How about two standards:
- AgriTrue Silver - producer states that they follow all the basic policies.
- AgriTrue Gold - producer states that they follow or exceed all the basics, and someone has independently verified this. Like, all certified organic could be 'gold', but small-scale producers could also have someone else verify their practices.
There's a conservation land
trust / network in New Zealand that operates this way:
various people voluntarily put part of their land into conservation status, they have a lot of choice about how much and what they commit to. Many of the same people serve on the board or as verification volunteers, to check that the land is being conserved as described. I went on a walk-through with one board member who was checking out the new signs that another member had put on their trail - noted a few that were damaged, but all were present and nicely informative, trail well-maintained.
A 'gold' standard could be as simple as someone else who is part of AgriTrue confirms that your farm looks like what you said - the pictures are accurate, etc. If there is some deception discovered, both parties (the person who lied, and the person who verified them) lose their standing. There would be some friendly good ol' boy behavior, but the crowd involved is pretty loyal to the cause and probably would promote mostly trustworthy friends. It would also be an incentive for people with 'favorite farmers' to join the network and boost
Two problems I see that might be an issue for our farmers here:
1) Many of them are very responsive to customers, but don't necessarily have internet or time to maintain another profile. Some are barely on Facebook
, or have temporary / permanent problems with rural Internet, phone service, etc.
Does the profile page allow the farmer to specify a way to contact them that works, such as a phone or fax number if Internet is not reliable in their area? Or for people to post an update on behalf of a farmer, such as a farm intern, without being mistaken for the farmer's own statements about how they do things?
2) The pricing scale looks like it could work long-term, but for the start-up phase of the network it seems high. (If there are no members in my area, the AgriTrue label isn't well known, and the benefit to the farmer is marginal at best. An organic farmer I'm working with currently doesn't even bother to display his "certified organic" label at the farmer's market each week; word of mouth is much better advertising
Anything that cost money and isn't widely known is a risk; farmers trying to do it right are often cash-poor. Again, I'm in a county that is very low income per-capita, 90% non-organic orchards, and staying true to organic+ principles is a low-margin business this far from big-city markets. It might work better for boutique / activist farms in cities with big markets.
Would you consider doing a trade for farmers in the first 1000 to get more signed up - maybe value-added produce or organic dried flowers for displays when you market AgriTrue at local events?
Would there be any way to run the system on a nomination basis? maybe just to boost initial enrollment, or long-term if it works?
Say, if 3 people nominate a particular farmer with a smaller donation ($5 or something), that farmer is invited to create a profile at no cost for the first year? If they keep getting nominated by different people, maybe they would not have to renew for themselves, or something. There might have to be a list of nominated farmers so people could indicate they are voting for the same one.
Larger numbers of smaller donations are sometimes seen as a standard of integrity. Most small farmers have at least a few dozen customers, unless they have one reliable buyer in which case they should have more of a budget than your average truck farmer. The ones who also do education or host student interns would have a larger network that might make the nomination process easier for the farmer than actually signing up.
On the face of it, a voluntary self-listing for money seems like it's going to be hard to distinguish from various other associations - farmer's market, grange
, FFA, organic, fair-trade - and like only the most activist customers are going to care enough to understand what the new standard means.
But if it's also a way to reward good behavior on a social basis, a lot of your moderately-informed activists might do the nomination thing, thus inviting farmers who wouldn't otherwise learn about it to consider whether they meet the standards and that it matters to their customers.
Of five organic or permaculture farmers I can think of in my immediate area, I would guess that right now about one or two might be interested, and you'd be lucky to get any signed up. If it was free (which it could be under the nomination method), and they are able to use it as a referral to their preferred way to communicate, maybe more like two or three. some just have their thing they do, they know they do it right, and they work the markets they know and eat what doesn't sell.
I would be hesitant to recommend it in person, or take a straw
poll, among local farmers at this point since I know it's the busy season, and there's no obvious way to know if it will have any direct benefit in our somewhat isolated setting. I could post to my blog, though. There's so much permaculture and sustainability
interest here, the person who said the co-op is the place had it pegged. Word of mouth in small towns gets you to reliable people much faster than Internet tools. (Unless you're trying to hire someone with a specific skill set - around here, everyone is like "I could do that.")