Mt Pleasant News
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Neighbors Growing Together | Dec 12, 2017

Growing Organic

Jones’ Family Farm’s personal decision behind the trend and how other farmers can grow organic too
Nov 24, 2017
Photo by: Grace King Caroline Jones stands with her daughter Josephine Jones in front of their five-acre farmland on Thursday, Nov. 16. The Jones' Family Farm is currently going through the process of getting their farm organically certified in time for next spring.

By Grace King, Mt. Pleasant News

 

As Caroline Jones told her story of growing Jones’ Family Farm from the organic soil up, her four-year-old daughter Josephine Jones was begging for a kale smoothie.

This isn’t an out-of-the-ordinary request for Caroline, who regularly feeds her children organic kale and tomatoes, among other produce they grow on their five-acre farm. Key word being “organic,” because although they are not yet an organically-certified farm, that is the next step in Caroline’s journey to provide food, not only for her family, but for her community.

“That’s why we started,” Caroline said. “To eat good food, to eat clean food and to be able to provide it to the community. I would like to change the way people think about food, starting with my own family.”

This is why Caroline and her husband Ryan Jones are closing out this growing season by applying to be a certified-organic operation. Although Caroline has always grown pesticide-free produce, she wanted to show her customers she is serious about her dedication to the quality of food she grows.

“This is our commitment to you,” Caroline said. “I don’t personally know everyone I sell to. I want them to be able to trust that, once we do become certified, this is an organic product.”

After all, this was why Caroline got into farming in the first place. When she and Ryan moved to Danville seven years ago, Caroline put in a small garden, and from there, sprouted a passion for growing her own food as her family grew too.

Caroline said that as she had children, gardening became even more important. She believes that what people buy in the grocery store isn’t even food and that there is a better, healthier alternative. Ryan agrees, asking of himself, “Why are we doing this if we can’t try to be the best for our little area?”

This line of thinking is what got them on the path of organic certification for their farm, which they are doing through MOSA Certified Organic, the second-largest organic certifier in the U.S., and the largest certifier of livestock and dairy. MOSA works with farmers to ensure they are in compliance with USDA National Organic Standards.

The certification process through MOSA can take about 12 weeks to complete, a “waiting game” Ryan said they weren’t anticipating when they started the journey. For a farmer, the first-time cost to apply for an organic farming certification is $1,250, but costs vary depending on site inspections.

“There’s a lot of people looking to transition (to organic farming),” said Morgan Hoenig, creator of Mogo Organic Farms in Mt. Pleasant. While at the Iowa Organic Conference at Iowa State University on Nov. 19 and 20, Hoenig said the keynote speaker talked about how millennials are driving the organic market right now.

“Millennials are available to find out where their food comes from so much more easily,” she said. “They’re the consumers of the future and they want to know how their food is grown, they care about the welfare of animals and what chemicals are put in their food.”

Hoenig said this is the reason many farms are transitioning to organically-certified products. As consumers put personal value of produce above the cost value of food, farmers need to be able to keep up with the demand.

The process of organic certification begins with a phone call. From there, farmers complete their application, send in their fees and are reviewed and inspected. Hoenig said organically certified farms are inspected every year and an inspection fee has to be paid. For her, she pays quarterly fees based on her produce sales throughout the year.

There are ways to get help with the cost of organic farming, too. Currently, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) offers an Organic Certification Cost Share Program (OCCSP) that provides assistance to producers and handlers of agricultural products. Certified farms can receive up to 75 percent of their certification costs paid during the program year.

“There are fees you have to pay, but there are incentives,” Hoenig said, referring to OCCSP. “Some of the pests are a little more difficult to control (when farming organically). It’s a little more labor-intensive. There are some trade-offs for sure, but having confidence in your product and putting that much effort into your product, I get joy out of it as a grower.”

For other small-scale farmers thinking about going organic, Ryan and Caroline want to ensure them to take it in stride and that it is just another learning process.

One of the things Caroline has done this past year to prepare for organic certification was make her own potting soil. Caroline explained to truly have an organic product, it has to be raised in organic soil. She said that at the volume she planted, she couldn’t afford to go purchase two pound bags of potting soil for $5 a piece.

“It seems so small, but it was kind of a big deal for me to be able to make that on my own and save money doing that,” she said. “I’m just starting, so there is not a lot of resources for me right now. I have to be able to save money where I can.

Caroline hasn’t always been gardening-savvy. Her first attempt at planting tomatoes, she said she thinks she didn’t stick the seeds in the ground until close to July — tomato seedlings should be started indoors before being transplanted outside in April or May.

“It was the silliest thing,” Caroline said. “At that time, I didn’t understand. I kept checking back for my tomato plants and they never grew.”

Growing up on what Caroline calls a “funny farm,” she had experience from a child’s perspective of keeping animals — chickens, goats, pigs, sheep — but they weren’t farmers. Her agricultural background consists of her mother holding a degree in plant breeding and genetics from Iowa State and her parents both leading detasseling crews during the summers.

Now, the Jones’ Family Farm truly is a family farm, with Caroline’s mother out helping her and Josephine plant garlic in mid-November and her father helping plant apple trees earlier this year.

“It started out for us to feed our family,” Caroline said. “We love doing it, we’re passionate about it, and we’re getting better at it.”

Ryan and Caroline both said the most difficult and daunting part of their organic farming application so far is the documentation and record keeping.

“That being said, you wouldn’t want it any other way. If you’re buying a certified organic product, you want to know that it is, in fact, organic,” Caroline said. “It’s a strenuous process, but it’s helping me get my planning done for our three-year crop rotation.”

When it comes to keeping records, Hoenig has been an amazing resource for Caroline, giving her the best strategies for record keeping and sharing the work sheets and templates she has created for herself to make farming Mogo Organic a little easier.

As for now, Jones’ Family Farm continues to be more passion-driven than money-driven. Their hope in the next five years is to get to a place where this can become their main source of income. Ryan, who works in construction and manages rental properties, dreams of one day waking up in the mornings and working next to his wife in the garden during the day.

“I really enjoy it,” Ryan said. “I would like to wake up and do all my work at my house and truly be with my family all the time.”

“Someday, Josephine will look back and she’ll remember that year we planted garlic with grandma or when we planted apple trees with grandpa,” Caroline said. “Those are the things that are really important to us. I’d like to change the way people think about food. Starting with my own family.”

You can find the Jones’ Family Farm on their Facebook page or at various farmers markets next summer.

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