From our farmers: My journey with organic certification at Headwaters

This is the second in our “From our farmers” series, and was contributed by Sue Nackoney of Gentle Rain Farm, one of the farmers enrolled in our Farm Incubator Program.

Ever since Jim and I started Livin’ Spoonful, where we make yummy raw food crackers and cookies, we were committed to 100% organic ingredients. In our minds, there was no other way to be offering food to people that was truly nourishing, with the intention of helping them to thrive. That was almost 13 years ago.

Today, with our feet on the ground for our first season at Headwaters, we are finally realizing our vision of growing our own food ingredients for the crackers. It has been such a joy to be able to start Gentle Rain Farm and be a part of this amazing program and opportunity.

Our major task this winter was to certify our farm as organically grown. Since use of the word “organic” is governed by federal law, we had to submit a multi-page application with our Organic System Plan to our certifier. We had to describe all the ways, down to the smallest detail, that we would comply with the National Organic Program.

We had to list every single fertilizer, pest control substance and potting mix we use, as well as showing who certifies it for use in organic systems. I even had to provide paperwork about the ingredients of the organic coating on my organic seeds (this makes them easier to sow). The biggest issue by far was in the propagation house, where we had to put a plastic barrier between our table and the one adjoining, in the unlikely event that something from my neighbor’s table splashes or sprays onto my plants.

Finally, in March we had a detailed inspection at the farm by the certification agency we chose, Oregon Tilth. I met with the Tilth inspector for a few hours at Headwaters. He said that very few farms get through their first inspection without any non-compliance issues, but we did! Part of that was thanks to good planning and spending a lot of time doing the homework, but the other very important piece was how well Headwaters is set up and organized for certified organic operations. I think the inspector appreciated all the attention to detail in terms of food safety and avoiding contamination that Headwaters infrastructure has in place. I know I sure do!

The fields are so green and the cover crop is thick and abundant. I know I am keen to discover what the season will offer as we get those plants into the ground soon.