“To be truly radical is to make hope possible rather than despair convincing.”
– Raymond Williams
When the Real Organic Project began in 2018, we were immediately joined by a respected group of organic pioneers. There was a need for a label that would honestly represent the organic movement. Many eaters were unaware of the failures of the USDA label. Even many organic farmers were unaware. But the failures were there, and they were growing.
Five years earlier, I was one of those unaware farmers. When I looked around at the organic farms getting certified in Vermont, all I saw was a program that had integrity and transparency. It appeared to me that my earlier concerns about the USDA's involvement with organic were unfounded.
Then I saw hydroponic tomatoes showing up on store shelves. That brought me into the national discussion about what “certified organic” meant. The deeper I went, the worse it got. At first, I thought it was just one or two bad apples that had snuck into the herd. As I went further, I was dismayed to learn that Vermont was a bubble. It was not an accurate representation of the USDA organic program. In much of the rest of the country, there was a massive certification of hydroponics as organic. But even worse, there was a widespread certification of confinement livestock operations, in opposition to the organic standards.
And then there was the grain fraud from overseas. What had first looked like a few bad players became revealed as a gang of corporate bullies taking over. There was a growing divide between the organic movement and those who controlled the organic brand.
After many protests, petitions, letters, and defeats, we started the Real Organic Project. In the first month, 45 prominent organic voices were willing to stand up and join us. This group became the people on our 3 boards (Executive, Standards, and Advisory).
Today I want to announce six more people who are joining our Advisory Board.
All six of them spoke at the January Real Organic Symposium. They are “radicals” because they make hope possible rather than despair convincing. Let us celebrate their work and their joy.
You can still watch them in the symposium by clicking here.
The individual podcast interviews will be released soon. All six new board members are activists who work hard on their individual projects. Real Organic is a common ground where so many come together, but it is a diverse group of interests and passions.
I am proud to have all of them join the Real Organic Project. They ALL teach about the connections between food, nutrition, the environment, economics, and politics. And people! They all seek social change. They seek to feed ALL people good food. It is a great privilege for me to know them and interview them.
(Leah Penniman speaking at This Year's Virtual Symposium)
Leah walks two paths. On one hand, she is a quiet farmer and a private family person. On the other, she is a very public author, teacher, public speaker. All of it is tied together by her commitment to community. It is her passion to feed people with limited access to good food. Her book, Farming While Black, has launched a thousand conversations. It is an important contribution to the Black Lives Matter movement. It tells the often forgotten history of black contribution and disenfranchisement in agriculture, and the current struggle to create a different future. Leah is Co-Founder and Co-Director of Soul Fire Farm in New York state. Soul Fire is a collective whose mission is “to end racism and injustice in the food system and by reclaiming the inherent right to belong to the earth and to have agency in the food system as Black and Brown people.” That is a huge task. Soul Fire is dedicated to training people of color in organic farming practices while also providing a web of support.
(Dan Barber speaking at This Year's Virtual Symposium)
Dan is a very public chef. He founded two top-end restaurants, Blue Hill and Blue Hill At Stone Barns. He was a central force in the creation of the Stone Barns Center in New York, which is dedicated to education about food and agriculture. He imagined an organic farm that would supply a restaurant with the very highest quality vegetables, meat, and eggs, and then helped to make all that a reality. His book The Third Plate is a wonderful exploration of how food is grown and its impact on all of us. He explores the connections between taste and nutrition. Talking to Dan is like riding a bull as his zig zag mind pivots and lunges. He is always interesting.
Vandana has been a champion of local organic farming for a very long time. Based in India, she has spoken around the world. Eliot Coleman told me that he once heard her speaking to a large group of Spanish farmers. With every sentence, there would be a cry of support and hundreds of fists thrust into the air. Vandana has been at the forefront of many fights around the world against Big Ag, opposing GMOs and corporate dominance. She calls for local food production based on the traditional organic techniques that Albert Howard learned about in India. She has written numerous books. The latest is Oneness vs The 1%; Shattering Illusions, Seeding Freedom.
Alice is often cited as the pioneering chef who began the Farm To Plate movement. Her restaurant, Chez Panisse, is still one of the finest restaurants in the country. And it was one of the very first to consciously source local, organic ingredients. She once described the restaurant as having the goal of buying the highest-quality ingredients from local farmers and then doing her best to not screw them up in the kitchen. I have eaten the delicious results. Now there are thousands of restaurants that follow that plan, providing markets for many small farms as the supermarkets move away from local, seasonal suppliers. Alice has gone on to start The Edible Schoolyard, a program that brings free lunch to all students. It brings food growing to the school while building a school curriculum that nourishes the bodies and minds of young people. There are now around 6000 schools participating around the world. She is the author of many books. Her most recent is Coming to My Senses: The Making of a Counterculture Cook. She is finishing a new book on Fast Food Culture.
(From the Edible Schoolyard Project)
Onika Abraham in New York City
I first met Onika when she spoke at an NYC rally to Keep The Soil In Organic. She was eloquent in her defense of the soil, telling us that virtually all the urban farmers that she knows grow in the soil, and practice the traditional techniques often called organic. She also insisted that the organic movement must build racial and economic diversity in its community just as it builds biological diversity in the soil. Onika spoke at our first Dartmouth symposium and then gave the keynote at the NOFA VT Winter Conference. She is a brave person. She is Director of Farm School NYC, which trains local residents in urban agriculture. The goal is to build self-reliant communities and inspire positive local action around food access and social, economic, and racial justice issues. Onika is a co-founder with mentor Karen Washington of Black Urban Growers (BUGS).
JM Fortier in Quebec
JM is a Québécois farmer, author, educator, and advocate for ecological, human-scale, and economically-viable sustainable agriculture. He is the founder, with his wife, Maude-Hélène Desroches, of Les Jardins de la Grelinette, a certified organic market garden in Saint-Armand, Quebec. Out of this small farm has grown a huge impact that goes beyond the lucky people who get to eat their good food. JM has written The Market Gardener, a guide to small-scale vegetable farmers that has sold over 200,000 copies. His teachings and his model have inspired thousands of young people to start farming. He is often seen as a younger inheritor of Eliot Coleman’s successful work to change the world by changing how we eat, and by how we grow our food. JM and Maude-Hélène are among the pilot farmers who got certified by the Real Organic Project in our first year. He is a powerful advocate for huge changes on a small scale.
(From the Edible Schoolyard Website)
We thank these hard-working and inspirational people for all that they have done and continue to do. We are honored to have them as Advisors to the Real Organic Project. It is only together that we can make a change. And together, we cannot fail.
As our friend, Will Allen has said:
Love and struggle.
Dave and Linley