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Southern SAWG Newsletter  Volume 7, #7
 
July 2010

Dear Friends,

Wow! Quite a summer so far, with long periods of blistering heat throughout the country. For many of us this is the busiest time of year, so here are a few tips for keeping safe in extreme weather. Drink water hourly to keep the body hydrated. If you are engaged in vigorous outdoor activities (like farming or selling at a market), drink one cup of water every twenty to thirty minutes. If you are working in extremely hot weather, start early in the morning and get indoors or in the shade in the early afternoon. Signs of heat exhaustion include cramping, paleness of skin, weakness, feeling faint, and even nausea. To treat heat exhaustion or heat cramps, sit or lie down in a cool or shaded place, and gently massage the cramping areas. Remove shoes and socks and loosen clothing to lower the body temperature. Apply a cold compress to the face. For cramping, stir a teaspoon of salt into a quart of water and drink it. Repeat this once every hour until the cramps stop.
 
Remember, we like to hear from you, and share your stories. Click here to send updates, photos, and announcements about your farm, markets, CSAs, organization, events, and other related activities.
 
And be sure to keep cool!
 
--Your friends at Southern SAWG

IN THIS ISSUE
USDA Organic Initiative on the Ground
University of Kentucky Sustainable Ag Program Launches New Website
Community Food Advocates--New Name for Nashville Group Merger
Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund 2010 Annual Meeting August 19-21, 2010 Birmingham & Epes, AL
Farm & Ranch Freedom Alliance's 4th Annual Conference: Taking Back Control of Our Food Supply September 13-14, 2010 Austin, TX
Permaculture Design Certification Course September 25-October 9, 2010 Wildscape Acres, near Bonham, TX
Registration Now Open for 14th Annual Community Food Security Conference: Food, Culture, & Justice--The Gumbo That Unites Us All October 16-19, 2010 New Orleans, LA
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USDA Organic Initiative on the Ground
 
One message that is clear so far about the USDA Organic Initiative, administered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), is that this program is a work in progress, with strength and focus developing through the interaction of NRCS personnel, the farmers who are participating, and other agriculture professionals. The key seems to be in communication, finding the common ground between two or more different cultures, and building on that.
 
The USDA Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) Support for Organic Growers, known as the Organic Initiative, which came into being under the 2008 Farm Bill, had $50 million allocated for 2010. Existing certified organic farmers and farmers transitioning to organic production were eligible to apply. The initial program began in 2009, and was limited to six core practices, which many applicants found to limit the usefulness of the program. This feedback was transmitted both at the individual level, through state councils, and through organic and sustainable organizations and advocates. For 2010, the adherence to these core practices is no longer required, and the NRCS is now allowing states to select conservation practices for the Initiative, with national guidance. The program payment rate for the Organic Initiative is 75 percent for approved practices, and 90 percent for historically underserved participants.
 
Southern SAWG recently completed the third in a series of professional development workshops on organic production and hoop house production. The series, funded by the Sustainable Agriculture Research Education (SARE) Professional Development Program, was attended predominantly by NRCS field staff, which fit well with their need and desire to become more knowledgeable about these practices, and more able to work with organic and transitioning growers. It also afforded a substantial opportunity to learn more about the challenges and opportunities from the point of view of the NRCS personnel.
 
The last training session took place in Arkansas. Workshop presenters were Mark Cain, a long-time Arkansas organic farmer, Virginia sustainable agriculture researcher and consultant Mark Schonbeck, and Andrew Williams, who served in a number of capacities as a conservationist with the Alabama Natural Resource Conservation Service until his retirement last year, and who was able to provide a bridge between the two cultures of small-scale farmers and the NRCS.  
 
Mark Cain (r), discusses hoop house construction with Andrew Williams, retired NRCS conservationist, and Dr. Leslie Glover, University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff, on Cain's farm, Dripping Springs Garden
Andrew Williams, Leslie Glover, ant Mark Cain at Dripping Springs Garden
During the workshop, Mark Cain shared his experiences working with NRCS under this program. Jim Lukens, Southern SAWG's executive director, says this served very well as a case study in how both he and the agency personnel had to learn new things to make the system work. Agency leaders from the state office were also in attendance, and during the workshop they discussed how input from experienced farmers like Cain had already helped to improve the program, and how additional input from organic farmers is needed at both the state and local levels. This is the leading edge in getting these programs to be fully functional and delivering the intended benefits to the farmers and to natural resource conservation efforts. As Lukens points out, "Getting legislation passed in D.C. isn't the end of the process of making a new program work for farmers."
 
Jesse Strassburg, Southern SAWG's program coordinator for these workshops, observed that there is a lack of connection between agricultural professional agencies that could be working with one another to learn and share best practices related to organic horticulture outreach, particularly between the NRCS and university extension agencies. He notes that many are not even aware of each other's programs, and says, "These could be better maximized, as has occurred at these trainings. It is important to encourage more collaborative ag professional trainings."
 
Strassberg also brings up the situation of each state being at different levels of awareness in working with transitioning and organic farmers. "This creates a disparity and inequity as it relates to outreach of organic programs in certain parts of the Southern region," he says. "Some states are requesting that organic farmers be part of a state advisory council to assist in developing their programs to organic farmers." He encourages producers to work with their extension or NRCS agent, or advocacy organizations, to connect with state offices and learn more about participating.
 
Circling back to developing communication and respect between diverse cultures, Jesse Strassberg acknowledges that there is a transition period with agriculture professionals to overcome their biases and resistance to new program practices such as organic and high tunnel. Likewise, there is resistance on the part of many organic producers, who often perceive that they are on the fringe of working with agriculture professionals, and have, in many cases, had negative experiences and conflict over practices. It can be productive for farmers to remember that NRCS agents and other agriculture professionals are challenged with numerous program activities, and depend on producer interest to work with such programs to build their experiences. The pre-training evaluations from the Arkansas workshop indicated that 32 out of 33 of those who responded had never participated in an organic horticulture training, yet 20 of these had professional experience ranging from working with a producer preparing to become certified organic, to finding themselves unable to directly assist producers due to a lack of knowledge.
 
Their expectations of the program largely focused on gaining the knowledge and resources to be able to serve their organic constituents. The post-training evaluations showed that all of the responders felt that the training had met their expectations, with one participant commenting, "I realized that no one in our organization seemed to have spoken with any growers who use hoop houses. We shouldn't be telling you what we can do for you--we should be finding out what you need."
 
Strassburg says, "It is important to encourage organic farmers to take advantage of these programs at the state level even if they feel the bureaucracy is too much or the agriculture professional is not fully vested in assisting. Their leadership is vital to helping many more, especially in states that are under capacity."
 
One case in point is that of Andy Byrd, owner and operator of Whippoorwill Hollow Organic Farm, in Walnut Grove, Georgia. His is a success story, but like many "overnight successes" this one has been almost four years in the making. Byrd's saga began with his application, and then his contract, for the NRCS EQIP program, in place before the new Organic Initiative, to improve irrigation on his farm, which needed a new well, and an additional drip irrigation system. When the first well was dug, it came up dry, and the NRCS response was that he had bought himself a $20,000 hole in the ground. Byrd had also been told by one of the NRCS engineers that they really don't work with small farms like his. After many encounters and conversations, including a fortuitous meeting between Byrd and State Conservationist James Tillman, work began to resolve the issues of Whippoorwill's irrigation and cost share contract.
 
Several months ago, while in Georgia, David White, NRCS Chief Conservationist, who had heard about Byrd's trials and persistence, and the advocacy on his behalf, paid a visit to Whippoorwill Hollow. He was scheduled to visit for an hour and a half, and stayed for five, canceling two other appointments. As they toured the farm they discussed many aspects of the program, with White taking note of Andy Byrd's approach and input.
 
Byrd has been accepted for the new 2010 pilot project, also administered by the NRCS, to assist farmers in establishing high tunnels, or hoop houses, to increase the availability of locally grown produce in a conservation-friendly way. During the visit with White, Byrd took the opportunity to express his opinion about how to best use the new building. While he is grateful for the opportunity to have the project reimburse him for 90 percent of the cost, he is concerned about restrictions, having been told that he must use the hoop house only to grow on the ground. He is interested in using raised beds, and has been trialing with several systems utilizing up to three growing levels. "There are different ways to do this," Byrd told White. "Don't tie the farmers' hands! Let us have some leeway where we can figure out and utilize the best methods."
 
When farmers and agriculture professionals feel that they are in different worlds, and never the twain shall meet, they can take heart from Andy Byrd. "It's been a long journey to have many of the folks in the NRCS realize that this is the farming of the future, but they are listening."
 
We have heard from several other farmers in the Southern region who are working with the Organic Initiative and high tunnel program; watch for an update on their experiences, progress, and recommendations in the next issue. If you would like to share your insights and experiences, click here.
University of Kentucky Sustainable Ag Program Launches New Website

 

The University of Kentucky Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems Working Group has launched a new website to answer questions, spark discussion, and provide information about the possibilities that a sustainable system offers. As part of a land-grant institution, the UK College of Agriculture is dedicated to bettering Kentuckians' lives and sustaining their rich culture by improving the sustainability of Kentucky's agriculture and food system, finding methods that will enable people to "farm forever."

 

Bob Perry, Working Group project manager and chef, says that the site is still in development, and recommends checking back regularly for updates and additional resources.

 

UK's College of Agriculture is committed to helping create a healthy environment, a thriving economy, and a more sustainable food system, and now offers an undergraduate curriculum in sustainable agriculture. Students can obtain a Bachelor of Science in Sustainable Agriculture within the Individualized Programs track.

 

To explore and bookmark the site, click here

Community Food Advocates Formed from Merger of Two Nashville Groups
 
On June 6, 2010, the merger of two outstanding organizations, Manna and the Food Security Partners of Middle Tennessee officially became Community Food Advocates. The group chose the name to encompass their mission: to end hunger and create a healthy, just, and sustainable food system. 
 
The organization, which brings together farmers, parents, students, persons of faith, community gardeners, and health advocates, includes initiatives such as Growing Healthy Kids, which aims to improve access to healthy foods in schools, Re/Storing Nashville, which advocates for increased access to affordable, healthy food in Nashville's food deserts, and Food Stamp Outreach. 
 
For more information, visit www.communityfoodadvocates.org.
Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund 2010 Annual Meeting
August 19-21, 2010
Alice Walker
Alice Walker
Birmingham & Epes, Alabama

 
August 19, 2010 - Birmingham    
Estelle Witherspoon Lifetime Achievement Award Dinner
Honoring award-winning author Alice Walker

August 20-21, 2010 - Epes
Federation Annual Meeting 
 
Meeting activities will include exhibits workshops on cooperatives, agroforestry, and conservation and agtours. Guest speakers will include LeAnn Oliver, Deputy Administrator, USDA Cooperative Programs; Dave White, Chief, NRCS; Tom Tidwell, Chief, USDA Forest Service; and Johnathan Coppess, Administrator, Farm Service Agency. 
 
For more information click here or call 404.765.0991.
Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance's 4th Annual Farm & Food Leadership Conference:
Taking Back Control of Our Food Supply
September 13-14, 2010

Austin, Texas 
 
Learn about the latest developments in agriculture and food, and get the tools you need to help make a difference at this gathering of activists, farmers and ranchers, consumers, and non-profit organizations.
 
The conference will feature keynote speaker Jim Hightower. Presentation topics include genetically modified foods; food policy councils; developing an effective message; getting food from farm to table; the National Animal ID System; and land water use issues.
 
For more information, click here
.
Permaculture Design Certification Course
September 25 - October 9, 2010
Wildscape Acres, near Bonham, Texas 
 
This intensive, hands-on course in permaculture design will be taught by Patricia Allison, who has been teaching the course since 1994, along with Dylan Ryals-Hamilton, Mateo Ryall, and guests.

The 72-hour curriculum fulfills the required elements for Permaculture Design Certification, which include ethics; pattern understanding; design processes; ecosystems; soil; agroforestry; water; microclimates; ecosystems; gardens; natural/green building; appropriate technology; animals; aquaculture; economics; ecovillage design; budgeting and costs; and cultural sustainability.

For more information, click here.
Registration Now Open for the 14th Annual Community Food Security Conference:
Food, Culture, & Justice: The Gumbo That Unites Us All
October 16-19, 2010 
New Orleans, Louisiana
 
In New Orleans, food is used to make a cultural connection uniting urban farmers, food banks, fishers, faith-based organizations, and others as they work towards social justice. At Food, Culture, & Justice: The Gumbo That Unites Us All, you will experience first-hand the unique regional and multi-cultural approach to food organizing that is taking place there.
 
The conference will offer many opportunities to explore the area through longer lunch breaks, an off-site reception, cooking classes, walking tours, and numerous pre-conference field trips to destinations in New Orleans and throughout the Gulf Coast Region. There will also be insightful plenary sessions and workshops to inspire and educate you about the food security movement. Session topics will include rebuilding local food economies, ending poverty and increasing food access, outcomes of the U.S. Social Forum, environmental justice, public health links, food policy councils, and urban agriculture, and there will be ample networking and discussion opportunities. 
 
For complete information and to register, click here.  

Crimson Sweets from Walker Farms Organic Produce, Sylvania, Georgia
 Photo by Mickey Alberts
Crimson Sweets from Walker Farms
 

 

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Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group, Inc. (Southern SAWG) is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization founded in 1991 to promote sustainable agriculture in the Southern United States.