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Transitioning to Organic Certification

Conner Voss on his farm

Conner Voss got his family farm certified organic in 2015. Diggin’ Roots Farm is a diversified fruit, vegetable, and livestock operation in Molalla, Oregon, midway between Portland and Salem. Pictured is Conner Voss.

More and more farmers are entering the organic market. Just last year, the number of certified operations in the U.S. grew by almost 12 percent – more than double the growth rate of 2014. So how do farmers, ranchers, and food processors make the transition to organic? We talked to one farming family about their experience, learning how they used USDA programs to help with the transition process.

Conner Voss got his family farm certified organic in 2015. Diggin’ Roots Farm is a diversified fruit, vegetable, and livestock operation in Molalla, Oregon, midway between Portland and Salem. “We sell our product direct – through a CSA, at a local farmers market, and direct to restaurants – and our customers kept asking about our growing practices,” said Conner. “We wholeheartedly believe in the practices and philosophy of organic production, and certification offers a quick and easy starting place for our conversations with our community. Beyond that, being certified is a way for our small farm to actively engage in the larger organic movement by helping define and shape what organic is.” Read more »

NIFA Supports Annual Science, Engineering Festival to Spur Future Scientists

Victor Villegas educating young participants on the many uses of drones in agriculture

Victor Villegas also known as the ‘Drone Singer’ educates young participants on the many uses of drones in agriculture, including crop surveillance.

The link between agriculture, science, and engineering is quite simple. Whether you live in a rural or urban setting, those three components work together to make a more sustainable environment. Thousands of students had the chance to learn about that and more, April 15-17 at the 4th Annual Science and Engineering Festival in Washington, DC.

Several members of the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) participated in the festival to encourage children to become the next generation of agricultural professionals. Read more »

Conservation Wildlife Enhancements Inspire Creativity in a Delaware Farmer

Richard Clifton and NRCS soil conservationist Brooke Brittingham reviewing a conservation plan

Clifton and NRCS soil conservationist Brooke Brittingham review a conservation plan on his plant and flood wildlife habitat enhancement project. Photo: Dastina Wallace, NRCS

Muffled honking above draws wildlife painter Richard Clifton’s eyes to the sky. Flying overhead is a flock of nearly 30 snow geese preparing to land nearby in Clifton’s crop field in Milton, Delaware. In early March, this is a common scene due to his unique wetland ‘plant and flood’ restoration project that enhances wildlife habitat and production.

Clifton’s farming background combined with his love of duck hunting and passion for painting wildlife gives him a unique perspective on habitat enhancement. Growing up on a farm, as did his father and many generations before him, he recognizes the need to keep his fields in production agriculture. However, as an avid duck hunter, he wants additional habitat, food and breeding grounds for wildlife―all of which inspire his award-winning wildlife paintings. Read more »

Organic Study Uses Domestic Sheep to Facilitate Sustainable Farming

Sheep grazing on cover crops in a Montana State University sustainable farming study

Sheep graze on cover crops in a Montana State University sustainable farming study. Photo courtesy of Montana State University.

Environmental and economic management of weeds and pests is a priority for organic farmers and they typically use tillage to address these issues. However, frequent mechanical tillage can reduce soil integrity, which increases costs for farmers and negatively impacts future crop growth. Now, Montana State University (MSU) researchers are studying an alternate technique to manage these issues—domestic sheep.

Instead of using traditional tilling machinery or herbicides, MSU’s project features domestic sheep that graze farmland to eliminate the cover crop and control weeds. The study will determine if an integrated animal and crop production system is an economically feasible way to reduce tillage for certified organic farms. Read more »

Our Land. Our Water. Our Future. – Earth Day 2016

The Vergennes-Panton Water District along Lake Champlain in Vergennes, VT

The Vergennes-Panton Water District along Lake Champlain in Vergennes, VT was able to upgrade the city's water treatment plant through a Water and Environmental Programs (WEP) loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development (RD) on Sep. 18, 2013. USDA Photo by Bob Nichols.

This Friday marks the forty-sixth observance of Earth Day, and our USDA Rural Development family is celebrating with a week of project dedications and groundbreakings across the nation – projects that have a direct and positive impact on the ecology and environment of our rural communities.

This week, Secretary Vilsack announced sixty projects that will improve water quality and safety in 33 states across the country, and what he said in his announcement deserves special emphasis; building and maintaining water infrastructure creates jobs, boosts the economy, and provides rural families with safe, reliable water and wastewater facilities that improve the environment. Read more »

Partnership Protects Public Access in a Landscape Fit for a King

Castle Valley near Lake Tahoe on Tahoe National Forest

Castle Valley near Lake Tahoe on Tahoe National Forest. Photo credit: US Forest Service

A stunning landscape called Castle Valley, near Lake Tahoe, is the heart of one of the most heavily-used backcountry recreation areas in the northern Sierra Nevada region of California. The 400-plus acre valley is also a primary access point to the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail that winds its way through the Sierra’s, providing picturesque vistas and some solitude.

Because of its key location, many felt Castle Valley was a perfect fit to be added to the Tahoe National Forest, an area known for world class skiing, outdoor recreation and natural beauty that attracts millions of visitors a year. So last month the U.S. Forest Service acquired the land with funding for the acquisition provided by The Land and Water Conservation Fund. Read more »