“We Are Essential” is a blog series that explores how the organic community is navigating the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Our farms, ranches, and businesses deliver truly essential services, staying open and in the field to provide food to our communities. Each week, we will share a new story that highlights how organic is critical to the global response. We welcome hearing how you are impacted and invite you to email us at email@example.com. We also have a list of crisis resilience resources to help you weather the COVID-19 pandemic.
Growing food during the COVID-19 pandemic is a gift that farmers can share with their communities.
As a farmer for the last two decades, I grow and preserve my food, and I know where to get what I don’t have from my local farmer friends. I can survive a year or more without a trip to the grocery store. Most people do not have this background—or dare I say—luxury. But right now, many folks are considering planting their own food to feed their families. Providing seedlings of plant varieties that I know grow well in my community's microclimate and offering growing advice is a great help to local families, allowing them to develop their own Co-op Gardens.
Obtain a License to Sell Nursery Stock
Before growing seedlings for sale, check in with your county agricultural commissioner. In California, anyone who sells nursery stock, including seedlings, needs to obtain a license. This includes filling out an application form, paying a license fee, and having the nursery stock inspected for any potential pests. The license fee may be waived for operations that sell a very limited amount of nursery stock and meet certain conditions, but all operations must obtain a license prior to selling. If you are planning on selling the seedlings at farmers’ markets, additional certificates may be required. Your county agricultural commissioner can help you figure out what you need to apply for and walk you through the process.
Keep Your Organic System Plan Up to Date
Also, keep in touch with your organic certifier about your new seedling production. If you grow your own certified organic seedlings, adding plants to your offerings is an easy transition since your Organic System Plan likely covers this new sales avenue. If you haven’t grown your own plants under your organic certification, you will need to update your Organic System Plan and submit it to your certifier. Be sure to update your Approved Materials list and get approval from your certifier to use any new materials you may need for your seedlings, including seedling medium, fertilizers, and any other additions to the seedling mix. Check with your organic certifier for clarification.
Helping Home Gardeners Get Off the Ground!
At our farm, we grow our own seedlings to plant in the field. We always plant extra, in case seeds don’t geminate well or they dry out around the edges, leaving fewer plants than we need. I still have the mindset of planting obscene amounts of tomatoes even though we don't pack them for wholesale any longer. I just love to try new varieties so we always have plenty of tomatoes to share. In recent weeks, I have ramped up my plantings. The pots I had on hand weren’t enough so I purchased additional seedling four-packs and six-packs from my local ag supply store.
We have planted extra lettuces, kales, chard, summer squash, beans, cucumbers, cilantro, and parsley. It’s important to have a mix of vegetable and herb plants available; some that keep producing over a long period of time as well as others that grow fast like lettuces, arugula, beet tops, and mustards.
As us farmers know, growing food isn’t easy! Newby home gardeners will need to be set up for success. If you have the time, it would be nice to offer some resources on the plants you are providing to help them understand what it takes to care for the crop. It is important to explain how to tend and harvest the various crops so they continue to produce. This could be as simple as providing links to growing resources or online gardening classes. Here are a few articles I’ve offered to my customers:
The “Great Pause” due to COVID-19 provides us an opportunity for innovation, community service, and yes, even a new, profitable sales outlet with minimal additional effort. Farmer friends, in what ways can you become a knowledgeable leader and resource for your food shed community? You are already superheroes, so I have faith you are up for the challenge.
This article was submitted by Jamie Collins.
Jamie Collins, owner of CCOF certified Serendipity Farms near Monterey, California, has farmed organically for two decades. She sells produce via farmers’ markets, CSA, and other direct-to-consumer outlets. On the side, she works as an organic inspector and writes about food and farming for various publications.