Got dirt?

Pete Johnson, farmer-owner of Pete's Greens in Waterbury and Craftsbury, at a protest at the National Organic Standards Board meeting in Stowe.

It's a regular occurrence to share the road with a farm vehicle in Vermont, but on Monday a whole parade of tractors and their accompanying farmers took to the pavement on Cape Cod Road - complete with a podium made of compost - for an organic cause.

A cavalcade of farmers, producers and advocates of organic agriculture carried signs and wore sunshine-yellow shirts bearing the message “keep the soil in organic” in a demonstration organized by Pete Johnson, farmer and founder of Pete's Greens, who drove a tractor bedecked with “Got dirt?” signs.

The demonstration was organized to show support for the National Organic Standards Board's recommendation that hydroponic crops - grown without soil in a specially constructed nutrient-delivery system - not be eligible for organic certification.

The fall meeting of the National Organic Standards Board, a federal advisory committee established in 1990 by the Organic Foods Production Act, began Monday and continued through today, Oct. 26, at Stoweflake Mountain Resort. The board meets twice each year to discuss and vote on recommendations on organic agriculture procedures and policies to be given to the National Organic Program, which administers standards for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Members of the public are invited to provide comment before and during the meeting.

Traditionally, the USDA has closely adhered to the board's recommendations, Johnson said, but “recently have started to not do that.”

In 2010, the board voted 12-1 in opposition of allowing hydroponic crops to be certified organic, but the recommendation was not implemented by the National Organic Program.

The recommendation stated, “Hydroponics … have their place in production agriculture, but certainly cannot be classified as certified organic growing methods due to their exclusion of the soil-plant ecology intrinsic to organic farming systems.”

“The relationship with the soil is a really foundational part of organic farming,” said Maddie Monty, a policy adviser with the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont.

The National Organic Standards Board “is representative of farmers, tradespeople, scientists and advocates who do an incredible amount of work,” Johnson said, and “it's tough when they're not being listened to.”

In the Nov. 12 Stowe Reporter, we'll take a closer look at the policies and politics behind the “organic” designation, the growth of hydroponic agribusiness, and what it can mean for small family farms in Vermont and beyond. 

Read more: "Farmers want strict 'organic' rule"

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Managing Editor, Stowe Reporter • Waterbury Record • News & Citizen • Stowe/Green Mountain Weddings • (802) 253-2101 x11 •

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