A Tale of Ten Acres Continues – UNFI’s Agrarian Path to Local Organic Food

It’s springtime in Racine, Wisconsin and the ten acres adjacent to our distribution facility lay ready for cultivation. The cover crop planted last fall had worked its subterranean magic, suppressing thistles and weeds, building topsoil, micronutrients and loam. The prolific rains had rendered the land moist and open, ready for planting. Steve Spinner’s vision for creating a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program near a UNFI facility was as close as placing a seed in the soil. The only hitch in this idyllic giddy-up was finding a suitable farmer willing to undertake the organic dream. Continue reading

Organic Growers Observe Earth Day with Every Harvest

April 22nd, 1970 was the day the Earth took center stage as twenty million souls took to the streets in defense of the natural world. The rally cry was for clean air, water and soil, a society that protected the wondrously biodiverse planet we call home. Forty-seven years later, the earth is a cleaner albeit hotter orb and organic farmers play a crucial role in protecting the planet’s future.    Continue reading

What’s at Stake at This Week’s National Organic Standards Board Meeting?

Its spring time in the Rockies and I am heading to the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) biannual meeting which provides an opportunity for organic stakeholders to give input on proposed recommendations and discussions. These meetings can decide the fate of organic farming and manufacturing for many years to come. Indeed the very future of organic is held in the hands of the 15 individuals on the board.

So it’s important to show up. Continue reading

A Dirty Organic Thanks

thanksgiving abundanceWe have almost survived our four-year electoral margination. The beaver moon has eclipsed its emboldened shine. Now we must think of the good meal we will celebrate with friends and family to give thanks. As we consider this gourmands holiday with big birds and fluffy stuffing, it’s not too much of a stretch to consider giving thanks for the soil from whenst it all springs forth. Let’s raise a toast to dirt, humus, and compost and yes to manure itself. For in that microbial dirty brew life is sustained. Continue reading

Is The Organic Movement a Democracy?

shutterstock_283999568It has been an interesting few months. The national election hasn’t been the only campaign I’ve been engaged in. Seems that when I ask questions that aren’t perfectly in accord with the views of others, a cascade of misinformation is scattered about the internet. I ask you to consider the idea of an organic Democracy where free speech can create vigorous healthy dialogue.

When I write, I write for the entire community, not just one side. Sometimes I reiterate concerns or points of view that others have expressed. The vision of my blog is to stimulate dialogue and to bring forth the issues of the day so they can be discussed and carefully weighed.

In a recent blog, I posed questions that have been asked by organic seed breeders and other informed stakeholders. The concern they have voiced is that the NOSB may ban some seed breeding methods before we can understand their possible benefits and risks. If you take a moment to carefully read the Organic Matters blog post, you’ll note that I state that these GMO technologies “need more investigation and discussion,” that they “must be explored and challenged” and that “they do not belong in organic production.”

Yet the headlines declared:

“Now Gene Editing Techniques are Being Promoted to be Included in Organic Standards by OTA / UNFI” 

“OTA board member and UNFI lobbyist Melody Meyer wrote about allowing “gene editing” – a new form of genetic engineering – into organic standards – a clear sign that the OTA and the corporate paymasters at UNFI want to include these new techniques over the objections of virtually all organic farmers and consumers.”

Asking questions is not an indication of support. Sometimes difficult conversations need to be had, and it is because of public suppression that many in our community are afraid to speak up.

I hope the organic community can become comfortable with individuals initiating these complex conversations in the future.

Here is what you need to know regarding the latest kerfuffle:

  • UNFI is unequivocally opposed to GMOs in organic, and we are not advocating for new gene-editing or any other GMO technologies to be allowed in organic.
  • We interpret the organic regulations to prohibit gene editing as an excluded method.
  • Most of these new techniques are not in the NOP regulations definition which is creating uncertainty and discussion in the organic business community.
  • The work of the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) is important, and our comments to the NOSB must be focused on getting clarification to remove the uncertainty in the marketplace.

After 40 years of working hard and serving the organic movement, I care deeply about organic. This is the very reason I am willing to be the one who serves forth some of the most difficult subjects.

Elaborating on a point of view should not automatically make the author a turncoat, or one who embraces that specific point of view. A thoughtful author only intends to stimulate stakeholders to weigh the opportunities and risks so that the right outcomes are achieved.

Once again, dear reader, I ask you tough questions:

What kind of movement do we have if no one can bring forward controversial subjects?

Do we tolerate an environment where differing voices are censored??

Would the organic community be better served by ceasing the internal firing and instead take aim at conventional toxic-laden agriculture?

Should we as a community agree to sometimes disagree and work towards a solution?

How do we move forward as a democratic movement that includes free speech, innovation and sometimes dissenting voices?

Putting those questions aside I pledge to you – I will not be dissuaded from unearthing thorny topics. I will not cease to give voice to those who are afraid to be heard. I promise to always serve the organic community with all its intricacies and foibles.

What burning questions do you have about organic food and farming that you want to explore? Let’s lean in together and make this a safe place for civic discourse.

Speak up