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Reflections on organic confluences

Last week the Organic Revolutionary went on a road trip, getting home just before Memorial Day weekend. Starting out on May 18th, I made my way from northeastern Vermont to Brooklyn, then on to Kutztown, PA and finally Washington, DC for the Organic Trade Association (OTA) policy week events on May 23-24. It was a week full of confluences and synchronicity--everyone I met affirmed and amplified the importance of the message that organic farming is a key strategy that we can implement both quickly and broadly to help us mitigate and adapt to impending global climate chaos.

A fantastic trip on multiple levels, rich in conversation and learning, it was a joy to reconnect with old friends and make new ones. A brief tour of the high points:

May 18th

Got to Brooklyn in time to take my beautiful, talented daughter, Opal Hoyt, to dinner. Met up for lunch en route in Greenfield, MA with Tom Hutcheson, my old organic policy comrade, formerly with the Organic Trade Association (OTA). Note to self: Avoid driving into New York City from now on.

May 19th

Delighted to meet Kate Daloz, author of We Are as Gods, a lovingly written book that overlaps with mine in subject matter, era, and locale. Such fun hearing her insights about old friends from ‘back in the day,’ great stories about a local commune and the pioneering counterculture characters who helped shape the alternative agriculture movement. Now planning some joint book events – Vermont in the summer, and New York in the fall. Great Uzbek dinner with a new friend, Brooklyn activist and social ecology comrade Linda Cohen, followed by a moonlit walk on the Coney Island beach.

May 20th

Pleasant morning savoring the blossoms at Brooklyn Botanic Garden, then a liesurely drive to Kutztown, PA to prepare for my talk on “organic farming for the planet” at the Rodale Institute garden store. Met up with Green Mountain College Masters in Sustainable Food Systems student Cynthia James, who manages Rodale’s Agriculture Supported Communities program. After a farm tour I was happy to relax in my weekend lodging at the Rodale house, shared with the female farm interns and brimming with organic legend.

May 21st

A showery day, wandering around the big plant sale--couldn’t resist acquiring a few plants and a big bag of Rodale-produced compost to bring home. All the interns were on hand for my afternoon book talk, and we had a most stimulating conversation over dinner. A real treat to engage with these exceptionally motivated folks, eager to learn and fun to be around.

May 22nd

Took my time driving farther South to arrive in Bethesda, MD to stay with another old friend for a few days. I met Terry D’Addio when I moved to Washington in 1994 to work for the National Organic Program; she has been with USDA since then, helping run various programs at the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS).

May 23rd

Excited to participate in the Organic Center’s premier event, the Organic Confluences Summit (interesting how many summits are being held lately). This one lived up to its name. Found many old friends here--Bill Wolf, George Kalogridis, Bob Quinn, Tom Harding, Emily Brown-Rosen, and Gwen Wyard among them. Miles McEvoy, current head of the NOP, as well as two of my former bosses (Keith Jones & Richard Mathews) were also there. What a cast of characters!

Morning panel consisted of scientists who presented research results indicating that, compared to conventionally farmed plots, organic farming systems:

  • Increase soil organic matter (and thus carbon content and overall soil health) – Michel Cavigelli, USDA Agricultural Research Service.

  • Protect water quality in tile drainage systems – Cynthia Cambardella, Iowa State University.

  • Promote biodiversity of beneficial species, even in simplified landscapes – David Crowder, Washington State University.

  • Promote pollinator diversity and improve productivity as a result – Amber Sciligo, UC Berkeley.

  • Mitigate climate change by reducing methane and nitrous oxide emissions, in addition to sequestering carbon in soil organic matter – Erin Silva, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The incomparable Cathy Greene of USDA’s Economic Research Service related current figures collected from periodic organic producers’ surveys. These data indicate a high level of sustainability practices used by organic farmers in order to provide soil and crop nutrients and manage pests without resorting to synthetic fertilizers and toxic, persistent pesticides.

Kathleen Delate of Iowa State University provided a whole systems overview of the organic approach, including some of the philosophy and history included in Organic Revolutionary, and tied together the scientific studies to emphasize the economic, social, and ecological benefits of organic farming.

Having just come from giving my own presentation at one of the “centers of origin” of the organic vision, I was thrilled to learn that the science is increasingly there to support what we have known for a long time: Organic farming can save the world!

May 24th

Returned to the Hall of States to participate in OTA Member Day meetings. Caught up with Katherine DiMatteo, and learned that I will be on the agenda at the 2017 Organicology Conference. Glad to reconnect with my textile cheerleader pal Sandra Marquardt, as well as Melody Meyer, Kim Dietz, Katrina Heinz, and my egg mogul neighbor, Jesse LaFlamme.

Joined in discussions about OTA’s newly proposed Certified Transitional program, and discussed farm inputs conundrums with Nate Lewis at a round table with fertilizer manufacturers. Stayed on to meet with the OTA Board of Directors, and decided it was time to publicly support the proposed organic checkoff program. Gratified by praise for Organic Revolutionary from the movers and shakers of the organic industry.

May 25th

Couldn’t stay in town for the OTA Policy Conference, but followed some of the highlights on twitter (yes, learning to tweet too, thanks to my book designer-social media guru Marie Hathaway). Big announcement of the day was release of the new study of the links between organic agriculture and economic improvement in various geographic “hot spots.” That, combined with release of the latest organic industry growth figures – up about 11% since 2014 to $43 billion – enhanced the celebratory twitter-verse.

Filled with inspiration, my homeward journey began with a visit to cousins in Poughkeepsie, NY, who treated me to a meal at the swanky chef training school, Culinary Institute of America (CIA). Family values indeed!

May 26th

Heading home at last, with one more quick stop in Holyoke, MA to visit Eric Toensmeier and finally get my own copy of his new book, The Carbon Farming Solution. Eric is a former student and colleague at the Institute for Social Ecology (ISE), who has become a leading expert on permaculture and now carbon farming. Also one of my favorite human beings in the world…more synergy takes place, talking about joining forces to develop an agriculture course for the ISE’s new on-line program.

May 27th

Home at last–collaboration, synergy, and planetary healing continue coming together in a raging confluence of ideas!

My first day home brings me to a book event with Didi Pershouse in nearby Cabot, VT, organized by Public Banking Institute powerhouse Gwen Hallsmith. Didi’s book, The Ecology of Care, is subtitled Medicine, Agriculture, Money, and the Quiet Power of Human and Microbial Communities. Didi comes at the soil-health-microbiome connection from the health angle, sounding a lot like an Organic Revolutionary in the pages of her book …and another fertile potential collaboration emerges from this week of deep convergence of minds.

Now to get back into the garden and dig my hands into the microbe-rich soil of home.


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