Skip Connett and Erin Flynn established Green Gate Farms in an underserved neighborhood in east Austin in 2006. Their vision, ‘to cultivate a healthy farm that feeds mind, body, and soul’, has expanded over the years to include a non-profit New Farm Institute, Community Supported Agriculture program, Farm Camp, Farm Stand, and job and volunteer opportunities.
The first question we had for them was ‘Why did you become certified organic?’
Skip: “I have always been a strong believer in it. I used to represent Texas Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association on the Texas Department of Agriculture’s Organic Advisory Board and was not certified organic. I felt a little guilty, but we had to wait three years until the land was clean and could apply. We were certified naturally grown for a year and a half. We didn’t like it because there was no oversight. Inspections were supposed to be done by other farmers. The idea was nice but it didn’t have the rigor of actually following through. So when I was on the Board, I decided we would become certified. Boggy Creek Farm had also been pushing us to become certified. Being certified organic gives consumers a guarantee that farmers do what they say they are doing. I am sick of others saying they are ‘beyond organic’ – they are making excuses – they don’t want to take time or do paperwork. We actually don’t need to be certified because we don’t sell to retailers like Whole Foods but it’s been critical for our identity.”
How do you handle the paperwork requirements?
Skip: “Getting started is daunting, but I got a new farmer loan so I had to keep good farm records anyway. I used to do it all myself then I started training interested staff. Our greenhouse manager keeps records such as ordering seeds and checking three sources first before ordering conventional seed. Our farm manager keeps notebooks too. As the farm got bigger, I delegated and this year I haven’t done anything except shadowed in background during inspection by our certifier. The set up may be daunting – employees and record systems make it easier. The record keeping also helps us make better business decisions on things like inputs – its like a map of our farm. I feel the certification has made it easier. We want to try all the federal agriculture programs, like NRCS, Ag Loans – and the paperwork makes it easier – it makes things a lot easier for getting federal funds.”
What is one thing you do different now from when you started?
Skip: “I would have had a better record keeping system. I’m personally not very organized – I wish I would have got someone on staff who loved doing record keeping because it’s too many balls in the air. There are people who really enjoy being organized and have really good organizational skill. (He chuckles).”
How long have you been farming and how long have you been a certified organic farmer?
How often are you inspected?
Skip: “Once a year – on the dot. There may be a delay of a month depending on when I get application paperwork submitted or when they process my certification.”
If you would like to learn more about or visit Green Gate Farms, call or email ahead.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jennifer Buratti is currently a board member of the Texas Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association. She was previously a grant project manager for the Texas Commission for Environmental Quality and Education and Outreach Coordinator for Texas State University.