As NH organic group turns 50, climate change gives its practices new urgency

  • Eli Shimiyemana rips up weeds from a row of beets in a field at Brookford Farm in Canterbury on Tuesday. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Eli Shimiyemana rips up weeds from a row of beets in a field at Brookford Farm in Canterbury on Tuesday, August 16, 2022. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • A welcome sign to the Brookford Farm in Canterbuty. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Eli Shimiyemana takes a break from ripping up weeds from a row of beets in a field at Brookford Farm on Tuesday. GEOFF FORESTER photos / Monitor staff

  • Tumain Nduwina (left), Sadiqi Sadiqi, Jeanette Mukanyandwi, and Eli Shimiyemana weed in a beet field on Brookford Farm in Canterbury.

  • Livestock eat out in a field at Brookford Farm in Canterbury on Tuesday.

Monitor staff
Published: 8/19/2022 4:56:39 PM

When it comes to growing food organically in New Hampshire, numbers may not tell t he whole story.

For almost two decades the state has certified organic farms for crops, for pastureland and for maple syrup. Over that period, the total number of certified organic farms has hardly risen, going from 95 in 2007 to 105 in 2021, and most of the increase has been certified organic maple farms: Once there were 7, now there are 15.

But as the region’s biggest organization supporting organic farms prepares for its 50th birthday party, there’s a sense that the paperwork results aren’t reflective of what’s happening.

“Many farms are turning toward using organic practices but may not be certified. There’s a move to continue to use organic, regenerative, sustainable practices but some individual farmers may not want to become certified,” said Nikki Kolb, operations director of the state chapter of the Northeast Organic Farming Association, or NOFA-NH.

She notes that a number of private and non-profit groups have been authorized by the USDA to provide organic certification so the state figures don’t tell the whole story.

Becoming certified is valuable in the marketplace, since customers will often pay more for produce or products from such farms, but it can be too expensive and time-consuming, especially for the small farms that make up the bulk of New Hampshire agriculture. One big cost is that fields often have to lie fallow for three years to ensure that no pesticides or herbicides are lingering before certification is possible.

Despite the official figures, Kolb said that continuing interest in the information and workshops provided by NOFA-NH, plus queries from farmers and consumers, shows that interest in “organic, regenerative and  other ecologically sound farming practices continues to be strong.”

Allen G. Wyman, director of the Division of Regulatory Services for the state Department of Agriculture, said that the division has just three inspectors, which is why it has stopped providing organic certification for livestock. 

“It’s just too much,” he said, giving a hypothetical situation: “You get a call at 2 a.m. from a veterinarian with a question about (whether to use) a certain chemical in a cow!”

However, he said there are no plans to cut back on state organic certification for non-livestock farms.

Certified organic farms in New Hampshire range from small “mom and pop” farms to large, national operations like Pete and Jerry’s Organic Eggs in Monroe and Stonyfield Yogurt in Londonderry.

Kolb said buyers’ preference continues to be a strong driver in supporting organic practices, as does the state’s preference for locally grown produce and the proliferation of farmers markets and farm stands.

And it’s not just farmers, she said. “We work with home gardeners as well. Many are very interested in following organic or regenerative practices.”

A less happy driver of interest is the climate emergency, which has made more people aware of the need to improve soil health, one of the major benefits of eschewing the use of synthetic chemicals, and made them think about how growing food impacts the environment.

NOFA grew out of a 1971 organizational effort by Samuel Kaymen, who co-founded Stonyfield Yogurt. It now has chapters in all New England states except Maine, which has a similar association called MOFGA, as well as New York and New Jersey. The non-profit organization says it consists of “over 5,000 farmers, gardeners, landscape professionals and consumers working to promote healthy food, organic farming practices and a cleaner environment.”

Its work includes working on laws and regulations. Kolb pointed to soil health legislation passed in New Hampshire last year and how the group is trying to pass a farm-to-school bill that would incentivize “more local purchasing that would help all farmers, not just organic.”

On the federal level, NOFA is one of the groups trying to shape the upcoming Farm Bill. “There’s a lot of money on the table,” she said.

NOFA-NH is hosting two events to celebrate its birthday. One is a farm-to-table dinner and fundraiser at Colby Hill Inn in Henniker this month, which is already sold out.

A pizza party featuring music and a farm tour will be held at Brookford Farm in Canterbury on Saturday, Oct. 1, from 1 to 4 p.m. For information see www.nofanh.org/brookford-farm-event.


David Brooks bio photo

David Brooks is a reporter and the writer of the sci/tech column Granite Geek and blog granitegeek.org, as well as moderator of Science Cafe Concord events. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in mathematics he became a newspaperman, working in Virginia and Tennessee before spending 28 years at the Nashua Telegraph . He joined the Monitor in 2015.



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