“Change isn't made by asking permission.”
– Seth Godin
Dear Real Organic friends,
I spoke with a friend who has worked all his life in the organic industry. And our conversation depressed me.
I like him. I respect him. He has spent a lifetime building relationships with like-minded people. He is part of the highly influential cadre that debate each other about what the word organic will mean. They see the USDA as the final arbiter of these questions, so they spend a lot of time and energy trying to influence that bureaucracy. They speak to, and for, and against massive corporations, processors, brands, huge farms. And, almost on the fringe, they include some small farms too. They speak to Secretaries of Agriculture and philanthropists, Executive Directors, Senators, and Governors.
They believe in what they do. They are idealists. They also see themselves as realists. They have a vision of “certified organic” becoming the norm in American agriculture. They fully see the devastation of chemical agriculture that is destroying the land and our health. They know that we must be smarter, must do better.
And they believe that compromise is necessary. Perhaps a lot of compromise. That maybe organic will no longer mean what it used to, but it will still be better than the chemical nightmare that we are trapped in.
As I got off the call, I tried to understand why I was so sad. I felt like I had been exposed to kryptonite. I was overwhelmed. Defeated.
I have a different vision from my friend. Like Denethor, he has lived for a long time in the shadow of Mordor. Faced with that hideous strength of economic might, he seeks big allies to help move the needle. And on some level, he knows that it is hopeless.
I have a vision of real organic farming growing, building communities, healthy people, sustainability, greater economic stability and equality.
I came into the conversation as a naive, small farmer. A board member of a large West Coast certifier once said to me, “I envy you back in New England. You still have idealism about organic. Out here it has become a business.”
Most of the organic farmers I know in California still have lots of idealism, but it is true that agriculture in California is just HUGE. One organic champion from Ohio described visiting the fields of California and feeling so INSIGNIFICANT. How can anything we do matter?
In times like these, I turn to Rachel Naomi Remen. Remen’s writings have helped me to move through those moods of despair on dark nights.
“Then she began to tell me a story about an old man who is walking along a beach at low tide, picking up starfish drying in the sun and gently throwing them back into the ocean. He has been doing this for some time when a jogger overtakes him and asks what he is doing. The old man explains that the starfish will die in the sun, and so he is throwing them back into the ocean. Astounded, the younger man begins to laugh. “Why, old fellow, don’t waste your time. Can’t you see there are hundreds and hundreds of starfish on this beach? And thousands of beaches in this world? And another low tide tomorrow? What makes you think that you can make a difference?” And still laughing, he runs on down the beach.
“The old man looks after him for a long while. Then he walks on and before long he passes another starfish. Stooping, he picks it up and looks at it thoughtfully. Then gently, he throws it back into the ocean. ‘Made a difference to that one,’ he says to himself.”
– From My Grandfather’s Blessings by Rachel Naomi Remen
We throw a starfish back into the ocean. And another.
And then a friend joins us and throws a starfish back into the ocean. And then another.
And then another friend. And then another friend. And then another.
Dave and Linley.
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“If we have a plan, we're screwed.”
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