Transitioning to Organic



Cultivating Climate Resiliance on Your Organic Farm

February 23, 2016 -- a webinar by Laura Lengnick, weaving practical lessons from the field with the latest climate science and resilience thinking. Offered by, check their website archives for the video recording; click here for a pdf version.



High consumer demand makes ancient wheats hot commodities

reposted from May | June 2015, Organic Broadcaster , by Steve Zwinger and Elizabeth Dyck

The ancient wheats—einkorn, emmer, and spelt—are “trendy” right now thanks to demand by increasing numbers of consumers. There is something intriguing about eating grains that were domesticated in ancient times—at least 10,000 years ago in the case of einkorn and emmer, while the more “modern” spelt has been part of the human diet for thousands of years. For a number of reasons, the renewed interest in these grains may be not just a passing fad, but a lasting part of both healthy diets and sustainable cropping systems.  (click here for full article)



MSU organic farming study finds diverse benefits using sheep

Mar 31, 2015 -- Preliminary results from a long-term research, education and extension project show environmental and economic benefits from integrated cropping and livestock.Using domestic sheep rather than traditional farming equipment to manage fallow and terminate cover crops may enable farmers who grow organic crops to save money, reduce tillage, manage weeds and pests, and reduce the risk of soil erosion, according to MSU and North Dakota State University faculty members. Photo courtesy of Jasmine Westbrook.   click HERE for full article


Reduced Tillage in Organic Specialty Crop Systems

A free, archived webinar from the Science & Technology Training Lab -- Learn about research aimed at methods to improve soil health by minimizing tillage in organic vegetable systems. More information here:


Just plant wildflowers! 

The Other Bees, by Kristin Ohlson on April 3, 2014, reposted from modern farmer -- There are thousands and thousands of bees that are not honeybees out there, pollinating our flowers and helping plants produce food. Who knew?
photo by Mace Vaughan/Xerces Society
Hear that hum as a bumblebee settles onto a tomato blossom? It’s a faint but powerful sound: The bee is working hard. It’s grabbing the flower with its jaws, vibrating its flight muscles and producing a tone that’s close to middle C. That vibration causes the flower to release pollen – a process called sonication, or buzz pollination.

More than 85 percent of the world’s plants either require or benefit from animal-mediated pollination. Farmers know this and have panicked in the face of the colony collapse disorder that’s reducing populations of honeybees around the country. (Some were even flying in packaged bees from Australia at $200 a pop until the USDA halted the practice for fear of importing new diseases and parasites.)

But what most farmers don’t realize – and the rest of us, too, as we anxiously search our gardens and parks for honeybees – is that there are another 20,000 species of bees. Four thousand are native to North America – including 50 native bumblebees – and they are busily at work in our landscapes.

We rarely notice our wild native bees because most are small and solitary and gentle – they aren’t likely to draw our attention with a sting.

But their impact on flowering plants is huge, with studies suggesting that they’re twice as effective at pollination than honeybees.

“The value of honeybees is that you can truck mobile hives to a farm and release tens of thousands of bees into the landscape,” says Eric Maden, the Assistant Pollinator Program Director of the Xerces Society, an organization that advocates on behalf of invertebrates and their habitat. “And people are fascinated with their social structure and with honey production. But bee for bee, most of the wild ones are vastly more productive.”

For one thing, Maden says, not all honeybees are even interested in pollen. Some are pollen foragers, but most are nectar foragers that ignore the critical spot where the flowers display pollen, called anthers. For another, honeybees are exceptionally finicky about the weather. They won’t fly when it’s cool, cloudy or rainy, whereas our native wild bees are game for inclement days. And honeybees sleep late.

Maden points to squash bees, the same size and color as honeybees, which co-evolved with squashes and make their individual nests in the soil near the plants. Pumpkin farmers and other squash growers are often unaware of these wild bees and unnecessarily pay to have honeybees hives trucked in for the season. “The squash bees go out before sunrise and are finished foraging by noon,” Maden says. “Honeybees don’t even wake up until it’s sunny and bright and, by that time, the squash bees have already gotten the job done.”

Valuable as our native wild bees are, their populations are dropping – for instance, an analysis by the Xerces Society ‘s Rich Hatfield suggests that 30% of our native bumblebees are threatened by extinction.

But Maden says that this is one threatened species story that can easily have a happy ending: Just plant wildflowers.

The loss of native flowering plants from development and conventional agriculture – especially the vast stretches of Roundup-resistant GMO crops in which everything but that commercial plant has been blasted away – has eliminated habitat for wild bees. Quite simply, there isn’t enough food for wild bees when there is only one plant – the commercial plant – blooming for a few weeks. They need a flowery source of food spring, summer and fall.

“Pesticide use is also an issue, but the single most important factor is habitat loss,” Maden says. “The solution is not complicated, and everyone can have a role. If you’re a farmer, plant native wildflowers around your farm. If you live in the city and your only access to the outdoors is a fire escape, put a pot of wildflowers there. If every person planted one wildflower, conditions for bees in this country would be significantly better.”

Farmers who create habitat for wild bees are doing themselves a favor. Maden points to a study by biologists Lora Morandin and Mark Winston showing that canola growers who took 30 percent of their land out of production and let native plants flourish grew as much or more seed on their remaining land.* A soon-to-be published study by Michigan State University entomologist Rufus Isaacs and former student Brett Blaauw shows that blueberry farmers who put in wildflower borders had more wild bees per bush and up to 800 pounds more fruit per acre adjacent to the plantings.

Planting wildflowers not only helps our wild bees thrive. It also saves butterflies. They aren’t essential pollinators, but they provide food for birds and have a place in the ecosystem – and they’re so darned pretty. Butterfly scientists are alarmed at the rate of disappearance of several common species including the Monarch, whose numbers may be so low that they will be unable to manage a migration this year. Their favored plant, the milkweed, has been decimated by the use of Roundup in cornfields planted with GMO glyphosate-resistant corn.

“I remember when I was a kid in North Dakota and we’d drive a few hours – even if we were just going grocery shopping, we’d have to drive a few hours,” Maden says. “The front of the car would be a sticky mass of insects. Now I can drive across the US in July and not have as many dead insects on my car as we did from a two-hour drive in North Dakota.”

You get the point. He doesn’t want you to kill bees and butterflies with your car, but it would be great if there were once again so many of them that they’re hard to miss. Find some wildflower seeds native to your region, and go sow.

(see additional inline links included in the original article at modern farmer)

DVD "Organic Farming: The First Steps In Transitioning" is a winner!

Are you considering transitioning to organic, and want to learn from other farmers before deciding?   This award winning video may answer that need.  

Andrew Batdorf, an organic dairy farmer who was already serving as a local mentor, is featured in this short video produced to help other farmers understand the transition to organic certification process.

Organic Farming First Steps

Melissa Piper Nelson, former organic transitionist with Community Partnerships RC&D and currently the Lancaster NRCS program assistant, won first place awards for script development at both the Pennsylvania Press Club and the National Federation of Press Women (NFPW).


Thanks to funding from NRCS, Endless Mountains RC&D was able to call upon the expertise of these partners along with Lee Rinehardt of PA Certified Organic, and the excellent videography skills of Ken Van Sandt Productions,  to produce this video and make it available for free to interested farmers in our six county region(Tioga, Bradford, Susquehanna, Lycoming, Sullivan and Wyoming Counites in PA.)

A limited supply of these videos is still available - simply email your request with your name and postal mailing address. For wholesale or individual purchase outside of our region, please contact us at the same address.

WHY Certified Organic?

Seventy eight percent – more U.S. families than ever before – say they are choosing organic foods, according to the Organic Trade Association (OTA). “In a time when the severity of the economy means making tough choices, it is extremely encouraging to see consumers vote with their values by including quality organic products in their shopping carts.”  Four in ten families indicate they are buying more organic products than they were a year ago. With this trend, it is clear that organic farming can be profitable, with organic food appealing to consumers as both a healthy and ethical choice. In addition, organic farming practices result in numerous environmental benefits.

While among the challenges of certification are the certification costs, increased record-keeping requirements, management intensity, restricted use of synthetic chemicals and fertilizers, the benefits may tip the balance in favor of the effort. Learning new, ecologically based practices, with reduced exposure to synthetic agricultural chemicals, and access to new, expanding markets and price premiums are compelling considerations.

U.S. regulations require that organic food and beverage products be grown according to strict standards, inspected by third-party independent certifiers in order to qualify for organic certification.  Therefore, the USDA Organic seal assures consumers of the quality and integrity of organic products.


Already decided? 

If, as a beginning or established farmer, you’ve decided on organic production, and you are currently USDA certified through the National Organic Program (NOP), OR you are ready to begin the process of transitioning to organic certification, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) may be able to provide technical and financial assistance. 

There are a wide range of NRCS conservation practices and programs which may complement and be implemented in your organic farm operations, including: Seasonal High Tunnels, Irrigation Improvements, Nutrient Management, Prescribed Grazing, Cover Crop & Crop Rotations. 

The key to finding the technical and financial assistance to match your goals is to meet with the District Conservationist in your county's office, and asking the right questions.  The questions are NOT 'how much funding can I get' or 'what practices do I need to implement to get funding?'  Requirements, funding cyles, and limits are varied; each situation has a different answer.

Therefore, instead of trying to 'fit' into the myriad programs, the best approach is to begin with YOUR plan.  What have you been doing, what works, what challenges are you facing, and what are YOUR goals?  Share YOUR vision with your local District Conservationist, and let them match your goals with the programs that will best fit.

A short application is all that is needed to get the process started, and your District Conservationist can help with any questions in completing that application.


Who is my local District Conservationist?

Every county has a designated USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) service center; within our 6 county area, you can contact your District Conservationist at:

Bradford County: TOWANDA, Michael Hanawalt, (570) 265-5288 ext 3,

Lycoming County: MONTOURSVILLE, Ryan Koch, (570) 433-3905 ext 3,

Sullivan (and Wyoming) Counties: TUNKHANNOCK, Edward Patchcoski, (570) 836-2490 ext 3

Susquehanna County: MONTROSE, Ain Welmon, (570) 278-1011 ext 3,

Tioga County: WELLSBORO, Ciro Lopinto, (570) 724-1726 ext 3,

Wyoming (and Sullivan)  Counties: TUNKHANNOCK, Edward Patchcoski, (570) 836-2490 ext 3,

Outside of the Endless Mountains RC&D region, search


Links to Referenced Resources:

Program application forms

* Conservation Program Application: NRCS-CPA-1200

* EQIP:  Worksheet & Self-Certification   (link updated 7/2013)


(*IMPORTANT to note: "When viewing the forms, please have only ONE browser window open."  It's TRUE - otherwise, the computer hangs!!!)    As forms are updated, the most current revisions are available at the 'USDA Service Center Agencies eForms' portal:  Click here


Organic Certifying Agencies:

usda organic seal Certifying agents must be accredited by the USDA to provide certification services. Producers and handlers may choose any USDA-accredited certifying agent; the complete list of NOP accredited certifiers is available at

In choosing your certifier,  consider whether the certifier's areas of expertise match what you're doing on your farm. Talk to other organic producers to learn about the different certifiers and how they work with producers. Are they available to answer questions when you need them? Are they prompt and organized with paperwork? Often, the closer a certifier is to your farm geographically, the more likely they'll be easy to work with. 

With no endorsements implied, here is a short list to help start your search:

Pennsylvania Certified Organic Spring Mills, PA; phone: (814) 422-0251;website:

NOFA-NY Certified Organic, LLC Binghamton, NY; phone: (607) 724-9851; website:

Natural Food Certifiers, Spring Valley, NY: Phone: 888-422-4632, website:

Global Organic Alliance, Inc. Bellefontaine, OH, Phone: 937 593 1232 website:


USDA/NRCS Programs:

USDA National Organic Program (NOP)

Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP):    (link updated 7/2013)

Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP)  Of the 80 enhancements from which producers can select, 39 have a high likelihood of adoption by organic producers or those who are interested in transitioning to organic, with an additional 25 enhancements that can be applied during the transition period.


More Information/Resouces:

Webinars by eOrganic: Learn the latest in organic farming practices and research by attending or watching an eOrganic Webinar. Sign up for upcoming Webinars to watch slides, listen to the presenter, and type in questions during the live event.  Visit for more information.

NOFA Guides Set : A series of 8 guides originally published by NOFA (Northeast Organic Farming Association), on organic principles and practices for both the beginner farmer as well as established farmers looking to convert to organic, or deepen their practices. Each book is 100 pages, but the information is weighty; the guides use a strong whole-systems farming theory behind their practical advice, as well as offer historical information, further resources, detailed appendices, and profiles of various organic farms across the Northeast. (Organic Soil-Fertility and Weed Management; Crop Rotation and Cover Cropping: Soil Resiliency and Health on the Organic Farm; Compost, Vermicompost and Compost Tea; Growing Healthy Vegetable Crops: Working with Nature to Control Diseases and Pests Organically; Organic Dairy Production; Organic Seed Production and Saving: The Wisdom of Plant Heritage;  Whole Farm Planning: Ecological Imperatives, Personal Values and Economics by Elizabeth Henderson; Humane and Healthy Poultry Production: A Manual for Organic Growers)  (also see "The Natural Farmer" , NOFA's quarterly news journal)

Organic Transition Course:  From Rodale Institute, a 15-hour online program designed to help you understand the National Organic Standards and use them as your framework for making the transition to organic production.

Organic System Plan Sample: From Natural Food Certifiers,


Resource Guide for Organic Insects & Disease Management: From Cornell University, this free 210 page pdf is available at, additional insect/disease management resources at


Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA),

The Eastern Region includes the following counties – Berks, Bucks, Carbon, Chester, Delaware, Lackawanna, Lancaster, Lehigh, Luzerne, Monroe, Montgomery, Northampton, Philadelphia, Pike, Schuylkill, Susquehanna, Wayne, and Wyoming.

The North Central Region includes the following counties – Bradford, Cameron, Centre, Clearfield, Clinton, Columbia, Elk, Lycoming, McKean, Montour, Northumberland, Potter, Sullivan, Tioga, and Union.

(see Regional Advisory Committees at:


Pennsylvania Farm Bureau:

Bradford/Sullivan Counties: President: Barbara Warburton, Phone: 570-924-3984

Lycoming County: President: Edward D. Frantz, Phone: 570-584-2218

Sullivan/Bradford Counties: President: Barbara Warburton, Phone: 570-924-3984

Susquehanna County: President: Donna L. Williams, 570-942-6348

Tioga County: President: John P. Painter II Phone: 814-367-5238

Wyoming County: President: Kenneth O. Teel Phone: 570-833-5830


Endless Mountains Resource Conservation & Development Council

We're linking farmer needs to available resources; when we learn of opportunities, we want to share that information with you. If you'd like to be notified, please send a note to "" with your contact information.