Certifier of Sustainable Farms Closes

Lack of funding brings Food Alliance’s certification program to a halt, while a volunteer board keeps the nonprofit’s sustainable-agriculture standards intact.

by Dani Yokhna
Food Alliance began its certification program in 1998 with an apple grower and expanded to more than 330 farms before ceasing operations in February 2013. Photo courtesy iStockphoto/Thinkstock (HobbyFarms.com)
Courtesy iStockphoto/Thinkstock
Food Alliance began its certification program in 1998 with an apple grower and expanded to more than 330 farms before ceasing operations in February 2013.

For nearly 20 years, Food Alliance, a nonprofit certifier based in the Pacific Northwest, has shaped the U.S. view of sustainable agriculture through its rigorous sustainability standards and the certification of mid-sized farms and ranches, processors, and distributors. But at the end of 2013, you will no longer find the “Food Alliance Certified” seal on your favorite farm products, as earlier this month, the organization shuttered its doors due to funding problems.

A revised board, now in place, will safeguard Food Alliance’s intellectual properties, including its sustainability standards, evaluation tools, certification applications, trademarks, labeling rules, usage guidelines, marketing materials and website, but as of Feb. 15, 2013, Food Alliance certification operations, including inspections, ceased to exist. Farmers and other Food Alliance clients with current certifications can continue to use the Food Alliance label in good faith until December 31, 2013.

Food Alliance was established in 1993 as a partnership between Oregon State University, Washington State University and the Washington State Department of Agriculture with the goal of creating market incentives for sustainable farmers in the Northwest. Five years later, it began certifying farmers, with labor practices, pest and disease management, and soil and water conservation in mind. Eventually it expanded its standards to include humane animal treatment and the protection of wildlife habitats, and extended its certification to ranches and dairy farms, as well as producers and distributors, across the country. Once a small-scale certifier with only an apple grower and a handful of small grocery stores sporting its label, Food Alliance expanded its certification to more than 330 farms across the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

“[Food Alliance] has become a gold standard for sustainability accomplished in a way that is sensible and actionable,” says Jeff Picarello, Food Alliance’s board chair. “It has been a trailblazer for traceability, transparency, accountability and trust, always pointing the way forward and focused on continual improvement. In my opinion, Food Alliance has been a pioneering change agent in sustainability.”

It’s unclear at this time what Food Alliance will look like moving forward; however, Picarello says the board is working to put the organization’s standards and criteria to good use.

“There is nothing quite like Food Alliance certification; it is unique in many ways,” Picarello says. “Food Alliance has partnered with many organizations and industries through the years, and we’re hopeful that farmers will be able to find resources that are appropriate and match their operations and market.”

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