The need to connect soil and human health with social justice and fairness on the farm will be the focus of a keynote address by long-time organic farmer, agricultural justice advocate, and writer Elizabeth Henderson at the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association’s (OEFFA) 40th annual conference, Just Farming: The Path Before Us, this February in Dayton, Ohio.
In her Friday, February 15 keynote address, “Agrarian Justice: Creating a Food System Worth Sustaining,” Henderson will explore why we need to support fair pricing for farmers, instead of subsidizing corporate control of our food system. She’ll also explain why we need to unite family-scale farmers with other food workers and build a coalition powerful enough to bring to life a food system grounded in agroecology, health, freedom, justice, and equity.
“If we are honest, we have to admit that for the most part social relations in organic agriculture mimic those of the dominant industrial food system, and organic farmers, even farmers who sell direct in local markets, have a hard time making ends meet,” Henderson said. “By stretching towards fairness, organic can take its rightful place in the struggles for freedom and justice, for civil liberties for all. We will not reach the promised land of sustainability based on the environment and humane treatment of livestock alone. Farmers and farmworkers, the people who do the work of farming, must have justice.”
Henderson is a core leader behind the Agricultural Justice Project (AJP) and its Food Justice Certification label, working to create fairness for farmers and farmworkers.
“The basic premise of AJP is that supportive relations of mutual respect and cooperation among the people who grow and sell food will result in a triple win for farmers, food workers, and ultimately the people who eat the food,” she said.
Henderson is also a pioneer of the community supported agriculture (CSA) model. She co-founded the Genesee Valley Organic CSA in Rochester, NY in 1989, and later Peacework Farm in Newark, NY in 1998, one of the country’s longest running CSAs.
“For me, farming for a community of people whom I know well is very satisfying,” she told the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program. “It’s not like shipping crates off somewhere, where I never see the customers. I know everyone, and I know most of their children.”
She co-authored the definitive work on CSA farming, Sharing the Harvest: A Citizen’s Guide to Community Supported Agriculture, and is honorary president of the international CSA network, Urgenci.
On Friday, February 15, Henderson will also lead a 90-minute workshop, “CSAs Around the World.”
“Around the planet there are many different ways of doing [CSA]. And that’s part of what’s so exciting, that CSA isn’t an orthodoxy, nobody certifies it, nobody dictates that you have to do it this way or that way. It’s a concept of the direct connection between a group of eaters and one or several pieces of land. And after that you can do it however you want,” she told the Farmer to Farmer podcast in 2015.
Deeply involved in the organic movement, Henderson is a founding member of the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA) in Massachusetts. She has served on the Board of Directors for NOFA-New York and other farming organizations.
She is also co-author of Whole Farm Planning: Ecological Imperatives, Personal Values, and Low-Input Practices, and her writings on organic agriculture appear in Grist, The Natural Farmer, and other publications.
“We are honored to welcome Elizabeth to our 40th annual conference,” said OEFFA Program Director Renee Hunt. “As we reflect on how far we’ve come and the work ahead, her decades of experience and leadership in the organic movement and thoughtful ability to explore the themes of justice and diversity make her a perfect fit for helping to shape our work for the next 40 years.”
On Saturday, February 16, Henderson will co-present the 90-minute workshop, “OEFFA’s Advocacy Agenda: Policy Priorities Past, Present, and Future.”
Henderson will speak as part of Ohio’s largest sustainable food and farm conference, which will run Thursday, February 14 through Saturday, February 16 at the Dayton Convention Center.
In addition to Henderson, this year’s conference will feature keynote speaker Onika Abraham on February 16; nearly 80 educational workshops; four full-day Food and Farm School classes on February 14; a three-day trade show; evening entertainment; activities for children; locally-sourced meals; a raffle; book sales and signings, and more.
For more information about the conference, or to register, go to www.oeffa.org/conference2019.
For Immediate Release: February 17, 2018
Dayton, OH—At a gathering of more than 1,100 farmers and local food advocates, U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) received the Food and Farm Champion Award from the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA). The announcement was made in Dayton on Friday, February 16 as part of OEFFA’s 39th annual conference, A Taste for Change.
“Senator Brown has consistently supported investments in local and regional food systems that contribute to farmer viability, create jobs, and improve public health,” said OEFFA’s Policy Program Coordinator Amalie Lipstreu, who presented the award.
“Local farmers feed Ohio families and grow Ohio’s economy. I’m proud to work with partners like OEFFA to help connect family farms with their communities, grow their bottom lines, and create jobs across our state. It’s an honor to receive the Food and Farm Champion award,” said Senator Brown, who provided remarks to the conference’s 1,100 guests.
Senator Brown serves on the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee, where he has been instrumental in strengthening the farm safety net and addressing childhood hunger.
DAYTON, Ohio — Early-career farmers and those considering an agricultural vocation will get a lot of the information they need during a dedicated “Begin Farming Workshop” that is part of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Assoc.’s (OEFFA) annual conference Feb. 15-17 at the Dayton Convention Center.
This 39th annual conference is titled A Taste for Change.
“Our goal is to help people increase their knowledge and skills, find leads on farmland, and make business and professional connections,” said OEFFA Begin Farming Program Coordinator Kelly Henderson.
On Feb. 16-17, six 90-minute workshops, totaling nine hours of education, will cover a wide range of topics, from organic certification to farming with children. OEFFA sustainable ag educator Julia Barton will address the top 10 organic transition questions most people ask, while Mike Durante of the National Young Farmers Coalition will discuss land access and affordability for the beginning farmer.
Other beginning farming experts will discuss government regulations, how to market your farm produces, health insurance and risk management and much more.
And this annual event is not just for the beginning farmer. Additional workshop sessions on production, marketing, business and green living will be offered, giving attendees nearly 80 workshops from which to choose.
This year’s keynote speakers include Jeff Moyer of the Rodale Institute and Stacy Malkan of U.S. Right to Know.
“If you look at the food market system in the U.S., ours is the fastest growth of all,” Moyer said. “This is great news for those in the organic industry – not only for the growers, but the impact on the health of the people. It’s a win-win for everyone.”
His talk will focus on the food of the future rather than that of the present or past.
“We want to look at the history only so we don’t make the same mistakes and to see how we got where we are. I will explain what the future holds for organic growers, as this will give us a picture of the changes and how we as farmers can impact that change.”
Moyer is a renowned authority in organic agriculture with expertise in organic crop production systems, weed management, cover crops, crop rotations, equipment modification and use and facilities design. He conceptualized and popularized the No-Till Roller Crimper for use in organic agriculture and wrote Organic No-Till Farming, a publication that has become a resource for farmers throughout the world.
Malkan’s keynote address, entitled “Fake News, Fake Food”, will be urging attendees how to stand up for organic foods and their right to know in the era of Big Ag. She is an author, investigative journalist and leading consumer advocate for safer products.
She is also co-founder and co-director of the nonprofit group U.S. Right to Know, whose mission is to educate and inform consumers about the often hidden practices that shape the food system.
Sarah Flack, a consultant, speaker and author of The Art and Science of Grazing, will cover the basic principles of good grazing management systems, as well as soils and management systems that improve pasture quality and productivity.
Dr. Barbara Utendorf, a nutrition and personal wellness expert, will discuss how to incorporate key health-restoring foods and herbs in a cultivated environment. She will review the multiple benefits of plants.
Matt Fout, ODA food safety supervisor, will train fruit and vegetable farmers to meet the Food Safety Modernization Act’s Produce Safety Rule. He will cover worker health, hygiene and training.
Other topics found among the workshops include lessons in soil biology and soil health; growing organic foods in the face of imports; key principles of well-managed grazing systems; cover crops for small-scale vegetable production; changing customer expectations; planting trees for profit; how to store grain properly; raising pastured turkeys; cool-season vegetable production; underground greenhouse design; inroads into food deserts; and uses for alpaca fibers.
The OEFFA conference also has entertainment opportunities for attending children, with an abundance of arts and crafts.
The Dayton Convention Center is located at 22 E. 5th Street, Dayton, OH 45402. For more information about this event, call OEFFA at 614-421-2022.
By Ty Higgins, Ohio’s Country Journal and Ohio AgNet
The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association’s (OEFFA) 39th annual conference, A Taste for Change, will run Thursday, Feb. 15 through Saturday, Feb. 17 at the Dayton Convention Center in Dayton.
“The conference is three days of learning, networking, sharing, and breaking bread with an inspiring and growing community of farmers and local food advocates,” said Renee Hunt, OEFFA Program Director. “Each year, we draw more than 1,200 attendees, and our diverse schedule offers something for all tastes.”
Friday keynote speaker is Jeff Moyer, a world renowned authority in organic agriculture. He conceptualized and popularized the No-Till Roller Crimper and wrote Organic No-Till Farming. He is the Executive Director of the Rodale Institute, which helps farmers make the transition from conventional, chemical-based farming to organic methods. He is a past chair of the National Organic Standards Board.
“This country is in the midst of a food fight in both the production world and the consumer world,” Moyer said. “As consumer demand for organic grows, there is a lot of pushing and pulling on the food dollar in the marketplace. Right now the organic food industry is around 5% of the food dollar in the United States, but only about 1.2% of the farmland in this country is being farmed organically.”
Moyer says the result of that data is that a lot of organic product is coming in from international or offshore enterprises. He is working very hard to change that scenario and encourage more farmers to transition to organic to take advantage of an opportunity to be more profitable and at the same time improve the health of the soil and change the way that resources are being managed on the farm.
COLUMBUS, Ohio — How certain natural microbes can help crops grow better and faster.
How to make contaminated soils, sometimes present in cities, healthy for urban farming.
How a new perennial grain could have double uses, as food for people and forage for livestock, and also double benefits, helping soil and water.
Those will be some of the topics when experts from The Ohio State University join the speaker lineup at the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association’s (OEFFA) 39th annual conference, Feb. 15-17 at the Dayton Convention Center.
Called Ohio’s largest conference on sustainable food and farming, the event offers nearly 80 hour-and-a-half workshops on organic farming and related topics, including 10 with speakers from Ohio State. One track of workshops is especially for beginning farmers.
About 1,200 people — farmers, gardeners, foodies, green living advocates and others — are expected to attend. The conference theme is “A Taste for Change.”
“For 39 years, the OEFFA conference has been the gathering place for sustainable and organic farmers and, more recently, researchers to share information,” said Carol Goland, executive director of OEFFA. And there’s good reason for the sharing.
Fastest-growing sector in U.S. food industry
Organic food is the fastest-growing sector in the U.S. food industry, with double-digit annual sales increases “far outstripping the growth rate for the overall food market,” according to the Washington, D.C.-based Organic Trade Association (OTA). Organic food still represents only a small share of total U.S. food sales, about 5 percent, but the figure now stands at a record high, OTA says.
Ohio alone had 575 certified organic farms in 2016, up 24 percent from 2015 and good for seventh place in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2016 Certified Organic Survey. Those farms reported sales of about $101 million, a 30 percent jump from the year before.
Ohio State program nationally ranked
Ohio State, for its part, “has one of the strongest organic farming research programs in the United States,” said Doug Doohan, interim director of the university’s Organic Food and Farming Education and Research (OFFER) program. Among similar programs, OFFER “consistently ranks in the top 10 percent nationally when it comes to funding and publications,” he said.
Ohio State’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) started the OFFER program (not to be confused with OEFFA) in 1998. The decision was spurred by requests from Ohio’s growing number of organic farmers, led by OEFFA members, for research to support their industry. More than two dozen CFAES scientists are collaborators in the program.
‘Strong, growing’ relationship
Since then, OFFER and OEFFA have cultivated a “strong and growing” relationship, Doohan said. OFFER scientists increasingly design their research in consultation with OEFFA member farmers, sometimes even conducting experiments on the farmers’ farms, he said.
“That kind of collaborative relationship really helps get at the most pressing issues and addresses them in the most impactful way possible,” Doohan said.
Such efforts “help equip farmers with the information they need” to take advantage of organic farming’s economic opportunities, Goland said. Those opportunities include earning price premiums compared to conventionally produced products, which can boost a farm’s profitability.
Organic farmers, in almost cases, are prohibited from using synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. Instead they employ a big toolkit of natural inputs, non-chemical methods and biological processes, such as mulch, manure and beneficial insects, to keep their crops healthy and productive. Other practices, such as cover crops and crop rotation, serve to limit soil erosion, improve soil health, cut the risk of water contamination and increase biodiversity.
Keynoting the OEFFA conference will be Jeff Moyer, executive director of the Pennsylvania-based Rodale Institute, and Stacy Malkan, co-director of the food industry watchdog group U.S. Right to Know.
Workshop speakers also will come from farms, businesses, nonprofits, advocacy groups, agencies and elsewhere in higher education, including Ohio’s Central State University.
The speakers from Ohio State, most of whom are collaborators in OFFER, will be:
- Matt Kleinhenz, Department of Horticulture and Crop Science, CFAES, “Microbe-Containing Crop Biostimulants: What We Know, What Is Important to Learn” (Feb. 16, 8:30 a.m.).
- Douglas Jackson-Smith, School of Environment and Natural Resources (SENR), CFAES, panel discussion member on “Better On-Farm Research for Better Organic Farming” (Feb. 16, 10:30 a.m.).
- Steve Culman, SENR, “Dual-Use Perennial Grain Crops: Grain for Humans and Hay for Livestock,” about a new grain variety called Kernza developed by the Kansas-based Land Institute (Feb. 17, 3:30 p.m.).
- Culman and Kleinhenz, “Base Cation Balance: What Are Crops, Soils, Weeds and People Saying?” (Feb. 16, 2 p.m.).
- Shoshanah Inwood, SENR, co-speaker on “Health Insurance and Risk Management for Farmers: Tools for Navigating Health Insurance,” part of the workshop track for beginning farmers (Feb. 17, 8:30 a.m.).
- Alan Sundermeier, Ohio State University Extension, CFAES, “Interpreting Soil Health Information for Organic Producers” (Feb. 17, 8:30 a.m.).
- Celeste Welty, Department of Entomology, “Organic Approaches to Insect Management on Cucurbit Crops,” cucurbits being such crops as squashes, pumpkins, cucumbers and watermelons (Feb. 17, 8:30 a.m.).
- Gustavo Schuenemann, College of Veterinary Medicine and OSU Extension, “Designing Health Protocols for Certified Organic Herds” (Feb. 17, 8:30 a.m.).
- Meredith Krueger, OSU Food Waste Collaborative, CFAES, co-speaker on “Weaving Food Policy Work Statewide: The Development of the Ohio Food Policy Network” (Feb. 17, 8:30 a.m.).
- Larry Phelan, Department of Entomology, CFAES, “Can Urban Soils Be Made Healthy for Farming?” (Feb. 17, 3:30 p.m.).
Goland said research on organic farming, by OFFER scientists and many others, “is key to supporting this growing industry.”
Find details on the event at oeffa.org/conference2018.php. Online registration has ended, but walk-in registrations are welcome on Feb. 16 and 17.
When the Ohio Ecological Food and Farming Association holds its annual food conference Feb. 15-17 in Dayton, there will be lots of celebration. More than 1,000 folks interested in growing and supporting sustainable food will meet in 80 skill-building workshops, and they’ll do so knowing that organic-food sales are healthy, too.
In a relatively stagnant growth market for food in general, organic-food sales continue to rise by more than 8 percent a year, according to the country’s Organic Trade Association.
With the good news comes the bad. There aren’t enough young people taking up farming, not enough research to make it easier and more profitable, and still not enough sales to make both of those things happen soon.
We talked about that last week with Jeff Moyer, who will be giving one of the keynote speeches at the OEFFA conference. Moyer, 62, spoke by phone from Kutztown in eastern Pennsylvania. He and his family started farming there organically in the back-to-the-land movement of the 1970s.
Until five years ago, he served on the National Organic Standards Board of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a group that came into being in 1990 with the creation of the USDA Organic label. Moyer now heads Rodale Institute, a cornerstone organization in organic agriculture.
From your view, what’s the current state of the organic-food world?
When Robert Rodale was here in 1971, he was frustrated at the slow growth of organic-farming principles. He was concerned about human health, planetary health and wrote about climate change. He saw organic-crop production as a way to mitigate these problems. He saw two reasons for the slow growth. One was that, whether we like it or not, agriculture moves on the back of science, and we don’t have a lot of science on the back of organic agriculture.
He also saw a problem with certification. At that time, anybody could put something on the market and call it organic. He thought the best way was to bring in government certification, which would expand organics, allow people to trust what they purchase and have an understanding for interstate trade which would be converted into research. That part didn’t pan out well, but the labeling did.
Do people understand the label?
I wish everyone had a deep understanding of it. Most don’t have the time, although I think they have the interest. But I think they do trust it.
There were stories last year about missing links in the organic certification of some crops grown overseas. Why should we trust the label?
Because the alternative is far worse. Without the label, you don’t have anything to go by. And you get what you pay for. Yes, there are cheaters out there, but it’s still better than the alternative. Food is one product that we purchase, put it in our mouths and it becomes us. While the seal is less than perfect, it’s the best thing we have that can be verified.
Why does organic food generally cost more?
We’re paying for the quality that the farmer brings to the entire process. Organic farming is more cost-effective than conventional farming. Yet conventional farmers have subsidized crop insurance because their processes are so much more at risk to climate and weather patterns. There’s no way they can afford the insurance.
But consumers, instead of paying for those subsidies through our tax dollars, should really be paying for it at the point of purchase. When people develop [illnesses] that can be attributed to their diet and the way their food is produced, we don’t pay for that in the food but in the cost of health insurance. Not that organic farmers can’t apply for crop insurance, or can’t get into government programs, but they generally don’t need to. They charge what they need to get to a reasonable profit.
So why aren’t there more organic farmers, and how do you get more?
“That’s the $64,000 question. I saw an analysis from Ohio State University that showed you have to spend 10 times more to become a farmer than to become a surgeon, but you make 10 times less money. There are now six times as many farmers over 65 than farmers over 35. Farmers aren’t aging out of the system, and eventually, something drastic has to happen.
At Rodale, we have a dynamic training program for U.S. military veterans. Other folks are doing similar things. Organic Valley is using investor money to get people on the land to transition it over to organic status, and then the land goes to a management company. But we don’t have many other options. We need education in the banking industry to support organic production. It’s not a recipe, and they have to learn to take some risks.”
Are organics at risk in the current political climate?
“If I knew, I’d be a millionaire. We know the GOP wants fewer regulations. Airlines, banks, have all asked to get rid of regulations. But we asked them for regulation, and more of it, because it gives us guidelines to build a business on. Organic certification is completely voluntary. I hope politicians see the difference and leave it alone.”
IF YOU GO
What: A Taste for Change, the 39th annual conference of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farming Association. Includes 80 educational workshops for farmers and consumers with special attention this year to new farmers, urban farming, a trade show and more.
When: Thursday Feb. 15-Saturday Feb. 17.
Where: Dayton Convention Center
Contact: oeffa.org/conference2018, 614-421-2022.
COLUMBUS, Ohio – Farmers, foodies and anyone hungry to know more about local, sustainable foods are invited to an annual event that draws more than 1,000 people from Ohio and beyond.
Registration is now open for the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association’s 39th annual conference, Feb. 15-17.
Lauren Ketcham, OEFFA’s communications coordinator, says it’s a great chance to learn more about a variety of topics, including gardening and urban agriculture, farm business management, food safety and homesteading.
“The goal of the conference really is to bring farmers and food advocates together to learn, network, share and break bread with the goal of inspiring, empowering and growing the local foods and organic farming community,” Ketcham states.
The conference theme is “A Taste for Change.” It will be held at the Dayton Convention Center, and information on registration is online at oeffa.org.
Ketcham says about 1,200 people are expected to attend this year, and she notes the conference has something for everyone, not just farmers working on large tracts of land.
“Folks that are interested in maybe being an effective advocate for the food and farm policy issues that they care about – we have sessions that deal with that,” she states. “We have sessions that are focused on green living, so people that want to learn how to incorporate fresh, healthy foods into their urban landscape, onto their dinner table.”
World-renowned organic expert Jeff Moyer of the Rodale Institute is the keynote speaker on Friday, Feb. 16. The next day, author and safe-products advocate Stacy Malkan takes the stage for her keynote speech, “Fake News, Fake Food.”
By Andrew Flinn, Brownfield Ag News, 2/13/17
A former USDA official says the upcoming farm bill needs to provide incentives to help conventional farmers who want to shift to organic farming. Jim Riddle is a past chairman of the USDA National Organic Standards Board.
“That allows a conventional farmer just to make a choice based on economics and provides technical assistance so they have people they can go to but also a financial safety net so they’re not risking the farm by going organic,” says Riddle.
He tells Brownfield there are additional rules and regulations for farmers shifting to organic operations before they can be certified as organic.
“You’re signing up to be regulated at a level that a lot of farmers haven’t been in the past but it needs to pencil out,” says Riddle.
Riddle says the certification is necessary for the industry to maintain its relationship with consumers.
“There have been ideas floated like we need to weaken the standards to make it easier to get into organic, and that would kill the market. The consumers demand rigorous standards and that’s what it’s all based on” says Riddle.
Brownfield spoke with Riddle at the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association’s Conference in Dayton Ohio.
By Debbi Snook, Cleveland Plain Dealer, 2/7/17
While organic farming groups are moving an arm’s length from President Donald Trump’s views, from immigration to an agriculture secretary nominee, Jim Riddle is leaning in to the new administration with a corn-huskers’ handshake.
Riddle, a 60-year-old who grew up on an Iowa farm and now raises berries in Minnesota, says there’s an unclaimed common ground between organics and conservatives.
His own perspective is certified organic. For 20 years he was an organic inspector, one of those folks who show up at least once a year to determine if certified farms really do merit the federally approved organic label by avoiding harmful pesticides and genetically modified seeds, among many other strictures.
After co-founding a farmers market, he served five years on the National Organic Standards Board of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Since then he has been appointed chair of Minnesota’s organic advisory board. This weekend he comes to Dayton as a keynote speaker at the 38th annual conference of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association. He’ll talk 3:45 p.m. Friday at the Dayton Convention Center. More information online.
Politics were heavy in the air when we talked to him by phone two weeks ago.
“In part, I want to talk about how organic values are conservative values,” he said. “At its core, organic farming is pro-life. From the ground up, it’s about keeping things alive – the seeds, the soil health, pollinators and wildlife. It embraces all species at all levels of farming.”And I also want to say that organic farming is really free-market farming. It’s farming the land in response to consumer demand. The demand for organic products is skyrocketing by double-digits each year. But because organic crop rotations are more complex methods, there typically aren’t government subsidies. That matches really well with the conservative agenda.
“The organic community went to the government and said it wanted standards that protect the word organic, and it worked really well. We’re really a model for self-regulation with clear, strong, transparent standards and protection of the word organic.”
Riddle believes organic food corresponds to the perceived conservative values of heightened personal responsibility.
“We are what we eat,” he said. “If it’s junk, you have lots of health problems. If you eat clean and live a smart life, your health improves and you’re less of a cost to society.”
Still, Riddle would like to see some changes, especially in what he calls loopholes to the organic trade laws.
In 2014, he said, Minnesota was one of the biggest producers of organic soybeans, selling more than $7.5 million a year. That same year, he said, India sold $75 million in organic soybeans to the United States. India got permission to sell here in a “magical, not transparent,” process during the George Bush administration, Riddle said. “India wanted access to the U.S. organic market, and it was granted as part of a nuclear arms agreement.”
While India has its own certifying groups to grant the use of USDA Organic labels, Riddle says the there’s no U.S. oversight on how they are being certified. In fact, Indocert.org, the site for a national certification body in India, says that because of forged certificates, buyers should double-check with Indocert first.
“Maybe it’s all totally authentic,” said Riddle, “and good for India if that’s true. But we don’t know. There’s no transparency, no U.S. audits, no reviews.”
Right now, he said, we import 70 percent of the organic soybeans we use, and 40-50 percent of organic corn. Many of those grains are coming not only from India, but also from Turkey, Romania and the Ukraine. Those three, he said, are inspected by a Turkish agency which lost its accreditation to sell in the European Union and Canada two years ago. The USDA tried, but failed, to suspend the Turkish agency’s accreditation. From Riddle’s point of view, this means we are letting in questionable imports.
“Even if they are authentic, we are rewarding farmers in foreign lands rather than supporting organic farmers in America who are protecting water quality, preventing soil erosion, enhancing biodiversity, and growing good clean food. We need to do everything we can to preserve organics here. And, hello, if anything can grow here organically, it’s corn and beans.”
But who will grow it? Riddle admits that while organic food sales have spiked, the number of U.S. organic farmers has not increased. He himself turned from annual to perennial crops after some severe storms.
So, beyond blueberries, who will grow our vegetables? Riddle says produce is still a good, quick-turnover crop for beginning farmers, although he encourages diversification for biodiversity and future profit.
Organic farmers still face “a huge barrier” economically in the required three-year transition period from conventional farming methods to organic certification.
“There’s no safety net to help conventional and beginning farmers convert to organic,” he said. “While a country like Denmark is behind that transition 100 percent.
“As a result, we become more dependent on imports. The farther we get away from our own gardens, community supported agriculture programs, farmers markets, there’s a larger danger of not being authentic.
“There are container ships arriving here with 450,000 tons of “organic” grain at a time. It’s really difficult to think about traceability on that grain.”
Riddle, along with major players in the organic community, also worries about the rise in hydroponically grown products being labeled as organic.
“It’s right in the law that the term organic means it enhances the health of the soil. If there’s no soil, how can you apply the term? It’s misleading to the consumer. It’s fine if they want to label the products as pesticide-free, but hydroponic growers shouldn’t be cashing in on the organic market.”
Riddle worries about the current immigration crackdown, fearing that people will forget the contributions to agriculture made by Hispanics, Somalians, and, in his neck of the woods, the Hmong of Laos.
He’s hoping Ohio will create its own organic advisory board, to help bolster the movement. He may find ways to shake hands with the new administration, but he wants them to feel an organic grip.
“This whole movement toward organic food and farming happened outside the political sphere,” he said. “And it’s not going to go away.”