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Know Your Farmer | King Grove Organic Farm

King Grove Farm, Florida


Hugh & Lisa Kent of King Grove Organic Farm talk about what makes their blueberries more than an ordinary organic berry found in supermarkets. They touch the land with loving hands, and the land replies with a profusion of jaw-droppingly good berries.

Sure, we might sell more blueberries if we grew in plastic buckets instead of rich soil, used harsh chemicals, and chose blueberry plant varieties developed to elevate yield over quality. But we couldn’t happily live on that land, or put the King Grove name on that kind of product.”

April – June, King Grove Organics ships nationwide – visit their website here to order the best berries you've ever tasted, shipped ripe and arriving perfectly ready to eat.

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Know Your Farmer | King Grove Organic Farm, Florida

Hugh Kent:

“When the organic consumer is paying a premium for organic food, they are expecting not just good food but are expecting us to use their support to take good care of our land for the future. I take my promise to them very seriously – to me it's a sacred promise.

The farm was a conventional citrus farm before we converted it to organic blueberries. The organic decision was easy for me. The word has an inner meaning now. If it's not sustainable, that doesn't mean it's neutral, it means it's UNsustainable. If it's unsustainable, ultimately it's destructive and I didn't want to farm in a destructive way, I wanted to farm constructively.

It was important to me to be able to grow very healthy food for people and do that in a way where I could leave the land healthier and more productive than when I started. The foundation of our organic system is to make the soil as healthy as we can, get as much variety and microbial activity in the soil and allow the plants to pick and choose what they need from that environment.

The plant knows what to do from there.

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King Grove Organic Farm Is Being Harmed by Hydroponic Competition

They're saying “go ahead, go out there, compact the land and level it so it's unsuitable for farming” This is a huge problem for people like me. Because allowing that cheap hydroponic system, a disposable plastic farm, to be labeled as organic the same way that this farm is labeled as organic creates a situation where, on the shelf, the consumer has no idea.

The prices may be different but they have no idea what it is they are buying or how it was grown.

The standards are so lax and they've been eroded so much. There's so much lack of integrity now in the USDA's administration of the National Organic Program.

If Farmer A is growing real organic, and farmer B has got this hydroponic organic… then Farmer A has two choices:

Go out of business or adapt to the hydroponic system…

Or a third choice is to explain to people that their product is different and worth more money. That's my job – to explain to people what's going on.

It's frustrating that the hydroponic industry should explain why it's good but they don't. They never are labeled as hydroponic and it confuses the issue and ignores the fundamental differences in the growing methods.

People in the general public don't understand the importance of the soil – it's not just about clean food – it's also about stewardship:

Of the farms where it's produced: taking seriously the obligation to care for the immediate environment (woodlands, wetlands, soil quality). That's how real communities are retained.

If we have more sustainable farms in this country, we bring back the health of our rural communities. The primary intention of the statues that made the National Organic Program was the stewardship of the soil… it's the living organisms that are in the soil that create this quality of the food. We're now understanding now is that this is where there's a huge potential for carbon sequestration.

Good healthy soil isn't just for growing good healthy plants that sustain healthy people, it's also about the larger system. It's also about having a healthy planet.”


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Are You Getting Real Organic Food?

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

The USDA allows hydroponic tomatoes to be certified organic

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

The USDA allows hydroponic berries to be certified organic

The Real Organic Project requires cows to be raised on pasture

The USDA allows confinement dairy operations to be certified organic

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.

Real Organic Label Sweeping The Nation

Dear Real Organic friends,

We are proud to announce the official release of the Real Organic Project label. We have just under 500 farms approved for certification. It is a sign of farmer commitment to Real Organic that so many have been certified without a label to show! And yes, we now have a label to share with the world so you can find our nutritious products.

Watch Real Organic farmer Glenn Elzinga discover the new label on his farm!

It's been 3 years since organic farmers were officially set aside at the National Organic Standards Board meeting in Jacksonville, Florida. The board listened to the corporations rather than to the farmers. This led to the formation of the Real Organic Project.

We told the NOSB then: “We, the farmers, are not going to sit back while the National Organic Program continues to degrade the meaning of organic.” 

Not only did we not go away, but we've been busy reaching out to organic farmers across the country, and the world. As VT organic farmer Davey Miskell said, “Farmers know how to get things done.” Here and abroad, the organic movement is, and always will be, soil-grown and pasture-raised.

While certifying her farm for the Real Organic Project during the 2018 pilot program, former NOSB member Jennifer Taylor told me, “They can change “USDA organic,” but they can't take the organic movement away from us.”

Three years later, I understand her words more than ever.

Organic farmers understand that soil health, crop health, animal health, and planetary health are intimately connected. The Real Organic Project will exist until the USDA National Organic Program understands that too.

Three Spring Farm, Oklahoma (Thank you for your work on the NOSB, Emily)
“What we do is REAL!”

It's been life-changing for us to get to know these passionate, knowledgeable, hard-working farmers. The bonus has been the number of scientists, authors, and deep environmental thinkers who support the Real Organic movement as well. We can't wait for you to learn more from them at our upcoming January symposium.

This winter Real Organic farmers will be busy getting the label on their products and continuing to spread the word about the Real Organic Project. We are unique in that we are a labeling effort that is coming from the farmers, rather than another marketing brand. Just as it happened the first time around. As Eliot Coleman said at the Thetford Rally, “We did it once before, we can do it again.”

Thanks for your support of our farmer-led effort to protect organic! Please take the time to look below at just a few of the hard working farmers who are part of the Real Organic movement.

Yours in the dirt,
Linley, Dave, Ariel, Forrest, Ralf, and the many Real Organic farmers.

P.S. Farmers, please forward this email to your customers, family and friends to let them know about this new label coming from the organic farmers. I'm sorry if your picture didn't make it below, it wasn't intentional!


Hemlock Grove Farm, New York (welcome to the NOSB!)

Ole Brooks Farm, Mississippi (Thank you for your work on the NOSB)

Radiance Dairy, Iowa (Thank you for your work on the NOSB)

Ela Family Farm, Colorado (Thank you for your work on the NOSB)

Shirley Ela, matriarch of Ela Family Farms, Colorado.

Lady Moon Farms, Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Florida

Lady Moon Farms, Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Florida

Full Belly Farm, California

Kilt Farm, Colorado


Oak Spring Farm, Maryland

Shadowood Farms, Florida

Eden Urban Gardens, Ohio

Box Turtle Farm, Missouri

Biophilia Organic Farm, New York

Full Belly Farm, California

Full Belly Farm, California

Full Belly Farm, California

Full Belly Farm, California

Villa Creek, MAHA, California

Taul Farm, Kentucky

The Farm at Our House, Maryland

Filaree Fruit, Washington

Vibrant Gardens, Wisconsin

Intervale Farm, Maine

Adobe House Farm, Colorado

Thompson Creek Farm, Washington

Spring Thyme Herb Farm, Delaware

Marion Gardens Organic, New York

Harvest Moon Organics, Wisconsin

Long Wind Farm, Vermont

Half Wild Farm, Vermont

Trail's End Organic Farm, Illinois

Frog Valley Tropical Fruit Farm, Florida

The Martin Family Farm, Michigan

Lockewood Acres, California

Jessen Wheat Co., Wyoming

Thompson Creek Farm, Washington

Happy Hollow Farm, Missouri

Happy Hollow Farm, Missouri

Happy Hollow Farm, Missouri

Farming Engineers, Indiana

Grindstone Farm, New York

Sally Negroni Farm, California

Good Find Farm, Pennsylvania

Cada Family Farms, Nebraska

Meadowlark Hearth, Nebraska

Kingbird Farm, New York

Alpenfire Cider, Washington

Bug Hill Farm, Massachusetts

Alderspring Ranch, Idaho

Checkerberry Farm, Maine

Mountainyard Farm, Vermont

Mount Hope Farm, Missouri

Uff-Da Organics, Minnesota

Last Resort Farm, Vermont

Last Resort Farm, Vermont

Last Resort Farm, Vermont

Lida Farm, Minnesota

Rising Sun Farm, Minnesota

Bravo Botanicals, Vermont

Spunky Ridge Ranch, Missouri

Eastview Farm, Vermont

A Way of Life Farm, North Carolina

Fulton Farms, Nebraska

Adobe House Farm, Colorado

Old Athens Farm, Vermont

Bottle Hollow Farm, Tennessee

Sweet Rose Farm, Virginia

Foraged & Sown Farm, Ohio

Terra Amico Farms, California

Alaska Navigation Services, Washington

Alpenglow Farm, Idaho

Rainbow Roots Farm, Iowa

Kane Plantation Avocados, Hawaii

Bittersweet Valley Farm, Vermont

Bittersweet Valley Farm, Vermont

Wheatfield Hill Organics, Wisconsin

Hurricane Flats, Vermont

Bow Valley Jersey, Nebraska

High Meadow Farm, Vermont

Full Circle Community Farm, Wisconsin 

Newfield Herb Farm, Vermont

That Guy's Family Farm, Ohio

Milkweed Tussock Tubers, New York

Milkweed Tussock Tubers, New York

“When great farmers like the ones behind the Real Organic Project ask something of us, we listen.”

-Zach Wolf, farm manager of Real Organic Project certified Caney Fork Farms.


Linley Dixon
Associate Director / linley@realorganicproject.org
Real Organic Project / realorganicproject.org

Who Owns Organic?

Who Owns Organic?



I was in a debate last week hosted by the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA).  It was an exchange of ideas about the certification of hydroponic as organic. We debated the following resolution:

 “The future of certified organic production will include hydroponics.” 

Speaking in support of this resolution was Kelly Damewood, the CEO of CCOF (California Certified Organic Farmers). I was opposed.

I will limit this letter to what I said. Kelly has asked that I not quote her, concerned that her comments might be taken out of context. I will respect her wishes, so you will have to watch the full debate when OEFFA makes it available to hear both sides.

What is organic farming?


For me, this was not a complicated question. When I looked at the historical foundations of organic, it was ALWAYS based on the idea of “Feed the SOIL, not the plant.”

What does that mean? It sounds interesting, but…what does it mean?

“Feeding the soil” means feeding the living things in the soil. Healthy soil is teeming with life, with countless invisible bacteria and fungi. There can be billions of bacteria in a single gram of soil. There can be 24,000 kilometers of mycorrhizal fungal hyphae in a cubic meter of healthy soil. Those hyphae could go halfway around the earth if strung together. Plus vast numbers of soil animals (worms, springtails, moles and voles, arthropods such as nematodes, anthropods such as mites and spiders). It is dizzying.

Like us, all these living things need to eat, and they thrive off of the products of photosynthesis made by plants converting sunshine into food. Plants are Nature’s solar collectors. The life in the soil gives minerals to the plants in exchange for the sugars. Plants are a necessary part of a healthy soil. No plants; no life. Plants provide the organic matter and photosynthates that feed that life in the soil.

Organic farming, put simply, is returning organic matter to the soil so that the life in the soil cycles nutrients back to the crop. Highly soluble fertilizers kill much of the life in the soil, whereas organic matter feeds it.


That is organic farming. “Feed the soil, not the plant.” Feed the life in the soil, and the life in the soil will feed the plant, and it can feed a plant better than any chemist. There are 40,000 known secondary plant metabolites. Who knows the proper ratios? Who knows the proper compounds to become truly available to the plant or to the animal? No one. The results of a healthy living soil are superior nutrition for the plant, for the animal, for the human. The results include vastly less soil erosion, vastly better water retention, less drought, less flooding, less pollution in the rivers, better carbon sequestration, and a more resilient, reliable agricultural system. 

And, oh yes, the plants will be less sickly and less attractive to insects. So there will be less need for spraying poisons on our food, and on our farmers. Less cancer. Less destruction of biodiversity.

And, oh yes, the food will taste better too.

So that is organic farming at its best.

What is “conventional chemical” farming?


It is based on the principle of “Feed the PLANT, not the soil.”

It is simple. The soil is not considered to be important for feeding the plant. The farmer feeds the plant by applying processed fertilizers that have been treated to be “plant available.” They feed what they think is a proper diet for maximum plant growth in the shortest time possible. The simplified nutrition and the monocultures create greater pest and disease problems. The farmer deals with pests by spraying chemicals to kill the pests and other chemicals to kill the diseases. 

What is hydroponic production?


Hydroponics is most simply defined as providing the plant’s nutrition with a liquid solution. The nutrition for the plant is contained in the liquid. The plant gets little to no nutrition from whatever material (substrate) its roots are in. The nutrition is all added as a liquid fertilizer.

Some hydroponics have the roots resting in a water bath. Sometimes in a “pond” and sometimes in a tube of water.

Some hydroponics have roots dangling in the air where they are sprayed with a nutrient-rich mist. This is called “aeroponics.”

Driscoll's organic hydroponic berry production has greatly expanded from the 1,000 plus acres reported in 2016.

Some hydroponics have the roots sitting in containers or bags of “substrate.” In this kind of hydro, the substrate can be many materials, but the most common are shredded coconut husks (called “coco coir”). 

Growers use different systems based on the crop they are growing. Most hydro greens are grown in water baths or aeroponics. Most tomatoes, peppers, and berries are grown in containers of bags filled with coir.

So the basic principle of ALL hydroponics is… “Feed the PLANT, Not the Soil.”

Hydroponic tomatoes grow in white plastic square pots inside a green house. On the ground is a rail system between rows.


THAT is why we don't think that hydroponics can be called organic. It is a DIFFERENT system. It has a different understanding of how to grow a productive crop, of what is important in nutrition, even of how we encourage health in human bodies, animals, or plants.

Does it matter? To whom?

Well, according to the hydroponic industry, as represented by lobbyist Lee Frankel, “hydro sales certified as organic” exceeded $1 billion in 2017. 

What are the results?

  1. Consumers who think they are buying food from a farmer growing in healthy soils are defrauded.
  2. If organic advocates are right and the nutrition of food grown in healthy soil is superior, those same people are getting nutritionally inferior food while paying for something else.
  3. The real organic farmers who are displaced by that billion dollars of sales go out of business. The thought that the “organic tent” just gets bigger is not accurate. Some of those sales are new sales that come as a result of “cheaper” food (think Walmart), but some of them are the result of soil farmers being pushed out of the marketplace.
  4. The land that gets pushed out of organic production is no longer being farmed organically.

Kale plants are fertilized by a living mulch, a nitrogen-fixing cover crop, a foundational organic practice.

We learned in the debate that CCOF now estimates that they certify close to an 5000 acres of hydro/container acreage. I appreciated CCOF's transparency. 

At the same time, we learned that out of 4,000 CCOF certified organic producers, only 94 are hydroponic/container. Former USDA program director Miles McEvoy once agreed that far less than 1% of certified organic operations are hydroponic.

What this means is that a VERY small number of hydro producers are now deciding the standards for the National Organic Program. They just have too much money to stop.

There is no other reason that hydroponic is accepted as organic by the USDA.

When I served on the USDA Hydroponic Organic Taskforce, we learned that Driscoll’s (the biggest organic berry vendor in the world) was also the biggest “hydroponic organic” producer in the world with over a thousand acres of hydroponic berries being certified at that time.

Now their acreage is far greater.


Suddenly we understood why we were losing this fight. There was just too much money involved.

So who will protect organic?

The organic movement started with Albert and Louise Howard. They based their agricultural philosophy on the traditional farming methods of India and Southeast Asia. Their work was carried on by Eve Balfour in England and J.I.Rodale in America. 

In 1980 the USDA worked with Eliot Coleman to produce their first report on Organic Farming. And they got it: “Soil is the Source of Life.” and “Feed the Soil, Not the Plant.” 

This was continued by all the regional organizations that supported organic farming. We all agreed that the foundation of organic was to “Feed the Soil, Not the Plant.” 

This definition of organic has been supported by the law, when Congress passed the Organic Food Production Act (known as OFPA).

It was reaffirmed by the 2010 NOSB recommendation to prohibit hydroponics in organic certification.

It has since been embraced by the Organic Farmers Association and the National Organic Coalition.

In 2017 a petition calling on the USDA to prohibit hydroponics in organic certification got over 100,000 signatures in three weeks. This petition was presented to the USDA (and got no response).

Hydro Blueberries in Florida. The future of USDA Organic?

In 2014, the USDA’s  National Organic Program made its first-ever announcement that it was embracing hydroponics. Before this, there had never been a stated policy. This announcement was in direct opposition to the 2010 NOSB recommendation (which the NOP had promised to act on). 

To this day the USDA has not set out actual standards for hydroponic production. The problem with this is seen by the USDA permitting the use of glyphosate (RoundUp) on land used for hydro production immediately prior to certification. This practice was finally banned after the Real Organic Project mounted a public campaign opposing this in 2019.

The USDA STILL allows the use of prohibited pesticides in hydro greenhouses immediately prior to organic certification. They have refused countless times to even answer questions about this allowance.

The hydroponic invasion is leading to the serious undermining of the organic brand.

Please don't shoot the messenger!

This erosion of public trust has led to the growing popularity of the “Regenerative” brand, which faces even greater problems than the organic brand. 

Customer doubts about organic have been blamed on the organic movement for daring to speak up about the eroding standards.


As  people who care are seeking a path forward, there are four choices

  1. Remain silent and accept a corporate redefinition of “certified organic.”
  2. Fight for reform of the USDA.
  3. Create a new word for organic. Something like “Agroecological.”
  4. Create a Real Organic add-on label to represent the original meaning of organic.

At the Real Organic Project, we still fight for reform, but we have chosen not to wait for government approval. We are pushing for a label that people can trust today.


The OEFFA debate had a vote at the beginning and at the end to see if people’s minds had been changed.

The results of the vote

“Proposition- The future of certified organic production will include hydroponics.” 

In the beginning:
Agree – 17%
Disagree – 47%
Undecided – 37%

At the end of the debate:
Agree- 12%
Disagree – 77%
Undecided – 11%

This outcome confirmed my basic belief that hydroponics can only survive in the organic label with smoke and mirrors. Any actual examination of the facts leads to a simple conclusion. Hydroponics has no place being called organic. Along with CAFOs, its future inclusion will damage or destroy the real meaning of the word organic.

Let’s not let that happen. Join 1000 Real Fans today and help us build organic into a transformative force in the American food system.

See you at the MOSES Conference this week.

Many thanks,
Dave and Linley

Know Your Farmer | A-Frame Farm

A-Frame Farm, Minnesota

Carmen Fernholtz of A-Frame Farm talks about what is important when it comes to Organic Farming. Organics were founded on principles and proper practices.

“Do organic not because the price is better, but because it's the right thing to do for the soil for society and for yourself.”

Be sure to check out A-Frame Farm, Minnesota's facebook page.

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Know Your Farmer | A-Frame Farm, Minnesota

Carmen Fernholtz:

My name is Carmen Fernholtz. My wife, Sally and I farmed about 450 acres certified organic near Madison Minnesota. Madison is located very Western edge of the state. We grow generally the

crops in the area corn soybeans small grains that'll vary from year to year wheat oats barley and some alfalfa.

When you were here earlier today you caught me out in the field. My nephew and brother had both brought to come by not. We were going to take our first go at a harvesting Kernza, Kernza is what we call a perennial wheat. Kernza is a miniature wheat seed.

And I say miniature Yeah, it's maybe an eighth the size of a regular wheat kernel. To me the biggest piece here is that we can keep the soil covered something growing in there '12 months of the year minimizing the soil disturbance captivating a lot of carbon and just moving closer and closer to emulating nature.

Carmen & Company

You know there's a lot of talk out there now about how organic is sort of becoming industrialized and I am nervous about that. I really am because back in the early 70s. I was actually helping write some of the rules in organics and eventually, the government adapted some of these things and put them into the standards. But organics was always founded on principles, as well as production practices. And to me, the principle is based on West Jackson's famous quote and it's probably not his original but anyway, I always credit him with it, eyes to acres ratio.

We need to increase instead of decrease the eyes to acres ratio and that's the principle that I've always wanted to live on. And so it's not free. It costs something. But look at what you're doing then and protecting the environment enhancing the communities and everybody just does better really today. When I look back over the years, I've been doing it. I'm starting to see some pressures that I'm a little nervous about.

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A-Frame Farm has organic integrity

I've always said over and over and over. Organic is 95% integrity. But another good friend of mine says expect what you inspect. And so if we're not doing proper oversight Human nature says we're going to try and cut corners again, when we look at the standards. And we look at and be real direct. We look at the standards of hydroponics and we look at housing for livestock.

Those standards are not what we had originally intended when we started putting together these standards that we wanted access to outdoors. We wanted that crops growing in the soils is what we wanted. And when we start cutting those corners it doesn't stop there. Patrick Lee you said when the organic bill was signed he said organic is a choice.

It's not a directive. It's a choice. And so you as a farmer and you as a consumer have this choice. And you can choose or not choose it. 

We can keep those standards strict we can maintain that strictness because if you don't like them, then you find a different source of your food. But this is what we want. This is the choice that we've made.

You know a  topic today is climate change and what's causing it and who is Responsible. With perennials in the landscape we're taking a lot of that carbon out of the air and storing it back down in the soil. And if we look at some of the Kerns of, for example, they're down 8, 10, 12 feet. Those roots are down there forever and they've take in carbon down there with them.

More scientists tell you that it's the increase of CO2 in the air that's causing climate change. So we can pull that back out, put it in the ground. It's a win-win-win. It's a win for the farmer, environment, consumer, and for the soil.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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