By Michael Henry
The National Organic Program (NOP) was created with the passage of the Organic Food Production Act of 1990. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) administers the organic program. To ensure organic integrity, nearly 30,000 on-site inspections are conducted every year by certifying agencies to monitor compliance with organic standards. Most of this work is done by independent organic inspectors; however, any person may report suspected violations of NOP regulations.
Evrett Lunquist of Common Good Farm in Raymond, Nebraska, also works away from the farm as an independent organic inspector. Because of a clerical mistake following a private complaint, he now faces a legal battle that could have repercussions throughout the organic food industry. A farmer whose organic certification was revoked in the wake of a USDA investigation is suing Evrett for damages in excess of $7 million.
This case of a farmer bringing suit against an independent organic inspector is believed to be the first of its kind. A loss for Evrett could create a chilling effect, and undermine organic integrity by discouraging others from reporting suspected violations of organic standards.
While the lawsuit names only Evrett personally, it not only affects his family’s finances, but also burdens the farm business, which Evrett runs with his wife, Ruth Chantry. By the end of 2012, Evrett’s legal fees had reached nearly $30,000. Sadly, the dispute may be far from settled.
The financial strain of this legal battle endangers the farm’s prosperity—and perhaps its existence. Common Good Farm is essential to our community, bringing Certified Organic and Biodynamic food to residents of Lancaster County at Open Harvest, at local farmers markets and through their summer Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) share program. Evrett and Ruth are tireless advocates for sustainable farming practices, and they are dedicated to improving our local food system.
Open Harvest Cooperative is asking for your assistance in raising money to aid Evrett’s legal defense. In short, we are asking you to help save Common Good Farm.–––
This article is reprinted from the dirt, an Open Harvest Cooperative publication.