What is Organic

Too Many Digs on the Dance Floor


Dance Floors are public places that foster the pure joy of movement. Some embrace choreographed affairs with back steps, side-swings or do-si-dos. Others are freer flowing with bounce and bump, erratic hips with arms akimbo.

The basic notion here is that everyone comes together—civilly—to do one thing—Dance—for the single-minded purpose of movement.

What if we consider Organic our very own dance floor? The space that we all operate from.

How many personal digs can we tolerate before the party falls apart?

One dance floor with many movements. adult-art-balance-1110704

We all have a single-minded purpose—or at least I believe we do. It is to grow organic acres in the US way beyond 1%. We all want organic food to be 20-30-50% of the nation’s food supply.

Heck lets go for the entire world!

So, we’re all moving around this dance floor together working on the same thing.

We want the true cost of producing food to be reflected in the price we pay. We want fewer toxic chemicals in our food, water, land and skies. We want farmers to win with every crop.

We want the climate to settle down a bit.

We want a kinder, cleaner future for our children’s children.

So here we are on this giant proverbial dance floor; perhaps some of us are moving a little more to our own groove, but we keep moving, dancing towards our goal. It’s one giant organic party.

Or is it?

We have some actors who want to break the party up into factions to defend their piece of the dance floor.


This is where the digs come in.

Many dance styles can keep us moving.

In my local town of Santa Cruz, there is a thing called Dance Church where everyone moves to their own beat. All forms of dance are accepted and encouraged on the floor.

In Organic we have many variations that are emerging, interpreting moves in our communal dance party. Regenerative Agriculture,  Biodynamic,Real Organic, IFOAMS small-scale farmer and certainly USDA certified are all paths to the same place.

I believe if these different ways of moving get us to the same organic goal, we should embrace them and not let them splinter us into warring factions amongst ourselves.

We are the organic party for gosh sakes!

Another far more serious dig is to believe conventional actors can’t be part of our party.


Quite recently you may have received an action alert about the OTA letting a few Big Conventional AG companies become members because they have certified organic operations.

Folks, the bastions of Big Ag aren’t going away any time soon. These companies are giants in agriculture—especially in the Midwest. But if they want to join us and dance in our party then let’s let them in.

They may even like it and see that they can have more fun, make more money with organic and be better stewards of agriculture. Let’s encourage them to adopt more organic acres and work this thing from their inside out!

We might even learn a few moves from them without compromising our organic sensibilities.

The final dig is pure hatred and witch-hunting which should have no place in our party.

Too many times have I seen people who are stewards of organic get publicly humiliated by campaigns of hatred and loathing.

It happens at NOSB meetings, after GMO labeling campaigns and at Natural Food Expos. We’ve seen trucks driving around with pictures of good people plastered alongside inflammatory language that seeks to divide us.

I have been targeted by one of these campaigns assigned as a corporate lobbyist with the evilest of intentions.

My email exploded, and my heart nearly broke.


Any time one of these campaigns runs, I urge you to remember these are real people with flesh and feeling that also care, in their own way, about the future of organic.

They are one of our dancers.

This kind of divisiveness will only weaken us in the end. People will stop dancing or leave the floor altogether.

And we need every step to make this dance floor shake.

If you get the urge to respond to one of these hatred campaigns, the best thing to do is to reach out and ask the person what they were thinking. You’ll get insight and perhaps understanding.

You may not agree with me, but I’m glad you are here to read it.

We need everyone who is committed to organic—perhaps not our personal version of it—to stay and make this dance party really big.

I believe there are many different kinds of steps we can incorporate into our movement. We shouldn’t be fighting amongst ourselves; we should just keep dancing towards our goals.

Be good to each other.

See you on the dance floor.

Sufi acting-adult-artist-54276

16 thoughts on “Too Many Digs on the Dance Floor”

  1. Hi Melody,

    I feel I have to respond. I certainly agree that we should treat everyone with respect as a fellow human being. I will always try to avoid personal attacks that are meant to denigrate a person. My apologies to the world if I have failed. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t speak up about the truth as we see it. Indeed, for a democracy to work, we must speak up. And for organic to work, we must speak up.

    I sometimes quote leaders of OTA and CCOF speaking at NOSB meetings or to the press because what they have actually said is sometimes at great variance with what their members believe their organizations stand for. I have gotten more than one letter from board members of these organizations agreeing with our message, except they insist that their organization is opposed to hydroponics getting organic certification. This is simply untrue, and I send them quotations of what their representatives have said to the NOSB in the debates culminating in Jacksonville.

    So while my intent is not to attack, it is very important that we realize what is actually being done by these very powerful organizations. The most discouraging thing about the hydroponic debate in the NOSB is that it stopped being an honest debate about whether hydroponic should be allowed in organic, and became a purposefully confused drama in which the major hydroponic producers insisted that they weren’t hydroponic! Rather than changing how they grow food, they simply changed what they called it. This is the real world that we have to deal with. My intention in quoting individuals is to keep the conversation based in reality, rather than glossing over what happened with greenwashed statements of good will towards all.

    Also, it isn’t as simple as saying that we are all moving towards the same goal. Yes, we would all like to see as many acres as possible of organic production, but clearly, many of us have very different definitions of organic. I became involved in the movement to keep the soil in organic because I felt that the USDA label no longer represented organic to me or to my customers. As you know, I and many others fought long and hard to reform the NOP, and we failed. Along the way, I discovered that the erosion of the “organic” label went far beyond hydroponics to include massive CAFOs that have become the dominant suppliers of “organic” milk, meat, and eggs in America.

    Again, we all face the very real question of whether to remain silent in order to protect organic in the public eye, or whether to speak up to protect the meaning of organic. This is not an easy question. This exactly parallels the current struggle in the Catholic Church over whether to remain silent about predator priests. Certainly many in the Church chose to remain silent because they wanted to protect the Church that they felt did so much good in the world. I would suggest that in the end, those who remained silent have done incalculable harm to the very thing they were trying to protect. If those of us who actually understand what is happening to the organic label remain silent, we will justly be considered complicit when the word finally comes out. And the truth WILL finally come out.

    So even as the “organic” market grows, it has seemed to me that the real organic market has been shrinking, often pushed out of the supermarkets, and now lives often in the farmers’ markets, CSAs and farm stands. This is not 100%, but it is happening to an alarming degree. And in that process, many organic farmers are pushed out of business in the very market that they built. I believe that the market is still trying to buy soil-based, pasture-based farm products. Which is to say, what organic used to mean. Right now real organic dairy farms are going out of business at a stunning rate. Last I heard it was 10% of the organic dairy farms in California have gone out of business THIS YEAR. At the same time, new “organic” CAFO dairies are being rapidly built. The same is happening for soil based vegetable growers at a slower rate because they have easier access to the alternative direct marketing path.

    In my efforts to reform the NOP, I have received my share of hate mail, anonymous internet attacks (always popular), and threats. I have been accused of farming practices that I have never done and of saying things that I have never said. I have been told that my stores would be contacted and informed that I was poisoning their customers. Some pilot farms for the real Organic Project shared serious concerns that they would be pushed out of the stores they sold to for daring to speak out about what is going on. So there is plenty of hatred to go around.

    When a reporter for a national news story asked to speak with supporters of our effort to keep the soil in organic, I sent a list of 8 people. When one of the 8 saw the list, he responded that some of the people on that list wouldn’t even speak to each other. He said if they all got together in a room, it would look like the bar scene from Star Wars. Then he concluded, “But, I guess we can all agree on this.”



    PS> Having written a longer letter than I intended, I think I will post this on Facebook, and refer to your blog for those interested.

    1. Thank you so much Dave for your thoughts on the subject. You and I have come to a place where we can agree to disagree and I have to say that our discussions have helped me understand some of the issues better. Lets keep the dialogue going so we can all get to a place where each variation of organic is seen as a step in the right direction.

      There are actors out there who wish for our collective demise and I believe we are stronger together having dialogue and continuing to develop a sustainable agricultural future.

      Its our only hope for the future of feeding our planet.

    2. In leaving the OTA, it took over a year to decide. It wasn’t personal at all. I really do like the folks there, but not some of the decisions—which demonstrated a lack of true leadership—for example, to undermine the clear GMO labeling initiative, which Nature’s Path and others supported with their sweat, blood and dollars. For me, our resignation came down to an issue of values and principles—and, in addition to the GMO labeling debacle, the need for creating and maintaining fertile soil, for, organic farming must be soil-based, not hydroponically-based. Without being hysterically xenophobic, there is still the imperative to keep bad actors at a good distance, especially those that try, or who have tried (without success) to destroy or dilute the organic movement—such as the proliferators of GMOs and deadly toxic carcinogens such as glyphosate and dicamba, and other toxins of their ilk. Keep Organic organic and as pure as possible. What kind of world do we want for coming generations? We’re all part of a greater movement—to enhance the quality of food, health and life on our planet, for now and for future generations.

      Thanks, and with malice towards none.


      1. Arran, I really appreciate you reading and responding to my blog.

        I know there is no intended malice.

        I would say that all of us have the same ultimate goals – to leave future generations a clean healthy planet with a sustainable way of feeding our children.

        This goal we share!

        Some of us by stature or visibility have much influence in the world. Everything we do has a ripple in the universe and those with greater influence can make bigger waves.

        For that reason I urge leaders and founders – everyone- to be cautious with public proclamations and realize together we are stronger rather than divided.

        Neither my blog nor this response is intended to call any one individual out. ( although there are entities whose intention it is to enflame the masses).

        It is instead a call for civil discussion when disagreements arise.

        And arise they always will because we are a bunch of forward thinking individuals trying to change the world.

        I respect your position and honor all that you have done for the industry.

        Thank you, Melody


  2. Hi Melody,
    First, this comment is only my personal opinion and does not reflect the views of any organization for which I work or volunteer. My apologies for the length, and tried to edit it down. Your observations are timely and your analogy is apt. I also agree with much of what Dave Chapman has said about the need to keep the conversation based in reality, and that people not stay silent when they see transgressions occurring that are counter to the fundamental principles of organic.

    Sometimes there are dancers who violate peoples’ space and make the experience bad for everyone else. These people should be asked to leave the dance floor and not come back. I have a slightly different metaphor. The analogy is that the organic community was once a bucolic small town. The community was tight-knit and its people looked out for each other. The quality of life was exceptional. A little less than 20 years ago, the Feds put in this interstate highway that allowed people to commute. New people started moving in who did not share the same values or expectations that the long-time residents held so dear.

    At first the townspeople welcomed the newcomers. Not everybody of course, but most were friendly. The owners of shops and restaurants on Main Street believed growth would be good for business. Teachers thought new people coming in was a good thing. Politicians saw new jobs and taxes coming in. Some of the long-time residents were able to make a lot of money selling development property to the newcomers. Rents and property values were pushed up, and those selling and those buying were soon resented by those who held on to their property or didn’t have as desirable a place to live.

    The new people did not follow the customs and traditions of the town. Sure, most were obeying the letter of the law, but not the spirit. Some pushed the local laws to the limit or found loopholes. They also were active in getting their people elected to the Town Board and got some of the laws changed that were tilted in their favor. This caused deep divisions within the community. Town Hall meetings that were once usually quiet and even boring became uncivil and inflammatory, rife with conflict. Neighbors who were used to a friendly give-and-take found themselves straight-jacketed by ordinances designed to preserve property values. The newcomers had better lawyers, where in the old days hardly anyone ever sued. Taxes went up. They saw their way of life threatened. Soon a Wal-Mart and generic fast-food places opened and almost as soon, several much-beloved locally owned stores and restaurants went out of business. Prosperous pillars of the community were reduced to poverty, while many of the people who sold out retired and moved away, shunned by their old friends. The remaining young people had a choice of working minimum wage jobs or commuting to the city, a commute that became more difficult as the population grew and the interstate became more clogged.

    I don’t want to take the analogy too far, but many consider organic to be spoiled by its own success. Academics use the word “conventionalization” to describe the takeover of organic by the hostile forces that it once sought to supplant. Traditionalists in the organic sector are seeking to splinter off and return to the roots, feeling that the movement that they started has been corrupted. Those who saw great injustices in the corporate control of the food system see the companies that have acquired their way in as not honoring the fair treatment of small farmers and local food systems that they see as the real foundation of the organic movement. The people working for the companies that caused these disruptions and violated these principles are often unaware of the havoc they have wrought, putting themselves forward as helping to expand organic. Both sides appear to be talking past each other and simply name-calling each other “sell-outs” and “purists”. I’ve been called both, sometimes with great hostility.

    I think that there are profound cultural differences between those who have adopted organic practices on principle and those who see it mainly to make more money. We are the victims of our own success. I’m not saying that making money is a bad thing or justifying the rude and often misinformed actions you give as examples. I’ve been attacked myself in those forums, so I know what it is like. Understand, however, that people who are seen by many long-time, well-respected organic community as bending or flagrantly not following the norms and standards, or using undue political influence to short-circuit the standard-setting process in their favor have been met and will continue to face opposition. By focusing all of our attention on a legalistic meaning of organic and framing all of our discussions about organic as rules and regulations, we have neglected to see the big picture that you describe as something we all want. I think there are a handful of people within the organic community who do not care anything about organic, other than that they can make more money that way. That is nothing new. What is new is the way that some of those people think they are above the law and don’t have to engage the organic community on its own terms.

    IFOAM is currently undergoing a discussion of reforming its membership requirements and is considering elimination of a requirement for companies / associations / organizations to have at least 50% organic sales / members / activities. The members supported the reform, but there is concern within IFOAM that this will dilute the meaning of organic. My hope is that IFOAM and its North American regional body can become a forum outside of the NOSB where we can have civil and open discussions about the meaning of organic.

    You know that I’ve spent my career doing what I can to make it possible for organic to grow. I’ve always been of the opinion than anyone who wants to be part of the organic community should be welcome. But I have also thought that those who enter the community need to respect the existing norms of the community and abide by the standards set. Norms and standards can be changed, but the intent was to have a process where that change would be deliberate and acceptable to the entire community, not just to the advantage of a few by seeking some back-door loopholes, exploiting due process to continue certification while operating out of compliance and quibbling over the letter of the law, pushing through narrowly split votes on the NOSB, and lobbying legislators and regulators for favorable treatment without working to get the consensus of the whole organic community. These people don’t respect the organic community, so it should come as no surprise when the organic community disrespects them.

    Let’s see if we can create a safe space for everybody. Let’s keep what is good in the organic community and not lose sight of the bigger picture.

    Kind regards,

    1. Thank you so much Brian for your passion on the subject! I believe we can grow organic while protecting its integrity. I just want us all to remember we have bigger fish to fry than each other.

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