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Transitioning to Organic Back Home in the Black Dirt Region

Posted by Suzanne Pender on May 02, 2016 at 07:03 PM
Travis Jones, Verdant Common Growers, in front of his NRCS-supported seasonal high tunnel in the black dirt region of New York. The high tunnel enables Travis to grow year-round.

Travis Jones, Verdant Common Growers, in front of his NRCS-supported seasonal high tunnel in the black dirt region of New York. The high tunnel enables Travis to grow year-round.

Travis Jones of Verdant Common Growers grew up working on his father’s farm. His father was one of the few in the Black Dirt area of New York that used organic practices, though the farm wasn’t certified organic.

It wasn’t until after Travis graduated from college with a computer science degree that he decided to farm full time. “I felt I could advance farming in the area for the next generation,” says Travis. He also decided to pursue organic certification for his farm. “The main reason I want to be certified organic is to expand my sales to places like Whole Foods. I think organic certification will be even more important in the future,” he said.

He owns and leases 70 acres, rests fields for one to two years, and doesn’t use any inputs on his land, except starting seedlings in his greenhouse. In 2015, he grew 15 acres of mixed vegetables and worked to transition another 20 to 30 acres toward organic certification.

NRCS provided assistance to Travis on his cover crops and crop rotation through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program Organic Initiative and provided cost-shares for his high tunnel through the High Tunnel Initiative.

“I never worked with NRCS before. I was cover cropping anyway, so NRCS made a lot of sense. For organic, you have to do a rotation, you have to do covers, so you may as well work with NRCS because the practices are a natural fit,” Travis said.

Now in his second year of farming on his own, Travis has been so successful in sales that he no longer needs to sell at the Union Square farmers market. Instead, he sells his high-quality vegetables directly to restaurants in New York.

The cooperative ethic also is at the center of Travis’s interest. He shares a barn, walk-in cooler, and greenhouse with five other farmers in the Black Dirt area who are also transitioning their lands to organic. “The interesting thing is collaborating with others and learning from others growing in the area,” he said. “We had flea beetles and the rows of covers made a huge difference and helped us all.”

Travis continues this collaborative approach when considering the future, saying he’d like to run a farmer-owned cooperative, enabling everyone to have an equal portion of the earnings.

For him, coming up with unique approaches and solutions to problems, and helping each other is what it’s all about. “I like the whole process of starting a seed. You can change the process or system of what you do. It’s like a machine, something you tinker with. Everyone has their own set up,” he said.

Click on these links to learn more about NRCS assistance for high tunnels and for organic producers.

Learn more about these farms and farmers transitioning to organic in the Black Dirt area of New York:

Related Links

Tags: organic, New York, locally-grown food, high tunnels, greenhouse, soils, financial assistance, technical assistance, beginning farmer, Environmental Quality Incentives Program

categories Farmer & Rancher Stories , Conservation Programs

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