I recently sat down with Miles McEvoy, Deputy Administrator of the National Organic Program, for an interview on topics ranging from organic history to new initiatives to challenges for our industry. Below is the second part of the two-part interview. It has been edited and condensed for clarity. You can read the first interview by following this link.
Q: What are the biggest opportunities you see for the organic community?
A: The New and Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Program is a USDA program created to encourage new producers to enter the market. This new initiative helps beginning farmers get involved in farming including organic farming. Our growing marketplace can bring prosperity and thriving business to rural communities. It’s nice to see this prosperity happen along with an environmental approach to food production.
Another opportunity is one on a global level. Organic projects can address issues in underdeveloped countries with under-resourced farmers. Once they are able to participate in the global marketplace, they prosper. It’s exciting to see that organic agriculture can address some global food and economic issues. We don’t talk enough about the importance of organic agriculture in developing countries.
Lastly, I think the organic community has the opportunity to be a leader and communicate the values of environmentally sound and sustainable organic agriculture. I would rather see that be the focus of discussion and debate on organic. Let’s continue to look at the opportunities and the overriding positive attributes of organics.
Q: How can stakeholders be more involved with the NOP?
A: Sign up to receive The Organic Insider; it’s no cost and you get timely information.
Make comments during open public comment periods to the National Organic Standards Board, (NOSB), which meets twice per year and gives recommendations to the NOP and USDA. There is an open public comment period prior to each meeting and anyone can submit comments in writing and in person at the meetings. The NOP Organic Insider announces these opportunities for public comment.
Public comments are incredibly important both for the NOSB to consider before they make their recommendations and for the NOP to consider before we make changes to any guidance or the regulations. I really encourage everyone to send in comments that are supportive as well as those that are not. Many times people don’t comment when they are in support of something, so we get many negative comments on one side of the issue. We want to hear all voices and all interest groups, and we want everyone to participate.
Lastly, be involved and aware of your local and regional organic farming groups, support them and stay abreast of news and events.
Q: Are there additional resources we should be aware of?
A: The Organic Literacy Initiative is a project to train USDA staff so they can be more helpful to organic farmers, ranchers and processors about the opportunities that are in organics. We have an Organic 101 and Organic 201 curriculum and these are also available to the public.
On the NOP website, we have information on different aspects of organic agriculture that focuses on the regulatory and certification process. There are Fact sheets and information on international market access.
The USDA is setting up a new higher level launching site for organic information. Secretary Vilsack recently issued guidance that directed USDA agencies to fully support organic agriculture. There are now a number of different departments within the USDA agencies that will focus on organics. These include the Foreign Agricultural Service, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Program, the Agricultural Marketing Service and the Risk Management Agency. Secretary Vilsack has made it clear he wants all USDA agencies to do more to support organic agriculture.
Q: Do you have any final words of wisdom for the organic community?
A: Be involved and pay attention! I appreciate everyone’s hard work. There are a half-million people who work in organic agriculture in the US, and we want to see more people involved and successful in this growing marketplace!
(Editor’s note: This is the second part in a two-part interview with Miles McEvoy. You can access the first article at this link.)