How green was my permit?
Nevada's first independent organic certifier is getting its nonprofit wings
When the Nevada Department of Agriculture announced its cash-strapped organic certification program would phase out by next March, some local farmers and food handlers balked. Then they came up with a plan. Basin and Range Organics, their answer to the NDA’s program, has begun to materialize as a nonprofit—one founders hope will cut costs for small businesses and foster a sense of community as Nevada’s first independent organic certifier.
The organization is temporarily housed under another 501(c)3, the Healthy Communities Coalition of Lyon and Storey Counties. Well-known farmers such as Marcia Litsinger and Rob Holley, both of whom are involved in the new program, have “consistently helped with our school gardens, and helped the kids learn where their food comes from,” said HCC director Christy McGill, who also wrote a federal grant application for Basin and Range. “We’re very thankful to them, and this is our small way that we could help out, basically.”
To be clear, Basin and Range isn’t up and running yet. Though a grace period is likely, the organization must be accredited before the state program wraps, and that’s a detailed process that has only just begun.
“We have what we believe is just enough time to get our third-party accreditation established,” Holley said, noting later that “we haven’t found any reason to think we won’t be able to certify people next year.”
More than 40 organic farmers will need new certifiers when the NDA setup lapses next spring, he said, but they won’t face a real decision until after Jan. 1, which is all the better in light of a busy harvest season.
The existing program ran on the state general fund until around 2008, and focused primarily on produce. It needed another $65,000 yearly to stay afloat, but the addition of livestock—to give one potentially lucrative example—would entail expensive training, NDA administrator Dawn Rafferty said at the time.
Between paperwork, audits and the like, Basin and Range will spend around $30,000, Holley said, and McGill figures the “bare-bones budget” is an estimated $54,000. Though private certification fees vary, “our goal is for our fees to be proportionally smaller and less expensive than they were with the NDA,” Holley said—not that the NDA’s fees were anything outrageous.
“The Department of Agriculture was plus-or-minus comparable with other certifiers within the Western United States, depending on the size and complexity of a person’s operation,” he explained. “That’s part of why we want to operate in a not-for-profit status, so that we can try to pass on as much savings to the organic producers and processors and handlers as we possibly can.”
Another goal: touting the benefits of organic food, which seems obvious enough. But the NDA wasn’t in a position to do it, Holley said.
“That’s one thing I understand from a political and ideological perspective that a government certifier wouldn’t do and couldn’t do,” he said. “They didn’t feel they could support one industry of agriculture over another.”