Are We on the Brink of an Organic Crisis?

When Congress passed the Organic Food Production Act (OFPA) many years ago, it formed a federal advisory committee to develop and recommend organic standards and review materials in organic production. This 15-member volunteer board has worked diligently over the past 26 years updating the standards and making recommendations for continuous improvement.

Some members of Congress would like to rewrite the very meaning of what the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) does. This transparent public process, so unique to organic, is on the brink of being undermined in the next Farm Bill.    Continue reading

Policy Matters as the Organic Industry Grows

I trundled to Washington DC on my annual pilgrimage to attend OTA’s Policy Conference & Hill visit days. Dubbed “Organic Week” in Washington, it’s a 4-day extravaganza of organic industry leaders gathering to confirm our priorities and take action on the hill. This year the climate in DC was unique, awash with new leadership and new philosophies. It became apparent that as the organic sector continues to grow, it’s important that we pay attention to federal policy and show up for our fair share of funding. Continue reading

A Political Sea Change for the Good Food Movement

WaveIt’s been just a few weeks since our political world took a turn into uncharted seas. We had been progressing along swimmingly, making progress on the likes of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, local organic food hubs and vibrant conservation programs. We had the luxury of squabbling over the recommendations of the NOSB wrangling over every nuance of organic production. We took the National Organic Program for granted as an institutional “holy maceral” that would carry us someday into regulatory utopia.

All of that came to an abrupt halt last November when the new political tide rolled in. These uncharted waters are like nothing we have navigated before, and the good food movement should take heed and consider rowing with a united stroke if we are to remain afloat.  Continue reading

A Glimmer of Hope in Organic and Sustainable Agriculture

The Organic JourneyI’m writing this from the Sustainable Ag and Food System Funders (SASFS) policy conference in Sacramento, California. I sit amongst a group of foundations and philanthropic funders who envision a world in which food and agricultural systems enhance and sustain the well-being of people, animals, and our planet—now and into the future. I am here as the executive director of the UNFI Foundation whose mission is to advance organic agriculture in North America. As I participate in the discussion, I realize there is much to be hopeful for as we move forward into an era of great political change.  Continue reading

How Will You Vote This Year?

A year of changeLast week I attended a fundraiser to garner support for the Jimmy Panetta for Congress campaign. It was an intimate, delicious affair sponsored by the Organic PAC on which I humbly sit as a committee member. Jimmy comes from a long line of Panetta’s, who have served the public well over the years. He has the opportunity to fill a Congressional seat left vacant by Sam Farr’s retirement. Because Sam has long been an advocate for organic food and agriculture, it leads me to ponder: “what tools do we vote with in order to elect the next generation of good food leaders?”

It was Michael Pollan who brought meaning to the phrase “Vote with Your Fork.” So for the past year, I have taken his heed and have been electing to seek out local and organic foods to see how the results roll in.

A better appleI have sought out and enjoyed voluptuous pink lady apples from Watsonville. Free range and organic succulent pork and chicken rummaging the oak forests of Soquel are my fleshy delights. Turgid tat choy, little gem lettuce and rainbow chards are procured from the certified organic farm just one ridge away. Whole Foods and New Leaf Markets fill in the culinary blanks with organic grains, spices, nuts and fermented finery.

Yet organic agriculture, yes a brimming $40 billion dollar industry, remains less than 2 percent of all agriculture in the U.S.

Big Ag still rules king and cheap food remains the dietary default across much of America.

Perhaps voting with our fork isn’t enough anymore?

In that intimate dinner with Jimmy Panetta, we broke local fare together and chewed on a few ideas with the potential leader. We enlightened him on the needs of the future organic farmers, their farm workers and the ramifications of pesticide use in conventional Ag. We reminded him of the exponential double-digit growth organic has experienced and the real rural economic benefits that come when organic farms and business flourish. We took the time to plant a seed for future organic advocacy should he take office.

Political change often happens slowly it seems. Societal attitudes change incrementally as minute gains are made. You move the needle a little bit at a time, one cubit; one micronic advance shifts the polls and nudges us towards progress. We have witnessed the slow but steady process unfold many a time, from women’s suffrage, equal rights, marriage equality—even a decimeter towards GMO disclosure. One small win can eventually usher in a cavalcade of change, transforming our society.

I am asking you, dear reader, to be part of that incremental change agent for our food system in this election year. Here are a few ideas on how you can cast your vote:

  • Find out who is up for election or reelection in your town, district and state.
  • Reach out to members on both sides of the political aisle. Food and farming aren’t just Republican or Democratic issues. Everybody eats!
  • Communicate issues and opportunities in writing, emails, social media, and phone calls.
  • Organize or attend a fundraising event and make sure you have “ear time” with the hopeful official waiting to represent YOU.
  • If your finances allow, give something to their campaign, even a modest pledge can make a difference!
  • Educate incumbents by visiting their office up front and in person when they are in town.
  • Show up everywhere you can to speak up about food issues and good food opportunities.
  • Bring along someone younger than you to mentor the next generation of food policy advocates.
  • If you’re up for it, run for office. You can start small in the City Council or think big like Jimmy Panetta is.
  • Be sure to vote in every election after you have educated and pontificated on why food is the platform that will win the appointment.
  • You can find out more about the Organic Political Action Committee that supports organic leaders.

Grassroots In this prodigious election year, our forks, pens, megaphones, tweets and pocketbooks all need to be fully engaged and employed. Let’s muster up a succession plan for those in every corner of public service who aren’t supporting change in the American food system.

As we roust out the old guard who support chemical-based, subsidized, industrial agriculture, let us replace them with leaders who prioritize food and agriculture that will sustain us and future generations.

What instrument will you vote with this year?