Since my last letter to you on February 16, a lot has happened! Here’s a quick update on where we are now, what’s coming up in March, and something you can do now that will help our friends at the Cornucopia Institute. —Dave
p.s. if you’re new to these letters: I’m Dave Chapman, organic farmer at Long Wind Farm in Vermont. I write occasional updates on important things I think you'd like to know about the organic farming movement.
If you enjoy this newsletter, perhaps you’d like to share it with your friends by sending them to www.realorganicproject.org and inviting them to give us their email address.
We are hard at work on the simple standards that will define our organic add-on label. In three weeks our fifteen-person Standards Board will come together in Vermont from around the country to create the provisional standards. We will send out an update after that meeting to describe progress on the upcoming pilot project.
This Saturday I will be giving the keynote address at the NOFA CT Winter Conference in Danbury. I will talk about why the Real Organic Project was formed, and what we hope to accomplish in the coming years.
Please join me if you can make it. We will be showing the short film of The Rallies to Protect Organic at the beginning of the talk. Sign up for the NOFA conference or to stream the keynote:
Campaign: “Just Ask”
One of the programs we are most excited about is the “Just Ask” campaign, urging eaters all over the country to ask the staff where they shop whether the certified organic tomatoes and berries offered are hydroponic or are they real organic grown in the soil. And eaters will ask if the eggs and meat and milk came from CAFOs or from farms where the animals got real access to pasture every day.
The “Just Ask” campaign has the same goal as the current effort from Cornucopia Institute to Demand Real Organic Food From Real Organic Farmers. Cornucopia wants all organic eaters to send them a card asking major retailers to offer genuine organic choices. If we speak up, the stores will respond. Please visit them and support this campaign:
There has been a flurry of articles about the Real Organic Project:
Organic purists hatching an auxiliary label
Organic Farmers Association:
Organic Farmers Write Letter to Secretary Perdue
Finally, we have had a few more people join the Real Organic Advisory Board since my 2/16 letter. We are very proud of many voices that have come together to support us:
Anne Bicklé & David Montgomery are Dig2Grow, a husband & wife and a pair of writers who live in Seattle. Dave is a broad-minded geologist and Anne is a free-range biologist with a bad case of plant lust. They chose Dig2Grow because “that’s what happens when you write, talk, and act on things that matter to the well-being of people and our one-and-only planet.”
They both speak widely on the complex world of soil, plants, and animals. They have become champions for the revolution of regenerative agriculture taking place worldwide.
David is a professor of geomorphology at the University of Washington. He is also a MacArthur Fellow. Anne is a biologist with wide-ranging interests that have led her into watershed restoration, environmental planning, and public health.
David has written Growing a Revolution: Bringing Our Soil Back to Life and Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations. Anne and David co-wrote the book The Hidden Half of Nature: The Microbial Roots of Life and Health.
Maddie Kempner is the Policy Director of NOFA VT. Maddie worked with the VT Right to Know GMOs Coalition to help pass Vermont’s GMO labeling law. Maddie is passionate about advocating for positive food and farm policy change.
She has a Master of Environmental Law and Policy from Vermont Law School. Active in the movement to Keep The Soil In Organic, Maddie has spoken at Rallies in both Vermont and Jacksonville, Florida. She has testified numerous times to the NOSB to protect organic integrity.
Zoë Ida Bradbury. Born onto a sheep ranch along the southern Oregon coast, Zoë grew up birthing lambs in the spring, watching salmon spawn in the fall, and taming plums and tomatoes into canning jars all summer. Her love for food, farming and rural livelihood ultimately lured her back to her native southern Oregon where she has run a diversified fresh market farm — Valley Flora — since 2008, on land shared with her mother and sister.
With her two young daughters in tow, she cultivates a couple hundred varieties of vegetable, berry, fruit, herb and flower crops for local restaurants, foodbanks, farmstand, u-pick, and 100+ CSA shares (all with the help of one old electric tractor, one young diesel tractor, three draft horses, and a couple of wonderful employees).
She graduated from Stanford University and has a masters degree in Community Change and Food Systems. She is a Food & Society Policy Fellow, has written for a number of publications over the years, and co-edited Greenhorns: 50 Dispatches from the New Farmers’ Movement.
Steve Ela is a farmer from Colorado. He is co-owner of Ela Family Farms, which has been certified organic since 1996. He is a current member of the National Organic Standards Board. He was an Organic Farming Research Foundation board member from 2001–2011 and previous OFRF board Chairman.
Steve has been an organizer for several National Organic Tree Fruit Research Symposiums and has participated in and written grants for numerous research projects. Steve has a Master’s in Soil Science, and has served on a wide variety of Boards and Advisory Committees addressing food and agriculture issues nationally, regionally, and locally.
Mary Ellen Chadd started Green Spark Farm in 2009 and now farms full-time year-round with her husband and two little daughters. Mary Ellen attended Evergreen State College majoring in Ecological Agriculture and Community Food Systems.
Before starting her farm in her home-town area in Maine, she worked with the New American Sustainable Agriculture Project there, writing curriculum and training refugees and new Americans in farming systems, marketing for farmers, and farm business planning.
She contributes to the new farmer community by speaking at MOFGA classes and events. Her farm has employed and mentored six young farmers who have gone on to start their own farm businesses.
Will Allen grew up on a small farm in Southern California. He served in the Marine Corps. Will earned his Ph.D. in Anthropology in 1968, studying tropical forest farmers in Peru. Will taught at the University of Illinois and later at the University of California.
He began farming organically in the Santa Barbara area in 1968. He founded Ganesha Growers in 1977 and was one of the first organic farmers in the San Joaquin Valley. He served on the board of California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF) and helped write the first organic handbook for CCOF. He served on the board and conference committee of the Ecological Farming Association for a dozen years. Will founded the Sustainable Cotton Project (SCP) in 1990 to help farmers learn how to grow organic cotton, convince garment makers to use organic fibers, and reduce farmworker pesticide injuries. SCP convinced Patagonia, Esprit, Levis, Marks and Spencer, Nike, and other garment makers to use organic fibers.
In 2000, he took over the management of Cedar Circle Farm, in East Thetford, Vermont along with his wife Kate Duesterberg. Their activist efforts resulted in the creation of a coalition for labeling GMO products in Vermont. They were successful, and Vermont became the first state in the US to pass a GMO labeling law in 2014. In 2016, Will transitioned his focus to co-found a new non-profit organization called Regeneration Vermont. The goal of Regeneration Vermont is to redirect Vermont agriculture toward regenerative methods that protect and enhance the natural environment, produce healthy food products, provide economic justice to farmers and farm workers, promote animal welfare, and implement climate change remediation through an understanding of, and commitment to, healthy, living soils. Will serves as the Research Director for the organization.
Will’s first book, The War on Bugs, was published by Chelsea Green in 2008.
Kate Duesterberg received a Master’s Degree from Southern Illinois University in Community Development & Ag Economics. Since graduate school, Kate has worked to promote local, organic farming – from the perspective of policy advocate, community organizer, institutional change advocate, and farm manager. She started her activist career as Sustainable Agriculture program coordinator at Illinois Stewardship Alliance and then at Rural Vermont, two NGOs working to promote sustainable farming. Kate worked at the University of Vermont (UVM), where she helped establish the UVM Center for Sustainable Agriculture. A major focus was to organize programs to help farmers and agricultural professionals (Extension, NRCS, Department of Agriculture) learn about sustainable and organic farming techniques, calling upon experienced farmers as teachers. Kate also worked with the Women’s Agricultural Network at UVM and the Sustainable Cotton Project in California as managing director.
Since 2000, Kate has co-managed Cedar Circle Farm in East Thetford, Vermont. In 2016, Kate, Will, and their partner Michael Colby founded a new non-profit organization called Regeneration Vermont. The goal of Regeneration Vermont is to redirect Vermont agriculture toward regenerative methods that protect and enhance the natural environment, produce healthy food products, provide economic justice to farmers and farm workers, promote animal welfare, and implement climate change remediation through an understanding of — and commitment to — healthy, living soils.