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Organic label opens big markets for small farm

Adelante Agricultura talking with grocery stores, other venues
by: Courtesy of Shawn Linehan 
Adelante Agricultura, a small farm run by Latina women and their families and an offshoot of the nonprofit Adelante Mujeres, received organic certification this summer from Oregon Tilth. Their produce is sold at the Forest Grove Farmers Market.

People looking for produce at the Forest Grove Farmers Market will see a new 'organic' sign next to the veggies for sale at the Adelante Agricultura booth.

The small local farm, which is run by Hispanic women and their families, received organic certification from Oregon Tilth on Aug. 10, a relatively quick decision that usually takes months, and sometimes years.

The certification means their food was raised free of chemicals and additives. Adelante Agricultura is an offshoot of Forest Grove nonprofit Adelante Mujeres, an organization that works to educate and empower low-income Latina immigrants by teaching them both farming and business practices.

Adelante Agricultura outreach and marketing coordinator Anne Morse said that typically, it takes farms a few transition years to filter out any chemical residues from the soil before they can successfully receive organic certification.

The Adelante farm did it in less than a year.

The group lucked out by finding a plot of land on Pacific Avenue, across from Tom McCall Upper Elementary School, that hadn't been sprayed in a long time.

'The farm is on some land that hadn't been farmed for about 10 years,' said Morse. 'Because of that 10-year period, it didn't take too long.'

Adelante Agricultura farmer Maria Niño and her niece Kimberly Niño said they were excited about the new certification because it could give them access to new markets.

'You cannot sell an organic product without the certification,' said Kimberly Niño. 'The products are the same price, but it attracts more people.'

Besides the certification, the product hasn't changed. Kimberly Niño said that the produce had always been raised organically; the certification just made it official so they could market it that way.

Anne Berblinger of Gales Meadow Farms, who serves on the advisory committee for Adelante Agricultura, said that being organic has several benefits beyond marketability.

'There's two sides to it,' said Berblinger. 'There's the practices themselves, it's better for the land and it's our responsibility to take care of the land.

Also, she said, 'It's better for our customers. We're providing the healthiest possible food - it's nutritionally better and it tastes better.'

With the certification come new rules and regulations regarding the equipment brought onto the property and the treatment of the soil. Compost and fertilizers need to be organic. Berblinger said the extra restrictions make for a cleaner ecosystem for insects, birds and mammals that may live on or near the land and helps maintain a healthy balance between soil, plants and animals.

Access to markets

Morse said the organic status will allow Adelante Agricultura access to larger market chains such as New Seasons, a grocery chain that focuses on local foods.

'We've had some preliminary discussions with New Seasons,' said Morse, who added that New Seasons is considering purchasing product for their outdoor market program called 'Market Days.'

Initially the plan was to line up with the retailer for this growing season, but technical hurdles have put the plan off until the next growing season.

'We left the door open with them,' Morse said. 'As we continue to grow we want to have that, but we want to start out slow.'

The organic certification is also expected to increase sales at farmers markets such as the Wednesday market in Forest Grove and the Saturday market in the Hollywood District of Portland.

Berblinger said that even though the organic movement has been growing, only a small percentage of vendors at farmers markets have been certified organic. While growing organic products can be more expensive and labor intensive, Berblinger said the added quality and attention to detail makes for a better product and gives farmers a leg up in an already competitive market.

'It brings us much closer to our soil and our plants than someone who's on a tractor all the time,' she said.

Morse said that even with the certification, there are still ways for Adelante Agricultura to grow.

Morse said the program's goal is to preserve and protect the land being farmed and enhance it for future years while establishing relationships between farmers and consumers through outreach and education.

'Organic certification is a great thing,' said Morse, 'but our goal as a farm is really to be organic times two.'