosponsor of the Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act. She also introduced her own piece of legislation asking Congress to include support for fruits and vegetables (a.k.a. specialty crops) in the next Farm Bill. We are delighted and grateful to see her step out and show support for local food systems this way.

If you would like to extend your own thanks to Congresswoman DelBene, you can reach her DC office at (202) 225-6311, her Bothell office at (425) 485-0085, or send her an online message here.

Congresswoman DelBene poses with 21 farmers and eaters at the farm policy Listening Session at Local Roots Farm, April 13, 2013

Congresswoman DelBene poses with 21 farmers and eaters at Local Roots Farm Listening Session, April 13, 2013

The listening session, modeled after last year’s Urban Farm Tour with Congressman Adam Smith, was organized in response to Congresswoman Suzan DelBene’s recent appointment to the House Agriculture Committee.

The event provided an opportunity to reach the Congresswoman and hear her views on four primary issues of concern to all the convening organizations. Each priority was illustrated with a stop at a relevant site on the farm. A summary of each issue follows.

Prep station

Tilth Producers Policy Coordinator Ariana Taylor-Stanley discusses policies which help rebuild local food systems in the processing shed

Local Food Systems

The tour began with a peek into the processing shed where fresh produce gets washed, bunched, and boxed to go to market. We discussed the need to rebuild local food systems and Farm Bill programs, including the Farmers Market Promotion Program, Organic Cost Share Program, Value-Added Producer Grants, Specialty Crop Block Grants, and the Organic Research and Extension Initiative. Many of these programs are included in the Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act, which we asked the Congresswoman to co-sponsor (to great success!).

Conservation Programs

Congresswoman DelBene and Farmer Siri Erickson Brown in front of Local Roots' new greenhouse, which is still under construction

Congresswoman DelBene and Farmer Siri Erickson Brown in front of Local Roots’ new greenhouse, which is still under construction

Next, we looked at Local Roots’ new greenhouse, which was paid for in part by a Natural Resource Conservation Service grant, and discussed conservation programs. Farmer Siri pointed out that while many conservation programs like that one do help farms, others, like the Wetland Reserve Program which helps farmers conserve wetlands by paying them not to farm in wetland buffer areas, can take significant amounts of farmland out of production.

This moveable chicken tractor is part of a business run by Rawley Johnson, Crew Leader at Local Roots, which is helping prepare him to start his own farm

This moveable chicken tractor is part of a business run by Rawley Johnson, Crew Leader at Local Roots, which is helping prepare him to start his own farm

Beginning Farmer and Rancher Issues

We next explored Crew Leader Rawley’s laying hen side-project, which is helping him develop the means to start his own farm. Rawley wrote the business plan for this project in the WSU Extension’s Cultivating Success: Agricultural Entrepreneurship class (which many of the meeting participants had attended as well). This program is a great model for new-farmer training, and is the kind of program supported by the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP). The BFRDP also provided a low-interest loan which helped Jason and Siri to buy the property which comprises Local Roots Farm.

Amelia Swinton, Garden and Nutrition Educator at Solid Ground's Lettuce Link program, discusses food security and the Farm Bill

Amelia Swinton, Garden and Nutrition Educator at Solid Ground’s Lettuce Link program, discusses food security and the Farm Bill

Food Access

Local Roots sometimes grows more food than they have time to harvest. Right now, the over-wintered kale plants are producing an excess of kale “raab” or flowers. The farm works with an Americorps program which sends volunteer gleaners out to harvest excess produce to donate to local food banks. We didn’t get to see the kale raab as we hurried into a greenhouse to warm up, but we did get to talk to the Congresswoman about other Farm Bill programs which help urban consumers access healthy food, such as access to SNAP at farmers’ markets, the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program, and Community Food Project grants.

The event concluded with a question and answer session during which Congresswoman DelBene continued to engage with constituents, and spoke to other issues, including genetic engineering, food safety, and subsidy reform.

We appreciate Congresswoman DelBene’s support for sustainable agriculture and local farms. We are grateful she could join us for this event, and so happy to see her already taking steps to support our growers in Congress.

Congresswoman DelBene answers questions in the greenhouse

Congresswoman DelBene answers questions in the greenhouse

Voice your support for SB 5123, establishing a farm internship program in WA

Guest post from Chrys Ostrander, Executive Director and Farm Manager, Pine Meadow Farm Center: A Charitable and Educational Farm.

Voice your support TODAY for SB 5123, establishing a farm internship program. This bill will help grow new farmers from the ground up. 

Please! Call your WA State Representative and also Speaker Frank Chopp and Rep. Pat Sullivan (Majority Leader).

DON’T WAIT! There’s not much time because the legislative session is about to end, but the bill is finished and has already been approved for a vote once. Your help is needed to convince the legislature that this bill is important and deserves a vote. Please ask legislators to pull the bill from the Rules Committee and pass it off to the floor of the House for a vote.

Here’s the information. At this late date, it’s best to CALL ON THE PHONE:

Find Your Legislator. Use this link to get the contact info for your WA State Representative: http://app.leg.wa.gov/DistrictFinder/

Rep. Frank Chopp, Speaker of the House

Rep. Pat Sullivan, Majority Leader

What to say:

“Hi, my name is _______, and I’m calling in support of SB 5123, Establishing a Farm Internship Program. I’d like to urge Representative ______ to pull the bill from the Rules Committee and pass it off to the floor of the House for a vote.

This internship program will benefit Washington’s economy by training new farmers and helping existing farms to thrive. It has already passed unanimously in the senate. Please help make sure it has a chance to get to the House floor, where it has strong support!”


SB 5123 was introduced in the 2013 Washington Legislature to set up a pilot program to allow small farms in sixteen WA counties to take on interns, paid or unpaid, who would perform farm work, benefit from a structured educational program administered by the farmer and receive Workers’ Compensation coverage.

The small farm economy in Washington is experiencing growth and with that comes a higher demand for trained farmworkers. The internship pilot program that would be established by SB 5123 would improve on-the-job training for beginning farmers and farmworkers by requiring that the farms provide an educational component for farm interns. The educational component requirement is relatively simple for the small farm to comply with. The bill proposes that each participating small farm “provides a curriculum of learning modules and supervised participation in farm work activities designed to teach farm interns about farming practices and farm enterprises … [that is] is based on the bona fide curriculum of an educational or vocational institution; and … is reasonably designed to provide the intern with vocational knowledge and skills about farming practices and enterprises.” Such curricula are readily available on-line and can be modified by each farm to fit its circumstances. The bill calls for farm organizations and agencies such as WSU Extension, Tilth Producers of Washington, the Farm Bureau and others to offer assistance to participating small farms in fulfilling this and other aspects of their farm internship offerings.

More Info:

The bill is similar to a pilot program that had been in existence in Skagit and San Juan counties during 2010 and 2011 but has since expired. The new version would revive the pilot program and extend it to King, Whatcom, Kitsap, Pierce, Jefferson, Spokane, Yakima, Chelan, Grant, Island, Snohomish, Kittitas, Lincoln, and Thurston counties. An attempt was made in the 2012 legislative session to extend the pilot program to these counties and received strong support in the legislature but died in committee.

An official assessment of the first pilot project was submitted to the legislature in 2011. Although participation in the program was low (six farms participating, nine interns enrolled), the report concluded “Both the farms and interns are reporting high levels of satisfaction with this project. Their desire is to continue providing internships that are “sanctioned” instead of questionably legal [“flying under the radar”]. The farms and interns especially value the availability of worker’s compensation for interns available through the FIP project. Farmers have reported that the quantity and quality of the educational component of their internships has increased as a result of participating in the project. All of the enrolled farmers said that they would recommend the program to other farmers. Interns have reported high praise for the educational component of their internships.”

Traditionally, many small farms have relied on “informal employment” of interns or apprentices. Whether such arrangements are legal or not depends on the interpretation of unpaid internship criteria published by the WA Department of Labor & Industries (L& I) and are based on the U. S. Department of Labor Fair Labor Standards Act. As the number of jobs on small farms grows, the potential for a farm to run afoul of labor laws increases. A farm’s viability comes under threat if it becomes embroiled in costly and time-consuming compliance and enforcement disputes with L& I. A small farm lacks sustainability if it allows risky employment practices and unnecessary exposure to legal entanglements to weaken its “economic viability”, which is one of the pillars of “sustainable agriculture,”  Another pillar of sustainable agriculture is “social responsibility.” One of the reasons that gave rise to a social responsibility aspect in sustainable agriculture was the long history of worker exploitation in agriculture. While it is true that many informal employment arrangements on small farms are on friendly terms, there doesn’t exist the protection that legal workers enjoy in terms of on-the-job injuries or financial security.  An intern on a small farm is not allowed to remain an intern indefinitely; that not only violates the tenant that unpaid interns cannot displace wage-earning workers (L & I criteria), but it disrespects decades of hard-fought, worker-led struggles to impose minimum wage protections upon labor exploiters of the past. Minimum wage laws exist to protect the rights of workers to receive fair compensation.

Part of creating a revitalized, sustainable local food system, besides improving training for farmers and farmworkers, is increasing their security and stability by regularizing un-paid internships – a tradition that dates back ages. Senate Bill 5123 is an experimental step in that direction. Let’s urge the legislature to pass this bill so that we can assess its workability.


Below, criticisms of the bill are paraphrased and responded to:


Interns should be employees, and they should be paid. Anybody can learn how to pick carrots or beets in ten minutes; after that it is NOT an educational experience.  It is unpaid labor. If a farm relies on unpaid labor to survive, then it is not a sustainable operation.


The bill does not prohibit interns from being paid, that is left up to each farm to work out, but farms would not bound by minimum wage laws in regards to farm interns. The Interns would sign an agreement with the farm that establishes compensation, if any. Payment can be made in the form of stipends, room and board, combination of same, etc. Even if the intern is un-paid, the bill makes sure it is not simply free labor. The internship will need to be an educational experience based upon an approved curriculum. The intern will be receiving value in exchange for the time put in on the farm and the farmer will incur cost in fulfilling the educational and reporting obligations of the program as well as paying Workers’ Compensation insurance premiums to the state. If anyone would like to see an example of the type of curriculum that this pilot program would be expecting from its farmer participants, I invite you to take a look at an example from the Cultivating Success program here (please take careful note of the licensing agreement).

An important thing that should be understood about SB 5123 is that the bill proposes a temporary pilot program that expires at the end of 2017. It is an experiment. It does not set up a permanent program. What it does do is modify and extend a very limited, earlier experiment that was reported by program participants– by both producers and, it is important to point out, the interns themselves– to have been beneficial. If the outcomes of this larger scale experiment were to be as positive as the first pilot program (the current bill calls for another detailed study of the pilot program to be conducted by L & I), then the citizens of Washington State could have a further discussion as to whether the program should be made permanent through subsequent legislation. I believe the pilot program should be afforded an opportunity to be tried with full recognition of the concerns that have been voiced.

While there is room for a farm to develop its own curriculum (approval of which would be required by L & I) and that curriculum could be of a more limited scope than the example given, it is important to note that the bill calls for the curriculum to encompass “learning modules and supervised participation in farm work activities designed to teach farm interns about farming practices and farm enterprises; … [that is] is based on the bona fide curriculum of an educational or vocational institution; and … is reasonably designed to provide the intern with vocational knowledge and skills about farming practices and enterprises.”

Any small farmer would take offense at the notion that “anybody can learn how to pick carrots or beets in ten minutes; after that it is NOT an educational experience.” First of all, to pick carrots and beets well takes far longer than ten minutes to teach (if the farmer has quality standards s/he wishes to maintain). Furthermore, providing a way for small farms to get un-paid menial labor is not the intent of the bill and a farm doing so would be in violation of the law. The intent is that the interns learn the full context within which the farm produces those carrots and beets– How are the varieties chosen? From what sources are the seeds procured? What are the planting dates? How do you manage succession planting or inter-planting schemes? What are the fertility requirements? How is the seed bed prepared? What equipment is used to plant the seed? How is it maintained? How is the irrigation managed? Where do the crops fit into the crop rotation plan? How are weeds and insect pests managed? What considerations must be taken into account to produce certified organic carrots and beets? How do you handle the crops post-harvest to ensure quality and food safety? What determines how and where the produce is marketed? These questions illustrate a tiny fraction of what farmers must know and practice to be successful. This knowledge is what is intended to be imparted to the interns who would participate in this pilot program if passed. There are few places where someone interested in learning the art of small-scale farming can absorb the full context of this knowledge reservoir like they can by working on a farm side-by-side with a farmer mentor. The intent of the bill is to foster the professional development of a new generation of farmers to supply the paid labor force for a growing sector of Washington’s economy, namely, the small farm.

It’s true that “if a farm relies on unpaid labor to survive, then it is not a sustainable operation.” This bill envisions a regulatory environment in which the hosting of interns, paid (with the possibility of that pay being less than minimum wage yet with Workers’ Compensation insurance paid by the farm) or unpaid, can become a regularized option for small farms. Passage would not encourage or condone any farm “relying” on unpaid labor.

Please contact your state Representatives to support SB 5123, the Farm Internship Pilot Program.

FDA Extends FSMA Comment Period by 120 Days

At a Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on April 18, 2013, US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Margaret Hamburg announced that FDA intends to extend the comment period for the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) proposed rules by another 120 days. The comment period deadline was May 16, 2013, and with the extension, will now close in mid-September.

We are pleased with this decision as the two proposed rules, part of the implementation of FSMA, set standards that will certainly impact growers. Some subcommittee members expressed concern that the new regulations will place a significant burden on small entities, and that a “one size fits all” approach may force some producers out of the market.

Tilth Producers agrees with the need for an extension as it provides an opportunity for organic and sustainable growers to learn more and provide comments. It is a complicated rule, and while only 100 to 150 pages of the 1700+ pages of proposed regulations may be pertinent to our growers, the nuances and details take time to understand. We encourage all Tilth members to attend webinars and/or workshops hosted by FDA and others to learn as much as possible, and to provide comments to FDA.

Find more valuable information about the Food Safety Modernization Act on the websites of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) and the Organic Trade Association (OTA). Or attend an overview workshops hosted by WSU Extension or FDA.

View NSAC’s  FSMA 101: Overview and Background

View OTA’s  Summary of the Produce Safety Rule  

View NSAC’S  Am I Affected?

View OTA’s  Summary of Who Would be Covered by the Rule

View NSAC’S  Speak Out Today!

View FDA’s FSMA information homepage

Sat. April 13, Duvall: Farm-Based Listening Session with Congresswoman Suzan DelBene

Join us for a Farm-Based Listening Session with Congresswoman Suzan DelBene!

Saturday, April 13th, 10 AM – 12:30 PM
Local Roots Farm, Duvall

Share your thoughts on the Farm Bill and other federal policy issues that affect Washington farmers with our new House Agriculture Committee member, Congresswoman Suzan DelBene. Join us as we show the Congresswoman around a successful, working, direct-market farm in her district and talk about key issues. Not familiar with policy issues and want to join us anyway? Don’t worry – the event will start with a briefing on key issues!

10:00 AM: Policy issue briefing and walk-through
11:00 AM: Congresswoman DelBene arrives, tour
12:00 PM: Question and answer period

For more information or to RSVP, contact Ariana Taylor-Stanley: ariana@tilthproducers.org, 206.660.8958

This event is a collaboration between Tilth Producers of Washington, the Northwest Farm Bill Action Group, and the Washington Young Farmers Coalition. Funding is provided by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.

Call today – ask for full funding for the Small Farm Direct Marketing and Farm to School Programs

Update on Tilth’s top priority policy issue: restoring funding for the Small Farm Direct Marketing and Farm to School Programs!  The Senate voted this week to fund the programs with a total of $250,000 (good news!). But this is only half the $500,000 amount requested for the two programs (bad news).

Please take a moment to encourage your Representative to tell House budget writers to appropriate $500,000 in the biennium budget for the Small Farm Direct Marketing and Farm to School Programs.

1.  Call the Legislative Hotline, 1-800-562-6000

2. Tell the operator your  name and street address

3.  Leave this message for your legislators:

“I’m calling in support of the Small Farms Direct Marketing and the Farm to School Programs.  This week the Senate budget writers included a total of $250,000 for both programs.  We applaud their decision to fund the programs, but $250,000 is insufficient to do the important work of building a stronger local food system.

As the House leadership works on the budget it is really important that they hear from all of the members who support these critical programs.  Please take the time to make a personal request to Representative Ross Hunter and Speaker Chopp to fund the Small Farms Direct Marketing and Farm to School Programs at $500,000 for the biennium.”

4. Want to go an extra step? See if your Representatives (who you can find here) signed on to the letter in support of Small Farm Direct Marketing and Farm to School Programs here, and thank them if they have already signed on!

Thanks for taking action!