My humble beginnings in the organic industry began in 1976 in a small Coop in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The people were eclectic and I was drawn to the culture as much as I was the idea of providing healthy, unadulterated whole foods to my community. I was swept up in a movement of sorts, getting back to the land and to nature. Growing, selling and eating organic foods were a palpable crusade of Birkenstock bedecked, new-age folks who wanted to leave the world a better place through food and agriculture. I joined the game with full force and never looked back. Fast forward almost 40 years later and where have we come?
Every year the Organic Trade Association (OTA) studies and surveys the Organic Industry. According to their latest, sales of organic food and non-food products in the United States broke through a record in 2014, totaling a whopping $39.1 billion, up 11.3 percent from the previous year! This is amazing consider the struggle we have with tight supplies in sectors such as dairy and cereal.
Back in 1997, when I was just starting my own business, organic food sales were just $3.4 billion and under 1% of total food sales. The hard work paid off and now organic is at 5% of total food sales! Our growth rate of 11.3% totally eclipses the overall food industry growth rate of 3%! No wonder conventional companies want a piece of the action, it’s once again palpable!
As I now sit at my desk and cogitate on the possibilities I wonder if we have really hit the big home run. Should we be satisfied to be 5% of food? At the OTA Policy Conference USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that there are currently 19,474 certified organic operations in the United States and 27,814 around the world. The number of U.S. certified organic operations rose by more than 5% in the last 12 months. Sure that’s great and I wouldn’t give it back but it is still only 2% of total agriculture in the U.S. Has my life’s work been spent for 2% of a home run? What kind of ball game is this?
Think about the potential organic agriculture has. Shouldn’t we be striving for more than 2% in this world of ecological woes? An increase in organic acreage has the potential to build and preserve our top soil, clean up our nitrogen and pesticides laden waters. Studies show organic agriculture sequesters carbon, protects wildlife and pollinators, and definitely reduces our exposure to toxic chemicals. Did you hear the latest on glyphosate being a likely carcinogen? You can be guaranteed that there will be none of that in your organic dinner!
Did I mention we have extreme supply shortages? Have you walked into the store and witnessed the bare naked dairy and eggs sections, devoid of organic provisions? Another recent OTA study displayed that imports of organic soybeans and organic corn—the main ingredients in organic feed for the expanding U.S. organic dairy, poultry and livestock sectors are up sharply. We continue to import corn and soy because there aren’t enough organic acres and organic farmers in the U.S. growing these items.
Yet despite these dingy signs the organic dairy sector posted an almost 11% jump in sales in 2014 to $5.46 billion, the biggest percentage increase for that category in six years! Think of what we could do if we had enough organic feed! No strikes, no fouls, organic milk in every glass!
We clearly need a few things to help protect and grow this robust phenomenon that is the organic market. We need more organic farmers. Plain and simple we need to recruit young people and train existing farmers. We must provide technical assistance to help farmers’ transition land into certification. We need more science and research to help organic farmers produce more efficiently with higher yields. Organic seed breeding and research is essential to help producers succeed in the midst of a changing climate.
This can all be accomplished and much more if the organic community pools their funds and approves an organic research and promotions program. The Organic Check-Off is an idea whose time has come. If everyone pays a little, we can have enough funds to match USDA research dollars at land grant universities. Transitioning farmers will have the technical assistance and training to bring more acreage under organic production. The public can be educated on the true meaning of organic.
I am ready to swing hard this time at bat to bring my team home. The bases are loaded and we have this one chance. Won’t you join me and sign on as a supporter of Groorganic? It can be the World Series legacy we leave future generations.
3 thoughts on “The Organic Home Run – I’m still at bat!”
Medley, I am with you 100%. I am so pleased to have lived long enough to see the big change to Organic. As you say we are still very small in the over all food market. I have never done any commercial growing. I did proof to the chemical Farmers back in 1958 that I could out produce them on my Vermont Dairy Farm. Not one Farmer came to see how I farmed without chemicals stating in 1950. Organic is the only way to save the fertile soil we are blessed with. Humanity and all life on Earth is in trouble if Agriculture continues on the destructive ways. It is all for greed over common sense and logic Thank you Melody.
I am promoting organic as I do know that it is superior in many ways. I did both organic and chemicals together for three years for comparison. It was not done in a Laboratory but on a working dairy farm. I admit it was not scientific as most farmers are taught to believe chemicals are the only way.
I have found over the years that how the soil is prepared for planting is the best way to get the maximum plant growth and to control insects and disease. Promotions that come from the USDA and chemicals companies benefit them more than the farmers and humanity. Shallow till and heavy equipment with water soluble chemical fertilizer is ruining our fertile soil. Plant roots are the foundation of healthy plants. The roots have to be able to grow. Shallow till limits them to grow through the hard pans to reach minor and trace minerals for the plants health. The soil has to be porous and able to breathe for nitrogen and oxygen to be captured and held in the soil. I get all my nitrogen for plants from the 78% in the atmosphere. The nitrogen is available from the atmosphere combined with oxygen provides the life needed in the soil. When there is no organic matter in the soil this process is stopped. Chemical fertilizer burns up the organic matter and is simply a plant stimulant. The plants are prone to insects and disease and the vast amount of different chemicals developed end up in the food supply. Chemicals also kill our earthworms and bees that are of the most importance for healthy food production and for healthy humanity.
I have a reason to believe that organic farming and gardening versus chemicals is the only way to save our fertile soil. Fertile soil without chemicals grows healthy plants that pass healthy food up the food chain for healthy humans and animals. I was farming the conventional way (chemical). I experimented in 1950 doing organic and chemicals together. For three years I did both together and two experiments that convinced me that organic was superior and changed completely too organic in 1953. In 1958 I won many awards in contests in Vermont and New England over thousands of chemical farmers.
I wrote a book “Learned by the Fencepost”– Lessons in Organic Farming and Gardening — published in 2011. I wrote it so any lay person can understand it. My education was on the dairy farm in Vermont. The book can be reviewed on Amazon and Kindle by typing “Learned by the Fencepost” on Google. The Book is easy to read with several pictures explaining techniques learned from observation, logic and a good memory. I have been told it is easy to understand and I explain why I did things for my soil, like the Master taught us. My two experiments I did in 1952 are in the book, and cost nothing for myself as well as the taxpayers. I would like to hear from you. I enjoyed writing it, as I was encouraged to do so, before my procedures were lost.
I have been very pleased with response where other farmers and gardeners have read my book or used the similar procedures I have. All have said their soil continues to get better every year and produces more and better produce. Chemicals make for an impressive stimulated plant, but do nothing to build up the fertile soil. Instead the acid chemicals burn up the carbon (organic matter) in the soil and release it as CO2. Soil without organic matter is dirt without life. What I am hoping to do is make everyone aware that if just a fraction of the effort and money was put into saving our fertile soil as other programs, (climate change) it could happen. The EPA is not doing its job for farmers or gardeners the way they were originally designed to do. The big chemical companies have great influence with the power of money. Give million dollar grants to the agriculture colleges and to the future farmers of America. The EPA will condemn farmers from using their land because of the endangered kangaroo mouse but let Monsanto promote spreading poisons all over the planet. Logic and common sense is over ridden my greed.
Our water ways would be free of pollution and the environment would be cleaner. Monsanto is a master at influencing by observation and untruthful results that are visible. There is hardly any discussion about roots that are the foundation of healthy plants that can ward of insects and disease. How the soil is prepared for planting and keeping it porous so it can breathe is the answer. The biggest harm acid chemicals do is to the invisible below the surface of the soil where all the root growth should not be restricted. My facts I have observed are the hair roots are the scouts that search and supply the trace minerals to make the plants healthy and ward of insects and disease. Roots are not needed with water soluble chemical fertilizer, but it does make the chemical companies rich. — FERTILE SOIL IS THE LIFE BLOOD OF THE EARTH AND ALL FOOD COMES FROM THE SOIL FOOD AND HEALTH IN THIS ORDER
Thank you Donald,
I have read your book and think it is fascinating! I agree with all of your comments and hope you will sign on as a supporter of the http://www.groorganic.net initiative!
Are you a certified producer?
There’s substantial reference in Melody’s piece to organic’s “success”. A reality check however is needed. Being fact-driven and contextualizing organics’ market position with organics at a paltry 0,98% share of the global agriculture, and a nanodetect 0,43% share of food systems, we can only cringe in disbelief at organics’ leaders’ self-delusion. [ 0,43% share of food systems measured against Frost & Sullivan’s $15 billion Global Food System] meaning the consumer spend ratio for organic vs. non-organic/conventional is 1:550 – visualize a $1 note on the table and alongside is a 10-inch high stack of $1 notes totaling $550.]
We have to ask why, with so much going for it, is organic in this miserable absolutely bottom-of-the-food chain situation? So of course something needs to change.
And if organics is ever to recover its stolen future, become this beacon for change and be widely adopted, then Who will do this? Who is going to set organics’ aspirations and direction? Who is going to get hold of the future and do this? Who is going to rebuild trust and reputation?
In this context then I suggest Melody and other players in the organic sector should note Marshall Goldsmith’s book title: “What got you here … Won’t get you there”…..
GROorganics is simply a echo of what’s gone before where over the last 40-50 years we’ve seen global organic organizations like OTA, Organic Center, IFOAM and FiBL burning through several billion dollars around the mission of “growing organics” to deliver non-results like 0,98% share of the global agriculture, and a nanodetect 0,43% share of food systems.
This is a huge cancer for the organics sector because so much money gets frittered away without delivering any hard, quantifiable outcomes.
In organics what ought to be happening, and what is not happening is a now a real concern and what greatly puzzles anyone coming from a results-oriented business background – is why, within organics, is there this willingness to unquestionably accept lower performance standards. In the business sector when a market development pursuit isn’t generating a “sufficient” return on investment, it’s regularly considered not worth doing. Quite rightly jobs are often on the line if programmes fail to meet certain benchmarks. Not so within these organizations claiming to, but failing to, advance organic.
Right now organics needs success not failure and its seems like madness and a toxic choice to let the institutions and people who’ve set the course for organics’ failure to stay at the helm. Similiarly framed by Albert Einstein: “There is nothing more that is a certain sign of insanity than to do the same thing over and over and expect the results to be different.”
Once again with GROorganics it seems the sector is willing to grant its trust and a “presumption of confidence” that these serial promiser institutions – who have got organics got nowhere in 40 years – will now deliver. This is not the fix organics needs.
What’s needed is regime change. Organics’ failure has created this burning platform for radical shifts in institutional structures and future-proofing organics starts by configuring new improved leadership. Organics can’t cling to its past; rather unlearning its past is necessary and we need to free organic from the burden of underperformers. Those who are fit to lead must take over from the unfit who now have to be deleted from organics’ future.
On balance most people in the organic sector are well-meaning, goodhearted, trusting and dutiful. However in blindly supporting GROorganics and IFOAM’s Organic World Foundation they are also looking increasingly gullible. One wonders just how much failure are they going accept before they get fed-up? Hopefully this all acts as a lightning rod for change and organic constituents will ask if there any point in continuing to trust these dream-trap organizations if what they do with their trust doesn’t come close to what’s expected.
We have to ask the hard questions now. If these so called organic leadership organizations don’t fulfil their core claimed mission, namely contributing to advancing organics in a way that can be expressed as real share of global food and farming systems, then what are they in business for?
Organic constituents would do better to step forward now around an initiative to co-create the new effective and fit-for-the-future 21st-Century leadership architecture that organics needs to grow significant and influential market positions – e.g. such as in 5-10 years see organics’ share of global agriculture to 20% and likewise to see organics’ share of global