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Author: Forrest Town

Black Lives Matter

The Real Organic Project was created to build community around the core beliefs of organic farming. These beliefs are based on a biologically diverse soil ecosystem. This kind of farming has profound impacts on our health and on our climate. If we change our farming systems, we change our world.

Real Organic Project has been created to make change. We seek individual actions to change institutional failures.

If there is one belief that is central to organic, it is that everything is connected. Every action has a profound impact on the system, although we are often unaware of that impact. When we reduce the diversity of a soil community, we make it more brittle, more fragile, more vulnerable, more dysfunctional. Diversity brings health.

Our movement for greater diversity in the soil community is often lacking racial diversity in the farming community. We certainly have people of color in the Real Organic Project among our farmers and on our boards. We feed people of all colors. But we are a predominantly white movement.

The authentic organic movement has always been a part of the Blessed Unrest described by Paul Hawken. A complex ecosystem of diverse social movements struggling towards a common harmony.  The organic movement was always part of a larger cultural movement intended to reimagine our role on the planet.  It intended us to live lives based less on greed and more on kindness and generosity.

The murder last week of George Floyd, yet another black man killed by yet another white policeman, has plunged the country into pain, into anger, into rage, into grief, and hopefully, into action. There are spontaneous demonstrations everywhere. The rest of the world is responding as well. 10,000 people march through the streets of Copenhagen in solidarity. 10,000 people march in Australia.

The problem isn't just that some dangerous racists have badges and guns. The bigger problem is that there is a bitter history of those dangerous racists then being protected by police departments and courts.

I am also hit by all this personally as the scared white father of a black man. I am afraid for my son. At least with COVID he can choose to stay away from others to protect himself. But as a person of color, where is he supposed to stay? He lives in New York City, but even in Vermont, black men have been assaulted by police while sitting in their own homes. There is literally no safe place. My son was pulled over by police 12 times in the first year he had his license, never getting a single ticket. Just checking…. Every black person in America is faced with real danger from some of the very people they pay to protect them.

I don’t know how to deal with this. I share my confusion. Somehow, we must do much better. 

None of us can do it alone. We can’t do it alone.

We all have little corners of the social universe that we inhabit. these corners are our responsibility. Real Organic Project is a group of farmers and eaters who know a little bit about biology, ecology, and growing food. But the world of growing food is sculpted by American racism as well. We are the inheritors of a system of land ownership that began by excluding people of color to the benefit of white people. That deep pattern is continued by the decisions of our banks and Federal lending programs. America actually has a lower percentage of black landowning farmers today (a little over 1%) than we had 50 years ago. AS a white person my privilege is real, but invisible to me. That is the nature of privilege. As Malcolm Gladwell has said, it isn't wrong that I am given such support from the system. It is wrong that such support isn't extended to EVERYBODY. 

Black farmers have been pushed off the land. It is easier to rob a person with a fountain pen than with a gun. Although the gun is used as well.

So I am offering links to a few talks that have been important to me. These people have taught me. Even in our busy world, it isn't hard to become better informed. Learning is always the first step. It can't be the last step.

First is a talk by Onika Abraham at the first Real Organic Symposium at Dartmouth in 2019. It is a powerful talk that I really appreciated. Onika is Director of Farm School NYC, an adult training program for city dwellers interested in growing food.  Onika also spoke at the NYC rally to protect organic in 2017.


Next is a talk by Leah Penniman called “Farming While Black” given at the EcoFarm conference in 2020. Leah is a farmer activist who wrote the classic book Farming While Black. She has given keynotes at many conferences since the publication of her book.


Next a talk by Malik Yakini, a highly respected pioneer in urban organic farming. He is the co-founder of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network. Malik's work is focused on building food sovereignty for black people. I chose this talk given at Dartmouth College in 2017. It shows his generosity of spirit.


Finally, the New York Times put out a powerful series directed by Nikole Hannah-Jones called “1619”, marking the 400th anniversary of slavery in America. There were 246 years of slavery in America – 10 generations. Now, it is 150 years after abolition, and there is still so far to go. How can we still have so far to go? They describe how the wealth of America was built on slavery. Slavery was the economic engine that created America. And it also created our American version of capitalism. It goes on to show how black Americans continue to be driven out of farm ownership. The podcasts include two episodes on land ownership for Black farmers called “Land Of Our Fathers.”


Know Your Farmer | Full Moon Farm

Full Moon Farm, Vermont

Rachel Nevitt and David Zuckerman own and operate Full Moon Farm in Vermont, where they grow a delicious variety of produce, including melons, sweet corn, and heirloom tomatoes. When David isn't farming, he's representing the state of Vermont as Lieutenant Governor. In a rally in Thetford, Vermont, David announced, “Organic without soil is like democracy without people.”

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Know Your Farmer | Full Moon Farm, Vermont

David Zuckerman: I'm David Zuckerman with Full Moon Farm along with Rachel Nevitt. We started the farm in '99, and Rachel became a part of it in 2000, and we've grown the farm from a couple acres to about 15 to 20 acres of production, and added pigs, chickens (layers and meat birds) and a summer camp. I'm also Lieutenant Governor of Vermont.

Going Back to the Original Organic

Rachel Nevitt: The reason why we choose to be involved and want to be involved with the Real Organic Project is because the organic movement has, for a while, needed some changes in the opposite direction that the changes have been happening. At the federal level, these changes had been coming from large ag that sees the value in the monetary benefit of the word “organic.” But they don't believe or seem to care about the real intention behind organic and sticking to the practices that make something organic.

So, they use their money and influence in Washington to change what the standard means. And it has diverted from its original intention, and we want to go back. Back to the original intention of really taking care of this planet and creating food that's healthy for us to eat.

DZ: Yeah, I would say to me, the Real Organic Project is about the integrity of the term organic. As customers learn more and more that there are 20,000-cow CAFO “organic dairy farms” or they hear that there's organic food grown without soil, and they might get sold as “less energy” or “less dense” or “less fat.” But in the long run, they have to extract everything you put into that water to make hydroponic things grow. If we lose consumer confidence in the term organic, then we lose the ability to raise food in a holistic way because economically, we won't be able to survive. Real Organic Project is about rebuilding the integrity to the name that makes it so that people can farm and sustain themselves both nutritionally, and economically which is sort of a critical combination.

RN: We really do need consumer confidence back. I hear it a lot from people that “What does that really mean anyway?” And they found some product that, you know, wasn't really organic. Clearly it's large ag. So, they know that the USDA standard has been watered down and that makes people lose faith in their regular local farmers, and we want to give them the ability to get that faith back.

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Educating Customers About Their Food

DZ: We raise between 15 and 20 acres of vegetables. I'd say the highlights are our stemless, clean spinach, melons (cantaloupe and watermelons). We sell a lot sweet corn because we have the acreage to grow it. A lot of organic farms and even non-organic farms don't grow a whole lot of sweet corn because of acreage issues. Tomatoes. Rachel's tomatoes are just phenomenal. We grow almost exclusively heirloom tomatoes, and you don't get as many to fruition. But the flavor just knocks every other hybrid tomato off the shelf.

RN: We are almost 100% direct marketing (CSA and farmer's market). I think a big part of our farm is the educational process. People really appreciate having us at market and CSA pickup to talk to us. They can go anywhere and get a tomato in Vermont. I mean, there is lot of health food stores, co-ops, and whatever. But they appreciate having the farmer there so that they can say, “what tomato would you recommend?” “Why is this tomato black?” “Does that mean, it's rotten?”

Our customers also just like hearing about the challenges. Years ago, we were at our CSA pickup, and it was about 98 degrees and had been for a few days and a member showed up at pickup and they're like, “Hey, yeah, what do you guys do on the days that are hot like this?” “Uhmm, we work, we grow food!”

They were like, “no, no, no seriously, like you don't stay outside in this and work?”

We were like “you see the food we brought for you? This is what we do! This is the job.”

DZ: And then also people do talk to both of us markets and CSA about the bigger picture about food production. We're pretty outspoken about what organic means to us, what the industrial organic situation is with a lot of foods, not really meeting the holistic intent and the values intent of what the original organic farmers. We don’t consider ourselves “original farmers,” but we are in the same vein of value as farmers with respect to the new conversations, whether it's hydroponics, soil health, animal husbandry practices that are being allowed to be certified with certain certifiers.

There are certain certifiers that are really questionable. VOF is great, but some of the big international certifiers are pretty questionable.

What Does Organic Mean?

DZ: Organic means a number of things to me. First and foremost, it's keeping our soil healthy and  actually building it so it's healthier for the next generation, whether it's our own child or whether it's the next person that is going to farm the land. It also means not poisoning the water or poisoning the ground with synthetic herbicides pesticides, fertilizers. The idea is to leave it better than you find it. And if you're building the soil and your soil is healthy, then you're going to be growing healthier food, which also means your customers and the people eating it are going to be healthier.

I mean, the old adage, “you are what you eat.” You look at the food that most people eat in this country, and they think nothing of it, because government says, “it's fine.” And you're getting your ratios and whatever. But the actual nutritional value, the diversity of health in that food, the variety of nutrients in that food, are just not really there in the way that I believe they are with organically grown food.

RN: For me, organic is the only kind of food there is. When people tell me that they're eating and I say, “what are you eating?” And I go, “that's not, that's not food. It's not safe to put in your body.” And when people complain about the cost of organic. And I look at them, and I say, “what's the cost of treating cancer?” If you're putting food in your body treated with chemicals, pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides, that adds up in your body. It's there, it accumulates, and then you feed it sugar. And it's off to something that you don't want to have in there.

DZ: And we've been doing it to the planet. Right now, the planet is sick. Climate crisis is the sickness of small individual additions, day in and day out, of carbon dioxide. Well, one little breath of carbon dioxide or one heating of a stove or one running of a car doesn't do it, but it’s the cumulative effect.

If you're eating food that's got all these chemicals on it that they say is “fine to eat. It doesn't hurt you.” But people eat this kind of food day in and day out, day in and day out. And you wonder why we have higher cancer rates than a lot of other countries; you wonder why we have all these kids with ADHD and all these challenges. Well, what are we eating? What are you drinking? what are we putting into our into our souls, which are our bodies? That's all part of the equation.

Balancing Politics and Farming

Linley Dixon: How do you do it all?

DZ: Well, how I’m able to do it because of Rachel and crew. And I do think that they’re related. Both jobs have interesting overlaps and extreme differences. One of the overlaps is that in farming, you start seeds you build the soil. You water. And it's a long process to reach the fruits of your labor. And in politics, sometimes you talk about an idea and you have to sew the idea, you have to talk with a lot of people, you have to help foster that idea. Sometimes it takes 5, to get something to fruition. So maybe you are more like a tree farmer than a vegetable farmer. But at the same time, you can have sudden events that change everything. You can have a massive rain wind or storm of some sort that's going to really impact your crops, and you've got to adjust. And in politics, you can have a sudden event change the dynamic, and you have to ultimately, sometimes change what direction you're going on a policy or take an opportunity to put a policy into place. So both are long investments to reach the reward of the product.

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Know Your Farmer | Alderspring Ranch

Alderspring Ranch, Idaho

The Elzingas developed a system of intensive and intentional herding at Alderspring Ranch to restore the native ecology and provide their cattle with the most diverse diet possible. If you get the chance to order meat from their online store you'll have a taste of the nutritional density of the beautiful Pahsimeroi Valley.

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Is Moving Away from Meat the Right Direction?

Glenn Elzinga: A lot of people have a problem with cattle grazing on any land. Some people have a problem with just seeing cattle out there. There’s this whole movement to get away from eating meat, and you know what… I don't blame them!

I go through the Midwest, and I see the feedlot agriculture. I see the hog sheds, and it's nice that you can't see the hogs, but you see the hog sheds. I know what's in them. I've been on confinement hog farms and it's a mess. It's a nightmare for a hog. And then I go past vast feedlots in Kansas that have anywhere from 50,000 to 100,000 head of cows in confinement. They are eating fecal dust mixed with their combined corn ration or dried distillers grain ration or some kind of concentrate ration that's made to make them gain weight and maximize productivity… and it's wrong. It's just wrong.

Screen Shot 2020-05-02 at 10.23.15 AM

When cattle graze grass, they can live a long and happy life. We have mother cows that still produce calves and between 15 and 20 years old. And what’s the average life expectancy of a feedlot dairy cow? It's 2.5 lactations right now in Idaho. They get through 2.5 lactations in confinement feedlot areas. Is that husbandry? I think not.

So, when I hear vegans and anti-meat people say, “Hey, we got to stop eating meat,” and that is the picture they show, I agree with them, because I've got a problem with it. I got a real problem with it. It's not responsible, it's not stewardship, it's not husbandry by any stretch of the imagination to have animals in those kinds of conditions. That’s why I have to side with those people. They're not necessarily my enemy, but they are misinformed, because instead of throwing the entire baby out with the bathwater, they could say, “wait, there's got to be a better way.”

Here’s the perspective I want to bring people back to about animal agriculture… What was going on before we showed up on the scene as humans? what was going on in the tall grass prairie of America, and how many buffalo did we have? Numbers vary, but I've read various reports that say 50 to 90 million head of bison ran all across America (not Canada, not Mexico, just America). What is the annual kill of feedlot cattle right now in America today? $30 million. It's less than the bison produced before we came along.

Screen Shot 2020-05-02 at 10.26.08 AM

So, if you think animal agriculture has no place for regenerating soils, maintaining soils, and for sequestering carbon, you need to stop a minute and say, “Wait, what happened before we showed up? What happened when the tall grass prairie was this huge carbon sink? What happened when the sagebrush steppe of Western North America and the Rocky Mountains was healthy grassland ecosystems and healthy riparian areas because there was sporadic grazing by buffalo that was high intensity in short duration?” What if we mimic those things in our animal agriculture and create a new paradigm? Create a new regenerative paradigm that's going to be something that brings carbon back into the soil with abandon!

We need these animals to create carbon sinks in the soil. We need them because most of the plants in our communities, especially in the tall grass prairie, have been built around an animal impact associated with that grassland.

Living with the Cattle at Alderspring Ranch, Idaho

My name is Glenn Elzinga. I own and operate Alderspring Ranch outside of May, Idaho in the middle of the Pahsimeroi Valley (its mountain valley around 5,000 feet). We have a base ranch there of about 1,000 acres, and it's all certified organic, but where we are today is up on the grazing allotment. It's 46,000 acres of certified organic native rangelands.

We actually live with our cows during the summer. We have remote cow camps, and we station cowboys and cowgirls on horseback to live with the cattle and keep them all in a controlled grazing paradigm.

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Intensive, Intentional Herding (Inherding)

Public lands grazing is a very common aspect of the wide-open spaces of the Rocky Mountain West, and we are permitted to run cattle on this 46,000-acre piece of public land. What's different here is that, first, we're certified organic. We're one of the largest certified organic holdings in the country. Secondly is that, for several reasons, we've discovered that herding our cattle and actually grazing our cattle intensively up here has led to various sorts of gains for us. Some of them are economic, some are ecological.

Photo by Melanie ElzingaPhoto by Melanie Elzinga

For a start, we don't lose cattle anymore to wolf predation. We were getting hammered pretty hard by the wolves losing anywhere between 5 and 14 head a year, so we knew we need to do something dramatically different. We came up with the same called inherding. That's what we called it: intensive, intentional herding.

We guide the cows through the day to where the best grass is. As a result, our weight gain started going up, and we stopped losing them to other things besides predation (we stopped losing any to poisonous plants). So, all these productivity measures were going up, we were gaining economically, but there is also this huge ecological thing that was happening.

With total control, we found that no longer did we have to graze all of our riparian areas. What that means is that critical habitats like bull trout or dolly varden trout habitat was taking off. Aspen trees were releasing dramatically and were getting all these new Aspen stands taking off because the cattle are no longer nibbling them. Willows were taking off. Brush thickets along riparian areas became impenetrable and they became all this avian habitat. All these songbirds started loving it down there, and then, just last year, the beavers started coming in out of nowhere and colonizing all these Aspen stands that were regenerating. That that was super, super exciting stuff. Inherding was benefiting us economically, but it was also benefiting in the land, ecologically.

Meal Planning for Livestock to Increase Meat-Eaters’ Nutritional Intake

What's interesting is that these alpine shepherds of either cattle, goats or sheep (or all three) will actually strategize and plan, even weeks in advance, where they're going to go with their animals to decide how best to maximize their nutritional intake. That was an epiphany for me!

We can actually choose the highest diversity of choices so that these animals can now plan their own grazing journey if we just provide an extensive salad bar of different greens to choose from. At that point, they can maximize their own nutritional destiny based on their palates.

Photo by Linnaea ElzingaPhoto by Linnaea Elzinga

There are all of these studies showing that it’s important for humans to be able to maximize palate choices to create our best wellness. Once you're eating whole foods, once you get all the crap food, all the processed (you know, the box stuff in the center the grocery store), and you start shopping around the perimeter, or drop the grocery store eat out of your garden, and eat out of your backyard, eat wild game…. When you start maximizing those kind of wild food choices and you start listening to your body, you're going to maximize your wellness.

When you take the concept of palate choices and combine it with the meal planning idea, it gets very, very exciting, because now we have cattle that we can bring to an area of great diversity, and it becomes an area of great nutritional diversity, because they start picking and grazing all this plant diversity out here. We can not only maximize just their productivity, but we can also maximize their health, their wellness, through their nutrition. And guess what? Guess what's really exciting about maximizing those things? It means that we're going to be maximizing nutritional intake for us, the eaters of these livestock and our patrons who buy our beef.

Sure, it requires more work. It requires cowboys and cowgirls up here all the time. But I know we're doing the right thing for the land. And you know, we love it. We love the land, and its stewardship. It's what we're asked to do on any piece of land, whether it's one acre or 46,000 acres.

Photo by Melanie ElzingaPhoto by Melanie Elzinga

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Are You Getting Real Organic Food?

The USDA allows hydroponic tomatoes to be certified organic

The Real Organic Project requires tomatoes to be grown in fertile soil

The USDA allows hydroponic berries to be certified organic

The Real Organic Project requires berries to be grown in fertile soil

The USDA allows confinement dairy operations to be certified organic

The Real Organic Project requires cows to be raised on pasture

The Real Organic Project requires chickens to be raised on pasture

The USDA certifies eggs from chickens who have never been outside

The Real Organic Project was started by farmers to protect the meaning of organic. We grow food in the soil, not hydroponically. We raise livestock on pasture, not in confinement. In this time of concern about the erosion of integrity in the USDA, Real Organic remains exactly what organic was always intended to be.

Happy Hollow Farm Featured Image

Know Your Farmer | Happy Hollow Farm

Happy Hollow Farm, Missouri

Liz Graznak, owner of Happy Hollow Farm, explains that community supported agriculture is her way of being a political force. Her CSA members have the option of participating on the farm through distribution shifts and farm work days. Their CSA is already full for the 2022 spring-summer season, but be sure to check their website for 2022 Winter Shares!

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Know Your Farmer | Happy Hollow Farm, Missouri

Liz Graznak: I love growing things. I love feeding people. I love the community that exists around my CSA – the community of people who support my world.

Liz Graznak carrying celery at the farmers market

Organic Farming at Happy Hollow Farm, Missouri

My wife and I have Happy Hollow Farm.  This is my eighth year farming full-time. We are certified organic and located in Jamestown, Missouri, which is about 45 minutes outside of Columbia.

Columbia is my main marketing area. I do have a few local customers who live out here and shop with us. But mostly, I go to Columbia and sell via CSA, a local farmer's market, some local restaurants, as well as to a Natural Grocers, which is a pretty good-sized grocery store in Columbia.

The Happy Hollow market setup

Being a Political Force Through Community Supported Agriculture

All of my CSA members participate. I have a work requirement. All members per share are required to do two 4-hour farm work shifts and two 2.5-hour distribution shifts.

CSA is my way of being a political force in the world. I'm never going to run for office, but I have a direct connection with my customers. Many of my members have been members since I started farming, and so I've been watching their kids grow up. They've watched my little girl grow up. And that's fabulous.

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Workers in the high tunnels at Happy Hollow Farm

Small Farm, Big Impact

The main motivation for certifying when I first started farming was maybe was twofold. It was me in my tiny little world of being a small-scale farmer feeling that my voice makes a difference. I also felt that we should all be certified because I think that the grander, bigger world of the consumer just doesn't understand what “organic” really is. There should be more of us growing organically so that more people start to appreciate this way of farming.

Unfortunately, there aren't any more certified organic growers in my area than there were eight years ago when I first started. There are more smaller growers, but nobody is certifying.

Farming Methods that Customers Can Trust

In the consumer world (certainly in Natural Grocers, restaurants, and my wholesale vegetables) being certified organic matters. People view it as an important distinction between me and the other growers. They believe that if I am growing organically, I'm following the practices that I say that I'm using.

I know that there are a lot of issues in the organic world right now, but I do not think that the general public knows that, understands that, or has any idea that those things are going on. Regardless, it is important that my customers know the practices that I am using in farming, and that they can trust the things that I'm saying about those practices.

Crops in a field at Happy Hollow Farm

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Butterworks Farm Know Your Farmer Video

Know Your Farmer | Butterworks Farm

Butterworks Farm, Vermont

Butterworks Farm's 100% grass-fed Jersey cows bring premium organic dairy products to the market including yogurt, kefir, buttermilk, and heavy cream. In addition to producing delicious food, they are committed to using their land and livestock to sequester as much carbon as possible.

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Know Your Farmer | Butterworks Farm, Vermont

Jack Lazor: It's much more difficult for us now to sell our yogurt now than it was 20 years ago because we're competing with all these slick-looking brands on the shelves that don't even come from farms, but they've got “farm” written all over them.

Butterworks Farm Products

Producing a Signature Product at Butterworks Farm

Anne Lazor: This is Butterworks Farm in Westfield, Vermont. We are a dairy farm with about 40 Jersey cows, all grass-fed. We have a lot of pasture all around us here and some hay land. All of our milk is made into Butterworks Farm yogurt, kefir, buttermilk, and heavy cream.

Jack: We decided to produce a signature product – something that we could put our name on and pour our heart and soul into. We did it at a time when the marketplace and organics were growing. It was the beginning of the movement.

Market and Media Forcing Out Small-Scale Dairies

Jack: The movement has kind of flattened out now. We are dealing with a lot of huge corporate competitors. You hear every day about how organics is growing, and you go to the store and you see all this packaged stuff – everything from cheddar flavored lotus nuts to cold brewed coffee, and it's all in fancy packaging.

The other big thing in the dairy industry right now is the proliferation of “plant-based milks” whether it's oat milk or almond milk or soymilk or any of these things… or the Impossible Burger. It's a foregone conclusion in The New Yorker and the New York Times that these are better for the earth, and consumers out there really want to do the best. Many, many of them do. But small farms are really at a disadvantage right now.

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Butterworks Farm Jersey Cows

Unsustainable Exceptions for the Mega-Dairies

Anne: The price of milk is at an all-time low. There are huge dairy farms out there milking 500 or 1,000 cows. Some of them are even certified organic, which raises eyebrows because how do you be certified organic without giving your cows pasture? The organic rules require farmers to have the cows out on pasture for 130 days a year, and the big dairy farms that are trying to milk that many cows often don't have the pasture that can support that. So, they tend to have what they call concrete grazers where they bring in green feed and call it “good enough.” For some reason, the USDA National Organic Program has okayed this, much to the chagrin of small farms.

A supposedly "organic" farm with little to no pasture A supposedly “organic” dairy farm with little to no pasture. Photo courtesy of the Washington Post.

Defaulting to “Cheapest is Best”

Anne: All sorts of people, high-income as well as low-income, are buying their food at the cheapest places, which might be Trader Joe's or Costco or Walmart or wherever. I think our values have really shifted to a place that's probably not as good for the human body as well as the environment. It’s perfectly alright to spend $1,000 on a phone, but it's not alright to spend money on food anymore.

Farming for the Planet

Christine Lazor: Regenerative agriculture and the way we farm can do so much for the quality of our food, air, water, and animal lives while building soil organic matter, fostering healthy soil microbes, and pulling atmospheric carbon down into the soil through photosynthesis.

Jack: We have undergone a transition ourselves in the last five years from being a dairy farm that grew all its own grain (and also sold grain) to a 100% grass-fed operation. We had our own cornmeal, flour, rolled oats, and oat groats in the stores. I even wrote a book called The Organic Grain Grower. Anne: We wanted to be fully sustainable. In the past, we tilled a lot of land and we depleted some of the resources in that land by exposing it to the air and doing a lot of tillage. Yeah, we used cover crops and things like that, but it just didn't have any comparison with having grass roots in the ground all year round.

Jack: Five years ago, we stopped feeding grain to our cows. In the process of going 100% grass-fed, we also started learning about climate issues. We took all our grain land and seeded it all back down to forage and hay crops. That land has just gotten better and better.

Rainbow over butterworks farm

Sequestering Carbon Through Dairy Farming

Jack: Whatever time we have left at the end of our careers here, we would like to devote it to working on methods that actually take carbon out of the atmosphere and put it back down in the soil. We are in a project right now with Dartmouth to see if we can even sequester more carbon. Anne: Don’t underestimate the value of the cows in the carbon sequestration process because the cows are actually eating the grass and improving the biology by leaving their manure behind. The manure then gets incorporated into the soil, and it builds the organic matter. Our farm is hopefully contributing a lot more carbon into the earth than we're taking off (although we're all taking carbon off the earth).

Jack: I feel better about the way we farm than we did five years ago. The contribution that agriculture could make to climate issues is just tremendous, and it's hardly ever mentioned. We need to have our side of the story told. We need more articles in The New York Times that will actually tell you that cows on grass are not bad. As a group, we know what we're doing. And we know how to heal the earth.

Recognizing Farmers’ Work

Christine: I'm hopeful when I hear the voices of women farmers, young farmers, minority farmers, that as caretakers of the soil, our work can be recognized as it becomes ever more important. I think we need to hear a more diverse array of voices among farmers to build the awareness and empathy we need as a society and also to grow the respect farming deserves as an occupation.

Christine Lazor in front of a Butterworks Backdrop Poster

Bringing Together Those Who Care

Dave Chapman: A long time ago far, far away, organic was simple. It was about healthy soil. We all know that organic was about respect and care. Jack and Anne are here – they are symbols of Real Organic farming, and one of the things that we are coping with and the reason that we're creating this effort is because these symbols are being used as false representations of what people are often buying.

Jack: The Real Organic Project has been a great thing because it's bound together a group of farmers who really, really care and there's farmers who are longtime farmers like us. And then there's farmers who are fairly young and new. But we're all here to care for the earth and care for our customers.

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Yesterday was supposed to the Real Organic Project symposium at Dartmouth. Instead of a big party and hundreds of people sharing ideas, the college is shuttered and I went for a quiet walk with Claudia around Lake Morey.

It can feel a little strange to feel joyous in these troubled times, but the above video make me feel joyous. And it is appropriate to remember the thousands of people working to feed us despite the risk and uncertainty. The above video “Raising Animals on Pasture” was intended to be shown at the symposium.

It is a celebration.  


It is so important. Listen to the caring voices of many farmers.  If you want to know what the Real Organic Project is about, watch this short video.

Despite postponing the symposium, the ROP standards board met virtually for the last two days. We had a thoughtful and interesting discussion among fifteen people on the details of organic farming standards. 

The meeting was profoundly touched by Coronavirus. First, we were meeting on Zoom instead of in person. Second, two farmers had to miss part of the meeting to deal with farm crew anxiety over the pandemic. A third farmer had to miss the meeting to keep shipping seed potatoes to some of those Americans who want to plant a home garden this year. I myself had to spend an entire morning in the middle of the meetings to ensure that my farm crew was safe and well-informed about the constantly changing Covid-19 situation. 

Farmers are still farming, but it is challenging for all the people who come to work every day on farms. 

The Real Organic Project (ROP) standards board was based on the National Organic Standards Board. We are fifteen people, chosen from different interest groups. But there are significant differences. We have a much larger farmer voice, with nine designated farmers on the board. The ROP standards board is elected by a large group of 45 highly respected farmers, scientists, advocates and vendors. The NOSB is chosen by Sonny Perdue. The ROP board deals with the critical issues of organic. The NOSB is prohibited to deal with the critical issues of our time such as hydroponics and enforcement of standards against CAFOs. The ROP standards board decisions become our standards. The NOSB decisions are ignored by the National Organic Program.

The rest of this letter will be the written testimony I sent yesterday to the NOSB. I am including pictures of current and former NOSB members who serve on one of our three boards or who have farms certified by ROP. These words are mine, not theirs, but they have shown their public support for our mission. The entire organic community thanks them.

Dear NOSB,

I am writing this letter to introduce the new board members to the Real Organic Project. This might be the first time you have heard of us. We work as midwives for a rebirth of the organic movement. 

There is now an international conversation about what organic means. It is wonderful that people’s demand for organic has grown and continues to grow. So many people are losing faith in the “conventional” food system. They are seeking food that is grown differently. They want food that is nutritionally superior and grown without poisons. They want meat, milk, and eggs that come from animals who have lived good lives based on the land, not trapped like prisoners in a warehouse. They want vegetables and fruits grown in healthy soil. They want food grown by people who care and who are treated with respect, not by desperate people who are treated like feudal serfs. And as the eaters become more knowledgeable, they want food that is grown in a way that contributes to a balanced climate.

Many millions of people are making those choices, probably for millions of reasons, but most of those reasons are some variation of what I have just written. This is the organic movement.

People are not making those choices JUST because they want unsprayed food, although they do want unsprayed food. If that was all they wanted, the pseudo-organic producers in the world would stop messing around with organic certification and simply create a “Certified Unsprayed” label. They could have it verified by the USDA under their PVP program, and the organic label would theoretically languish when faced with the lower-priced competition. But the organic label doesn’t languish because most people actually do want the whole package of healthy soil, healthy plants, healthy animals and healthy climate.

The Real Organic Project was formed in an effort to provide greater transparency and integrity to the organic label. As wonderful as reform of the NOP would be, it is our immediate goal to create an add-on label that will ensure that eaters are able to identify the food that they actually want to buy. This is a huge task for our small, grassroots organization.

In two years we have approved over 550 farms for certification to the Real Organic Project's add-on standards. That number will continue to grow quickly. Our certified farmers include many current and former NOSB members. Also many organic pioneers and beginning young farmers across the country. We also sponsor gatherings to share ideas and deepen our understanding of what organic means and why it is important.

You have been chosen by the Secretary of Agriculture to represent the organic community to the USDA. Please take that responsibility seriously. You are there to represent us, not to represent the USDA to the organic community. Things have not gone well in this arena for a long time. According to a recent statement by the Organic Trade Association, “In the past 10 years, the National Organic Standards Board has passed 20 final recommendations to advance the organic practice standards, yet USDA has not completed rulemaking on a single one of them.” 

Undersecretary Ibach and Jenny Tucker were grilled on this point by members of Congress. When Congressman Rodney Davis repeatedly pressed on this, Undersecretary Ibach finally replied that he was looking forward to picking new members for the NOSB, implying that new members might pass more acceptable recommendations.

This is wrong in so many ways. New members come in carrying a heavy burden, with Ibach implying he was planning to choose new members who would toe the line. I URGE YOU TO DISAPPOINT HIM.

Reforming the National Organic Program is not going to be an easy task. They are unresponsive even to questions from the NOSB. Like an embattled castle, they keep their gates shut, and hope that we peasants will go away.

But we won’t.

So I urge you to be brave. Don’t allow yourselves to be redirected to minor issues. Focus on the major issues that are undermining the foundations of the organic program. Access to pasture, origin of livestock, animal welfare and access to the outdoors, rejection of hydroponics as organic, and grain fraud in certification, both domestic and international. THESE are the key issues that are damaging the organic program. If they are not addressed, they will destroy the NOP.  

As an important first step, I urge every one of you to take the pledge of self-education. Go beyond reading OFPA, which is an excellent law. Also, read the books of Albert & Louise Howard and Eve Balfour. Learn about the foundational beliefs of the organic movement. Their observations are still true, and they started a revolution. We now have a better understanding of WHY their observations are true, thanks to 80 years of science.

Organic is not the property of the USDA. They did not invent it, although they would like to reinvent it now to better suit their corporate friends. If they are allowed to do that, something precious will be lost. Their lack of understanding can be clearly seen in Deputy Administrator Jenny Tucker’s oft-repeated comment that “hydroponics is a settled issue.”

Even in her mind that is not true. It might be her deep desire, but it is only settled when the organic community accepts the NOP’s awkward redefinition of organic. And we will not. Not only is there constant debate on the centrality of soil, but there is now a lawsuit against the USDA, led by the Center For Food Safety.The co-plaintiffs include 6 organic farms, the certifier One Cert, and the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA). All of the co-plaintiffs are highly respected pioneering members of the organic community. Of course, we could have brought in thousands of co-plaintiffs.

This lawsuit is accompanied by several others that challenge the USDA for rejecting the animal welfare reform that the NOSB spent so many years working on.

These are not settled issues. They will never be settled until we have brought the NOP back into alignment with the community, the law, and the international understanding of organic. Please work hard to support us. Let us work together to once again join the NOP and the organic community.

Many thanks,

Dave Chapman
Executive Director
Real Organic Project

“I’ve been waiting for the waters to settle to write you and express my regret that Dartmouth was postponed.

“I was anticipating it for many reasons: reunion with family and friends, and especially your work. I knew it would offer powerful information and a vision of right relationships among consumers, farmers, farming practices, soils and climate.

“But also I was anticipating a larger vision of how we live into the future we want. I have such respect for your mission and your method.

“For me this pandemic has highlighted the centrality of food in our lives. Heightened the preciousness of each bundle of chard, each egg, each pork chop. I see how cavalier I’ve been, and wasteful and careless. It has restored the connection with farms and farmers, clarified supply chains, and deepened my appreciation for those who work in the kingdom of growing, harvesting, selling and cooking food. I’m so lucky to live somewhere those connections are real, alive and healthy.”

– Letter from a friend.

Is it the best of markets or the worst of markets?

There are many sleepless nights in the life of a farmer. The last few weeks have been no exception.

On our small veggie farm in SW Colorado, we have gone from thinking we have NO markets due to restaurant and farmers' market closers, to wondering if this could be the highest demand there has EVER been for local food!

In the last two weeks, sales of our winter greens at a local market have quadrupled! Yet, half of the plant starts in our greenhouse are for restaurants that may or may not be in business when the harvest comes!

If you know a local farmer (or you are one), you’re probably already aware that, many of us are very confused right now! 

Seeds are planted, employees are hired, and markets have never been so insecure!

Here’s a glimpse into some of the questions ROP farmers have shared with us:

“Do we jump back in with CSA after dropping it last year? Shall we offer to deliver to individual customers? Aggregate with other farms for deliveries? What software is available for this sort of online sales?”

“Will the farmers that rely on restaurants that are now turning to retail sales impact our direct to consumer sales?” 

“The logical trend seems to be towards allowing farmers markets and take-out food to continue, with health measures instituted. Will people show up in the same numbers? Will enough additional people show up to make up for the loss in restaurant sales?” 

“How long will this last? How long do we need to set up an alternative way of selling? Can I unload all my produce?”

“We are running low on dust masks for our elevator operations. We load grain in dusty conditions!”

“Should Covid–19 testing be obtained by each food vendor and results be posted by each vendor?”

“Our primary crop is a “luxury item” – saffron. Is this not the time to be trying to sell such unessential things?”

“Will anyone buy flowers anymore? Will flowers be allowed at farmers markets since they may not be deemed essential?”

We want to continue to promote the hundreds of farms that have been approved for the Real Organic Project certification.

Our latest “Know Your Farmer” video is from Kyle and Rebecca Dionne at KRD Farms in Marengo, Illinois, West of Chicago.

I met Kyle and Rebecca last summer in their second season of farming. They were on rented land, both were still working off the farm, and they were expecting their first child. Who has enough time in the day for all of that? No one!

I too started an organic veggie farm on rented land with an infant and know all too well how difficult it is to juggle it all! 

I remember actually being angry at all those pictures I saw of happy mothers farming with happy babies in their arms. Yeah right!

Except that I too have a picture like that! It was captured the ONE time that it actually happened! And I guarantee you, not much work was done that day!

So, here's to all the hard-working families bringing us the soil-grown, pasture-raised food that we all want to eat! And here's to all the people that seek out this beautiful food!

Thank you, Thank you! 

It is an overwhelming time for many, but we continue to be inspired by those who are going above and beyond to support their communities and other farmers. We wanted to share some of the inspiring work that we've been hearing about over the past couple of weeks.

A few days ago, we received this heartwarming message from Melanie Elzinga at Alderspring Ranch:

Hello there,

My family owns and operates Alderspring Ranch in central Idaho. We’ve been raising grass fed and certified organic beef for over 25 years, shipping nationwide for 17. With the recent social distancing and shelter-in-place mandates in response to the coronavirus pandemic, many small-scale producers are unable to utilize sales channels like local pickup, buying clubs, and farmer’s markets that they have relied on in the past.

We felt we could do some good by sharing our expertise and developing a completely free step-by-step course to help folks make the transition to selling online and shipping their goods in 5 days. 

We’re hoping you can help us support small producers by spreading the word about the course. I’ve attached links to the course itself and to our Instagram post.

Thanks so much for your time and your support of U.S. agriculture.  

Melanie Elzinga


Jonathan and Allison from UProoted Farm in Michigan have recently launched their online store for food orders and are providing no-contact deliveries by instructing customers to place an ice chest or cooler outside of their front door.

UProoted is also committed to supporting those who are struggling to access food during this time.

From @uprootedfarm Instagram account: 

Like most everyone else, we at UProoted Farm have been doing a lot of analysis of what business might look like this year.

We don’t have all of the answers, but we have come to the conclusion that we want to do our part to support the local food system and local families of the Upper Peninsula. 

We will not be scaling back our production at all this year…instead we will be producing as much food as we can. In addition, we would like to adopt 10 families in the Western Alger and Marquette counties area that have been negatively impacted by the novel coronavirus into a “pay what you can, if you can” while we “supply what we can, when we can” system. 

If you, or someone you know, is struggling to put food on the table amidst all of this economic uncertainty, please reach out to us privately via our social media, email, or website (link here). Everyone who does so will remain completely anonymous! We’ll communicate the details of this offering individually with the families selected, but we envision that we’ll deliver one day a week into a cooler or box you leave on your front porch.

We currently have eggs and will shortly have microgreens, and as the season picks up steam we’ll have lots more quality, certified organic produce to offer — free of charge if need be! Please understand that as the situation is rapidly evolving day to day, we may need to contract this offering…but we might also be able to expand it beyond 10 families.

We look forward to not only supporting these families, but also working with other farmers, markets, and outlets in supporting the greater movement to connect the community with local food during this unprecedented time.

Hopefully this will seem like an overreaction in the coming weeks and months, but at the moment, it feels like the right thing to do.

Stay healthy, stay safe, 
Jonathan & Allison

As the pandemic travels through, please support your local farms.  And please remember to CONTINUE to support your local farms when all this is over!

Yours in the dirt,


Stories From the Front Lines

Years ago I was sitting in a cafe when the lights went out. A regional electrical failure led to the stunning silence. And then, within moments…. everyone began talking to each other.

In the last month, the lights have been going out in our world. And people are talking to each other. We NEED to talk to each other. The economy is crashing. Travel is gone. Gathering together is gone. The streets of NYC are almost empty. States and countries are shutting down. Our carbon footprint is shrinking rapidly. Everything is uncertain. Our world is changing.

One activity that has grown in importance to people is the local production of food. We cannot live without food. People especially want food they believe is safe. They want to know who grew it and how it was grown. We are seeing a huge demand for local, organic, soil-grown food. Yes, soil-grown. This kind of food is quickly sold out in stores. People are driving two hours to our farm to avoid going into a supermarket at all.

Like everyone, farmers are deeply impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. Real Organic Project sent out a questionnaire to our 560 approved farms. Within two days we got 130 replies. That is a HIGH response rate for farmers. Some can't keep up with demand. Some have lost all of their markets. Some are planning on planting less due to the uncertainty. Some are planning on planting more as a civic responsibility. Here are a few reports from the front lines, from the people who feed you.

“It's still quite cold and dark in our mountain valley, as I'm about to head off the ranch out to our fulfillment warehouse to pack orders. It's about an hour away down the Salmon River Canyon from our remote operation in a place where UPS can reach us. It's a big day, as the demand is blowing us away. We can hardly meet it with our limited team, which importantly is only our family and 3 regular employees. I really don't feel comfortable hiring anyone else to help us, simply because I don't know where they've been and who they've contacted in this new world of coronavirus. Thankfully, we live in a corona-free (for now) very remote area, nestled in the Rocky Mountains. 
“And for the first time, we meet people's simple need for sustenance. Certainly, before, folks purchased our beef for health benefits, flavor and the planet healing attributes of our regenerative operation. But now, they need food, as their store shelves are empty not only of organic, but all conventional proteins as well. It is so important we serve them responsibly, and it weighs heavily on each of us. 
“But we'll put the music on, and continue the work that is our passion: connecting people with the soils and really the heart of regenerating landscapes through wild protein. And thankfully, we can still do that for now. We are grateful.”
-Glenn Elzinga, Alderspring Ranch

“Farmers Markets have been deemed an essential activity in California. Here at Full Belly, we are continuing to plant, tend, and market our crops to an urban population dependent on the continuation of our supply chain. Yesterday I went to a farmers market in Palo Alto. My sons did the same on Tuesday in Berkeley, and a partner was in Marin on Thursday. We took precautions, created a distance between ourselves and our patrons, set up the stand differently, used plenty of hand sanitizer (a lavender product with 80% alcohol made by a neighboring farm). We had one person handling money and credit cards wearing gloves and spraying the hand sanitizer regularly on hands… a protocol for minimizing risk from Covid 19.
“Patrons pointed at our products that they didn’t touch, we collected, bagged and totaled their purchases, or we put those items on a table where they were able to place things in their own bags. The table acted as a barrier between our customers and our farm crew. Social distancing was encouraged. There were none of the regular hugs that are often requested by some of our friends- not even a fist bump or elbow. We were taking the best precautions to be safe and responsible to them and to the farm where we would be returning.
“Are we being excessive? Alarmist? Foolish consumers of the ever-present warnings of pandemic? Or are we being cautious, prudent and creative in a time of an uncertain virus? Are we threatening our farm community of 4 families, interns, and farmworkers by venturing out to the city to bring them our food? Or can we take the best precautions and be relatively safe and responsible?
“The answers here depend upon your source of information and your choices. It may be a coming event with unavoidable outcomes – potentially overwhelming one's personal beliefs. I see the markets as essential. The food that we produce as essential to health and resiliency of those we feed. Mental support is provided by regularity, the minimization of fear and bringing comfort and perspective into lives where folks are being asked to shelter in their homes. Risk has always been part of life in rural areas. This is another risk however small or great. Yet we can take precautions as advised by health professionals balanced with the greater good of feeding our communities.
“We have a 35 year history of bringing food to Palo Alto. Every Saturday for 35 years we have been feeding our clients there. We have fed their children as they grew families. They in turn watched our infants grow to helpers and adults. Many now know the names of our grandchildren who we occasionally throw in the truck at 3:30 am to be part of the Saturday morning market. We have a multigenerational relationship with our market. These people see us as their friends and source of healthy sustenance. They expressed gratitude that we came yesterday. We plan to continue taking care of those we can by growing good food and sharing our work with others.
“The US has had more than 100 years of deconstructing the balance between prosperity of rural economies and urban culture. We who farm have long believed and intimately understood the vital role that food producers and farm workers played in creating social stability and abundance. Many of us believed deeply in fundamentals. Healthy soil makes healthy food. We need more hands paid fairly for the work of seeds being planted, soil stewarded, animals respected, loved, and humanely raised, the tools for tending and harvest being kept sharp, and the human exchange of food and gratitude. This vision has been quashed by the power of capital, the distortions of cheap fuel, and the lack of attention and respect to all that supports our cultural riches.
“Those small farmers who hung on and continue to provide local food to their communities had their part of it right: resilience comes from diversity, decentralizing, and self reliance. Those farmworkers, cooks, and cleaners, often people of color, were making abundance even while they were pushed to the shadows. We need to continue our work, bring our food to those in need. We revel in the miracles of birth, germination, springtime blooms, and the sweetness of that apple or peach or melon that finds its way to our tables.
“The world needs its farmers and those who labor in the food system more than ever. Take precautions. Assess risk and act to keep yourselves safe while knowing our task and future has many uncertain outcomes save one – we feed those in need of our work.”
– Paul Muller, Full Belly Farm

“I am experiencing cancellations of CSA’s due to layoffs. The money is so important to the start of my season for seed supply and weeding labor. I am very concerned about having the funds for employment. I also was expanding markets this year and I don’t know what will happen with sales for my production.
“I am trying to adapt! I don’t have a website yet so it will be hard for me to market online like other farm businesses. I am seeing a decrease in CSA interest and it’s an awkward time to try and capitalize off of layoffs. It’s all very tricky. I also have two big farmer's markets I supply to and I’m unsure if they will be closed for the season or not.”

– Savannah Flynn, Flynn Farms

“Our biggest concern is letting consumers know we are still operating! Farmer's markets are 90% of our business and we're concerned they will be closed. 

“Just like any other season, we will all get up every morning and strive to make our farms better. Finding better ways to do the little things, learn from our peers. We all need to come together as a community of organic farmers and reach out for a hand if you need it or just someone to talk too. It may be a tight year for all of us, but just like any other we will make it through and come out stronger. From our family to yours we wish you the best. 

“We here at the farm believe that now is the time for high quality, small scale organic farmers to make a huge difference in the local food system.”

– Kyle Dionne, KRD Farms in Illinois

“Farm for Health! Farming can be a healthy and rewarding profession where people can get fresh air, exercise, and social contact, while producing real food that keeps people healthy. I really like the idea of creating a Farm Corps, similar to Americorps, with student loan debts forgiven in exchange for helping produce and distribute real, healthy food.

“I’ve also been urging some groups in MN to help connect direct market producers with shoppers and to issue guidelines for fruit and vegetable growers, so that they can sell their products while staying safe and social distancing.”  
-Jim Riddle, Blue Fruit Farm in Minnesota

I read this from an Italian farmer:

“They are organizing to increase home delivery given the emergency and the increase in requests. We are a network that works with small producers and this emergency puts us to the test, but we are happy to be a real alternative.

“But we are working to increase home deliveries because, to date, with closed markets, this spending model is the only guarantee of survival for producers in the short chain who need to continue working. We need to continue working!”

“These are new and crazy and uncertain times indeed. My thinking has evolved from thinking this was overblown 10 days ago, to getting a reality check by losing my market a week ago, to hoping I can keep customers. 
“Here’s the thing—having been the president of my farmers’ market board before parenthood, I can’t honestly say I wouldn’t do the same thing. I’m not even actively pushing the market to appeal to stay open because it feels like such an enormous thing to be responsible for. Of course, while cases are low, it seems like a huge move to shut markets. But the point is to keep cases low and prevent the spiraling we see in Italy (which I just read on the BBC has now shut open-air markets). So I’m super conflicted about it. I’m not sure the extraordinary efforts we would have to go to minimize social contact at the market would be that much less onerous than taking, tallying, and bagging up people’s individual orders through the CSA. Plus, I think there are plenty of CSA folks who will place a weekly email order with us and pick it up through our drive-thru system we’re setting up in a church parking lot who might not feel comfortable going to a farmers’ market to buy from us. Things unfold so dramatically from day to day that it’s hard to know the right call. Suffice to say, I certainly don’t blame my market for being closed. They were following the mayor’s ban on gatherings above 50 people (and he’s just following the CDC) and couldn’t get an exemption. I wouldn’t be surprised if markets that try to stay open now aren’t eventually forced to close. I hope not. But we are simply adjusting now and feel grateful that we had a CSA to work with.  
“The good news is that we’ve had over 25% increase in new CSA members since we opened it up a few days ago to new members.  And people are very eager for our first delivery next Saturday.  
“So that’s probably not the email you expected. But frankly, I just feel grateful to be able to earn any money at all.  So many people just lost their jobs overnight. And if this goes on much longer, the fallout is going to spread to job sectors no one has considered now. Maybe we farmers are the lucky ones because eating is not optional.  

“You guys are AWESOME!!”

– Emily Oakley, Three Springs Farm in Oklahoma

A final subject I have heard a lot about is farm labor. Will farms be able to keep their crews working? I have heard the most about the guest worker program called H2A. H2A is used by many small farms in New England as well as much larger farms in the South and West.

H2A is a program for workers from other countries to get a temporary work visa to do farmwork in the US. It has been threatened by the Trump administration to limit H2A workers coming into the US. Most of the farmwork in America is done by immigrants. About half are undocumented. The other half of them are in the H2A program. H2A has many requirements concerning fair pay and approved housing. It can be subject to abuse in many ways. In some places, workers are little more than serfs. In some places, it is a good program that serves both the farm owners and the farmworkers.

Without a path to citizenship, farmworkers have little protection from the law, no freedom to organize, and no chance to leave an abusive situation for a more fair employer.

“The biggest failure of the H2A program is that it doesn’t offer a path to citizenship or even a path to a green card. It is used to bring in the people who feed us and then to reject them. These people deserve to be given the full rights and protections of citizenship. 
“H2A is subject to abuse, but far less so than the same workers experience in their home countries. We have heard, from reliable people, that the wage rate in Mexico is $1 an hour. We pay approximately $15 – $25 depending on the speed of the worker. The H2A contractor is required to pay the workers quite well; the question is whether they actually do. The realities of abuse of power are human nature and we see signs of it everywhere. But my impression is that it isn't as bad in the H2A context as it is outside of that.

“The number of workers willing to sign up for H2A suggests that things are far better here than at home.

“There is no question that virtually all of North American Agriculture relies on Central American labor. We have two choices; figure a way to import our agricultural labor (and make our food expensive enough to pay them a living wage), or import our food (from places where ag workers are virtually enslaved).

“Basically, government policies are being written by big multinationals – who are snickering at the way that the laws they wrote are working (including USMCA).

“If people think relying on other countries for their toilet paper is scary, they should be enraged that their corporate-owned government is putting American farms out of business. What happens when we become even more reliant on foreign food production than we already are?

“You can ramp up production of masks and rubber gloves pretty quickly. It will be a whole lot harder to instantly produce crops from farms, and a farming infrastructure, that no longer exists.”

– A Real Organic Project berry grower.

“Lady Moon Farms owns and operates close to 3000 acres. Over half our acreage is in FL, with another 40% in GA and the remainder in PA. We are 100% organic and grow 50+ different commodities, including tomatoes, lettuce, peppers, squash, eggplant, and bunching greens. We ship domestically to wholesale distributors and supermarket chains. We have been in business for over 30 years and operating in FL since 1999. Over the years we have weathered our fair share of adversities including hurricanes, freezes, extreme rainy seasons along with heavy disease and insect pressures made more challenging because of our organic practices. We managed to stay in business and do what we love, grow healthy, fresh produce for our communities. During this time, the number of small to medium sized farms has been dwindling. Many family farms have had to shut down, the farms that remain are more corporate in nature.  
“The last five years it has become harder to stay competitive because of the intense pressure from Mexican imports. Their labor is a fraction of the cost we pay in the states. We have seen our labor dollars as a % of sales increase by 15 percentage points in 7 years. We do participate in the H2A program which is necessary with the decreased availability of domestic labor. After we pay for housing, travel, and transportation we are closer to $16/hr vs the FL min wage of $8.50 vs $9-10 A DAY in Mexico. We cannot compete. While this is happening, our average price has decreased as Mexico consistently floods the market with low priced, high volume commodities. Many retailers/wholesalers/distributors would prefer to have domestically grown produce, but only if the price is in line with Mexican pricing. If Mexico continues to flood our market with low prices due to their significantly lower costs, many more US growers will go out of business. If we don’t want to lose our domestic farmers of fresh produce, something must be done. 
“I’m writing this during the COVID-19 pandemic. It seems more important now than ever that we ensure we have an economically strong and vital domestic supply of fresh food across all 50 states.”

– Anais Beddard, Lady Moon Farms, PA & Florida. 

So, as the pandemic travels through, please support your local farms.

  • To be sure of what you are buying, seek out Real Organic Project farms by visiting our website
  • Let the State Department of Agriculture know you support designating farmers' markets and farm stands as important food sources that should stay open.
  • Ensure that the food is sold safely at those places by isolating the food from the customers, as they are doing at Full Belly.
  • Make sure that farmworkers are designated as essential workers in our emergency economy. 
  • Grow your own victory garden. During WW2, American homeowners grew 40% of the produce in America.
  • Stay well and be kind.

-Dave Chapman