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FOG celebrates 30 years of healthful food

Dealing with social justice issues associated with organic farming has been at the core of Florida Certified Organic Growers and Consumers of Gainesville's work since the group's creation.

Known as FOG, the nonprofit this month will celebrate 30 years of fighting for organic farmers, farm workers' rights and for people on the lower rung of the economic ladder to have access to healthy food.

Both the Gainesville and Alachua County commissions declared July FOG Month.

Marty Mesh, executive director of the Gainesville-based organization, said it was established to support and promote sustainable organic agriculture through educating consumers, farmers, businesses, policy makers and the general public about issues associated with organic farming.

"We decided to collaborate with farm worker organizations and other groups to promote organic farming standards domestically," Mesh said.

As part of its ongoing efforts to educate people about and promote certified organic farming, FOG will host two workshops this month.

The first, co-sponsored by the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, will be held from 1-4:30 p.m. July 24 at the Straughn Professional Development Center at 2142 Shealy Drive on campus.

It will focus on organic vegetable production and high-tunnel research results, and discussion topics will include benefits and challenges of high-tunnel production; disease and pest management; economic considerations; high tunnel structures; organic certification and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Cost Share program and soil fertility and crop nutrient management.

High tunnel farming allows farmers to extend the growing season of their crops by using a conservation practice available through the Environmental Quality Incentive Program offered by the USDA.

The second workshop will be held from 9 a.m. to noon July 27 at Frog Song Organics at 4317 NE U.S. Highway 301 in Hawthorne. It will focus on organic tomato grafting and high tunnel production.

Vegetable grafting is a horticultural technique combining parts from two plants to form one plant.

Both workshops are free, and those interested can register by calling 352-377-6345, extension 123, or emailing tyler@foginfo.org.

"People from out of town attending the first workshop will be able to get reimbursed for their travel by the USDA," said Tyler Nesbit, FOG's education and outreach coordinator.

To celebrate its 30-year anniversary, FOG will host an Organic Food and Farming Summit Sept. 17-19. It will be an opportunity for farmers to interact with innovators and leaders in organic agriculture to gain knowledge and training through farm tours, workshops, a trade show and a day of presentations on available resources, Mesh said.

FOG has spent its first three decades fighting for social justice in organic agriculture, primarily ensuring that healthy food gets to people most in need, educating organic farmers on issues and policies that affect them and educating and promoting the public about issues related to organic agriculture and improved food systems.

FOG, in cooperation with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, oversees the National Organic Certification Cost Share Program in Florida. The program provides financial help to those obtaining or renewing their certification with the National Organic Program.

To be eligible for reimbursement this federal fiscal year, producers or handlers must have received or renewed certification between Oct. 1, 2016 and Sept. 30 of this year. The amount of reimbursement is 75 percent of certification costs, up to a maximum of $750.

For information about cost on the cost share program, email costshare@foginfo.org.

FOG also offers a program that makes fresh, local produce more affordable and accessible to low-income families. The Fresh Access Bucks program increases the purchasing power of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamp) recipients by providing a dollar-for-dollar match for Florida-grown fruits and vegetables.

For instance, a SNAP recipient who spends $10 of their benefits at the farmers' market gets an additional $10 in Fresh Access Bucks to buy more fruits and vegetables, Mesh said.

The program is part of the Alachua County Farmers' Market, held from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays at 5920 NW 13th St.

For more information about Fresh Access Bucks, email info@freshaccessbucks.com.

Local residents can also get fresh organic fruits and vegetables from the Community Supported Agriculture program through Siembra Farm in southeast Gainesville just south of T.B. McPherson Recreation Center.

Cody Galligan, owner of the 20-acre farm, said $30 gets buyers an assortment of fruits and vegetables delivered to their homes.

"It's a great way to support local farmers and for families to get fresh organic fruits and vegetables at a reduced price," Galligan said.

___

Information from: The Gainesville (Fla.) Sun, http://www.gainesvillesun.com

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