MOFGA and MOFGA Certification Services (MCS) are pleased to announce that we have been chosen as a core partner and the state lead for Maine through USDA’s Transition to Organic Partnership Program (TOPP). TOPP is one of three focus areas by USDA to transition more agriculture to organic (generally known as the Organic Transition Initiative), as part of their larger climate-smart goals. The USDA National Organic Program (NOP) received $100 million dollars to administer TOPP, and chose six regional leads throughout the country to facilitate cooperative agreements and organize strategies. MOFGA and MCS are part of the Northeast region, which includes 13 states and the District of Columbia, and is led by Pennsylvania Certified Organic (PCO). The states are Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland and Delaware.
USDA’s NOP describes the goals of TOPP to include “investing up to $100 million over five years in cooperative agreements with non-profit organizations who will partner with others to provide technical assistance and wrap-around support for transitioning and existing organic farmers.” According to the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) website, partner organizations will:
- Connect farmers transitioning to organic with mentors for at least one year after certification.
- Build paid mentoring networks to share practical insights and advice.
- Provide community-building opportunities including train-the-mentor support, technical assistance, and workshops and field days covering such topics as organic production practices, certification, conservation planning, and business development including navigating the supply chain, regulations and marketing.
- Help transitioning producers overcome technical, cultural and financial shifts during and following organic certification.
- Engage educational and training institutions (including crop advisors and extension agents) on workforce training and education related to organic.
Mentors require certain criteria to participate. They must have at least three years of organic production experience; be a certified organic producer in good standing (or three years of experience with organic certification); and be able to commit to 45 hours per year working with a mentee farmer. Compensation for mentors is $3,000 per year, which includes travel and incidental expenses. Mentees wishing to participate in the program do not pay at all.
We are excited to further develop relationships with existing partners in the state as well as create and foster new ones, and encourage interested parties to contact us to discuss opportunities. We’re hopeful that existing technical service providers (TSPs) are willing to participate and submit Requests for Proposals (RFPs) to include or add organic-specific tracks into their existing programming. MCS and MOFGA’s farmer programs team will be training and supporting TSPs in this work.
The participation in TOPP comes on the heels of MCS’ participation in USDA’s Human Capital initiative and cooperative agreement in 2022, working with a similar group in the Northeast to create curriculum and training for institutions that wish to offer organic inspector and reviewer training within their sustainable agriculture programming. Certifiers included MCS, Vermont Organic Farmers (VOF) and NOFA-NY, along with other NOFA state chapters in the region, and Rutgers, Delaware Valley College and Vermont Technical College. The results were a robust curriculum with assessment criteria, as well as an inspector manual. The NOP is planning to develop this into courses in the Organic Integrity Learning Center, and we hope that local institutions will add these courses to their offerings moving forward.
For more information about the Transition to Organic Partnership Program please visit this webpage: ams.usda.gov/services/organic-certification/topp. If you are interested in becoming a mentor, mentee or technical assistance provider in Maine, please contact MCS at 207-568-6030 or firstname.lastname@example.org, and we will direct you accordingly. Mentors and mentees should be able to officially sign up this summer, with technical assistance opportunities later this year.