By Jimmy Dula, NFU Intern
Harrison Topp, NFU member and Director of Membership for Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, is the operator of Topp Fruits in Paonia, Colorado. Topp holistically manages the stone fruit orchard, giving special consideration to environmental stewardship and resource management. The orchard first received organic certification two years ago. In this Q&A, Harrison tells us more about his operation and the certification process.
What do you grow?
We grow cherries and plums. We are replanting peach starting this spring. Our farm totals 15 plantable acres, which is what we certify. We fall into the perennial fruit 6-40 acre category on the fee schedule.
When was your farm certified as USDA organic?
We were certified in 2015 and 2016.
On an annual basis, how much does it cost to have your farm certified?
In 2015, application and inspection fees totaled $1,4785, and we received a cost share reimbursement of $750.00. In 2016, application and inspection fees totaled $1415.50, and we again received a cost share reimbursement of $750.00. Additionally, we hired a consultant to assist us with our first application in 2015, and as orchard manager, I spent at least 15 hours of my time each year working on the application, preparing for the inspection and meeting with the state’s inspector.
How has organic certification helped you access new markets?
As relative newcomers to the commercial fruit business, we’ve investigated a wide range of markets. We have found that organic certification conveys an assurance of quality that makes up, at least in part, for our lack of longevity, thereby providing us access to retailers, wholesalers, restaurants, and markets that would have otherwise been difficult to access. It also has allowed us to partner with other organic fruit growers to develop marketing and processing opportunities. Ultimately, we still have to be good farmers and produce a superb crop, but the organic certification opens many doors for our fruit.
Harrison Topp is the Director of Membership for Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, and the operator of Topp Fruits. Prior to his tenure at RMFU, Topp was the program coordinator for the Montezuma School to Farm Project, and he earned a bachelors degree in film and television at New York University.