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Both big and small organic—for the health of the planet

The new edition of the Organic Trade Association (OTA) membership newsletter, The Organic Report recently arrived in the mail. Inside are some interesting updates on the current state of the organic industry—especially what OTA and others are doing to help more farmers, and more acreage, transition to organic production. Quite a bit, it seems, and the figures look impressive. A 12% increase in organic acreage from 2011 to 2014 has brought the total up to…still well under 1% of US farm land under organic management.

In line with my habit of reading periodicals back to front, though, I was drawn to the End Piece, entitled “Starting a dialog on scaling up organic.” Based on a workshop held at the 2016 Ecological Farming Conference, the three panelists spoke to some of the questions that seem to divide the organic community. Their arguments are ones that I often present when speaking to students as well as farming friends here in Vermont.

Many believe, as I note in my chapter on “Big Brother and the Organic Industry,” that “anything small is good, especially if it is local, and that the converse is also true—anything big is bad and is most likely far away.” This often translates into distrust or disdain for what is called “industrial organic.” But given the importance of transitioning as much land to organic methods as possible as quickly as possible, it makes no sense to insist that only small farms, which generally means those grossing under $250,000 a year, can really be organic.

It’s great to see that OTA has recently established a Farmers Advisory Council to give a more formal voice to organic producers in its policy discussions. This is a new and improved version of the Organic Farmers Associations Council that we organized within the fledgeling trade association back in the 1980’s—a group that was instrumental in lobbying for passage of the organic law in 1990. You can read about how we helped win a ‘legislative miracle’ in Organic Revolutionary.

Hope to see you in a couple of weeks at one of the OTA Organic Week meetings in Washington. I’ll bring a few copies of the book along too.


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