Real Organic In California
Okay, not a short letter… Sorry.
The Real Organic Project is immensely busy this Winter. We are getting more farmers applying for ROP certification every day. We have now gotten over 400 farms applying or accepted for certification with ROP.
We have gotten 175 farm applications in the last two weeks alone! Over 300 applications have been approved so far. Some of these are already inspected, some are pending inspection.
Which is to say, it is happening. Farmers are creating a program with integrity to represent the real organic farming they always intended.
Those involved in the ROP are BUSY! Associate Director Linley Dixon and Certification Director Ariel Pressman will be joining me in California at the EcoFarm Conference this week.
Please join us at the workshop entitled
“How Can You Mend A Broken Organic Program?”
at 8:30 am on Thursday, Jan 23, 2020.
It’s the one that sounds like a country-western song.
Anne Ross from Cornucopia Institute will be co-presenting with me. ROP Advisory board member Lisa Bunin will be moderating. Anne will describe the fight against the fraudulently certified grain imports from Eastern Europe that the USDA is having so much trouble stopping.
EcoFarm is an AMAZING conference that was started many years ago by such organic pioneers as Paul Muller, Dru Rivers, Judith Redmond, Amigo Bob Cantisano, Steve Sprinkel, and Lisa Bunin. They are all still involved. Many younger people have joined in and are helping to lead the conference forward into the future. It is still the preeminent organic conference on the Left Coast. Last year I gave a talk and it was the first time I ever attended. I had some concern that I might be met with mistrust for my calls to action. I told a friend that I was worried that I might get stoned when I went to California. He replied, “Only if you inhale.”
Instead, I was really touched by the friendly and engaged people who surrounded me. Some of the dialogues were challenging! I welcome that. I had many deep, sometimes difficult, conversations about the future of organic.
EcoFarm has been a part of the organic movement for a long time. The first Ecological Farming Conference was held in 1981 at the Firehouse in Winters, California and 45 people attended. From those small first steps, organic farming on the West Coast has become a major force, both in terms of production and consumer demand. Many of the same people who started EcoFarm started the California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF). CCOF was an early hero of the organic movement. Now much is changing, and we all find ourselves challenged. We are in an exploration of what “organic” means and who decides that.
Two of the keynotes at the conference will be given by ROP certified farmers Rosie & Ward Burroughs and Scott Park. ROP Advisory board member Emily Oakley is giving a daylong workshop on Wednesday. Other ROP certified farmers and board members presenting at workshops include Paul Muller, Javier Zamora, Liz Henderson, Mark McAfee, and Will Allen. I apologize if I have missed some, but you get the idea. There will be many friends.
There will be three different workshops on protecting organic integrity, with perspectives ranging from the Real Organic Project to the USDA. Something for everyone!
There will also be a Discussion Group on Hydroponics In Organic at EcoFarm on Friday, Jan 24 at 3:30 to 5 pm in Dolphin.
This was organized by EcoFarm to help us all to digest the significant shifts in the USDA definition of “organic”. It was set up late, so it isn’t on the program. I will be there. I hope you can come too. Let your friends know.
Our “Know Your Farmer” video this week is about JSM Organics, owned by EcoFarm board member Javier Zamora. Javier’s farm is one of our many ROP certified farms in California. He gives a hopeful talk about real organic farming and better ways of treating the people who work in the fields growing our food. This is a moving video. Please watch it.
Javier Zamora, Paul Muller, Emily Oakley, Linley Dixon, Paul Hawken, Chellie Pingree, JM Fortier, and MANY other farmers and fighters will be speaking at the Real Organic Project Symposium on April 3 & 4 at Dartmouth College. Please join us there for an important conversation. Attendance is free for ROP certified farmers, and travel scholarships are available.
And FINALLY, we offer a written essay from ROP Standards board member Paul Muller.
Paul runs Full Belly Farm with his partners Dru Rivers, Judith Redmond, and Andrew Brait. And now the next generation is stepping up as well. They have been longtime champions of organic farming in California. They are famous for their generosity in sharing their knowledge. More than a few of America’s organic vegetable farmers can trace their roots back to Full Belly. Paul and Dru were appropriately chosen to be Agrarian Elders by Eliot Coleman. Paul is a highly respected farmer, but he also ponders the social, ecological, and political issues that are woven into agriculture. He is a deeply thoughtful person. We asked Paul to share his thoughts. The rest of this letter is a short essay written by Paul:
For The Past Forty Years
by Paul Muller
For the past 40 years, the California farming community has come together to celebrate and grow Organic agriculture at the EcoFarm Conference. Like so many other organic farming conferences across the country started in the 1980s, this annual gathering began as a ‘from the ground up’ initiative by small farmers and community activists.
It helped to build the Organic Farming movement through shared knowledge, creativity, and re-imagining a healthy food system. Farmers came together and talked over their collective experiences gained from the past year while gathering new ideas to apply to their farms in the coming season. Over 40 years, Eco Farm has also managed to mix in a healthy dose of fun, dance, romance, and self-reliance; exactly what head-strong young organic activists were looking for.
Eco Farm’s program has included information on everything from how to feed your soil to nourish/feed your plants, to what bugs eat which bugs, to how to find a market for that extra summer squash. Or, as Wes Jackson said at one conference, “How Organic Ag can be the spark and jumper cables to renew rural places”. The ‘hows’ were complemented with workshops on ‘whys’; examining the deeper understanding of biological systems, social needs, and healthy food. We learned together.
Early on, the newish notion of holistic thinking encouraged us to draw a circle connecting healthy soil life to our fields, to vibrant plants, to thriving farms, and to the nourishment of farm patrons. In the 40 years of Eco Farm, farmers actively explored principles of stewardship of all life on the farm as fundamental to our profession. We saw this as key to our responsibilities to nurture a healthier planet. Eco Farm has been one of California’s important tools for building a confident community of growers, teachers, marketers, community food activists, and visionaries. Together we were attempting to build an ecologically sound, socially just and economically viable agriculture.
The foundations of the present Organic Food marketplace, from its certifiers, material reviews, legislative framework, market development and openness to review were laid in place by the hands of activists with a vision! In the 1980’s the institutions of conventional agricultural thinking, including our land grant universities, dismissed the notion of “organic” as a folly that would end in failure. Yet the principles of soil stewardship and farms built on the wisdom of natural systems reveal their resiliency. They continue to hold the truths of healthy soil as the foundation to be self-evident.
I have attended most of those 40 conferences. And you’d think that I would have it figured out, yet the beauty of farming rests in the wonderful experience of biological complexity. That complexity is mixed with the challenges of season, place, skill, resources and time. Each year builds on the last. There comes some collective consensus about direction, and valuable ideas to bring home for the coming year. I courted my wife at an early Eco Farm and came away with an incredible prize that year. I have learned that to create renewal of our food system, we have to start by having more fun and building beauty into our places of work.
We are at a time when we need to re-kindle the activist spirit of those who have invested in the work done over so many years. While we all should celebrate the successes of the Organic Marketplace, there are times to rise to the defense of the original wisdom of the Organic Food Production Act. We need to make sure that the original course is being respected and defended.
In the 40 years of Eco Farm conferences with thousands of workshops, I cannot recall one on Hydroponic or Container-Grown “organic’ crop systems. Yet the basic principles of soil stewardship and whole-farm care are being disregarded by these systems while they can now be certified ‘Organic’. Farmers here in California were largely asleep to the argument of equivalency of Container-Grown and Hydroponically-Grown to Field-Grown crops. We, by and large, missed the fight at the National Organic Standards Board meetings where the fight for soil took place. It is time to enter the fray and join the conversation.
Our farm, Full Belly, has joined with many farmers across the country to become a Real Organic Project farm. Our farm aim is to get our Certifier, CCOF, and the National Organic Program to rethink the issue of allowing Hydroponic and Container-Grown crops to be sold as ‘Certified Organic.’ The Real Organic Project is looking to raise the issue nationally by bringing farms throughout the country together in order to raise their voices to get the National Organic Program to change their position on Hydroponic/Container-Grown, enforce animal welfare standards and access to pasture, and generally enforce the original intent of the Organic Foods Production Act. I would encourage your farm to join. Or, for you non- farmers, to contact your favorite farmer and encourage them to become part of ROP.
In the establishment of the National Organic Standards Board in 1995, the USDA wrote: “The primary goal of organic agriculture is to optimize the health and productivity of interdependent communities of soil life, plants, animals and people.” “Organic agriculture is an ecological production management system that promotes and enhances biodiversity, biological cycles, and soil biological activity. It is based on minimal use of off-farm inputs and on management practices that restore, maintain and enhance ecological harmony.”
It is pretty clear. Soil is fundamental. Soil health is foundational. Hydroponic growing cannot fulfill the most basic parts of an organic plan. This is not an attack on Hydroponic systems. They have many great attributes and may be entirely appropriate where water is scarce or land is scarce. But it is simply not ‘Organic”. It is not attached to the subsoil and to the mystery and miracle of living soil.
Consider joining your voice in the effort. It is time to saddle up and agitate! Head out to the Real Organic Project Symposium on April 3rd and 4th at Dartmouth College. Look over the ROP website and bring your knowledge to the effort. We are aiming for clarity and transparency in our values of long-term stewardship. It is our promise to all who support Organic Agriculture.
- Paul Muller