I will never forget my first NOSB meeting which is where I met Lynn Coody. She was a firecracker of knowledge and expertise with an even manner that was disarming and gentle. Her smile was as wide as her breadth of knowledge, and I knew right away we would be friends and that I had much to learn from her.
Lynn and I both go way back to the organic 1970’s. Those were the days we were looking for a deeper meaning in our careers.
Lynn started her organic career in 1974 as an apprentice on an organic farm in New Brunswick, Canada. She moved to Oregon’s Willamette Valley in 1975 after researching locations that looked promising for organic farming.
In my interview with her, Lynn said “I was also interested in working on a master’s degree at the University of Oregon in systematic ecology and biology. Luckily, both of those ideas worked out!
After 13 years of farming, I injured my arm and wasn’t able to do heavy work anymore, so I started my consulting business as a way to stay connected to farming. I was also involved with leadership in The Tilth Association, which was then a PNW regional organization. My experience as a farmer and consultant eventually led to a job with the Organically Grown Company where I managed the technical assistance program for their farmers.”
In 1989 Lynn coauthored a comprehensive organic law for Oregon. As a result, she was tapped to provide technical expertise in drafting the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 (OFPA).
Lynn was a founding member of Oregon Tilth, the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI), and the Oregon Organic Coalition, and she served on IFOAM’s Standards Committee.
Today Lynn works with a group called the Organic Produce Wholesalers Coalition (OPWC), helping them navigate the organic policy world.
OPWC is a group of seven organic produce wholesalers who work together on a range of issues such as technical, business, verification, and policy. Lynn is the policy analyst for the group and provides technical advice when they have questions about specific horticultural and regulatory issues.
She said, “My main job is managing the process of developing the comments that OPWC submits for every NOSB meeting. We discuss materials, standards, and policy issues, and everyone expresses their opinion, which is important as we only submit comments on issues on which all members have consensus.
My goals are to extract the issues from the NOSB’s docket that I think will be of interest to the produce trade and to provide detailed information to the NOSB to explain the impacts on the wholesale fresh produce trade.
One of our methods in doing this is to reach out to our growers who supply us. We often represent grower’s positions verbatim in our comments. We want to let the NOSB know what produce growers think as it can be very difficult for them to sit down and write comments in April and November when they are so busy.”
Organic producers and wholesalers have very unique issues when it comes to NOP’s enforcement priorities.
Substantiating that thought Lynn said, “There are unique enforcement challenges for produce growers and wholesalers. Produce has a very short shelf life and it moves quickly through the supply chain, so to be meaningful, enforcement actions must be efficient. This requires a foundation of robust verification systems, such as complete labeling, clear information on certificates and other handling documents.
OPWC’s comments to the NOSB have also addressed issues about protecting produce from commingling and contamination as it moves from farms to consumers’ kitchens. This is of importance because fresh produce requires air flow and is often exposed to water and ice as it is handled—factors that leave it vulnerable to contamination unless handled with great care.
For some time, OPWC has been rethinking the NOP’s exclusion from certification for certain types of handlers, concluding that, for organic produce, it would be best if certification is required for all handlers. Certification not only provides oversight, it raises awareness of the standards for handling. Having a relationship with a certifier who provides information and guidance about compliance is also very beneficial.”
I asked her what she thinks are Organic’s greatest opportunities ahead.
Lynn resounded, “There are many opportunities for the organic label and its productions systems to shine in the future!
I believe organic farming makes important contributions that help with the challenges of producing food in the face of climate change. Practices like increasing organic matter to buffer the soil from drought, cover crops holding and retaining nutrients, and increased diversity of plantings can help buffer problems caused by variable weather.
I have also seen that organic producers have always had an incredible spirit of experimentation and willingness to take a step forward to find new solutions. Personally, I like to take a multi-pronged approach to progress, working on policy, research, and technical solutions at the same time.”
I asked Lynn what keeps her up at night regarding the future of organic?
She replied sagely, “There are three basic things that keep me up at night. One is the inability to find common ground within the organic community to move through difficult issues. I would like us to work in a way that would allow for discussion with intent to solve the problems before us, even if it means taking small, patient steps towards a more perfect future solution.
Second is the impact of GE on organic production and, in fact, on all types of farming. I am concerned about contamination of organic seed stocks and the financial and agronomic impacts on farmers when their crops are contaminated.
Finally, the threats to the smooth functioning of the NOSB, which is so important to the democratic and transparent functioning of the organic community.”
I asked what improvements she would like to see if she was the Queen of Organic (which she already is).
Lynn replied, “The current business and social environment we work in has changed significantly since the time when we wrote OFPA and developed the main body of organic regulations. I would like to see more reflection on regulations and production systems that respond to these new conditions. One way to start on this would be holding forums to bring together people of differing opinions who are committed to work constructively to solve the problems now before us.
I miss the feeling of people pulling together to build the organic systems needed to continue to evolve and move forward. If I had an organic queen’s tiara, I would ask that everyone who supports or benefits from organic systems think about offering skills, expertise, time, and financial support to bolster organic infrastructure and the support systems.”
It’s smart people like Lynn Coody who can help bring the organic community together again. I am glad we have her in our midst.