Our History

As one of the first organic certification agencies, CCOF (California Certified Organic Farmers) has strong roots in the history of the organic movement. Although our beginnings were humble, CCOF was instrumental in advocating for federal organic legislation; our organic certification standards were used as a foundation for the USDA National Organic Program, finally making “certified organic” a federally regulated claim. After more than 30 years of fighting for organic integrity, we continue to certify, educate, advocate, and promote organic.

1973-1978 - Sowing Seeds: The Formation of CCOF
1979-1989 - Cultivating California: State-Level Organic Standards
1990-2001 - Branching Out: Forming Federal Organic Standards
2002-2009 - Fruits of Our Labor: The Final Rule on Organic
2010+ - Growing Organic Integrity: The Age of Enforcement

1973

Early CCOF Logo

CCOF was founded with 54 grower members for the purpose of defining organic standards and certifying organic growers. All CCOF operations were run out of founder Barney Bricmont’s Santa Cruz, California, home; his dining room was the office, with the dining table acting as a desk.

1974

CCOF’s first newsletter, The California Certified Organic Farmer, was published. The back cover of the newsletter detailed the “CCOF Standards of Farm Certification” – at only 13 rules long, they were much simpler than the standards organic producers must meet today!           

1975

CCOF’s first chapter, the Central Coast chapter, was formed, marking the beginning of the region-based CCOF Chapter System.

1979

The California Organic Food Act (COFA) of 1979 was signed into law, legally defining organic practices in California, but making no provisions for support or enforcement. Any infractions had to be taken up in the courts by organizations like CCOF.

1985

Mark Lipson was hired as CCOF’s first staff member.

The first CCOF office space, located in downtown Santa Cruz, California, was 80 square feet and had only one telephone. CCOF relocated to another downtown Santa Cruz office about a year later.

1987

CCOF published the first edition of the CCOF Certification Handbook and Materials List and the first Farm Inspection Manual, and conducted the first series of farm inspector trainings.

Bob Scowcroft was hired as CCOF’s first executive director.

1988

CCOF celebrated 15 years of certifying organic, featuring “Our Story So Far: CCOF Marks 15th Anniversary” in the CCOF newsletter.

In cooperation with the California Department of Health Services, CCOF pursued an investigation into organic fraud by a distributor that had been selling conventionally-grown carrots as organic. CCOF Executive Director Bob Scowcroft wrote, “I believe that others looking back at the history of organic agriculture will treat the Pacific Organics case and CCOF’s role in it as an historic event. The resulting publicity made the State enforce the law and put into place programs to institutionalize that enforcement in the future.”

CCOF certified operations increased from 180 to 300 organic growers.

1989

The infamous “Alar scare” caused people to question the use of dangerous chemicals in agriculture when CBS 60 Minutes aired a story based on a report by the Natural Resources Defense Council titled “Intolerable Risk: Pesticides in our Children’s Food.” Two weeks later, the “Chilean grape scare” prompted Newsweek and Time magazines to ask, “Is our food safe? Who can you trust?” For weeks following the 60 Minutes story, the phones at CCOF rang off the hook with reporters, retailers, and consumers all wanting to know where they could get safe, organically grown food. CCOF certified operations increased from 300 to 800 organic growers.

Loma Prieta Earthquake Aftermath

The CCOF office, located on the third floor of a six-story building in downtown Santa Cruz, California, was shaken up during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake and was demolished soon after. Mark Lipson recalls the event: “We only had a couple hours under police supervision to hustle out what we could salvage, all carried by hand down the fire escape still covered with glass from dozens of plate glass windows.”

1990

Following the Loma Prieta earthquake, operations were temporarily held out of Executive Director Bob Scowcroft’s house before the CCOF office was relocated to the Sash Mill in Santa Cruz, California.

After a 20-month marathon advocacy effort by CCOF, California passed the California Organic Foods Act (COFA) of 1990. Based on CCOF’s organic certification standards, COFA added enforcement to the existing state law. Third-party certification was still voluntary under this new law.

The Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) of 1990 was completed as part of the U.S. Farm Bill and called for the establishment of the USDA National Organic Program (NOP) and National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), finally backing the “certified organic” claim with federal legislation.

The same year that COFA and OFPA passed, CCOF total operations increased 38 percent and total certified acreage increased 67 percent.

CCOF founded the Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) to fund the educational objectives of CCOF and on-farm research of organic growing practices. Today, OFRF is widely recognized as a leader in the worldwide organic community. Learn about OFRF’s efforts to support organic information needs.

1992

The Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF), founded by CCOF, hired its own executive director to better serve the organic community in its research efforts, turning its attention toward the national front. Bob Scowcroft, former executive director of CCOF, was selected as the new executive director for OFRF and temporarily held both positions.

1994

CCOF recognized that processed food made up half of the organic food industry and reached out to processors by creating its own organic processing standards. CCOF processor membership jumped from five to 19 in one year; prompting the addition of the Processor/Handler Chapter to the CCOF Chapter System.

CCOF Office on Mission St.

As the organic market grew, so did CCOF and our staff. CCOF moved to our fourth office, located in an old Victorian house on Mission Street in Santa Cruz, California.

 
1997

 

"Organic Community Infuriated by USDA's Proposed Rule"

The first draft of the National Organic Program (NOP) standards was released. To a shocked organic community, the “big three” – irradiation, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and sewage sludge – were subtly incorporated into the rule. This issue generated the most comments the USDA had ever received; nearly 280,000 people nationwide wrote letters, emails, and faxes to contest their inclusion in the organic standards. Their actions ultimately paid off, resulting in the prohibition of the “big three” in the Final Rule of 2002.

The Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) was originally developed in the late 1980s by CCOF in cooperation with Oregon Tilth as a joint materials and testing program. With the impending implementation of the National Organic Program (NOP) rule, OMRI established itself as an independent organization in 1997. Today, OMRI is the primary organic materials review clearinghouse for the United States.

1998

CCOF became accredited with the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) to further serve CCOF members by offering access to European markets.

2001

The CCOF Foundation was formed as a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization to obtain grants that help educate the public and conventional farmers about the benefits of organic food and farming.

2002

The National Organic Program’s “Final Rule” of organic standards was implemented nationally. Thanks to hundreds of thousands of public comments, the Final Rule no longer allowed the “big three” – irradiation, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and sewage sludge – in organic agriculture.

The California Organic Products Act (COPA) of 2003 was signed into law. Starting in 2003, all products sold in California containing less than 70 percent organic ingredients would not be allowed to use the word “organic” on the front panel. However, later in 2003, the State Assembly repealed the nonfood provision of the COPA.

With final implementation of the federal organic certification standards under the NOP, the USDA determined that accredited certification agencies must be free from conflict of interest. This meant that CCOF certified members could no longer oversee the same certification program that certified their own businesses. CCOF was forced to restructure or face non-accreditation by the USDA. After much negotiation, a solution was found in the formation of a Limited Liability Corporation (LLC), separate from the member-directed CCOF, Inc., the politically active trade association. Non-certified members of the organic community now direct CCOF Certification Services, LLC, while the nonprofit, member-based CCOF, Inc. retains control of the name, seal, and budget. Learn more about the structure of CCOF.

2004

As a member of the Californians for a GE-Free Agriculture (CGFA) coalition, CCOF fought the biotech industry head-on and won the battle to overturn the state’s decision to allow the planting of genetically engineered (GE) pharmaceutical rice containing human genes in California.

2006

The official USDA listings of certified operations in the United States revealed that CCOF was the largest organic certifier in the United States, certifying more than 11 percent of U.S. organic businesses.

CCOF certified acreage grew by more than 40,000 acres, or about 23 percent, from the previous year, with over 350,000 certified organic acres.

CCOF’s advocacy efforts against genetically engineered (GE) crops were successful in 2006. Santa Cruz County supervisors voted unanimously to adopt a moratorium on GE crops. Later that same year, SB 1056, a bill that would have revoked the right of local governments to impose bans on GE crops, failed to pass in the California Senate.

Going Organic, a project sponsored by the CCOF Foundation, spurred numerous meetings, OSP training sessions, and workshops, which helped hundreds of attendees learn more about organic production and certification.

CCOF hosted our first ever Organic Beer and Wine Tasting event at the beautiful Ferry Building in San Francisco, California, where fifteen CCOF certified vintners and brewers offered samples to patrons. Attendees also took part in the CCOF silent auction fundraiser, bidding on items donated from tasting event vendors and other various businesses that support CCOF and organics. Learn more about CCOF events.

 
2007

 

CCOF Office at 2155 Delaware Ave., Suite 150

With the growth in organic, CCOF also expanded, relocating once again from a 3,200 square foot Victorian house to a modern 6,647 square foot office space at 2155 Delaware Avenue, Suite 150, in Santa Cruz, California.

2008

CCOF reached a major milestone when we surpassed a half million certified organic acres in early 2008. By the end of the year, CCOF had grown by 11 percent and surpassed 2,000 total certified operations.

CCOF streamlined our certification process by introducing a range of online services for certified clients and applicants, including online certification applications, online renewal and payment options, and a variety of downloadable E-forms that vastly improve the efficiency of CCOF staff in responding to member requests. CCOF also started using Ecert, the most comprehensive certification database in the United States, building efficiencies internally to provide better client support and to track client data.

CCOF announced the appointment of its first fulltime policy director, marking yet another landmark in the growth of the organization and demonstrating CCOF’s continued commitment to advocating for governmental policies that protect and promote organic agriculture.

Based on feedback from our members, CCOF worked to reform the California State Organic Program (SOP) by submitting an official complaint to the National Organic Program (NOP) outlining several problems, including the program’s failure to investigate complaints and follow up on appeals as well as their newly introduced spot inspection program. Following CCOF’s complaint, the NOP recommended that the SOP halt the spot inspection program immediately and the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) develop a Technical Planning Committee aimed to review and improve the SOP.

After tireless advocacy efforts, CCOF, along with partners in the Genetic Engineering Policy Project lobbying coalition, celebrated the passing of the Food and Farm Protection Act (AB 541) in California. This bill was the first to offer protection for farmers against lawsuits linked to genetically engineered (GE) crops.

2009

CCOF launched a new Organic Liquid Fertilizer Policy, aiming to ensure that fertilizer companies undergo third party inspections or face prohibition of their products as well as a Fertilizer Sampling Initiative to test a variety of liquid fertilizers in the marketplace. The new policy and sampling initiative were enacted in response to media coverage of alleged fraudulent activities related to the suspected addition of synthetic nitrogen to organic liquid fertilizer products.

CCOF earned the Monterey Bay Area Business Program’s Green Business Certification, which recognizes and promotes businesses that volunteer to operate in a more environmentally responsible way by meeting standards for conserving resources, preventing pollution, and minimizing waste.

After the finalization of the Canadian Organic Standards in 2009, CCOF received Canadian accreditation to ensure that CCOF members in the Global Market Access (GMA) program had access to the Canadian market.

Despite a national economic downturn in 2009, CCOF experienced 8 percent growth in both the number of certified operations and in total certified acreage. Certified operations increased from 2,007 to 2,168, while certified acreage increased from 558,137 to 603,545.

CCOF withdrew from IFOAM accreditation, but continues to offer EU Equivalency verification for European markets through our Global Market Access (GMA) program. Learn more about CCOF international programs.

2010

After years in the making and input from interested parties and over 26,000 public comments, the National Organic Program (NOP) finally published the "Pasture Rule" and received an overall positive response from the organic community. CCOF analyzed, interpreted, and made comments on the new rule to help producers get a better understanding of the changes and how they would be affected. Find information and resources about the Pasture Rule.

2011

CCOF reached a major certification milestone in 2011 when we certified our millionth acre, a 49 percent increase in certified acreage from 2010. A key area of growth was in organic pasture, which increased 89 percent from 2010 when the National Organic Program (NOP) published the final Pasture Rule.

CCOF launched MyCCOF, a new client-wide online organic certification management tool. As the first service of its kind, MyCCOF revolutionizes how CCOF conducts organic certification. CCOF clients can use MyCCOF for a variety of functions, including monitoring their certification and renewals, accessing key documents, tracking the inspection and certification process, making payments, and more.

CCOF formed a strategic alliance with the Organic Trade Association (OTA) to strengthen the organic industry’s national public policy effectiveness, enhancing the resources and capacity needed to grow and protect U.S. organic agriculture in the current fast-changing political environment.

CCOF expanded our organic education programs in 2011, serving over 300 participants through 10 educational offerings including marketing-focused webinars, a tour of the San Francisco wholesale market, and postharvest handling and holistic range management field days.

2012

CCOF launched a new website!