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Author: Kim Werst

An illustration of two plants in soil with their roots showing. On the left is "Fertilizer On" and several roots are visible. On the left is "Soil Health Diet" and the plant is greener and has significantly more roots. Between them, it shows the plant on the right has more "good microbe metab's", more "micronutrients", and less "N, P, K" than the plant on the left.

Books helping organic grow

Books helping organic grow: What Your Food Ate

In their latest book, David and Anne tackle the question scientifically: “Is my health affected not only by what I eat but by HOW it is produced?”

“David Montgomery has a knack for writing books that help the organic movement grow…” Read Linley's letter about the soon-to-be-released What Your Food Ate discussion with David Montgomery in this week's letter:

An image of the cover of "What Your Food Ate: How to heal our land and reclaim our health" by Anne Bikle and David Montgomery

Yellow box with black text that reads: "“Once again, what's good for the land is good for us too." ―  David Montgomery, What Your Food Ate, coming this week! Join us for the next Real Organic Bookclub, June 30, 6pm EDT with David Montgomery"

 

Dear Friend,

David Montgomery has a knack for writing books that help the organic movement grow.

He has a wonderful talent for taking a simple claim (like when your farmer says, “Healthy soils make healthy animals and healthy people”) and backing it with reams of peer-reviewed research and historical context.

In his first book, Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations…

David brought us on an agricultural journey through time and taught us how we must avoid the mistakes of the past if we are to survive into the future. Just how many people can the earth support in perpetuity?

In The Hidden Half of Nature…

David Montgomery and Anne Bikle took us on a ride in their magic school bus to the rhizosphere so we could visualize how it resembles our gut turned inside out! They not only explored what foods bring us health, but explained why we should reframe the question to, “How do I foster a healthy microbiome?”

In Growing a Revolution…

David explored the ecological crises caused by agriculture and tells stories of the farmers showing us a better way. How do we shift our method of food production to one that is truly sustainable?

And now, in What Your Food Ate (published this week: June 21, 2022)…

David and Anne tackle the question scientifically:

  • “Is my health affected not only by what I eat but by HOW it is produced?”
  • “And if the answer is yes, how do we know this to be true?”

Fifty pages of peer-reviewed resources are synthesized, and David and Anne tell us we are just scratching the surface.

Two images side by side. On the left is a cover of "Growing A Revolution: Bringing Our Soil Back To Life" by David R. Montgomery. On the right is a photo of David sitting outside in nature. Text below the images reads: "“Once again, what's good for the land is good for us too." ―  David Montgomery"

An illustration of two plants in soil with their roots showing. On the left is "Fertilizer On" and several roots are visible. On the left is "Soil Health Diet" and the plant is greener and has significantly more roots. Between them, it shows the plant on the right has more "good microbe metab's", more "micronutrients", and less "N, P, K" than the plant on the left.

Yellow box with black text that reads: ""We tend to think of diet-related ailments as arising from deficiencies in particular nutrients. Take scurvy, for example. If you start consuming vitamin C-rich citrus, scurvy clears right up, as British naval surgeon James Lind demonstrated in a famous 1749 medical trial aboard HMS Salisbury. Some cures are this simple, but curing other types of ailments and maintaining good health in the first place are far more complex. And on this point, the mix of foods in the human diet matters because phytochemicals, minerals, fats, and other compounds in food interact synergistically. And the fact that farming practices influence all of them leaves us with an unsettling question. How good, really, is modern agriculture for our health?" ― David Montgomery and Anne Bikle, What Your Food Ate"

A map of soil degradation all over the world. Red areas show "very degraded soil" and are prominant. Yellow indicates "Degraded soil" covers even more areas. "Stable soil" is mostly in arctic areas but several small areas in South America and Africa and Australia. "Without vegetation" is the least present. Text below reads "“It seems that the slower the emergency, the less motivated we are to do anything about it." "Homo sapiens, Wise Man indeed. There is still time to live up to our name if we stop treating our soil like dirt." ― David Montgomery"

If you are already a Real Friend, we thank you with this awesome opportunity to ask David Montgomery your questions on June 30, 6pm EDT. Your contribution supports our certification and educational programs.

If you have not joined us yet, now is the time. You will have so many opportunities to meet with wonderful minds such as David Montgomery in the coming months, including Vandana Shiva, Dan Barber, and Bob Quinn to name a few.

See you there,
Linley

Join the Real Organic community of eaters and activists, farmers and authors, chefs and students, scientists and adventurers, engineers and artists. To join Real Friends, please click here.

A Simple Lie or a Complex Truth

A Simple Lie or a Complex Truth

Our first June book club sessions focused on the complex truth of our soils, our food, and our health with Anne Biklé

“Our science is based on isolating elements from larger processes and learning all that we can about them.” Read Dave's letter about our What Your Food Ate discussion with Anne Biklé in this week's letter:

A painting of Alexis de Tocqueville. Below is text that reads: "“It is easier for the world to accept a simple lie than a complex truth.”― Alexis de Tocqueville"

A photo of Milton Friedman standing behind a podium with the seal of the United States President. He addresses the crowd while smiling and wearing glasses. Below is text that reads: "“The social responsibility of business is to increase its profits.” - Milton Friedman"

 

Dear Friend,

“It is easier for the world to accept a simple lie than a complex truth.” and “The social responsibility of business is to increase its profits.”… When we put these two statements together, we have a recipe for disaster. The easiest way to increase profits is to sell a simple lie. The outcome is a misled customer and a concentration of wealth with the owners.

In 1940, Albert Howard made a claim:

“The health of soil, plant, animal, and man is one and indivisible.” 

Last Thursday, Anne Bikle showed up at the Real Organic Book Club and embraced Howard’s statement. She and her partner David Montgomery, have written their second book on the complex truth of our soils, our food, and our health.

The first book was called The Hidden Half of Nature: The Microbial Roots of Life and Health. The book coming out this month is called What Your Food Ate: How to Heal Our Land and Reclaim Our Health. It is a deep dive into the reams of research done on soil science, human health, and the processes in between since Albert Howard’s 1940 statement.

Anne Bikle smiles at the camera with green plants behind her. Text below the image reads: "Real Organic Podcast, Anne Bikle" and ""What happens in the rhizosphere is one of the grandest symbioses that we have on this planet." -From the Real Organic Podcast with Anne Bikle"

As Anne said in the Book Club session, they looked at many disconnected bits of data, and then stepped back to see the connections between these many pieces.

Our science is based on isolating elements from larger processes and learning all that we can about them.

Learning about the bits and pieces is extraordinarily powerful, but if we stop there, we miss the punchline. We need to step back and see the patterns that connect the pieces. This is understanding, and at some point, it becomes wisdom.

Anne discusses the current clamor over “evidence-based” agriculture, a claim that is amazingly used by the proponents of chemical agriculture. But Anne made the call for “evidence-based” agriculture that actually looks at the evidence, and not just at the profits.

Yellow box with text that reads: "Plants, and soil, and the environment are as variable as every human being on this planet... Really, what we’re after is evidence, observations, an understanding of the natural processes that let a plant talk to the soil, that let a ruminant converse with all the microorganisms in the rumen.  When we have those processes set how they’re supposed to be functioning, we get health.  It’s not a far cry from when a human being eats a diet free of hardly any ultra-processed foods, and we get sufficient exercise, and we aren’t breathing bad air and drinking bad water… voila, that’s a recipe for health.   Anne Bikle at the Real Organic Book Club"

Anne Bikle and David Montgomery's What Your Food Ate is a deep dive into the complex truth that we are deeply affected by how our food is grown, how our soil is cared for.

These things seem far away from most of us.  In the 1700s, 90% of Americans were farmers. By the Civil War, it was 50%. Today it is less than 4%.

Farming is mostly something that happens… somewhere else. For most of us, food comes from a store. Half of our food dollars are spent in restaurants. The other half goes to supermarkets. We are prime candidates for being misled, and we often don't see the connection between what we eat and how we thrive (or not).

This book shows that the problem isn’t just junk food. Junk food is easy to dismiss. Paul Hawken has said that junk food is a crime against humanity.

But what if you buy vegetables, berries, whole grains, meat, milk, and eggs? This book affirms that Albert Howard was right.

There are meaningful differences between a vegetable grown in healthy, living soil and one grown on land that has been sprayed with biocides and deprived of a diverse ecosystem.

This difference has always been the core belief of the Organic movement, and now that core belief is substantiated.

Yellow box with black text that reads: "The very best organic farmers have been onto many of the things that we need to see all of agriculture doing. What I want to see in terms of practices is everybody, farmers of all stripes moving toward… somebody else's phrase but I thought it was a really good one who said: “We want practices with no regrets and right now we have practices that we’re regretting. From the climate impact to land degradation and on and on and on.   The worst thing about a crisis is that this is what it takes for us to change, for us to put some guide rails on behaviors and practices. Why do we have to get to this sort of 11th-hour really bad horrible stuff?   ….I know it feels like, especially given how long ago the NOP was established and how we all thought it was going to go. We’re all like, “Oh you’re kidding me, this is where we’re at!?”  And it’s been really difficult to hang onto organic, and I guess you did reach a crisis, and that’s why the Real Organic Project came about.  You’re at the crisis point. As things coalesce around you and around what everyone engaged with ROP is doing, I think the movement will grow.    -Anne Bikle at the Real Organic Book Club"

If you missed Anne’s session, you can still watch it now if you are a Real Friend. Our work continues thanks to so many farmers and to our Real Friends. Please join us today.

Dave

PS. What Your Food Ate will be released on June 21. Anne’s co-author, David Montgomery, will be our next guest at the Real Organic Book Club on June 30th. See you there!

A farmer with a Real Organic Project hat smiles at the camera with yellow Swiss chard behind her.

“I hope someday you'll join us”

Join the Real Organic community of eaters and activists, farmers and authors, chefs and students, scientists and adventurers, engineers and artists. To join Real Friends, please click here or the image below.

What Your Food Ate

What Your Food Ate

Our June book club has two sessions focused on “how to heal our land and reclaim our health with Anne Bikle and David Montgomery”

“Their books are packed with data, interwoven with interesting stories, all of which result in a full understanding of why we need to transform the food system into one centered around soil health.” Read Linley's letter about their fourth book, What Your Food Ate, in this week's letter:

An image of the cover of "What Your Food Ate: How to heal our land and reclaim our health" by Anne Bikle and David Montgomery

Dear Friend,

At the Real Organic Project, we have a saying: “a carrot's not a carrot.” Sometimes it's: “an egg isn't an egg.” And so on…

What we really mean is…

How food is produced, changes nutrition, communities, the planet and, well… everything!

Authors David Montgomery and Anne Bikle are experts at taking this founding organic principle and connecting it to the latest scientific research.

If you haven't read their “Dirt Trilogy”: Growing a RevolutionDirt: the Erosion of Civilizations, and The Hidden Half of Nature, time to get reading before their next book is released this June: What Your Food Ate. 

Their books are packed with data, interwoven with interesting stories, all of which result in a full understanding of why we need to transform the food system into one centered around soil health.

An image about soil health. An illustrated brain underneath another image of plant roots. Text below the image reads: "The rhizosphere is plant intelligence in every sense of that word. There it is, out of sight, beneath our feet and we hardly even know about it. This is the key to a way of farming that we really need to be working toward."  - Anne Bikle at the Real Organic Symposium

Anne Bikle smiles at the camera with green plants behind her. Text below the image reads: "Real Organic Podcast, Anne Bikle" and ""What happens in the rhizosphere is one of the grandest symbioses that we have on this planet."    -From the Real Organic Podcast with Anne Bikle"

 

Did you know the rhizosphere is very much like your gut?

Or, how fiber in your colon acts like mulch in the garden?

Or, why you should think about the food that you eat in the same way that a farmer thinks about sowing a diverse cover crop?

Or how the structure of a seed is related to our modern diabetes epidemic?

All of these questions and SO SO much more are answered in their books that are based on the latest published science.

If you've ever said, “You are what you eat,” you might want to start saying, “You are what your food eats.”

Whether it's a carrot, a glass of milk, a steak, or an egg, come learn from the best why nutrition changes depending on how your food was raised.

A yellow text box with black words reading: "Fertilizer will grow your biomass, but what is the quality of that biomass? When you eat food from healthy soils, you are getting microbial metabolites because of healthy root systems.       -from Anne Bikle's Real Organic podcast"

Three illustrations of plant roots next to one another. The first shows four main roots with some smaller roots connected. The center is Conventional has two large roots and several small roots connected. The right image is Composted Manure and has many more roots than the others. Text under the images reads: ""The big problem with conventional forms of agriculture is that it completely scrambles the root microbiome. The intelligence that a plant has honed over millenia just gets perverted and messed up."      -Anne Bikle at the Real Organic Symposium"

We are pleased to announce Anne Bikle as our third Real Organic Book Club speaker.

She will be discussing What Your Food Ate, at 6 pm EDT on Thursday, June 2.

The session is open to all members of the Real Friends. If you would like to join this engaging community of eaters and activists, farmers and authors, chefs and students, scientists and adventurers, please click here or the image below.

An advertisement for the the Anne Bikle book club for "What Your Food Ate - Session One. Thursday June 2nd 2022"

 

An image of a grocery store produce section. A sign above bagged greens reads: "Produce for the People". At left of the text is the Real Organic Project logo.

Farmer-Led Food System Solutions

Farmer-Led Food System Solutions Examples

“We all need to think of ways we can work together to change the food system.” – Read Linley's letter about organic farmer-led solutions for a broken food system below.

Dear Friend,

One of our Real Organic certified farmers wrote to me last weekend with a story of hope.

There are so many similarities between his story of local action and The Real Organic Project:

  • We are both farmer-led solutions to a broken system.
  • We are taking matters into our own hands because no one is coming to save us.

First, I want to share the exchange that led to the telling of his inspiring story. While these emails were personal in nature, I wanted to share them with our audience in their original form because these conversations are important…how do we best create change?

The Farmers' Stand Co-Founders:

A man and a woman stand in front of a shoulder-height crop. Their golden retriever sits at their feet. Behind them are two hoop houses.
Todd and Rebecca Ulizio of Two Bear Farm – Co-founders of The Farmers' Stand

 

A man and a woman sit in a row of lettuces on their farm. Behind them are grey and blue skies and clouds and a row of trees.
Brooke Bohannon and Sean Hard of Wicked Good Produce – Co-founders of The Farmers' Stand

A storefront of a tan stucco building with a sign that reads "The Farmers' Stand" above the doors and windows.
The Farmers' Stand in Whitefish, Montana A farmer-owned grocery store

 

Our Farmer-Led Solutions Email Exchange:

First Letter From Todd:

Paragraphs of black text on a green background. Full text can be viewed in pdf form by at https://www.realorganicproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/05/Farmers-Stand-Email-Exchange-1-May-2022.pdf
(Click the image to download this email as a PDF for accessibility)

My Real Organic Project Reply:

Black text on a light blue background. Click this image to download a pdf of the full text.
(Click this image to download a PDF of this email for accessibility)

An image of a grocery store produce section. A sign above bagged greens reads: "Produce for the People". At left of the text is the Real Organic Project logo.

Second Letter From Organic Farmer Todd:

Paragraphs of black text on a green background. Full text can be viewed in pdf form by at https://www.realorganicproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/05/Farmers-Stand-Email-Exchange-3-May-2022.pdf

Paragraphs of black text on a green background. Full text can be viewed in pdf form by at https://www.realorganicproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/05/Farmers-Stand-Email-Exchange-1-May-2022.pdf
(Click either image to download a PDF of this email for accessibility)
A small grocery store with wooden floors is in the background. A woman with long brown hair and a straw hat smiles at the camera and stands in the store.
Opening day at the Farmers' Stand!
A grocery store cooler of radishes, turnips, carrots, beets and many varieties of greens.
Produce cooler at The Farmers Stand

White signage on a glass door that reads: "The Farmers' Stand - Market and Takeaway"

Sometimes the easiest way to solve a problem is to stop participating in the problem!

But when it comes to a global food system, that is easier said than done. While most farmers don't have the bandwidth to open a grocery store (nor should they have to), every community needs grocery stores that will say “yes” to local organic farmers. As the farmers from Two Bear Farm and Wicked Good Produce found, that's usually not the case. So they did something about it!

We all need to think of ways we can work together to change the food system. Like Todd said, “there are many ways (and scales) to engage on this issue.” Please let us know about all the good work you are doing (and send me pictures)! Together, we can inspire others to spring into action too.

To me, this is what the Real Organic Project is all about.

Yours in the dirt,
Linley

An image of farmers on the right holding the Real Organic Project logo. At left reads "1000 Real Friends". A yellow box in the bottom right reads "Join Now"

If you would like to join this engaging community of eaters and activists, farmers and authors, chefs and students, scientists and adventurers, please click here. please click here.

Crates of radishes and turnips with the Real Organic Project logo

Dear NOSB: Big Ag in Organic

“Dear NOSB”

“Big Ag creates a disconnection from the land and from the people doing the actual work on the land.” – Read Dave's letter about his National Organic Standards Board testimony and reflection below.

A photo of Michael Pollan wearing a suit and tie and speaking into a microphone

Blue background with a white text box with black text that reads: "“Democracy is threatened by large concentrations of wealth. People knew this and understood this at the turn of the last century. And that’s why they wrote the Sherman Antitrust Act and all the other antitrust legislations. They were written not to protect consumers from price-fixing, although that’s all we hear about anymore. They were written to protect the republic against concentrations of power. That it was totally understood that if corporations got so big that they could push the government around and distort everything.” - Michael Pollan in the Real Organic Podcast "

Hi Friend,

I testified to the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) a few weeks ago.

In the short time that I was at the meeting, I heard the phrase “circular firing squad” more than once. I suspected they were talking about me.  Had I missed the memo on talking points? The phrase was always used in a cautionary tone, implying that we must avoid the grievous mistake of dividing “ourselves.” It echoed Ben Franklin’s famous statement: “We must all hang together, or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”

This was actually the theme of my testimony, as the USDA has started picking off certifiers, one by one, who refuse to certify hydroponics as organic. Only by coming together can we avoid being hung separately.

But let's talk about the “circular firing squad.”

This phrase evokes a powerful image. It is often used in organic discussions by advocates for the “big tent” who would welcome huge corporate players into the organic movement. 

We all like to be nice people and welcome newcomers into organic. Isn’t that the whole point? To grow organic? And to do that, must we bring in the Big Ag Boys? After all, they grow most of the food eaten in America.

I have concerns over bringing in the Big Boys.

There ARE problems inherent to scale:

  • Large agribusinesses siphon off money from a community and then distribute it to a few owners far away.
  • The money drain impoverishes the local community. Both California's Central Valley and Kansas are clear examples of this.
  • Big Ag creates a disconnection from the land and from the people doing the actual work on the land.
  • Once a company is large enough, it is almost impossible to steer it away from the single bottom line as its guiding light.

As we have seen many times over, the profit motive will not guide us to a sustainable world.

We need to grow beyond that if we are to survive, let alone thrive.

And they have so much power.

An image of a black bull with white horns running on light brown soil. A red wall is behind him. Text over the soil reads ""Capital is a world unto its own. And so it is the veritable bull in the china shop. It twitches and then people's lives are badly impacted and they suffer." - from Paul Hawken in the Real Organic Podcast"

But putting aside our concerns about the erosion of democracy by corporate influence, shouldn’t the Big Boys be welcomed if they play by the rules?

Well, to quote Allan Savory, “Even a gentle bull is a problem in a china shop.”

The logic for demanding silence is that public debate will divide us. But the truth is that we have been divided for a long time.

There is the organic industry and there is the organic movement.

The organic industry has followed the “no public debate” guideline for a long time. They see the world as divided between Big Chemical Ag and Big Organic Ag. So they have followed the strategy of supporting almost all Big Organic players. And that is why the Organic Trade Association (OTA) has Aurora, Cargill, Danone, Driscoll's, and Wholesum Harvest as members.

That is why OTA and CCOF fought very publicly to allow the certification of “container” hydroponic production as organic. And that is why hydroponic is now flooding the organic market.

Their attempt to “grow” organic is killing it.

But they were very polite.

They used positive language as they damaged organic.

They dismissed those who objected as “purists” and “Luddites.”

But they were very “nice” about it. Always a smile.

There is consensus in the organic movement about hydroponics, CAFO confinement, and grain fraud.

Most “real” organic farmers agree on these topics. So to publicly discuss these subjects is not “dividing” the organic movement. Rather it is unifying us.

The organic label is being invaded by corporate Colonists. As with most other colonists, they care little for the Indigenous peoples or the health of the land. Their interest is in what they can take, and what they can sell.

So, no, we are not part of a firing squad. We are trying to protect that which we have built. Some have become refugees, leaving the word “organic” entirely behind, and starting over.

What to call it? Regenerative? Already lost. Agroecological? Now being invaded. Biological? It won't last long. There is no place to hide from the Colonists. As soon as a movement starts to succeed in the public imagination, they will be there.

So…. Some of us have chosen to stand and defend “organic.” We call it Real Organic. We can't do it alone. Please join us.

Dave

Crates of radishes and turnips with the Real Organic Project logo

Our second Real Organic Book Club session was a pleasure.

Paul Hawken was our speaker. The session is still available to all members of the Real Friends.

If you would like to join this engaging community of eaters and activists, farmers and authors, chefs and students, scientists and adventurers, please click here. please click here.

Sustainable Agriculture Continuum

The Sustainable Agriculture Continuum

Read Linley Dixon's National Organic Standards Board spring meeting reflection and testimony, where she paints a picture of a sustainable agriculture continuum, below.

A dark blue text box with white text reading: ""The organic standards, with their focus on soil health, biodiversity, and animal welfare were written as they should be, but the current lack of enforcement of those standards is jeopardizing the ability for small farms who adhere to the law to stay in business." - Paul Hawken"

A blue text box with a photo inside on the left of a woman smiling at the camera wearing a baseball hat with the Real Organic Project logo on it. To the right, a white text box with black text that reads: "Liz Graznak, current National Organic Standards Board Member and Real Organic certified farmer, sporting her hat at the NOSB meetings last week."

Hi Friend,

The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) just finished their Spring meeting.

Twice a year, 15 members come together to vote on recommendations for what is allowed under “USDA Organic”. For the most part, their recommendations have been ignored by the USDA, but that was not the intention when the National Organic Program was set up.

Two days of public comment precede the votes. This gives citizens the chance to speak out. And it gives many companies the chance to lobby to have their “synthetic inputs” added to the approved National List for use in organic food and farming. The lobbyists often come from the chemical industries, the food additives industries, or anyone who stands to gain a buck by the approval of a new “input” for organic.

There is always a clash between the “organic industry” that lobbies wanting more and more inputs, and the “organic movement” opposing them.

The movement folks are nonprofits representing the farmers and consumers who want to keep a label that truly represents the principles that organic was founded on. Principles such as producing food with no additives. Or, fostering soil health and pasturing livestock to mitigate the need for synthetic inputs in agriculture in the first place.

Far-sighted people created the NOSB process to allow the public to continue to have a say in what “USDA organic” would come to mean over time. They understood that every input that is allowed in organic often disincentivizes a more sustainable way. And as many of our real organic certified farmers have experienced, allowing an input or a practice in organic that wasn't there before, often inadvertently mandates it, because it results in a cheaper way of growing food.

Lately, some in the organic community have started referring to these National Organic Standards Board meetings as “regulatory theater” …

…since the voices of the industry have had so much more power than the voices of the organic movement.

  • Farmers are always in a distinct minority at these meetings.
  • They don't have the time to attend and they don't have the money to hire a team of lobbyists.
  • And so often the final recommendations are ignored by the USDA.

Nevertheless, Dave and I both commented in support of this Advisory Board's intended purpose and the appointed NOSB members that still represent us.

Here was my testimony to the National Organic Standards Board:

My name is Linley Dixon, co-director of the Real Organic Project and owner of an organic vegetable farm in SW Colorado.

Climate change is the environmental crisis of our time. It isn’t clear to consumers that organic is already a label that has so many climate benefits. This is because the National Organic Program has failed to uphold the language in the Organic Foods Production Act requiring farmers to maintain and improve healthy soils.

Right now, the USDA has allocated a billion dollars to “climate-smart” agriculture and many industries that are not worthy are claiming it.

You cannot be “climate-smart” unless there is SOIL to sequester carbon.

I’d like to share a story that an organic pioneer shared with me in my travels for the Real Organic Project because it has helped me to think clearly in spite of all of the lobbying from industry stakeholders. This organic farmer told me to imagine a continuum beginning with the most sustainable, carbon-sequestering farm on one end, and the most climate-destructive farm on the other and imagine that every operation falls somewhere along that continuum.

At the start of the continuum, the most sustainable farm is simply a farmer with a shovel and some seeds.

The more off-farm inputs added to the production, the further down that line away from perfect sustainability you’re going to go, until you get to the opposite extreme where you have a hydroponic or confinement livestock operation where all of the inputs, including the soil and all the fertility, or all of the feed for the animals, is sourced from off the farm.

Regardless of whether or not these inputs are allowed in organic agriculture, they all have a story of extraction, and to really be climate-smart, the farmer must sequester that carbon back into the soil. I’m not so naive as to think that all organic farms should just be a farmer with a shovel and some seeds; that's why we have a national list and an organic program.

But my hope is that this image of a continuum based on adding more and more inputs leading you further and further away from true sustainability can help you in your decision making.

As National Organic Standards Board members, you’ll have to draw an arbitrary line somewhere along that continuum for what organic means to you – guided by the law – the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990. We will all inevitably choose that line in a different spot.

Please use your esteemed position as National Organic Standards Board members to publicly fight for the excellent language in the Organic Foods Production Act that describes what organic farming is:

That we, as farmers maintain and improve healthy soils to mitigate the need for more and more inputs. Let’s remind the world why organic is always the best choice, especially in the face of climate change.

Thank you for your volunteered time.

To learn more about REAL solutions to the climate crisis, please join us for our Real Organic Book Club THIS coming Thursday.

Our guest, Paul Hawken, will be discussing Regeneration, at 6 pm EDT on Thursday, May 5.

The session is open to all members of the Real Friends. If you would like to join this engaging community of eaters and activists, farmers and authors, chefs and students, scientists and adventurers, please click here.

A screenshot of a youtube playlist with an image on the left of Dave Chapman wearing a "Protect Organic" shirt and on the right an image of Paul Hawken smiling at the camera while wearing a blue shirt and blue baseball cap. Text on the image reads "Dave Chapman Interviews Paul Hawken"We have 4 interviews with Paul that appear as podcasts. Click here to access all of them.

Paul Hawken Regeneration

Paul Hawken Regeneration

We are pleased to announce Paul Hawken as our second Real Organic Book Club speaker. He will be discussing Regeneration, at 6 pm EDT on Thursday, May 5. Dave Chapman's letter this week talks about this book and some takeaways.

A photo of Earth from space. Text alongside reads "Our economic systems, investments, and policies can bring about the degeneration of the world or its regeneration. We are either stealing the future or healing the future."

Hi Friend,

Paul Hawken has been a good friend to the Real Organic Project. Paul has a long history in the organic movement. As the founder of Erewhon Trading Company, he was a pioneer in making organic food available to thousands of people in the early days. He is better known now for his work on climate.

Paul's most recent book is called Regeneration: Ending the Climate Crisis In One Generation.

In one of my conversations with Paul, he talked about the process of writing Regeneration. After his earlier book, Drawdown, he laughingly shared that his partner said she was going to leave him unless his next book told her what she could do to reverse climate change.

This book is Paul’s answer to that question.

On the left is a photo of Paul Hawken with a serious look on his face. On the right text reads: "We have created an astonishing moment of truth. The climate crisis is not a science problem. It is a human problem. The ultimate power to change the world does not reside in technologies. It relies on reverence, respect, and compassion—for ourselves, for all people, and for all life. This is regeneration. "

This book challenges our understanding of climate and change.

It MUST be a challenging book if we hope to use it as a vehicle for seeing the world with fresh eyes. As Einstein said, “You cannot solve a problem with the same mind that created the problem.” So to solve OUR “problem” we must develop a new mind. This is not easy. Paul has accepted the challenge.

To judge if he has succeeded, you must pay the blood price of admission. Your:

  • Attention.
  • Time.
  • Mind.

What does it take to change our minds? 

A blue box with an image of a large field of wheat being harvested by three combines. Text underneath reads "Every industry is a system, and every industrial system is extractive, whether it be energy, food, agriculture, pharma, transport, clothing, or healthcare, among others. Extraction takes resources from the living world, which causes harm. The result is less life. Extraction is thus degenerative. Every industrial system is a direct cause of global warming, not only because of greenhouse gas emissions but because of damage to soil, water, oceans, forests, air, biodiversity, people, children, workers, and cultures. Harm is not the intention of companies, but in order to become regenerative, a company must first recognize that it is innately degenerative. This is not an accusation; it is a biological fact, and represents a huge opportunity.       -From Regeneration"

Paul has written a beautiful book. The pictures are truly gorgeous, and they are an important part of the book. My nephew said he would get the book on Audible, and I thought, “Well, maybe not.” This book begs to be seen. It would grace any coffee table or bookshelf.

But don’t be misled. As with medicine, it is only useful if actually taken.

Putting a bottle of pills on an alter will not heal us. We have to take the medicine for it to work. Leafing through this beautiful book will not help either. Together, we must read it, taste it deeply, consider it. And then act.

Regeneration might well have been called Transformation.

In the case of Regeneration, it must be read for the transformation to occur. In my case, this was a slow process. Sometimes I didn’t WANT to read a chapter. Sometimes a chapter was so engaging that it took hours to read a few pages, as I was constantly diverted by Googling people and events I knew nothing about. And taking notes. Lots of notes. 

And most of all, it must be acted on.

Actions are imagined, suggested, invited. This book would work well with a group.

A blue box with an image of a close up of a honeybee in flight. Text below reads "When honeybee scouts find a bounty of blooms and nectar, they return to the hive, where they do a symbolic waggle dance at the entrance of the hive. The dance signals the precise direction and distance to the flowering plants or trees. The more vigorous the waggle, the richer the source of nectar. Once worker bees have seen the dance, they have the necessary information and fly straight to the source. It is time for humanity to create waggle dances unique to their knowledge, place, and determination. Another way to look at this time in history is this: we are being homeschooled by the planet, our teacher. This book is an attempt to reflect those teachings.  —From Regeneration "

Regeneration weaves a tapestry, revealing new connections that were unsuspected. It shares a new way of seeing.

New eyes.

Suddenly the problems are different. Suddenly EVERYTHING is connected. He is not discarding science but is rather seeing our lives from a larger perspective, from the perspective of the whole. 

I have wondered how to describe this book in this letter, but I cannot.

There are too many different perspectives, too many voices tied together. It would be like describing the taste of a banana to someone who hasn't tasted a banana. By the time I was done describing, I would have written another book. I considered just reprinting the entire chapter on Big Food. The chapter is so strong and clear. That is an area where I share a great interest with Paul, and he gives a stunning description of the complicated system that feeds us, and that feeds on us. Get the book and read it for yourself.

The best I can do is to encourage you to read Regeneration.

If you try, at the very least you will have a beautiful book for your coffee table. Or you might change your mind, or even the world.

Dave

A blue text box with white text that reads "The climate crisis is similar. It is an extremely complex system, and there is no one who fully understands it. That can tend to make us believe only experts can solve the crisis. We unintentionally give our power over to technocrats, international leaders, or scientists, and hope they do something and get it right. Inspired by what he found in the building and construction industry, Gawande discovered a direct way to create a more effective system: You push the power of decision-making out to the periphery and away from the center. You give people the room to adapt, based on their experience and expertise. All you ask is that [people] talk to one another and take responsibility. That is what works. We are what works. Few of us are experts, but that does not prevent us from understanding what to do and how to do it.         -from Regeneration"

 

We are pleased to announce Paul Hawken as our second Real Organic Book Club speaker.

He will be discussing Regeneration, at 6 pm EDT on Thursday, May 5.

The session is open to all members of the Real Friends. If you would like to join this engaging community of eaters and activists, farmers and authors, chefs and students, scientists and adventurers, please click here.

A screenshot of a youtube playlist with an image on the left of Dave Chapman wearing a "Protect Organic" shirt and on the right an image of Paul Hawken smiling at the camera while wearing a blue shirt and blue baseball cap. Text on the image reads "Dave Chapman Interviews Paul Hawken"We have 4 interviews with Paul that appear as podcasts. Click here to access all of them.

Climate Smart Agriculture and Organic Farming

“In other words, while not all certified organic farms are necessarily climate-smart, a chemical farm can NEVER be climate-smart agriculture.” – Linley Dixon

Climate-Smart Agriculture and Organic Farming

Sunday April 17th, 2022: Fiddling while Rome Burns

Dear Friend,

The USDA has announced that it will grant $1 billion for the “implementation, verification, and development of markets for climate-smart agriculture.” In other words, the USDA is searching for a program that will market a kind of agriculture that is good for the climate.

Ironically the USDA already has a program that is a starting point to launch this effort. It’s called the National Organic Program!

But, somehow they failed to use the “O word” anywhere in this announcement. Why?

The Cargill logo with a caption below it that reads "Highly Publicized Promises: 10 Million Acre Regenerative Agriculture Commitment But, what does that mean?"

What Makes A Farm Climate Smart?

Let me be clear why I’m asking.

  • NO farm that uses synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, or pesticides can ever actually be “climate-smart,” even if some good (organic) practices like cover cropping or pastured livestock are implemented.
  • This is because the manufacturing of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer alone accounts for 1-2% of the TOTAL global carbon dioxide emissions.

There are no “best practices” that can make up for the Haber-Bosch deficit.

Add to that the fact that plants only take up half of the nitrogen fertilizer applied. The remaining releases nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide. (And also goes on to cause eutrophication, red tides, and groundwater contamination).

Problems such as these have furthered the consolidation in the industry, which actually limits ethical brands from differentiating themselves because they rely on each other for shared processing facilities.

In other words, while not all certified organic farms are necessarily climate-smart, a chemical farm can NEVER be climate-smart.

SO… why didn’t the USDA use the word “organic” as a bare minimum requirement for application for the funds?

Ironically, it’s because the companies that are leaders in destroying the climate, like Cargill, Bayer, Walmart, General Mills, and PepsiCo, lobbied to have the program in the first place.

A Bayer logo with a caption below it that reads: "Bayer is assisting farmers in implementing "climate-smart" agricultural practices, including "no-till" with herbicide and fertilizer use. Who stands to benefit, farmers or Bayer? "Farmers will receive assistance in implementing climate-smart agricultural practices and Bayer will acquire the carbon removals created by those practices at transparent prices."

Why is Cargill going regenerative?

We need to ask ourselves why a chemical company like Cargill has committed to converting 10 million acres to “regenerative” agriculture by 2030.

  • Did they finally develop a conscience?
  • Is it token greenwashing?
  • Or, does it actually help them sell more chemicals?

I’m afraid it’s the last point.

The reality is that when they say “regenerative”, they actually mean adding a cover crop and terminating it with herbicides.

No-till chemical agriculture. This practice doubles to quadruples herbicide use – a particularly troubling scenario considering herbicides make up roughly 75% of pesticide use in commodity crop agriculture. Not so climate-smart.

The General Mills logo with a caption below it that reads "General Mills is converting 1 million acres to "regenerative" partially defined as "reduced chemical disturbance.""

Cover Crops Alone Aren't Climate Smart

We must confront this reductionist thinking – that simply adding a cover crop to a chemical system is “climate-smart.” It is an improvement, but we can do much better.

A more holistic systems approach is what we need.

Something the Organic Foods Production Act accomplished beautifully back in 1990.

Organic farmers, by law, are already required to farm within an ecological system founded on healthy soil.

Healthy soils are maintained and improved by cover crops, crop rotations, green manures and composts, all of which are known systems for benefiting climate.

All without reliance on synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, or pesticides.

If the goal is to reward best practices (which I wholeheartedly agree with), we can’t do so while ignoring the worst. And, I’m not saying all certified organic farms deserve to be incentivized. It’s simply a bare minimum.

But if we are seeking real change, it's beyond time to disincentivize the worst practices, or we might as well fiddle while Rome burns. For now, the USDA is fiddling.

  • Linley

Can you join us for the next book club session with Paul Hawken? Sign up to be a Real Friend here.

A light green background with text reading" Real Organic: the biological system at King Grove Organic Farm, biodiverse carbon sequestering soil, tasty nutritious berries" along a photo of a hand holding soil next to ripe blueberries.

Shipping Organic Berries To Your Door

Organic Berries Shipped To Your Door: King Grove Organics

This week's letter tells the story of one blueberry farmer shipping organic berries nationwide at the peak of their flavor and nutrition. The easiest way to get an organic berry better than any other is to buy them directly so read our love letter to King Grove Organics below.

Acres of green blueberry plants are watered overhead by a mist of water. A light orange sunset is above them.
Real Organic: the biological system at King Grove Organic Farm, biodiverse carbon sequestering soil, tasty nutritous berries.

“Which fairy Godmother do I owe this magnificent shipment of Blueberries to?

You, of course, know, but they are radically better than what we get out here. Taste, texture, color….everything.

– Paul Hawken

Hugh and Lisa Kent and their dog look at the camera wearing white shirts and denim pants. Rows of blueberries and sky are behind them.
Hugh and Lisa Kent, stewards of King Grove Organic Farm, 20 acres of Real Organic certified blueberries.

 

(Re)Meet Soil-Grown Berry Farmers Hugh and Lisa Kent, shipping the best berries you've ever tasted nationwide every Spring

Dear Real Organic friends,

One of the farms we have tracked most closely in the last three years has been King Grove Organic Farm in Eustis, Florida. If you are a regular reader, you are familiar with Hugh and Lisa Kent, pilot farmers for the Real Organic Project’s certification program. King Grove was the very first farm to use the Real Organic logo on their farm packaging.

Two people holding red harvest cases full of blueberries smile at the camera. A field of berry bushes are behind them.
The team picking berries at King Grove.

Hugh spoke at our first symposium at Dartmouth. His words swept the audience. He described the devastating invasion of the organic label by the “plastic farms,” as he called them…

Hydroponic operations invading the organic label after they were recently permitted USDA certification. 

A Hydroponic Gold Rush was on. Kent called them “plastic farms” because such soilless production was impossible before the invention of plastic. The plants sit in plastic pots or bags, which sit for years on plastic ground covers. They are irrigated and fed with a system of plastic tubing that delivers the highly processed liquid feed. 

Real Organic? Not at all.


These systems violate the law. How?

  • Organic rules prohibit leaving plastic mulch on the ground for more than a year.
  • However, potted berries will spend years on the same plastic.
  • After three or four years, the whole mess of pots,  plastic, and rootbound plants is hauled to the landfill.

According to testimony presented to the NOSB, prohibited substances are sometimes sprayed between crops in hydro greenhouses. Additionally, it is prohibited to use calcium nitrate in organic, but the coconut coir “soil” is often treated with calcium nitrate to counter the toxicity of the coconut husk.

In its natural state coir is unusable as a substrate. Plus they get a calcium “boost.”The treatment of the coir with calcium nitrate is preceded by the water-intensive drenching of the coir to lower the high salt levels. So much for conserving water.

Of course, the biggest violation of the law is the total abandonment of soil.

There is no effort to “maintain and improve the soil’s fertility” because there is no soil

Soil in organic? It’s the law. Like gravity. These laws are respected around the world. Except in America.

Nowhere else in the world is hydroponic considered organic.

OF COURSE you cannot have organic agriculture without soil.

I have even heard hydro-apostles claim that they were “protecting” the soil by covering it with black plastic. Seriously. This is like “protecting” a witness by putting her into solitary confinement with no food.

Hydroponic Berry Production in a field with farmworkers in the background. Square brown blocks of coconut coir sit in rows on black plastic mulch. Bare soil is between rows.
A certified hydro operation's version of “protecting the soil.” They could just as easily (more easily) do this in a parking lot. At least that wouldn't destroy farmable land.

 

Rows of green blueberry bushes in the ground with cover crop between rows. The USDA Organic logo and the Real Organic Logo are both in the upper left hand corner.
The Real Organic reality of healthy soil at King Grove.

An uneven playing field in the organic berry market.

Like many farmers, they went through the three-year transition period to be certified organic. Hugh and Lisa took the “Great Risk”.

The Kents believed that organic farming was the right path. Hugh and Lisa knew that it would cost more to produce organic food, but they made the decision to invest in organic as their livelihood. They believed the USDA had some integrity and would provide a level playing field. And they believed that the law would be respected and equally enforced.

Did I say three-year transition? That is the rule that requires a three-year period of growing organically before the land can be certified.

But there is no transition time required for hydro in a greenhouse.

They say, “Why should there be?” There is no soil to transition. There is no interaction with a soil ecosystem.

In the USDA's “Brave New Organic”, there is no place for small-scale soil production of blueberries on store shelves. It is now hard to even get a supermarket chain to talk to you. Berries are the most monopolized crop in organic farming, with milk and eggs close behind.

Driscoll’s has proudly claimed that 70% of organic berries in the US come from…Driscoll's.

From one company. That is a monopoly.

As Hugh said, when you permit a practice like hydroponics in organic, you actually mandate it. (After high initial capital costs, It's a much cheaper system.) The farmer's choice is to adopt the cheaper growing system or go out of business. Of course, hydroponic systems are cheaper because their actual costs, to all of us, are hidden.

The same is true for permitting confinement production of livestock. There are not many “USDA certified organic” eggs on the shelves that don’t come from confinement operations. The more expensive (and valuable) real organic eggs simply can’t compete.

Real Organic can’t get shelf space. Real Organic products can’t be distributed.

Hugh and Lisa grow the best blueberries I have ever tasted. I had some frozen ones for lunch in my yogurt today. In a letter from Michael Pollan last year, he had this to say about King Grove’s berries:

Michael Pollan smiles at the camera while wearing a tan button up shirt. Behind him are wooden shelves with stacked plates and bowls.

“The blueberries arrived yesterday in perfect shape, still cold. Dave had prepared me, but not my wife, who was thrilled– blueberries are by far her favorite fruit (possibly even favorite drug), and she declared they were the best blueberries she's ever eaten. Plump and still hard enough to pop but completely ripe and sweet. Must be the soil!”

– Michael Pollan, after getting a box of King Grove blueberries

How do we build a real organic landscape?

So what do we do? How do we find such good food?

How do we support the farms that bring so many benefits to our world?

I am reminded of an earlier time when we had food coops that met in garages. Members would buy organic foods like whole wheat flour, brown rice, cheese, vegetables, and fruits. Together, we gathered the food from the precious farms and suppliers and broke them down into boxes for each family.

So much has changed since then. Many coops turned into stores that turned into bigger stores that got bought by much bigger stores. Bread & Circus got swallowed up by Whole Foods. Whole Foods got taken over by Amazon.

Progress is happening now as well:

  • Excellent CSAs are around, which hadn’t yet been invented when I was young.
  • Now Booker T. Whatley’s pick-your-own and CSAs (he called them “food clubs”) are common.
  • Farmer’s Markets are thriving.
  • Supermarkets now carry an amazing abundance of “certified organic” food from around the world.

And yet…

 

Rows of trees on a green hill are in the background set against a blue sky. In the foreground, a house and barn are visible behind tall trees.
The beautiful avocado orchard of Traceland Organics.

The more I learn, I am not always finding the food I want in the stores.

I seem to be getting more and more of my food directly from real organic farms:

  • I order avocados from Traceland Organics in California (they NEVER rot and are always delicious).
  • My bread, meat, and eggs are delivered directly to our farm by Trukenbrod, a spectacular local bakery that contracts with farmers for real organic grains grown regionally.
  • I am very fortunate that I can get my yogurt at my local Coop from Butterworks, the rockstar organic farm that has inspired so many others.
  • My ice cream is from Strafford Creamery.
  • My vegetables come from Root 5 and from Cedar Circle.
  • I grow my own tomatoes!
  • My apples came from Lost Nation Orchard.

When we lose a farm or a farmer, we are stunned. We must not take them for granted. My gratitude to all of these farmers who feed me.

And I order my blueberries from King Grove.

Hugh and Lisa are selling their berries in select Whole Foods. They are also going to be showing up in Northeast coops, thanks to the involvement of my favorite organic distributor, Annie Meyers. But the easiest way to get an organic berry better than any other is to buy them directly. They only come in a 5 lb box.

That is a lot of blueberries, but as it turns out, they are so fresh, and so carefully packaged, that they last over a month in the refrigerator! We have never thrown out a single organic berry. It is easy to share a box with a friend. And we have bought many extra boxes to freeze, which is completely easy.

Chef Dan Barber wears a white chef coat and sits in front of a barn door with leaves starting to turn orange growing behind him.

“Hugh, Lisa
I don’t know you but I got a delivery of your unbelievable blueberries this week and I was completely smitten. In a way, I sort of feel like I know you well because of the way they tasted.

I always tell my cooks you can taste the difference between not only real soil and hydroponics (that’s easy) but between real soil that’s well cared for and everything else. What I tasted was extraordinary depth and a perfect balance of tartness and acidity. (As you know, too many people judge fruit by sweetness, when really it’s the acidic elements you want most, to balance everything and keep the flavor clean).

What’s your secret?

And is there any way I could help to promote your work?
A million thanks for sharing your extraordinary work.”

Dan Barber

If you buy these berries, you will be giving yourself a great gift.

These berries are delicious. They are also very nutritious. Blueberries are a superfood. Eating blueberries every day is good for your brain. I hope so, because I need all the help I can get.

But finally, when you support a Real Organic farm like King Grove, you are also doing something good for the world.

How can we have an organic movement without having real organic farms? An organic label without organic farms is like a stove without wood.

So what a wonderful way to take a stand. Buy some real Organic berries today from King Grove! Or request them at your local store.

Eating is a political act.

Click Here to Order

A close up image of large round blueberries on the plant. Unripe white berries are also in the cluster. Leaves are in the foreground.

Other Announcements

I am being interviewed this week by students at the Gund Institute at UVM. We will be talking about how farmers came together to start the Real Organic Project, and how we can bring people together to protect the planet. All are welcome to attend this free session on Wed, April 13 at 4:00 PM Eastern Time.

Can you join us for the next book club session with Paul Hawken? Sign up to be a Real Friend here.

 

Still on the fence? Here's some praise from King Grove eaters:

  • “Ok, those blueberries were crazy good. I want to order at least 20 boxes and send them out as gifts. Whatever your price is for the box, please create a different box a little prettier and charge a 50% premium because whatever you are charging for those berries it is not enough!!! – Charlie Merinoff, Real Fan of the Real Organic Project
  • “Can I just say, I've been eating blueberries my whole life. Climbing high Adirondack mountains just to pick them. But I am pretty sure I've never tasted a berry as delicious as the ones that arrived this afternoon.”  – Bill McKibben, founder 350.org
  • “The first thing to comment on is how delicious the plump blueberries are.  For the past couple of weeks, my family has been buying the Driscoll’s product at Whole Foods in Cambridge, Ma.  (On sale at $3.99 a pint, btw).  Of course, they have been mediocre, but we haven’t had a choice here in the Cambridge area. Smiles and grins from all of us.  Delicious, they are.  Thank you. – Dan Pullman, Real Organic supporter
  • “The berries arrived in perfect condition. They taste great and perfect texture and size. And yes, count us in as customers for “pre-season” berries here up north. I know I don’t know the half of why I really should not be buying Driscoll “organic” berries at Whole Foods 365 days a year!” – John Fullerton, Real Organic supporter
  • “The blueberries arrived.  The best we have ever tasted!  – Will Raap, Real Organic Project supporter

(Or Click Here)

 

Two dairy cows look at something. A rounded pasture and blue sky with clouds are behind them using a fisheye perspective.

Origin of Livestock Victory with Kevin Engelbert

“If there is enforcement of the Origin of Livestock rule, the industrial dairies will be required to do what is simply a given for the real organic dairies. We are all aware that enforcement of the pasture rule has been a failure.” – Linley Dixon

 

An Origin of Livestock Victory for Organic

As I’ve gotten to the age I’m at, I have a harder and harder time being politically correct so I’m going to tell you exactly what I think. It’s because all of the illegal milk that's coming on the market from these factory farms that are not truly organic. They don’t pasture their cows, they buy a lot of this illegal grain. They milk their cows 3 times a day and push them hard for production. And they’re doing a huge disservice to people who think they are buying from small family farms by buying this organic milk, and to people who are having health issues and think they’re buying a healthier product, when it’s not.”

-Kevin Engelbert, Real Organic Podcast

At Engelbert farms, a young child with long blond hair smiles while pretending to drive a 4-wheeler covered in mud. Cows are behind her that adhere to the origin of livestock rule already..
Growing up on Engelbert Farms, an Organic Valley dairy.

Positive Development

Dear Friend,

The Real Organic symposium last January discussed the many reasons why organic dairy farmers are receiving pay prices below the cost of production.

Since we covered the issue, we are happy to share some positive developments related to the issues surrounding Milk & Money.

1) After decades of lobbying the National Organic Program, last Tuesday the USDA finally announced an Origin of Livestock Final Rule. This requires all organic dairy cows to be raised as organic from the last third of gestation. The rule will close a giant loophole that industrial organic dairies have been using to cut their costs. They do this by raising calves on conventional feed and then cycling them back into organic production for milking. If there is enforcement, the industrial dairies will be required to do what is simply a given for the real organic dairies. We are all aware that the enforcement of the pasture rule has been a failure.

2) In early March, Organic Valley announced that they are sending “letters of intent” to purchase the milk from approximately 80 farms that were dropped by Horizon last fall. While priority will be given to the current members of the cooperative, the hope is that these farms will become contracted members over time.

3) The USDA announced a $20 million investment into the Northeast Dairy Business Innovation Center. While this money is not earmarked for organic farms, it can be accessed by organic dairies to help them make upgrades to their farms.

Will the Origin of Livestock Rule Save Family-Scale Dairy?

Kevin Engelbert smiles at the camera next to text that reads: "Real Organic Podcast Episode #057"
Real Organic dairy farmer and former NOSB member Kevin Engelbert.

It is so important to acknowledge the wins when we get them…however. I am doubtful whether it is enough to halt the steady disappearance of family-scale grass-based dairies from the rural landscape.

Our latest podcast episode with Kevin Englebert called out two major reasons why the pay price is so low for unethical organic dairies:

1) The failure of the organic certifiers and the National Organic Program to enforce the organic grazing requirements.

2) The importation of fraudulent organic grain which gives industrial dairies that confine their cows a significant advantage overgrazing dairies.

These problems have furthered the consolidation in the industry, which actually limits ethical brands from differentiating themselves because they rely on each other for shared processing facilities.

Linley Dixon

“It comes back to these farms that are producing this illegal milk, the certifiers that certify them, and the National Organic Program that allows it to happen.”

-Kevin Engelbert, Engelbert Farms

Click to watch or listen to our interview with Kevin here (transcript included)

Did you catch us on Vermont Public Radio this week celebrating the Origin of Livestock rule?


We had a rocking time at our first Real Friends Book Club with Eliot Coleman. Want to join us for our next Book Club? Sign up to be a Real Friend here.