Organic produce can earn ‘Fairfood’ label
Jefferson County farmers, who don’t want to deal with the bureaucracy of becoming organically certified through the United States Department of Agriculture, have other options for getting their harvests to the local marketplace.
Fairfood, a new organic certification process designed for local farmers, is the brainchild of Appachanda Thimmaiah, director of the Institute of Advanced Organic Agriculture at Maharishi University of Management.
The idea came after the collaboration between Lonnie Gamble, co-director of MUM’s sustainability department, and Jan Swinton, food system coordinator for Pathfinders Resource Conservation and Development in Fairfield; they wanted to use local farmers for the university’s non-GMO, organically certified kitchen.
Now, Fairfood Certified farmers can sell to MUM, and reap the benefits of the university’s $1 million annual budget spent on organically grown produce, while at the same time, the university saves money in the process.
“We’ve been doing this for about five or six weeks now,” Gamble said. “In one week, we bought food that would have cost the university $4000 and we paid $2000 for it.”
In the past, Gamble said the school purchased produce from as far away as California.
“Most food has a lot of miles on it,” he said. “We’re trying to shorten that distance to maybe a couple of miles.”
Since the project’s inception, the university has saved thousands of dollars by purchasing locally.
Swinton was hired by MUM to locate and purchase local food, providing the produce meets certain standards.
According to an article published by the university, The Fairfood standard has a zero tolerance policy and prohibits the use of GMOs, chemical fertilizers, hormones and pesticides. It requires clean, organic food production through each step of the growing process.
Swinton purchases the majority of MUM’s produce from the Drakesville produce auction, a largely Amish auction in Davis County.
“About 90 percent of the farmers there are organic, but they don’t certify organic,” she said. “We’re telling the farmers that we’re buying from, the kinds of things we want from them, so that they can plant it for next year.”
However, Gamble said, the university will take whatever is growing seasonally.
“Chef Radar from Indian Hills [Community College] trained our chef on how to adapt the menu to what’s available seasonably,” he said. “Our chef, Suresh, told me he just bought $700 worth of produce from a local farmer — 400 pounds of zucchini, musk melon and fresh basil; we’ve got a food revolution going on.”
Gamble said Swinton just called the university after the farmer called her and the deal was done.
Swinton uses MUM’s guidelines, which stipulate everything from the quality of the water used, to the various types of fertilization.
“Organic farming is not a mere substitution of toxic synthetic inputs with natural materials; rather, it is a process of understanding and interacting with nature,” Thimmaiah said. “Consciousness is [the] key to farming that connects the farmer to the biorhythms, the five elements of nature and the entire cosmos.”
Thimmaiah worked as an agricultural specialist for the Kingdom of Bhutan’s Ministry of Agriculture for six years before MUM recruited him. During that time, he wrote the country’s official agricultural manual on organic farming.
“Dr. Thimmaiah didn’t think it was fair that farmers had to pay to become certified organic,” Gamble said. “He thought it was a social injustice; why should a person who is doing the right things for the world have to pay?”
With Fairfood, Thimmaiah is introducing the same model for organic farmers here that he used in Bhutan, a country that is projected to be the first fully organic country in the world by 2020, Gamble said.
The Fairfood project was initially slated to last three months, however, its success has Gamble hoping for more.
“What our hope is here is to take our food dollars and go to the local institutions like the hospital or school board and get them to purchase with us,” Gamble said. “We’ve got to develop a relationship between the farmer and the university,” he said. “We must trust that they grow according to our standards.”