Organics and Earth Day

At its meeting in Colorado on April 21, the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), an advisory committee to the USDA National Organic Program, had a long discussion about whether hydroponic and aquaponic farms could keep USDA Organic certification. The Board reviewed what the term “Organic” means in the United States and other countries. The largest debate is over whether “Organic” requires soil, but there was little mention about other efficient resource use.

Hydroponics and aquaponics are sustainable systems and they are important for the future of agriculture because they reuse waste and water, they can use less energy, they can run on alternative energy, they are space efficient, they are versatile and today, organics should be about more than soil. It should be about the whole picture. We should be looking to improve our planet and these types of farms at their very core are eco-efficient.

It was especially ironic that the NOSB was considering pulling Organic certification from such highly eco-friendly farms on the day before Earth Day. Fortunately, the Board recognized that it needed more information before making such a crucial decision, and deferred their final recommendation until its next meeting in the Fall, and possibly even longer.

RFC member farmers, including Michael Hasey of The Farming Fish in Oregon (who brought pesto from his farm for the board and attendees to sample), also attended the meeting and provided comments and information to the NOSB.  Tawnya Sawyer of Colorado Aquaponics offered NOSB members a tour of her facility at The GrowHaus there in Denver.  A number of the board members participated.

Click here to see the statement RFC’s Executive Director, Marianne Cufone, released to the media on Friday, and click here for RFC’s comments to the NOSB.

RFC ED Chosen for Grist 50 List!

We are SO excited – our ED, Marianne Cufone, was selected to be on the 2nd ever Grist 50 list. Announced today, the Grist 50 is a new annual list that highlights who’s hot in the national green movement. Meet all 50 of this year’s “fixers”.

Each year, Grist searches for inspiring innovators and do-ers working on fresh solutions to the planet’s biggest problems. The result is a collection of 50 leaders who are building a sustainable world that works for everyone. Solutions come in many shapes and sizes: exciting technologies, smart campaigns, forward-thinking legislation, innovative products, courageous organizations. As do solutionaries: entrepreneurs, comedians, farmers, activists, scholars, scientists, and more. The Grist 50 shows what a vibrant, diverse sustainability movement looks like. Last year’s inaugural list reached and inspired nearly 6 million readers! Check it out!

Show Us the Love – Tell Feds Recirculating Farms Can be “Organic”

Show your love for recirculating farms today – tell USDA – recirculating farms that meet USDA Organic standards should be eligible for the USDA Organic label!

Right now, the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) – an advisory body to the U.S.Department of Agriculture (USDA) – on all things “organic” is discussing whether to prevent sustainable recirculating farms from being eligible for the USDA Organic label! It seems unthinkable that hydroponic and aquaponic farms that can not only meet, but in some instances beat existing organic standards should not be labeled USDA Organic! These farms can recycle water and waste, run on solar or other alternative energy, limit the need for antibiotics, fertilizers and pesticides and be located in otherwise unusable spaces for growing – like rooftops, and paved, rocky or small spaces. They prevent depletion of nutrients in soil and are both an answer to resilience in growing in an ever changing climate and contribute far less than other forms of farming to factors that hasten climate change. This all makes them an ideal match with USDA Organic principles. BUT some companies are fighting for their edge in the market and want to keep the organic label all to themselves. Please let the NOSB know you want all farms that can meet USDA Organic standards to be labeled USDA Organic – learn more and sign the petition here!

Ocean fish farms in the Gulf of Mexico

It’s been a number of years since the federal government continued pushing to allow large floating cages filled with fish in our already stressed Gulf waters. Believe it or not, National Marine Fisheries Service – the agency tasked with conservation and management of all things fish and fishing in the U.S. – is trying to get people to believe that growing fish is the same as fishing, and therefore the agency is able to permit industrial fish farming operations in the Gulf of Mexico – and SOON! Last week, NMFS (pronounced “Nymphs”) announced that regulations to allow open water fish farms as close as 3 miles offshore in the Gulf are about to be finalized. There is a 60 day open public comment period right now, and following, the new law would be published as final.

Open water fish farming has a global history of serious problems – from massive pollution to interference with other ocean uses like fishing, diving, swimming and boating. Experimental operations have mostly done poorly in the U.S., requiring huge inputs of public dollars to remain open or failing and closing.

Recirculating farms grew in popularity as a response to development of open water fish farms years ago, because closed loop systems avoid most of the problems created in open water farms – there is no outflow of pollution, fish can’t escape, it’s harder for diseases and parasites to get to the fish, and there is no interference with wildlife. There is just no need to move forward with outdated open water commercial fish farms at this time when there are better, more sustainable options available today.

But for some reason, NMFS keeps pushing forward with allowing commercial fish farms in the ocean, starting with the Gulf of Mexico. In recent years, the Gulf has been battered by hurricanes, covered in oil and then sprayed above and below with chemicals in an effort to mask the terrible effects of the spill. The Gulf, its the  wildlife and all the people who live near and work on and in Gulf waters can not handle the effects that can come with industrial aquaculture on top of the already existing problems.

And its not just about the Gulf – if this law is finalized, NMFS will try to issue permits in other places around the U.S. as well – where’s next? New England? California? Please join us in telling NMFS we don’t want industrial fish farms in the Gulf of Mexico -or any other U.S. waters.