Standing Firmly for Organic Certification
by Marada Cook
When Jim Gerritsen bought land in Bridgewater in 1976, he and his wife Megan began an organic seed potato business and published a mail order catalog that made WoodPrairie Farm into a well-known, successful family farm. What is less well known about Gerritsen is his 18-year commitment to improving MOFGA’s certification standards. Since joining the certification board in 1986, Gerritsen has helped shape policy and review farm applications with enthusiasm and diligence that reach beyond the limits of his own farm.
“Jim is a passionate advocate for doing organic right,” says Eric Rector, president of the board of MOFGA Certification Services LLC. Gerritsen annually reviews 85 to 100 farm applications and participates in countless policy discussions.
“I saw real danger in certification bureaucracies run by non-farmers,” Gerritsen says. “By soliciting the opinions of farmers in a democratic fashion, MOFGA had always avoided this.”
“Jim can be counted on to bring really good questions to the table for discussion,” says Mary Yurlina, coordinator of MOFGA Certification Services LLC, and Rector seconds, “He brings an honest, and welcome, farmer’s perspective.”
“I view the work we do as farmers and direct marketers as kind of a sacred trust,” Gerritsen says, “We provide high quality produce for consumers, who, in turn, place their trust in our methods of farming.
“A well run certification program,” he continues, “provides truth to the consumer and justice to the farmer. MOFGA has always run a very good certification program.”
In the wake of USDA’s National Organic Program Standards, the job of MOFGA Certification Services LLC and its advisory board (which includes Gerritsen) has become more difficult. Issues of rule interpretation, a lack of advocacy for family farmers at the highest levels of the USDA, and a feeling of betrayal from many small farmers toward the government contribute to negativity that, Gerritsen feels, “takes the wind from the sails of the organic movement … A working goal of MOFGA LLC,” he adds firmly, “has been to serve as a buffer between farmers and the USDA.”
This hard work has paid off. Despite predictions that the National Organic Standards would decrease enrollment, MOFGA Certification Services LLC has seen a 10% annual increase in farms becoming certified. “MOFGA is at its highest enrollment ever,” notes Rector, “We have approximately 280 farms in the program, and many of those are in the under $5000 income category.” These farms, not legally required to certify, were expected to drop certification. Thanks to the efforts of the Certification Advisory Committee (all of whom volunteer, like Gerritsen), 30% of Maine’s certified organic farms participate in the certification program not because they have to, but because, as Rector suggests, they want to support and be associated with MOFGA.
“The history of the organic community is to stand firm and fight,” Gerritsen says. In his mind, the first step toward renewed advocacy on behalf of the organic farming community will come in November, “when we vote Bush out of office and appoint a Secretary of Agriculture who eats organic food.” In the meantime, you can be sure Gerritsen will actively do his part to uphold the integrity of the word ‘organic.’