Marty Mesh has dedicated more than 40 years to a more environmentally responsible and socially just form of agriculture. In 1987, Mesh helped form Florida Certified Organic Growers and Consumers (FOG), a nonprofit organization, and, in 1995, became FOG’s Executive Director. The goal was to educate farmers and the public about organic production through their programs and initiatives. Under his leadership, FOG developed Quality Certification Services, a USDA, ISO Guide 65 and ANSI accredited organic certification program. Mesh has served on the Board of Directors for many organizations, including multiple terms on the Organic Trade Association and the Accredited Certifiers Association. He was on the Organic Steering Committee for the National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture.
At the 18th Annual Georgia Organics Conference, Recipe for Change: Better Farms, Better Flavors, which will be held on Feb. 20-21, 2015, at the Classic Center in Athens, Ga. Mesh will present at the In-Dept Workshop, “Let’s Get Real: Organic Certification.” Mesh and his fellow presenters will lead attendees through a step-by-step process of USDA organic production and certification, highlighting the importance of record-keeping in any sound business and available reimbursement funds for the cost.
Georgia has one of the smallest amounts of organic acreage in the nation. Do you have any theories as to why that might be when demand is so high? I think many growers that may be interested are also rightfully cautious about substantially changing their production system. They may wonder if the system can really work, if the system can work in the Southern conditions which we operate in, if technical help is available, if there is research to support the possible change, what the market possibilities really are and other considerations and questions. Smaller scale growers may think that all of their customers already know them and thus see no need to consider change. Larger growers having more at risk are sometimes risk adverse. They may not understand that we have been working hard for many years to better address the issues that have held back the growth and promise of organic agriculture. We can discuss these topics during the session.
Many farmers grow organically but don’t get certified. How difficult is the process to get certified and maintain certification? To get certified especially if you are truly already farming organically is simply not that difficult and we are working to make it even easier. There are more resources and tools available to help. The system is designed to work with farmers who have the ability to meet the regulation while balancing consumers desire to know they are actually getting what they paying for.
This is one of the saddest parts of my work, when farmers that are truly already farming using organic practices choose to not be part of the growing movement to improve and increase the very nature of how farming is widely done on the planet, for the sake of the environment through the protection of our natural resources, through changing public policy to better support true sustainable agriculture, to help farmworkers and farmers avoid the health consequences that come from exposure to cancer causing substances often used to produce conventional food and fiber, all the while providing people with some of the healthiest food choices possible for their families using the Certified Organic label that is becoming increasingly recognized, sought out, and appreciated.
What are the main benefits of organic certification? Certainly the accredited third party verification of the claim of “Organic” opens up new market opportunities for producers. The USDA seal is one that many consumers seek out and trust. Even the recordkeeping requirements can be seen as something that can help you actually be a better farmer and have better information to base farm management decisions upon. It forces you to look at your farm from a different perspective, one that many farmers come to appreciate and value when they actually decide to participate in this Consumer Driven Farmer Powered seal.
What do you say to farmers who are thinking about certification but aren’t convinced they should pull the trigger? I say come join us for what should be an interesting session, get factual information, ask all the questions that you have and gather real information to base your decision on.
Are there any National Organic Program rules you’d like to see changed? Yes. However, this law, this regulation that we as organic farmers asked for, worked on, and have implemented on the ground is a living process. The Rule has a part or word here or there that most every farmer, handler, or consumer would suggest be changed in their perfect world but it is the highest organic standard in the world, has helped grow the market for organic agriculture every year since it has been in place and make organic the fastest growing segment in all of agriculture and to the question there are ways to continually improve it and that process continues.
The demand for organic foods is through the roof. Do you think it’ll plateau or decline in the next 5-10 years. Why or why not? I believe it will continue long past the 5 or 10 year timeframe. We have hopes of being able to better educate consumers about the real differences between natural and organic, of understanding the value of organic, of increasing research to address challenges, and of providing better information to interested farmers. Parents want to feed their children healthy food, more scientific research is being done to help objectively demonstrate the benefits of organic farming and food for planet, people, and it’s non- human inhabitants. People are asking more questions wanting more information about the choices they make and as they learn more organic products popularity has continued to grow. I don’t see that stopping. The word sustainable got hijacked from us, we are fiercely protective about protecting Organic.
The tide will continue to turn and while some folks ask “yes, but how will we feed the world?” The better question may be how will we help the world feed itself while truly caring for the life enabling soil, water, and the planet’s inhabitants? I believe growing organically may be an important part of that answer.