The Importance of Integrity in the Face of Growth

      Posted On: July 20, 2008

Don Wamblesby Don Wambles, FMC President

As I look at news of weather related disasters across the country from floods, droughts, and tornadoes, I am reminded of the extremely difficult circumstances that our farmers deal with to provide us with food and fiber. Their resilience, even in the face of adversity, their hope for a better tomorrow, and our support provides the strength they need to carry on.

For those that have not been adversely affected by weather, crops have been bountiful. Consumers are flocking to farmers markets in droves to buy fresh, locally grown produce from local farmers. The demand for buying local continues to increase. This is great for our communities and great for farmers.

National Organic Program
It has come to my attention that there are state level Organic Certification Bodies documenting instances of farmers selling at farmers markets who are representing their products as organic in violation of the National Organic Program 7 CFR 205. I’d like to take this opportunity to remind farmers market managers and market masters of the importance of being up to speed on organics. Part of preserving the integrity of your market means that when your customers THINK they are buying organic, they really GET organic. It’s also the law. To use the name ‘organic,’ farmers must be certified unless they are selling less than $5,000 of organic product annually. Exemptions from certification are laid out in the NOP regulation § 205.101 as follows: (1) A production or handling operation that sells agricultural products as ‘organic’ but whose gross agricultural income from organic sales totals $5,000 or less annually is exempt from certification under Subpart E of this part and from submitting an organic system plan for acceptance or approval under § 205.101 but must comply with the applicable organic production and handling requirements of the Subpart C of this part and the labeling requirements of § 205.310. The products from such operations shall not be used as ingredients identified as organic in processed products produced by another handling operation.
Any operation that knowingly sells or labels a product as organic except in accordance with the NOP regulation is subject to an $11,000 fine per violation.

The entire regulation can be found on the NOP website at, as well as a more reader-friendly FAQ section. As a word of caution to our farmers markets and market vendors, be sure to comply with these guidelines. The long-term trust and patronage of your consumers depends upon your understanding of and commitment not only to the spirit of organic but to the legal implications of misrepresentation. For some helpful resources regarding the National Organic Program’s implications for farmers markets, please read “Organic Food: What Farmers Market Managers Need to Know,” prepared by FMC member Susan Smalley at the C.S. Mott Group for Sustainable Food Systems at Michigan State University.

Farm Bill
By now, you probably know that the Farm Bill was finally passed in June by overriding the President’s veto for the second time. Finally, it is done! There are a lot of good things in the Bill and some that are not so good. Very briefly, let me focus on two very good programs that directly impact farmers markets and received mandatory funding through the Farm Bill. First, the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP) funding is increased by $5.6 million annually for a total increase of $28 million over the life of the 5 year Bill. The SFMNP provides resources to senior citizens for the purchase of fresh fruits and vegetables from approved farmers at authorized farmers markets, roadside stands or CSAs.

Second, the Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP) which had only received discretionary funding in the past is now funded in the Farm Bill with $33 million of mandatory funding over 5 years. With the increase in funding, the FMPP will be able to assist more markets than in the past. Discretionary funding of $1 million annually has been replaced with mandatory funding of $3 million for 2008-2009, $5 million for 2009-2010 and $10 million annually for 2010-2012. FMC’s support for these increases and our efforts to help educate policymakers about the positive impacts of FMNPs and the FMPP have, we hope, yielded new opportunities for farmers markets around the country.

Membership Meeting
The FMC held its annual membership meeting for 2008 via the web during July 14-18. Before your jaw drops as the idea of a five day meeting, let me clarify that members were allowed to log in anytime convenient for them during that period to view reports, participate in a chat room, offer comments/ suggestions, and vote on bylaws amendments and a slate of new candidates for the Board. In addition, the Board received some valuable feedback from members on some potential definitions of farmers market that we hope will embrace diversity while maintaining integrity for our growing industry. We are delighted to welcome eight new leaders and four returning incumbents to the Board (including myself), and invite you to learn more about them in this newsletter. Here’s to a happy and healthy summer!