2 February 2010

Tonight we’re talking about the Education conference of the California Certified Organic Farmers which is being held this coming weekend, February 6-7,at the Chico State Campus; specifically at the University Farm Pavilion. The theme of the conference is “Healthy Soils, Healthy Food.”

We’ll be talking with two organic farmers who are on a panel entitled “Why Soil Is Crucial:”

Stephen Bird, owner Celtic Gardens Organic Farm and Education Center, and longtime organic farmer Amigo Cantisano, of Organic Ag Advisors. Other members of the panel include Lee Altier from Chico State and Jeff Mitchell from the UC Cooperative Extension Service.

Background on Organic Certification

This coming weekend—February 6-7–the California Certified Organic Farmers  are sponsoring an Education Conference ‘Healthy Soils, Healthy Food’  at The University Farm Pavilion at Chico State.

Their website describes the conference this way:

CCOF’s 2010 Education Conference will include an exciting opportunity for participants to learn about the role that soil health plays in climate change policies, and how improving soil leads to further opportunities for organic growers, processors, retailers and consumers to help mitigate for climate change. Noted researcher and organic spokesman, Tim LaSalle, Executive Director of The Rodale Institute will be the keynote speaker. Participants will also hear from other presenters about farming, processing and consumer practices that can lead to a healthier environment and improved food system, through things like carbon sequestration, water conservation and activism. Attendees will have the opportunity to interact with speakers, to learn hands’ on solutions, to find out what policies are being developed and how to influence those policies, and to take away valuable knowledge and solutions that can be implemented on your farm, in your operation or through your food dollars.


You might like to check out the CCOF Website– www.ccof.org–which contains a good deal of information about the process of certification, the history of certification in California, and farms and food producers who have been certified through CCOF. The organization has been around since 1973 and was one of the first organizations to perform organic certification in North America. The organization also provides trade and marketing support and engages in political advocacy. CCOF also provides certification services to processors, restaurants and retailers, and certifies to both the USDA National Organic Program standards and CCOF international standards. They claim to certify over 1300 different crops and products, including livestock.

The organization has grown in scope over the years. Their website says that “In 1990, CCOF founded the Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) to fund research related to organic farming practices. In 1997, CCOF helped launch the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) to research and distribute information about materials allowed and prohibited for use in organic production.”

Not all farmers who grow naturally—without chemical pesticides and herbicides—are certified organic, and some resist participation because of the cost of certifying or because of the complex bureaucracy of the USDA National Organic Program. An alternative to national certification is Participatory Guarantee Systems (PGS), which is an “international movement to decentralize and simplify certification so that it is available to small farms and poor farmers selling directly to consumers. Most PGS farms have an educational visit from a mixed group of fellow farmers and consumers rather than an inspection. The guarantee is connected with developing local markets and empowering farmers. If you want to learn more about this, you can contact Elizabeth Henderson, lzbthhenderson@yahoo.com.” We learned about this in the Fedco Seed catalogue, which in addition to having an amazing array of seeds also provides great resources and a farming primer.

As we’ve talked to and learned gardening practices from various farmers, we’ve learned that there are many philosophies of farming and many ways of being successful as a gardener. We missed the gardening class conducted by David Grau at the Chico Grange last Sunday, but evidently some of those divergent practices were discussed there. David Grau’s newsletter thanks Carl Rosato of Woodleaf Farm and Marc Kessler of California Organic Flowers for providing alternative methods for creating soil fertility. And we quote from Grau’s newsletter,

“Carl advocates regular soil testing and compost applications along with recommended supplements, while Marc rarely does soil testing and adds no compost. He emphasizes using frequent cover crops (also known as green manures) to supply the nitrogen, organic matter and beneficial organisms that produce abundant crops. Both of these farmers produce excellent crops and work to keep a natural balance on their farms”

For more information about how Marc uses cover crops, you can go to californiaorganicflowers.com. Click on the link in the lower left hand corner entitled “see our farm” and on that page scroll down to the video at the bottom of that page and play the youtube video where Marc shows and describes cover crops. This video is a lucid explanation of the myriad benefits of cover cropping, something we backyard gardeners should be doing more of.

To learn more about soil testing and soil nutrients, you can go to woodleaffarm.net and click on the link on the left entitled “organic soil fertility.” Carl describes in detail how to take a soil sample and a detailed yet clear system for understanding and improving your soil fertility.”

Our Questions for Stephen Bird


  1. You’re involved with the Education Conference of CCOF entitled “Healthy Soils, Healthy Food.” Can you tell us a little more about the conference?
  2. Tell us a little bit about your farm, the Celtic Gardens Organic Farm and Learning Center? What do you grow? What else goes on there? Where is your farm?
  3. The farm is also an education center. What sort of education do you do?
  4. What does it mean to be certified organic? Who does the certifying? What does certifying involve?
  5. There are lots of farmers who use natural processes in their farming but aren’t certified. Why do you certify? What are the advantages?
  6. You’re talking about soils at the CCOF conference.  Why is soil important? We’re familiar with the organic farmer’s commitment to feed the soil, not the plant. What does that mean?
  7. What’s the relationship between healthy soil and healthy food?
  8. What are some ways that on both a large scale and a small scale farmers and gardeners can improve the quality of their soil?

Our Questions for Amigo Cantisano:

Amigo has worked in organic olive production for more than 25 years. He is the owner of Organic Ag Advisors. Amigo provides organic olive production consulting to more than 20 farms in Northern and Central California. Consulting includes site selection, organic fertilization, organic pest and disease management, variety selection, irrigation, harvesting, pruning, marketing.

  1. You’ve been involved in farming for a long time, long before it became a significant alternative. What prompted you to farm organically?
  2. Have you always farmed organically? Has organic certification changed over the years you’ve been farming? Why do you certify?
  3. You’re doing consulting now. Are you still farming? What do you grow?
  4. At the CCOF convention, you’re talking about soil. What is your advice to farmers who want to create healthy soils?
  5. What are your arguments for farmers who may be thinking of moving from conventional farming to organic farming?
  6. The convention theme is Healthy Soils/Healthy Food. What’s the relationship between healthy soil and healthy food?

Playlist for Ecotopia #71

1. Rain On The Scarecrow    3:46  John Mellencamp Scarecrow

2. Mr. Soil’s Song        1:45  Singin’ Steve      Billy the Bean

3. Garden Song   5:34  MaMuse     All The Way

4. Poor Old Dirt Farmer        3:53  Levon Helm        Dirt Farmer

5. Dirt Made My Lunch 2:25  Banana Slug String Band      Dirt Made My Lunch

6. Weave Me the Sunshine    4:28  Peter, Paul And Mary   The Very Best of Peter, Paul and Mary

7. Zemelya-Chernozem. Black Soil. (Variations )      3:35  Andrei Krylov      Russian Classical Guitar Music. Vol 2. Romance, Folk Songs.

7. Good Health    3:37                 The Dixie Hummingbirds       In Good Health

8. Dirt        4:20  Mary Mary         The Sound