MCIA Marks 20 Years of Organic Service

Robert and Greta Miernau farm, Caledonia, Minnesota. Photo by Diane Collins.

This year marks the twentieth year that MCIA has provided organic certification services. In 2002, federal regulations, called the National Organic Program (NOP), were implemented that defined the “rules” of organic production and processing. MCIA was among the first group of organizations to apply to become an Accredited Certification Agency (ACA). The National Organic Program is part of the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service, but the USDA does not itself provide certification service. It accredits organizations, like MCIA, to provide this service. As MCIA inspects or audits each of its clients every year, the NOP similarly audits MCIA and the other ACAs every two and a half years.

The idea of MCIA becoming an ACA was first raised by a few seed grower members and local coffee companies. They thought organic inspection and certification would be a good fit, citing MCIA’s history as an independent, third-party inspection service in the seed industry. They also noted MCIA’s experience and understanding of standards and rules related to state and federal seed regulations. In 2001, the MCIA Board of Directors approved the proposal to add the service.

MCIA applied to the NOP and was provisionally accepted into the program after NOP auditors approved our application and followed our inspectors on the first on-site inspections. We were officially accredited as an ACA on April 29, 2002. MCIA began providing organic services that year to five Minnesota-based clients: Falk’s Seed, Hanson Seed, Café Imports, Morningstar Coffee, and Alakef Coffee.

In 2003, Albert Lea Seed House, Capistran Seed and Sawvell’s Seed were certified, and we added the first crop producers: Jim Remmele, Roger Keskey, Calvin Brower, Christopher Thooft, Chris Byron, and Jonathan Olson. In 2009, we added our first livestock client, Wes Benjamin, after the NOP approved MCIA to add that certification scope. The NOP recognizes four scopes: crop production, wild crop harvesting, livestock production, and processing/handling. MCIA has provided certification under all four scopes.

MCIA’s organic business has grown steadily, by about 10 percent per year. From those first 5 clients in Minnesota, we grew to 100 in 2012. At the start of 2022, we had 582 clients in ten states. The program continues to grow, currently MCIA certifies 467 crop operations, 117 livestock operations, 1 wild crop harvester, and 127 handlers. We focus on businesses in Minnesota and surrounding states where we have closer contact with our inspectors and where we have expertise with the types of crops being grown.

In the early days, most inspections and certifications were done by MCIA staff: field supervisors Brenda Rogers, Ben Lang, Jim Boots, and Neil Wiese. In 2007, as the number of organic clients grew, MCIA hired the first full-time, dedicated-organic staff member, Anne Costello. Following her departure, in 2008, MCIA hired Michelle Menken.

Michelle now manages an Organic Services department of five organic specialists/inspectors, Wendy Paulsen, Diane Collins, Tyler Tisdale, Maddie Barkholz, and Shauna Ilse, as well as Rose-Marie Odell, the department’s administrative assistant. When needed, MCIA field supervisors Seth Dagoberg and Dan Krenz also provide inspection assistance. MCIA also contracts with independent organic inspectors to complete inspections in an efficient and timely manner.

The addition of the organic program has indeed proven to be a good fit for MCIA. The organic program is an example of MCIA’s willingness and ability to adapt and offer services needed by today’s agricultural producers and consumers.

With two decades of experience behind us, MCIA stands ready to meet a future that promises continued and growing demand for certified organic food production.

To learn more about MCIA Organic Services, click here.