Organic Broadcaster

Organic farmers join forces to impact national farm policy, organic integrity

By Jim Riddle, Organic Farmers Association

One farm – one vote—that’s a founding mantra for the Organic Farmers Association (OFA). Though we have individual supporting members and organizational members (like MOSES), only domestic certified organic farmers vote to elect OFA’s leaders, conduct OFA’s business, and to establish OFA’s policy positions.

Jim Riddle shares information about the Organic Farmers Association in a booth at the 2018 MOSES Organic Farming Conference.

The Organic Farmers Association was formed in 2016 to provide an authentic voice for organic farmers at the national level. Before the 2017 MOSES Organic Farming Conference, we gathered in La Crosse for a retreat to establish a steering committee, elect officers, and write draft bylaws and guiding principles. The organization is sponsored by Rodale Institute, and has been fortunate to recruit experienced organic leaders from across the country.

Since the 2017 retreat, we’ve been busy! Our members elected a policy committee, which includes 12 certified organic farmers and 6 organic farm organization representatives, to direct OFA’s policy process. (While the organizational reps on the committee have a voice, only the certified organic farmers on the committee have a vote.)

We established OFA’s 2017-2018 policy priorities, which were voted on by our certified organic farmer members. These include 2018 Farm Bill priorities, as well as positions on issues such as organic enforcement and hydroponics.

We have implemented a very inclusive policy development process. To establish Organic Farmers Association positions on various issues, we cast a wide net by surveying all U.S. certified organic producers, in addition to all OFA members.

Input from Organic Farmers Association members and the broader organic community informs OFA’s elected policy committee on policy priorities, issues and ideas. The committee drafts positions and policies, which are voted on by our farmer members to become official OFA positions. In order to be adopted, each policy must be supported by at least 60% of our voting members nationwide, and must pass in at least 4 of our 6 regions.

To provide for equitable representation, we divided the nation into 6 regions (each containing approximately 1/6 of the total certified organic farmers in the U.S.): Northeast, South, Midwest, North Central, West, and California. There are two farmer members and one organizational representative elected from each region on OFA’s policy committee and on our governing council.

Once the policy committee was elected and our members voted on policy positions, we started speaking out. Organic Farmers Association leaders testified at the fall 2017 National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) meeting on behalf of our farmer members’ position in opposition to certifying hydroponic operations as “organic.”

We testified at a House Agriculture Committee Farm Bill Listening Session at FarmFest in rural Minnesota, where we focused on the importance of maintaining the organic certification cost share program, expanding organic research, and the need for USDA to take action to stop import fraud.

We submitted official comments on the USDA’s proposed withdrawal of the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices (OLPP) Final Rule, letting the USDA know that our members unanimously support full implementation of the OLPP, to make organic animal welfare requirements more consistent and enforceable.

We have hired a director (Kate Mendenhall, Iowa), policy director (Mark Rokola, based in Washington D.C.), and membership and outreach coordinator (Ali Lynn, based at Rodale Institute in Pennsylvania).

In 2017, Rodale Institute published two issues of New Farm Magazine, the publication of Organic Farmers Association, and distributed them to more than 30,000 certified organic operations and other key stakeholders.

As our sponsor, Rodale Institute created a website for OFA (OrganicFarmersAssociation.org); created a monthly e-newsletter, New Farm News; and set up a membership database to support OFA communications and membership recruitment. We also held a successful fundraiser in partnership with the retail chain, Natural Grocers, which raised $40,000 for OFA.

We have established working relationships with key House and Senate leaders from both parties, and have had a number of face-to-face meetings on various Farm Bill issues. We have also worked with USDA officials on issues such as pasture rule enforcement, import fraud, and hydroponics, letting them know our members’ positions on these issues, and suggesting ways for them to improve enforcement procedures.

In early February 2018, we wrote a lengthy letter to USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue, after the National Organic Program announced that hydroponic operations could be certified organic, without explaining why or how. After laying out legal objections, based in the language of the Organic Foods Production Act and the NOP Final Rule, we asked Sec. Perdue to retract the NOP’s statement and bring the program, and all accredited certification agencies, into compliance with the law. Among other things, we pointed out that OFPA mentions “soil” seven times and the Final Rule mentions “soil” 50 times, and neither mention “hydroponics” or “soilless production systems” at all.

Organic Farmers Association had a booth at the 2018 MOSES Conference, which was a great experience, with excellent networking and exposure. At our booth, we conducted a ballot on the question, “Should hydroponics be certified organic?” MOSES Conference voters said “No” with the following results: 65% “no,” 24% “yes,” and 11% “undecided.”

In April 2018, OFA’s policy committee and newly elected governing council will meet in Washington D.C. for our first annual meeting. In addition to “taking care of business,” (bylaws, policies, officers, etc.) we will spend a day on Capitol Hill, presenting OFA members’ policy positions. We will focus primarily on our members’ three top priorities: protect organic integrity (which includes import fraud, pasture rule enforcement and hydroponics); continue the Organic Certification Cost Share Program; and expand organic research.

During the annual meeting, the policy committee will refine and propose policies, which will be sent out to all our members for comment. After reviewing and considering comments, and making final recommendations, the proposed policies will be sent to all OFA farmer members for a final vote. This procedure will be repeated annually.

In order to maximize our effectiveness, we coordinate our national policy work with other organic, sustainable, environmental, and farm organizations, working hand-in-hand on issues where we have compatible positions. We also communicate with OFA members to complement our work in D.C., with action alerts and talking points, helping them communicate with lawmakers from their districts.

In 2018, we intend to conduct a needs assessment of our member organizations to focus our capacity-building and networking efforts on the top priorities for our organizational members. We plan to establish OFA listservs to facilitate national and regional dialogue on organic issues, production practices, and technical assistance, as well as organizational capacity-building support for our member organizations.

We will continue to annually survey all U.S. certified organic producers and Organic Farmers Association members on policy issues to help inform OFA’s leaders on policy priorities, issues and ideas in order to add to and strengthen our official policy positions. All of OFA’s policy positions, bylaws, guiding principles, action alerts, leader bios, and membership information are on our website.

We plan to double membership of individual members and increase the number of organizational members by 40% in 2018 through a comprehensive membership drive.

Which brings me to a question: Have you joined OFA? If not, you should! Be a part of the movement, promote organic agriculture, and engage in OFA’s decision-making process! Visit OrganicFarmersAssociation.org and join today!

Jim Riddle, Blue Fruit Farm in Minnesota, heads the steering committee of the Organic Farmers Association.

 

From the March | April  2018 Issue

Read more stories from current Broadcaster.

Comments are closed.