SOUTHERN SUSTAINABLE FARMING # 21
Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group
P.O. Box 324, Elkins, AR 72727
Phone (501) 587-0888; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Keith Richards, Editor
SOUTHERN SUSTAINABLE FARMING is the quarterly
voice of the Southern SAWG, 50 member organizations
working for more sustainable agriculture in 13 Southern
states. The electronic version contains excerpts from the
printed version, and is not complete. Hard copy
subscriptions via U. S. postal service: $15 per year or $25
for two years
* Revitalizing Family Farms: The SSAWG Annual
Conference and Trade Show
* What a Difference a Community Can Make
* Partners in Agriculture
* USDA To Seek Additional Input on Organic
* Calendar of Events
REVITALIZING FAMILY FARMS:
The 8TH ANNUAL SOUTHERN SUSTAINABLE
AGRICULTURE WORKING GROUP
CONFERENCE AND TRADE SHOW
January 15-17, 1999
Jekyll Island Convention Center, Jekyll Island, Georgia
Come spend a few days on the beach with hundreds of the
most innovative farmers, processors, researchers, educators
and supporters of sustainable agriculture in the South.
Learn about production practices and marketing techniques
that can make your farm more sustainable, discover
products and services that can enhance your operation,
enjoy the bounty of food grown by Southern sustainable
farmers, network with others, and have some fun. Bring the
whole family to this exciting event and stay for a vacation!
The 1999 Southern SAWG Conference and Trade Show
* 36 Workshops and Round-table Sessions
* Trade Show with 50-75 Vendors
* Sustainable Ag Video Show Extravaganza
* Food Tasting & Reception
* Banquet Dinner
* Auction with Organic Cotton & Alternative Fiber
* General Store with Value-Added Products
* Field Trip of the Jekyll Island Ecosystem
* State Caucuses
* Children’s Program
REJUVENATE YOUR SPIRIT!
REVITALIZE YOUR FARM!
Some scholarships are available for limited resource
farmers and students before December 1, 1998.
Scholarships cover the SSAWG conference registration and
banquet fees. For information, contact Marjie Bender at
919-484-1930 or e-mail to: email@example.com.
For More Information and Registration:
For more conference information and to register for the
conference, contact Chris Campany at 225-336-9532 or via
e-mail at BREADA@aol.com or see our website at:
WHAT A DIFFERENCE A COMMUNITY CAN MAKE
by Deborah Wechsler
Aubrey and Linda Raper's farm, up a bone-jarring rocky
drive at the top of a mountain cove near Marshall, NC
seems a fine place to get away from it all. But sustainable
agriculture has had an unexpected effect on the Rapers,
drawing them into a supportive community and a world of
new opportunity. "If I hadn't become involved in this,"
laughs Aubrey, "I would have just ended up being another
grumpy old guy back in the mountains."
Seeking a stable, quieter place to raise their children, in
the mid 1970s Aubrey left a university teaching job in
Elizabeth City, NC and the family moved to the
Appalachians, building a house, going back to the land,
starting to raise crops. They slowly began reclaiming the
farm, mistreated for decades by previous absentee owners,
by reducing the plowed acreage and planting marginal
areas in Christmas trees.
Learning from their mountain neighbors, the Rapers
started raising burley tobacco, a crop that farmers could
count on to make the land payment. "Back in 1978," recalls
Aubrey, "there were very few chemical sprays, there was
no blue mold, most people didn't fumigate or use
herbicides on their tobacco." Along with their 2-3 acres of
tobacco, they grew some vegetables for market, often
tomatoes, sweet corn, greasy beans, sweet peppers. The
whole family participated in another enterprise, producing
Fraser fir wreaths to sell mail order at the holidays.
Wondered if They Would Make a Living
Always environmentally minded, they used cover crops
and crop rotations, and limited their chemical use mostly to
conventional fertilizers. In 1982, they stopped growing
tomatoes for market and switched to green peppers, which
could be grown without pesticides. "One year," says
Aubrey, "we raised our tobacco organically, but we ended
up selling it conventionally--the market wasn't developed
then." As tobacco prices failed to keep up with the costs of
production, they began to wonder what might be able to
replace it. "I was at the point," says Linda, "where I was
thinking we just couldn't do this anymore, we're just going
to have to sell this place and figure out some other way to
make a living."
In 1996, they raised an acre of organic potatoes, and
found an interested buyer in the Carolina Organic Growers,
a growers' co-op based in Asheville. "It helps when you've
got a marketer who's willing to trust what you've said,"
recalls Aubrey. "He wasn't suspicious, just asked us the
names of what we'd used." When they were able to sell
those potatoes for $24/bushel, rather than the $8/bushel
they were used to receiving, they were impressed. "We sent
for the application for organic certification," says Linda,
"but it was expensive, and there was a lot of risk in sending
it in. And we had a feeling that if we didn't state things in a
certain way, we'd be denied and lose our money."
Found Support Outside Their Farm
In 1997, they became involved in Mountain Partners in
Agriculture (MPIA), which offered funding and support to
farmers in transition to organic farming. Through a small
grant from MPIA, the Rapers were able to buy organic soil
amendments, pay their fees to become certified as
Transitional Organic through Carolina Farm Stewardship
Association, and pay for other improvements to the farm,
such as a small greenhouse and irrigation equipment that
would help them increase vegetable production. "Becoming
organic wasn't some kind of momentous task," says
Aubrey. It was mostly replacing some products with others
that--by the way--work better than what you are already
The Rapers became members of the Carolina Organic
Growers, which provided mentors to the newcomers as
they began to grow unfamiliar crops for the organic market.
"Through MPIA and Carolina Organic Growers, we
realized that we could tap into a bigger market and we
could grow more of a variety of things, and that somebody
wanted it," says Linda.
It’s a Farmer’s Delight
The organic market has been good to them beyond their
wildest expectations. For the first time since 1978, they are
not growing tobacco, and are even able to rotate some land
out of production. "We got away from tobacco production
because this particular niche in vegetable production is so
extraordinary that it said 'Forget tobacco!'" says Aubrey.
"We've made more money off eight 100-foot rows of
squash, in one planting, than we did off an acre and a half
of tobacco last year." Though they may not always get the
same high prices, marketing through the co-op has been
key to their success. "It's a farmer's delight when we call up
and we say to our marketer, ‘20 cases of lettuce, 10 of red
leaf, 10 of green leaf,’ and he says 'Is there any way you
can let me have more?' It doesn't get any better than that."
For the Rapers, this entrance into the organic market has
been more than lucrative, it has been energizing. They are
planning, experimenting, thinking about new options.
Instead of hiding away back up the mountain, they are now
making several trips a week to Asheville to deliver their
produce. Now, Aubrey is on the board of Carolina Organic
Growers and Linda is its treasurer. Through the co-op, they
are in contact with growers with similar goals, sharing
ideas and working together to plan production schedules.
And, bringing to the sustainable agriculture community
their long association with the conventional farmers who
are their mountain neighbors and their own strong
practicality and economic realism, they have become
eloquent spokesmen for the concerns of all transitional
Aubrey Raper will tell more of his story at a workshop
entitled "Revitalizing the Family Farm" at the Southern
SAWG Annual Conference and Trade Show January 15-17
at Jekyll Island, GA.
PARTNERS IN AGRICULTURE
Mountain Partners in Agriculture is one of four
community projects of Partners in Agriculture (PIA), a
project funded through the W.K. Kellogg Foundation's
Integrated Food & Farming Systems Initiative. PIA is a partnership
of organizations, universities, and communities working to
develop sustainable agricultural systems. The collaborators
of PIA are NC State University, NC A&T State University,
Rural Advancement Foundation International-USA,
Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, Land Loss
Prevention Project, and Rural Southern Voice for Peace.
Besides Mountain PIA, three other communities have
been involved in the project. The Magnolia project in
southeastern NC encouraged the development of an organic
vineyard, sponsored a tobacco scouting project, and
brought people together to discuss solutions to livestock
waste issues and other problems in the region. Operation
Spring Plant, a project of minority farmers in northeastern
NC, works with organic tobacco, vegetable production,
rotational grazing, and cooperative marketing. The Peanut
Project, in eastern NC, works to decrease pesticide use and
improve profits for peanut farmers. The collaboration of
the partners was itself an important aspect of the project
and is continuing in numerous ways as the project comes to
A version of this article will be included in "Breaking
New Ground," a PIA publication for farmers on making
their farms more sustainable which will be available this
winter from Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, PO
Box 448, Pittsboro, NC 27312; 919-542-2402. A
companion video of the same name will also be available
this winter from Land Loss Prevention Project, PO Box
179, Durham, NC 27702; 800-672-5839.
USDA TO SEEK ADDITIONAL INPUT BEFORE
ISSUING REVISED ORGANIC PROPOSAL
The U.S. Department of Agriculture will seek further
public comment on three issues raised about its proposal to
establish national organic food and fiber standards. USDA
has published issue papers addressing animal confinement,
animal medications, and procedures for termination of
"By publishing these issue papers and seeking public
comment on them, we are demonstrating our commitment
to openness and public participation in the process of
creating national organic standards," said Michael V. Dunn,
assistant secretary for marketing and regulatory programs.
"Through this public process, we hope to arrive at a revised
proposal that will be well received by the organic
Papers Are Misleading
Unfortunately, according to Michael Sligh, National
Organic Standards Board (NOSB) member, “USDA did not
incorporate the latest NOSB thinking into these papers.”
Although he applauds USDA for allowing additional
comment on critical issues, Sligh says, “The issue papers
are misleading because they don’t include the latest NOSB
thinking on antibiotic use and confinement, they don’t
include information from the latest NOSB meeting, and
they contain conflicts with the original National Organic
Sligh recommends that people read the National
Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture’s analysis before
commenting on the position papers. The analysis can be
obtained by contacting NCSA at 914-744-8448 or
e-mailing to: firstname.lastname@example.org or by going to
the NOP homepage at www.ams.usda.gov/nop.
Comments Must be Received by Dec. 14
The issue papers were published in the Oct. 28 Federal
Register. Comments must be received by Dec. 14. Written
comments may be sent to Eileen Stommes, Deputy
Administrator, USDA-AMS-TM- NOP, Room 4007-S, Ag
Stop 0275, P.O. Box 96456, Washington, DC 20090-6456.
Comments may also be sent by fax to 202-690-4632 or via
e-mail to: NOPIssue_Papers@usda.gov. The issue papers
may be accessed on the NOP homepage at
Conference attendees will have a chance to ask questions
and hear comments from Keith Jones, Director of the
National Organic Program at the Southern SAWG Annual
Conference in Jekyll Island, GA on January 15-17, 1999.
CALENDAR OF EVENTS
Nov 6-8: CFSA Sustainable Agriculture Conference,
Clemson, SC. Contact the Carolina Farm Stewardship
Association at 919-542-2402 or visit their website:
Nov 21-22: GLSA Sustainable Agriculture Conference,
Jackson Lake, GA. Contact the Georgia Land Stewardship
Association at 770-920-5358.
Nov 30-Dec 1: Entrepreneurial Agriculture Conference,
Arkansas State University, Jonesboro, AR. Contact Jim
Worstell, Delta Land & Community at 870-673-6346 or
e-mail to: email@example.com.
Jan 14-15, 1999: Southern Region SARE Professional
Development Program Meeting, Jekyll Island, GA. For
more information, contact Rosanne Minarovic at
919-515-3252 or e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jan 15-17, 1999: Southern Sustainable Farming
Conference: Revitalizing Family Farms, Jekyll Island, GA.
For more information or to offer assistance, contact Jean
Mills at 205-333-8504 or e-mail to: email@example.com.
For information on trade show participation, contact Marty
Mesh at 352-377-6345 or e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jan 29, 1999: Proposals due for 1999 Southern Region
Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE)
Producer Grants. For more information, contact John
Mayne, 1109 Experiment Street, Griffin, GA 30223-1797;
770-229-3350; e-mail: email@example.com
or check out their web site:
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