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“At the same time that we are afraid to challenge the fraud, we are being driven out of business by it. It is a legitimate fear, but also a self-destructive one.”

At the Real Organic Project, we talk with lots of farmers. Many are struggling to stay in business, punished economically for following the practices and principles of real organic farming. This week I have talked with struggling farmers both large and small. Scale is not always the problem. Fraud is the problem. A market that is run on smoke and mirrors is the problem. This week it was grain farmers we heard from, desperately trying to make a living growing good food for people who care.

Two Generations of Park Farmers
Image Courtesy of Park Farming Organics

At Real Organic Project we have to walk a narrow ridge. We are forced to address the problems with the very label we depend on to make a living. 

We must speak about fraud in a government program that is tied to our most valued principles, a word to which we have chosen to stand with. 

Some in our movement were involved in crafting the language of the Organic Foods Production Act. OFPA ensured that organic, while in the hands of the government, would continue to hold our movement’s treasured principles.

We have spent our farming careers communicating these principles to the public.

This is why it is so difficult to come forward with such bad news: the USDA’s National Organic Program is failing us.  

stuart macmillan inspects grain at legend organic farm
Stuart McMillan inspects grain at Legend Organic Farm.

To speak badly of USDA Organic, we risk undermining our movement and the label, potentially alienating the farmers and eaters who depend on it.

To stay quiet, once we have learned what is going on, we become complicit in the fraud. And remaining silent, farmers are slowly crushed by the downward pressure for ever-cheaper (and cheaper and cheaper) industrial food until it puts us out of business. 

If we can’t communicate the seriousness of these failures, people will ignore us. If we can’t offer hope for a solution, people will walk away from the label in defeat. 

This leaves organic farmers with only one path forward; to challenge the fraud but simultaneously provide a real solution. 

We’ve got it. We are ready. We are here. Come join us in our heedless optimism. We can do this together.

Dr. Linley Dixon, co-director of the Real Organic Project in her Colorado tomato greenhouse

Today, we are so pleased to announce three shifts in our team.

First, Linley Dixon has moved from Associate Director to Co-Director. I (Dave) am writing this part myself so I can sing Linley’s praises. She has been in this effort since the beginning. Before she joined the staff of the Real Organic Project, she was chief scientist at Cornucopia Institute. She teaches all of us about the miracle of soil from a biologist’s perspective. But she wears farmer boots too. She was a founding member of the ROP Standards Board. I celebrate her as our ongoing companion in this gathering of farmers. She is bright, bold, and courageous. Eloquent and generous. We are all grateful to work with her.

We also welcome two new members to the Real Organic Project. Like everyone on our team, they came to us, inspired to walk this narrow ridge together.

Jessica Crabtree, former Growing Manager at Wegmans Food Markets’ Organic Farm in New York

Jessica Crabtree

Jessica started farming at the famous Angelic Organics, a 1500 CSA member farm outside Chicago. If you haven’t seen the documentary about Angelic Organics, The Real Dirt on Farmer John, it’s an entertaining must-see!

She then went on to Northwestern Pennsylvania where she built a farm bakery at Fresh From the Vines and was the farm manager at Hunter Farms. She is currently the Growing Manager at Wegmans Organic Farm and Orchard. This farm was created by Wegmans Food Markets to demonstrate and teach about organic farming. It is an inspiring place, and we appreciate that a supermarket makes such a commitment to organic farming.

When asked why she wanted to join the Real Organic Project:
“I believe that real organic farmers are doing the most important work for the health of people and the planet. I feel grateful and humbled by the opportunity to shed light on the integrity of those who tirelessly serve as stewards of the soil.”

Abby Lundigran harvesting winter brassicas at Turner Farm

Abby Lundigran

Abby Lundigran is leaving her position as Crop Production Manager at Turner Farm, a CSA, farmers market, and teaching farm in Cincinnati, Ohio. After several seasons in the field, she’s ready “to be a part of creating a system that works for, instead of against, real organic farmers and their customers.”

Turner Farm is another inspiring operation, run to both demonstrate and educate. If I were 20 years younger, I would jump on the awesome opportunity now available to manage the crops and educational programs at Turner Farm, certified by Real Organic Project.

 Apply here if you are interested in the position of Farm Manager at Turner Farm.

Abby is also well informed on the policy priorities of America’s organic farmers, serving with Linley on the Governing Council of the Organic Farmers Association.

When asked why she wanted to join the Real Organic Project:
“Real Organic farmers are the most hardworking, passionate, and inspiring people I know. I am motivated by the truly grassroots, collective nature of the effort; the Real Organic Project is showcasing and connecting farmers working hard to uphold the true spirit of organic – with the land, the ecosystem, and the people at the center.”

We are honored to have such hard-working young farmers join us in continuing to build a movement for greater integrity in the organic program. We are stronger together and together we cannot fail!

Linley and Dave

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