A Brief History of Nick’s Organic Farm and Local Food In Montgomery County

 

For the past thirty years, Nick's Organic Farm (NOF) has been a pioneer in the organic, sustainable and local agricultural movement. NOF helped start many organizations such as Maryland Organic Food and Farming Association, the Maryland Small Farm Cooperative, Future Harvest-Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture, and these organizations continue to advance the ideals of an ecologically sensitive and regional food system.

Working through these and other organizations, NOF has been actively creating a space on the state and national scene for small local farms to begin, develop and flourish. Starting in 1990 NOF worked for passage of Maryland’s law and regulations establishing the nation’s first State administered organic certification program, later copied by other states. Later NOF entered the policy debate for Federal organic legislation, notably working with the Montgomery County representative who crossed party lines on the House floor to pass the final bill by an historic one vote margin. Then for over a decade, NOF was closely involved with forming the USDA organic regulations, which became final in 2002. Just recently, USDA Sec. Vilsack appointed Nick Maravell as one of four farmers serving on the fifteen member National Organic Standards Board tasked with making detailed recommendations on the farming and food manufacturing materials and practices allowed in organic production.

In the early 1980’s NOF's on-farm experiments conducted with University of Maryland, the Maryland Department of Agriculture, and the USDA Agricultural Research Service led to efforts to bring more scientific organic research to all farmers. NOF’s on-farm research continues today, and at many other farms in the region. National recognition for more organic research came slowly, and NOF and other farmers and researchers at the Organic Farming Research Foundation issued the National Organic Research Agenda in 2007. Now over $25 million a year of federally funded organic research is conducted annually--significant, but still a fraction of the non-organic research budget.

NOF has helped start several small farm and organic cooperatives to improve marketing. NOF’s model of adding value on the farm and selling directly to the final user, either a consumer or another farm, exemplifies the current USDA initiative "Know Your Food, Know Your Farmer." To safeguard the marketing interests of small and organic farmers, NOF testified twice in the last Congress on food safety.  Fearing small and organic farms would be collateral damage to costly and burdensome control measures designed for the very largest food manufactures, NOF worked with a coalition of small and sustainable farm advocates over a two year period to develop affordable food safety procedures. Opposed by large agricultural interests, the final legislation was guided to a difficult last minute passage with the watchful assistance of the Montgomery County representative working with the Congressional leadership.

By forming lasting organizations, by creating clear state and national organic standards, by advancing research to assist production, and by joining farmers together to improve their marketing, the seed planted on this 20 acre parcel in Potomac over thirty years ago has blossomed, and new seedlings have spread all over the Chesapeake region. The momentum is only getting stronger every day--witness the proliferation of farmers’ markets, CSAs (community supported agriculture) and demand and growth in local and organic sales. While we take these trends for granted in Montgomery County, three decades ago they were unimaginable.  It is crucial we save this farm.