by Heather Barnes
North Carolina has a small but growing organic and sustainable farming community. Approximately 100 North Carolina growers and processors are certified organic, according to a report by North Carolina State University's Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS). Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (CFSA) has reported an annual increase in the number of farmers interested in farming organically of approximately 25% per year since the early 1990s. Nationally, organic food comprises only about 1.5% of the total market, though the percentage is increasing.
In economic terms, the outlook is good for North Carolina farmers hoping to reap higher profits from organic products. Organic foods accounts for the fastest growing segment of retail food products in North Carolina. According to a survey by North Carolina State University's Center for Environmental Farming Systems, 51% of respondents were willing to pay more for organically grown food. Currently, however, North Carolina imports more organic products than it produces. NCSU reports that North Carolina imports more than 90% of its organic products, although most of the products could be grown in-state.
Farmers in North Carolina who farm sustainably and organically find support from a variety of government, academic, and nonprofit organizations. According to Marty Mesh, Executive Director of Quality Certification Services (a Florida-based organic certification agency), North Carolina "is very supportive...[Y]ou have institutional support in land-grant institutions here; you have organic extension agents; you have a wonderful nonprofit association, CFSA, who champions the cause and has done a lot of positive things for organic farmers." Carolina Farm Stewardship Association conducts research, provides information resources, workshops, and other services to growers. Central Carolina Community College offers a degree program in Sustainable Agriculture as well as a certificate in Farm Stewardship at their Chatham County campus.
Organic certification for NC growers is performed largely by these organizations: the Organic Crop Improvement Association, Oregon Tilth Certified Organic, and Quality Assurance International. North Carolina Department of Agriculture (NCDA) has recently begun a program to assist farmers in becoming certified organic. The program subsidizes some costs associated with the certification process. NCDA plans to reimburse farmers for up to 50 percent of the cost of certification, to a maximum of $500 per year. Assistance is available through an application to NCDA, and provided on a first-come, first-serve basis. Commissioner Meg Scott Phipps states that "organic production is a fast-growing segment of the agriculture industry. This program, funded by a grant from the United States Department of Agriculture, will help alleviate some costs associated with being certified as an organic farm and continue to help farmers grow and expand their organic production." NCDA also promotes North Carolina organic farming through its Web site. Browsers can find a list of North Carolina organic growers as well as the products available at each farm.
For further reading and information follow links below