The Martens' Farm
Location: about 60 miles southeast
of Rochester, NY, on the western shore of Seneca
Important people: Klaas and Mary-Howell
Martens, Peter, Elizabeth, and
Daniel. Plus Robert Hall (employee/asst farm manager)
Years farming: We've farmed this
farm together since 1991. Klaas has farmed all
Total acreage: 1500
Tillable acres: 1300
Soil type: Honeoye Lima silt
Crops: corn, soybeans, spelt,
wheat, barley, oats, triticale, red kidney beans,
sweet corn, snap beans, cabbage, edamame soybeans
Livestock: sheep, pigs, chickens
for our own use
Regenerative farm practices:
diverse long term crop rotations that incorporate
legumes and small grains, under seeding all small
grains with red clover, actively increasing soil
Marketing: corn & small grains
are sold to Lakeview Organic Grain LLC, our organic
feed business. Soybeans, red kidney beans, and
spelt sold to brokers and processors. Some spelt
is sold as kosher organic spelt. Sweet corn, snap
beans and edamame are sold to processors who freeze
them under brand name labels. Cabbage is made
into sauerkraut and packed under the Cascadian
Farms label. Some of the oats, wheat and barley
are being grown from Foundation Seed to produce
Certified Organic Certified Seed.
August 3, 2004: What follows is the final installment
of a two-part series that developed when our friend Sandy
asked us last winter to “franchise the design of our
farm” onto his farm. (Miss Part 1? Click
Taking up the challenge, we have attempted to identify a
package of key factors that work on one farm and that could
be transplanted reasonably intact to a new situation, leaving
sufficient flexibility for appropriate adaptation. If nothing
else, this approach helps us look at organic farming more
as a holistic system with a definable set of interrelated
pieces that must be managed.
So, without further ado, let’s pick up where we left
It is important to match crops with markets. Some organic
crop, such as soybean, are very easy to sell, while other
crops, such as corn, rye and barley, are more difficult to
move, unless you have nearby organic dairy farms, an organic
feed mill or grain co-op. Before putting any seeds into the
ground, it is important to plan your markets, make contacts
and, if possible, obtain favorable contracts.
Many organic grain market opportunities are not entirely
as they first appear. You may be expected to store the product
for months until the buyer is ready to take delivery. Since
organic farms generally produce a larger number of different
products due to crop rotation requirements, this may necessitate
the acquisition of more bins, storage facilities and appropriate
handling equipment. Monitoring grain moisture and quality
from harvest until sale is essential, since buyers generally
want grain to be of equal or better quality than it was at
You may be expected to arrange cleaning and delivery of the
grain. The cleanout for organic products may be higher than
with similar conventional products, but often it is possible
to find alternative markets for the cleanout, especially with
When contacting a new buyer, it would be a good idea to
ask following questions:
- How quickly do I ship the product after harvest?
- Will you take the product uncleaned, and will I be paid
on clean or uncleaned weight? How much cleanout/dockage
is there likely to be?
- Can you dry the crop for me, and if so, what are the drying
- Am I responsible for arranging and/or paying for delivery?
- How quickly do you pay after delivery?
- Are you interested in buying more than one crop from
me? (Sometimes buyers will agree to buy one hard-to-move
crop in order to get a second crop that is in shorter supply.)
- And, if you’re not familiar with the buyer, ask
for three references from other farmers they have bought
from within the past 12 months.
- Additionally, as a protection for farmers, many states
like New York require any company or individual buying products
directly from farmers to be ‘bonded’ or licensed
with the state. If a farmer chooses to sell to an unlicensed
dealer, they do not have the same legal protection in the
event of nonpayment.
Sales documentation of organic product is more complicated
than with conventional. However, most buyers will refuse to
pay until they receive full documentation supporting the organic
integrity of your product. After all, their certification
could be at risk if you fail to deliver full evidence of product
certification. Therefore, each load must be accompanied with
- Bill of Lading, listing you as the seller, the date, the
buyer, the product identified as ‘certified organic’
(indicating the certifier), the lot number, an actual or
estimated weight, and the weigh slip.
- A signed ‘clean truck affidavit,’ stating
that you inspected the truck or wagon before loading and
that it was clean. This affidavit documents that you, the
owner, have taken full responsibility for the organic integrity
of the product and have done all you can to prevent any
co-mingling with non-organic product or other contaminants.
This doesn’t have to be anything fancy. You can get
a package of generic Bills of Lading from an office supply
store and simply write the signed clean truck affidavit
statement at the bottom.
- After delivery, it is your responsibility to supply the
buyer with a copy of your organic certificate covering the
year the crop was harvested and any other sales documentation
that your certifier requires (e.g., transaction certificate,
organic transfer monitor, etc).
Save copies of all this documentation for your records; you
will need it during next year’s inspection!
and accurate records are very important, both
for our certifier and for our own farm management.
After all, how are you going to know whether you
make money on the enterprise if you don’t
run the numbers?
The organic industry is absolutely fanatical about record
keeping. Complete and accurate records are very important,
both for our certifier and for our own farm management. After
all, how are you going to know whether you make money on the
enterprise if you don’t run the numbers?
Complete, readily accessible field and financial records
are our best way to understand what happened this year and
how we can do better next year. They are our only way to accurately
calculate the cost of production for each crop ‘enterprise’
and for each field and to determine whether profit was made,
whether input costs were justified, and whether the right
agronomic decisions were made.
Field record keeping can be as simple as a notebook with
a page for each field on which is written all field operations,
inputs and harvest/storage records. Field maps and three-year
field histories should be in the notebook as well. Some farmers
prefer higher-tech farm record computer programs, and there
are some good programs available. Some farmers even write
their own computer record-keeping programs!
Whichever record-keeping approach you choose, it is important
to consider whether it:
- Fits your personality and abilities, so that updating
will get done promptly and completely with minimal error
- Compiles all the necessary information in a way that
is simple and easily accessible, and
- Allows you to summarize and reorganize data for analysis
In addition to field records, it is important to manage other
organic documentation, including saving copies of all the
seed and input tags and labels, invoices, weigh slips, Bills
of Lading, transaction certificates, check stubs, grading
reports, contracts, and the like. Your inspector will want
to see them! The simplest approach we have found is to maintain
a manila folder for each crop into which all information pertaining
to it is deposited for each year. This keeps this information
together and easily accessible with minimal effort and time.
Remember to save at least one bag label off each type of seed
and labels for every input until after the inspection (save
the container or take a picture of the label if it can’t
Of course, another crucial piece of administrative management
is paying the bills on time. This is far from the most glamorous
job on the farm, but it is one of the first noticed when not
done. While paying the bills, it is essential to consider
whether the expenses are reasonable and appropriately matched
to the farm income and needs.
Financial management also includes payroll, INS documentation,
workers compensation, withholding tax and all that rigmarole,
having all trucks and other vehicles properly licensed and
tagged, and carrying appropriate insurance for the business
and equipment. You might want to investigate crop insurance
as protection against disasters and consider working with
the USDA FSA and NRCS to qualify for cost-sharing conservation
and other programs. Cost-sharing money is also available in
most states to help cover organic certification; ask your
certifier for the name of the correct state office to contact
To sell products as organic, you must be certified organic.
More than 75 USDA- accredited certification agencies are now
listed on the National Organic Program (NOP) website (www.ams.usda.gov/nop),
but in reality most areas are best served by two or three
certification agencies. In the Northeast, the choice is generally
between a regional certifier and several of the larger international
||Some certifiers do a great job of
providing farmer education and support in this manner,
while other certifiers choose to do virtually nothing.
It is valuable to shop around a little for your desired
certifier characteristics and for a certification staff
who can communicate well with you.
While all NOP-accredited certification agencies now use the
same standards, there are significant differences in which
details are emphasized and how the certification process is
handled. Certifiers also vary greatly in price and in their
attention to farmer support and education. While certifiers
are not supposed to tell individuals how to ‘overcome
barriers to certification,’ they are allowed to distribute
informational newsletters and hold group educational meetings.
Some certifiers do a great job of providing farmer education
and support in this manner, while other certifiers choose
to do virtually nothing. It is valuable to shop around a little
for your desired certifier characteristics and for a certification
staff who can communicate well with you. Ask other organic
farmers in your area which certifiers they favor and why.
The first step in becoming certified is to request an application/information
package. This includes the standards (rules) and an application.
Some certifiers also include valuable recommended record-keeping
master forms and guidance information. Pay attention to the
deadline for application submission (once you get past the
deadline, the cost rises steeply). Along with the application,
you will need to submit clearly labeled field maps and 3 to
5 year field histories for all crops and inputs.
After the application is submitted, expect an inspection
during the summer and then you will probably get your certificate
in September or October. The certification process takes on
average about six months, although it can take longer. First-time
applicants are not supposed to sell their crops as ‘certified
organic’ until they have their certificate in hand.
Naturally, the best place for additional resources and information
is www.NewFarm.org and all the other terrific publications
that The Rodale Institute® has been putting out over the
past 50 years. The Rodale Institute has long been a leader
in defining and developing organic agriculture and has inspired
and educated countless organic farmers and gardeners around
the world. (Check out New
Farm’s online bookstore for a great selection of
inspiring and informational publications by Rodale and others.)
Additionally, Acres USA—a fine monthly newspaper full
of articles on alternative agriculture, economics and health—is
a great resource. Acres posts a selection of these articles
on its website, www.acresusa.com.
A number of our articles on organic grain harvest and storage
quality, GMO management strategies, the audit trail and organic
grain marketing are posted at www.acresusa.com/toolbox/articles.htm.
Acres also maintains an extremely extensive mail-order catalog
bookstore with wide-ranging books on alternative agriculture,
health, economics and lifestyle—also accessible through
The Appropriate Technology Transfer for Rural Areas (ATTRA)
program is funded through the USDA and is an outstanding resource
of information. The group’s website is packed with articles,
resources and workbooks, and specialists are on-hand to answer
specific questions from users. Best of all, it is all free!
The Sustainable Agricultural Research and Education (SARE)
is also funded through the USDA and provides bulletins, books,
and research grants. SARE publishes a valuable 30-page booklet
entitled Transition to Organic Production, which accompanies
a three-video series. For basics in soil science, especially
for the Northeast, SARE’s Building
Better Soils for Better Crops by Fred Magdoff and Harold
Van Es (2000) is worthwhile as is Managing
Cover Crops Profitably, written by a team of New Farm
veterans and their research collaborators (1998), and Steel
in the Field by New Farm’s own Greg Bowman (1997).
SARE also sponsors the long-running electronic forum Sanet,
which provides an arena for information sharing and debate
with many organic enthusiasts worldwide.
While your certifier will supply a copy of the National Organic
Program’s standards, it is a good idea to become familiar
with the NOP website (www.ams.usda.gov/nop)
yourself for the regular updates and news.
For a straightforward description of organic farming principles,
the Canadian Organic Growers (COG) (www.cog.ca)
has produced two books, Organic
Field Crop Handbook (1992) and Organic
Livestock Handbook (2000). Each presents a reasonable
overview of concepts in a clear format. Videos also accompany
these books. The phone number for COG is 613-231-9047.
Any good organic farmer should have a detailed weed-identification
guide. For the Northeast, the best one we’ve found is
Weeds of the Northeast by Richard H. Uva, Joseph C.
Neal, Joseph M. Ditomaso (Cornell Univ Press, 1997), with
excellent pictures and detailed descriptions. No doubt there
are weed guides of equal quality for other geographical areas.
You will find several extensive collections of weed pictures
on the Internet. The Weed Science Society of America maintains
an enormous collection of pictures of weeds at www.wssa.net;
Rutgers University maintains a smaller collection of weed
pictures and information that is more applicable for the Northeast
We have learned much from many other sources, including the
outstanding but challenging writings of Dr. William Albrecht,
books by Neal Kinsey, Charles Walters, Joseph Cocannouer,
Donald Schriefer, Sir Albert Howard, Rudolph Steiner and Ehrenfried
Pfeiffer, and old agricultural texts and weed management research
by Dr. Bernard Rademacher and Dr. Walter Muenscher. Our old
college soil science, plant pathology, seed technology, and
entomology texts are still frequently consulted.
For regular inspiration, we highly recommend that all new
and existing organic farmers make time to regularly watch
two fine films, My
Father’s Garden (Bullfrog Films, Oley, Pa.) and
Life in the Soil (Mokichi Okada Association, Honolulu,
Hawaii). These films eloquently and beautifully remind us
why we are doing this and why organic farming is indeed the
most important movement in agriculture today.
Now, if we were really sharp, we would work with lawyers
to patent these ideas as intellectual property and start making
the big bucks through technology transfer and licensing fees.
We’re not that high tech and we don’t have a goofy
mascot . . . yet!
So folks, help yourself to any or all of this franchise,
and help us make this world a better place for our children
and yours. Perhaps you can help us develop other necessary
key factors in this organic farming franchise.
After all, Hamburger University wasn’t built in one