TOPP Success Stories

As part of USDA’s Organic Transition Initiative, the USDA Transition to Organic Partnership Program (TOPP) is investing up to $100 million over five years in cooperative agreements with non-profit organizations that are partnering with others to provide technical assistance and wrap-around support for transitioning and existing organic farmers. USDA is building partnership networks in six regions across the United States with trusted organizations serving direct farmer training, education, and outreach activities.

TOPP is a collaborative effort involving many partners working together towards a common goal. The TOPP partnership network covers six regions: the Mid-Atlantic/Northeast, Southeast, Midwest, Plains, Northwest, and West/Southwest. Regional leads partner with organizations experienced in the organic industry to provide mentoring services, technical assistance, community building, and organic workforce development for transitioning and existing organic farmers. Partner organizations in these regions have been actively hosting farm field days, workshops, webinars, and networking events to reach transitioning and existing organic farmers, providing resources on organic certification and sharing how to participate in TOPP.

The following success stories highlight the exciting work being done in each region to grow organic!

View our success story archive

  • Members of the Iowa Organic Association learned how TOPP partners farmers with experienced mentors for successful organic production.
    Members of the Iowa Organic Association learned how TOPP partners farmers with experienced mentors for successful organic production.

    The Iowa Organic Association (IOA), a core partner for the Midwest region of USDA’s Transition to Organic Partnership Program (TOPP), recently held its annual meeting to celebrate Iowa’s growing organic movement. Each year, IOA members gather to learn about new and emerging issues within the organic industry, enjoy a locally curated organic meal, and visits from friends, presenters, and IOA sponsor exhibitors. This year, presentations focused on organic production as a way to address climate challenges, transitional and organic hemp production opportunities, and new resources available to Iowa producers through TOPP.  

    IOA organized the Organic Mentorship: Tools and Support for Success panel to highlight TOPP activities and promote the program. The panel included three farmers who shared how mentorship has been integral to the success of their own operations. Panelists discussed the importance and value of knowledge-sharing to sustain and expand organic principles and practices well into the future. The three-farmer panel included Kim Andersen of Blueberry Bottom in Brighton (organic blueberries and grain), Rob Faux, Ph.D., of Genuine Faux Farm in Tripoli (organic vegetables), and Gary Welsh of Welsh Family Organic Farms in Lansing (organic dairy, livestock, and grain).

  • Students of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo conducting on-farm research about organic
    Students of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo conducting on-farm research about organic

    USDA Transition to Organic Partnership Program (TOPP) West/Southwest Regional Lead, California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF) and their partners are successfully delivering mentorship, technical assistance, community building, and workforce development to farmers transitioning to organic production.   Some recent highlights include, workforce development partners California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly) and the University of California-Berkeley’s Food Institute launching programs to train the next generation of organic farm advisors, scientists, and organic entrepreneurs. Bringing together farm and technology, students at Cal Poly launched a new podcast series covering current issues in organic around California.

    Meanwhile, several other partners have focused on building team capacity to provide comprehensive support for organic transition through organizational hiring, organic training, and organic program and resource development. Technical assistance resources are being developed in English and Spanish, with plans to make resources available to Hmong-speaking farmers soon. 

    The West/Southwest TOPP region has seen great interest in the mentorship program due to the need for food hubs to be certified under the new Strengthening Organic Enforcement (SOE) rule. Through TOPP, CCOF is supporting a Food Hub Organic Mentor, long-time certified operation Coke Farms, who will provide mentorship to a cohort of 7 food hubs from across the state to achieve organic certification for their operations. Coke Farms will host a site visit in the summer of 2024, and will complete site visits at each hub site.

  • During weekly virtual organic office hours, Northwest producers can drop in to speak with a certification specialist when convenient.
    During weekly virtual organic office hours, Northwest producers can drop in to speak with a certification specialist when convenient.

    For producers who are making the transition to organic certification, one-on-one technical assistance is key to their success. USDA’s Transition to Organic Partnership Program (TOPP) technical assistance providers in the Northwest, have been giving transitioning producers support and guidance throughout the certification process.

    Technical assistance providers have been teaching producers about organic regulations, compliance while transitioning, Organic System Plans and answering specific certification questions. This level of individualized support builds the needed confidence for producers to successfully pursue certification and understand the organic regulations.  

    Though there are many ways technical assistance is being provided, one notable method has been through weekly virtual office hours. During these hours, producers can drop in and speak with an organic certification specialist. Producers have found this service to be a helpful way to ask general questions and address specific issues such as buffer and contamination concerns, inputs and materials, and the certification process and timeline. 

    From blueberry farmers to hazelnut growers, from kelp to grain and vegetables, producers in the Northwest are making use of these organic office hours to help them along their organic certification journeys. View information on Northwest organic office hours.

  • several people standing in a field
    Attendees at Carter Clark’s Hazelnut Field Day learned how mentorships can support the growth of the organic hazelnut industry.

    Partnerships made possible through USDA’s Transition to Organic Partnership Program (TOPP) are providing farmer training, education, and outreach activities across the country. Northwest regional partner Oregon Organic Hazelnut Collective (OOHC) and Northwest regional lead Oregon Tilth welcomed over 75 farmers to Carter Clark’s Hazelnut Field Day in Aumsville, Oregon. At this educational event, attendees learned about plant and soil nutrient balancing techniques and the benefits of TOPP. 

    Organic hazelnuts make up a small portion of the Oregon hazelnut industry. According to the 2021 Organic Census, certified organic hazelnuts make up 276 acres in Oregon. But as more hazelnut growers in the state transition to organic, the industry is quickly expanding. Mentorship among hazelnut growers is one of the key reasons for the growth, and TOPP has played a large part in increased mentorship. The first ever NW TOPP mentorship pairing is kicking off now between two hazelnut growers, with many more on the horizon. With the addition of transitioning producers who participate in mentorship programs, the number of acres for certified organic hazelnuts is expected to increase by 40 percent.

  • 3 women standing on the side of the road
    Joannée DeBruhl (right) and mentees Melissa Wilcox and Sara Hunter from their time in the Michigan Sustainable Farm Mentors program. 

    Midwest Organic Services Association (MOSA) and the Organic Farmer Training Program at Michigan State University are connecting 30 Michigan farmers with mentors through USDA's Transition to Organic Partnership Program (TOPP). As the TOPP regional lead, MOSA also works with local partners to offer technical assistance, workshops and gatherings for hundreds of farmers considering the transition to organic. 

    Michigan farmer Joannée DeBruhl is looking forward to serving as a TOPP mentor for farmers who are starting to transition their operations to organic. Joannée has managed her own certified organic farm raising vegetables, herbs, small fruits, and eggs and is currently leading a non-profit teaching farm in southwest Michigan. 

    Joannée has mentored many farmers over the years, including farmworkers on her farm and aspiring farmers in the Michigan Sustainable Farm Mentors project. When asked why she is interested in serving as a mentor, she was quick to explain how she loves working with new farmers, highlighting their strengths, and helping them tackle the issues that they are struggling to manage. She shared her incredible experience with farm mentors over the years and how she wants to share everything she has learned, including spreadsheets and other tools to help other farmers succeed.

  • people standing in a field looking at crops
    Attendees watch a tillage demonstration at a TOPP Organic Farm Field Day event in Georgia

    Funding provided through the USDA Transition to Organic Partnership Program (TOPP) is helping to strengthen farmer and technical assistance networks in Georgia. In support of the program, University of Georgia (UGA) Extension teamed up with TOPP Southeast Regional Lead Florida Organic Growers (FOG) and Georgia Organics to host an Organic Farm Field Day.  

    Representatives from UGA Extension, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, and FOG held in-depth conversations about soil health, nitrogen availability, post-harvest processes, using the Organic Material Review Institute lists, and tools to reduce tillage with eleven farmers (certified organic and transitioning to organic), two students (one pursuing a master’s degree and one a doctorate), and two service providers from Georgia Organics.   

    Representatives from FOG expressed excitement about the progress they're seeing in Georgia influenced by TOPP. The organic farm field day and other similar TOPP events offer participants the chance to teach and learn from others as they spend time maximizing their strengths. Participants discussed how their unique operations affect implementation practices and expressed a desire to learn from and visit each other. They walked away energized about hosting educational and community-building events on their farms.

  • Organic Transition Academy
    (Organic Transition Academy): Photo: Organic Transition Academy attendees tour the production facility for Grain Place Foods, a certified organic producer in Aurora, Nebraska.

    Three USDA Transition to Organic Partnership Program (TOPP) partners located in the Plains region joined forces to host two days of classes at the Organic Transition Academy in Aurora, Nebraska. The Center for Rural Affairs, Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society and the National Center for Appropriate Technology welcomed 65 farmers, livestock producers, and several others considering organic certification to the training.   

    The academy’s training classes provided information on the transition and economics of certified organic production for grain, specialty crops and livestock producers. Featured speakers from TOPP regional partner Northern Plains Sustainable Agriculture Society presented sessions on marketing organic products, certification, business planning and transition to organic strategies. The two-day event included a farm tour of certified organic operation Grain Place Foods and a community night where the farmers networked with other regional organic farmers and resource providers.

  • Producers across New Hampshire take advantage of on-farm workshops through TOPP
    Producers across New Hampshire take advantage of on-farm workshops through TOPP

    Funding and support provided through the USDA Transition to Organic Partnership Program (TOPP) have enabled and empowered New Hampshire-based organizations to have a hand in growing the state’s organic industry. The Northeast Organic Farming Association of New Hampshire (NOFA-NH), in collaboration with 12 states and regional TOPP partners, has hosted programs to provide information on community building, technical assistance opportunities, and on-farm practices for organic farmers and producers interested in transitioning to organic.

    TOPP partners Granite State Graziers, Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance, and NOFA-NH held an intensive rotational grazing and grassland management workshop at Callie’s Creamery in Peterborough, New Hampshire. During the workshop, partners walked attendees through the host farm’s fields to show how its fencing system allows dairy animals free access to pasture while maintaining grazing and organic hay production. Attendees learned about fencing, water, movement and mowing, which are basics of rotational grazing, and had the opportunity to ask questions after the presentations.

    At Mink Meadow Farm in Etna, New Hampshire, TOPP partner Vital Communities co-hosted the presentation ‘Strategies for Growing Potatoes,’ where participants learned methods small and medium sized farms can use for field rotation, trap crops, pest management, equipment restoration, and how to make organic potatoes a staple crop of their yearly production.

    Another TOPP partner, Cheshire County Conservation District, presented on ‘Manure Management with Bedded Packs’ at a different on-farm workshop. Presenters introduced attendees to structures and materials best suited for cows on dairy farms and producing manure that can be spread to improve soil for grassland management or sold as a value-added product.

    In addition to providing these educational on-farm events, representatives from NOFA-NH have attended several community events throughout the state to share information about TOPP and meet farmers who have applied to TOPP and inquired about the program.

  • TOPP Partner Farmshare Austin provides aspiring farmers with skills and hands-on training for careers in organic agriculture
    TOPP Partner Farmshare Austin provides aspiring farmers with skills and hands-on training for careers in organic agriculture

    California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF), the Southwest regional lead for the USDA Transition to Organic Partnership Program (TOPP) has teamed up with TOPP Partner Farmshare Austin to train 15 beginner farmers as part of their Farmer Starter and Cultivator Program, an immersive 20-week training program held on a certified organic vegetable farm. The program is designed to provide aspiring farmers with essential skills and training for careers in organic agriculture.  

    The Farmer Starter and Cultivator Program curriculum covers organic production methods, recordkeeping requirements, business planning and marketing of organic products. The program provides hands-on in-field experience, classroom lessons on growing techniques, farm planning and business skills, and weekly community workshops with other farms and agricultural enterprises.

    Farmshare Austin also recently enlisted resources to test web-based templates to keep field records using a smartphone. Using this technology to capture real-time data will help new farmers simplify and better understand organic recordkeeping requirements and establish good recordkeeping practices.

  • Under Secretary Jenny Lester Moffitt and a group of Midwest farmers came together to discuss opportunities available through USDA’s Transition to Organic Partnership Program.
    Under Secretary Jenny Lester Moffitt and a group of Midwest farmers came together to discuss opportunities available through USDA’s Transition to Organic Partnership Program.

    USDA Marketing and Regulatory Programs Under Secretary Jenny Lester Moffitt, Transition to Organic Partnership Program (TOPP) core partner Marbleseed and TOPP Regional Lead Midwest Organic Services Association (MOSA) recently held a roundtable on USDA funding, diversified farming operations and land access. Sandy Syburg, owner of White Oak Farm in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin hosted the event with John Wepking of Meadowlark Organics, Linda Halley of Gwenyn Hill Farm, Jared Siverling of Siverling Farm and Brian Hall of True Grace. Eager to embrace the successes of the organic farming movement and tackle challenges associated with organic production, a small group of Midwest organic farmers interested in learning firsthand about available funding attended and participated in the discussion.

    The conversation focused on how TOPP supports farmers transitioning to organic production. Roundtable participants discussed how TOPP successfully connects farmers transitioning to organic with local, experienced organic farmers who serve as mentors and provide training, and technical assistance on agronomy, organic certification, conservation planning, organic regulations, certification cost share, business development, and marketing. The discussion also covered how TOPP strengthens the organic community by helping producers build organic networks and promoting workforce training and development.

    The group closed the event by enjoying some delicious organic bites at Stone Bank Farm Market, a neighboring local market that provides organic produce, eggs, dairy and pastured meats to the surrounding community.

    Marbleseed, in collaboration with MOSA and the Midwest TOPP partners, will begin providing TOPP mentorship in 2024.

  • NOP TOPP Project Managers Rebecca Claypool and Penny Zuck celebrated TOPP’s first year with regional and national leads at this year's TOPP partners meeting.
    NOP TOPP Project Managers Rebecca Claypool and Penny Zuck celebrated TOPP’s first year with regional and national leads at this year's TOPP partners meeting.

    As the USDA Organic Transition Initiative’s Transition to Organic Partnership Program (TOPP) marks its first birthday, the National Organic Program (NOP), TOPP national and regional leads, and more than 180 state-level partners are celebrating the success of all that has happened to grow organic in just one year.

    Through TOPP, two national and six regional leads have reached more than 15,000 people through 222 separate events held across the United States. Their partnerships with local organizations have contributed to the development of free educational resources, technical assistance workshops, organic workforce training, and mentorship programs pairing experienced organic producers with farmers interested in transitioning to organic.  

    NOP is excited about how the program will continue to support U.S. farmers and producers on their journeys to organic certification, and encouraged by the involvement of existing certifiers, non-profit organizations, and seasoned farmers who are helping to pave the way for the next generation of producers. With support through TOPP, the organic community is realizing one common goal: growing America’s network of organic producers to provide everyone an equal opportunity to become involved and have a seat at the organic table.

  • Breadtree Farms is transitioning former dairy acreage to organic chestnut production under the TOPP mentorship program.
    Breadtree Farm​s​ is transitioning former dairy acreage to organic chestnut production under the TOPP mentorship program.

    Mid-Atlantic/Northeast Regional Lead, Pennsylvania Certified Organic, has seen tremendous success with the mentorship program they established as part of the USDA Organic Transition Initiative’s Transition to Organic Production Program (TOPP). The mentorship program pairs farmers interested in transitioning to organic production with experienced organic producers, providing a unique opportunity for producers to learn hands-on organic production methods and techniques through one-on-one conversation and community building. 

    Breadtree Farm​s, ​one of the first to sign up for the region’s mentoring program, is transitioning former dairy acreage to organic chestnut production. ​Breadtree​ ​and co-owner Russell Wallack​ are under the mentorship of Brian Caldwell of Hemlock Grove Farm, a certified organic orchard that produces apples and chestnuts in West Danby, N.Y. Caldwell is also a founding member of the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York and currently serves on the National Organic Standards Board as a consumer advocate. 

    ​​Breadtree’s ​operation is in the Northern Hudson Valley on about 600 acres in the hill country northeast of the New York state capital. Family dairies farm much of the land that is nestled between the Hudson River and Vermont’s Taconic Mountains. In transitioning farm​land​ from a conventional dairy to organic perennial crops, Breadtree​​ ​has ​planted​ thousands of trees ​while using ​farming strategies designed to build soil, protect clean water, and increase biodiversity. By integrating grazing animals and ​tree crops,​ ​Breadtree ​farm​s plans​ to restore the land, support a healthy climate, and build food security for future generations. 

    As part of the TOPP mentorship program, ​Breadtree Farms ​will receive continued support and guidance from ​its​ mentor throughout the transition to organic certification.

  • Farmers sitting at tables under a tent in front of a corn field
    Photo: The Iowa State University Organic Ag Program and Midwest TOPP project were main topics during on-farm and research station field days.

    Iowa State University’s (ISU) Organic Agriculture Program, a USDA Transition to Organic Partnership Program (TOPP) core partner, recently participated in four field days in Iowa. The field days focused on TOPP initiatives, research-based farming and practical farming solutions for organic growers and those interested in transitioning to organic. The 256 attendees learned about TOPP and agronomic, economic and environmental benefits of organic practices in light of climate change challenges.  

    Featured events included a Practical Farmers of Iowa Field Day, demonstrating organic no-till soybeans at A&W Farms in Cambridge; organic no-till black beans at the Rodale Midwest Organic Center in Marion; the long-term comparison of organic and conventional crop rotations at ISU Neely-Kinyon Farm in Greenfield; and an on-farm tour of organic corn varieties and weed management equipment at Shriver Farm in Jefferson, a family farm that uses modern organic farming practices and weed control on its 1,800 organic acres. Farmer Scott Shriver, whose farm transitioned to organic in 1998, hopes to mentor an aspiring organic farmer in the region through the TOPP mentorship program.  

    Field day speakers included plant breeders from the ISU Agronomy Department, a soil scientist from the USDA Agricultural Research Service, National Lab for Ag and the Environment, and several organic farmers. Discussions covered best practices for organic corn, soybean, wheat and rye production, fertilizing and weed management. Speakers also shared the benefits of using longer crop rotations, well thought out manure applications and cover crops, which have resulted in greater soil quality in the organic fields at the ISU Neely-Kinyon Farm.  

  • Group of people in front of presentation screen
    Photo: More than 30 TOPP partner organizations from seven states and two territories came together for the first Southeast TOPP Partner Annual Meeting.

    Florida Organic Growers (FOG), the Southeast Regional Lead for the USDA Transition to Organic Partnership Program (TOPP), recently coordinated its first annual meeting of partner organizations across the region’s seven states and two territories. Over two days, more than 30 partners shared milestones and success stories from year one and brainstormed strategies to support the organic community through the next four years of the TOPP. Many partners noted the immense value of networking with peer organizations across the region to exchange information and discuss similar successes and challenges. 

    The partners shared photos and data to showcase outreach and support to transitioning farmers in Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana. They highlighted the development of technical assistance and educational opportunities with regional universities, community building and events that brought producers together in Puerto Rico and Georgia. They also shared the creative solutions that certifiers in South Carolina and producers in the U.S. Virgin Islands are developing to overcome barriers and bring new opportunities to producers across the Southeast.  

    If you had walked past the meeting room, you might have thought there was a boisterous family reunion happening as the attendees formed new relationships – all with a lot of laughter, storytelling, and joy. Colleagues who had known each other for decades happily reconnected, and partners who had only met over Zoom greeted each other in person with wide smiles. Bringing the partners together provided a forum to discuss challenges that TOPP will help address in the months and years to come.

  • four men standing in a field talking
    Photo: Plains region farmers listen and learn in the fields of Brad Edelman's certified organic farm. 

    The USDA Transition to Organic Partnership Program (TOPP) is paving the way for farmers to educate fellow members of the agricultural community on organic production practices, markets and certification. Curious farmers are attending free organic farm tours and sessions on transitioning to organic and taking advantage of technical assistance resources and mentorships available through TOPP. 

    In hopes of helping producers in Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma and South Dakota realize their goals of organic production, TOPP’s Plains regional lead Organic Crop Improvement Association (OCIA) and state partners have been holding events to reach producers interested in transitioning to organic and those looking to expand their existing organic acreage.

    Recently, OCIA held a TOPP field day on Brad Edelman's certified organic farm in Sabetha, Kansas, where certified organic producers and farmers enjoyed networking and hearty conversations around on-farm organic practices and solutions to common challenges in organic production. 

    The field day included a wagon tour of the farm, presentations on organic cover crops and organic transition, and a panel discussion that allowed experienced organic farmers to share their experiences with those interested in organic. They also discussed what is working well for organic producers in the Plains region.