How do you know if you’re eating real organic food?
That means organic tomatoes and berries grown in nutrient-rich soil, instead of “organic” tomatoes and berries grown in plastic buckets of water.
That means organic milk from cows that have access to pasture, instead of “organic” milk from cows raised on farms closely resembling industrial CAFOs.
That means organic eggs from birds that have been able to express their natural behavior, instead of “organic” eggs from birds that literally live on top of each other and have no access to fresh air.
It is hard to imagine that any consumer would happily pay a premium price for an organic product that isn’t meaningfully different than a conventional one, but awareness of the disparity in production methods among shoppers is incredibly low.
However, this disparity is very well-known to small organic farmers. It is a serious threat to their livelihoods, which was why so many of them banded together to start the Real Organic Project (ROP).
Realizing that the USDA’s National Organic Program was not going to institute a fair playing field among all producers, the ROP is a recently established add-on label that requires USDA organic certification as a baseline and then prohibits things such as organic factory farms and hydroponics. In essence, it is enforcing the rules based on current USDA organic standards and not inserting anything new.
Currently, 500 farms across the U.S. are already ROP certified, with 200 in the queue to be inspected and a stated goal of 1,000 certified farms by this Christmas. Although ROP-certified products started hitting the shelves last year, they are not going to be easily found because right now, only farmers can get the certification. The organization is not ready to certify brands or co-packers just yet.
In addition to getting organic farms into the program, which comes at zero expense for the farmers, a clear objective for ROP is to educate organic consumers about what is truly taking place in the industry and the importance of saving “real organic.”
Key to this is the organization’s five-part Real Organic Symposium, which may be the most compelling and important piece of online media in our industry today. In addition to the many experts and luminaries who were interviewed for the symposium, viewers hear directly from the small organic farmers who play such a vital role in our movement yet rarely have their voices heard.
But their plight isn’t just their issue. It is our issue.
“As massive ‘certified organic’ farms move into the space and with the USDA’s National Organic Program unwillingness or inability to enforce the rules, small farms are being forced out of business. This has the unintended effect of giving consumers less of a choice when it comes to purchasing high-quality, organic foods. Out of the roughly 1 billion ‘certified organic’ eggs produced each year, many people would say that about 75% of them are not really organic, and if we continue down the path that we’re on, this number will only increase,” said Dave Chapman, Executive Director of the Real Organic Project.
PROGRESS IS BEING MADE, PRECEDENT FOR MASSIVE CHANGE
Despite the challenging situation that exists today, there is hope.
According to Dave Chapman, Whole Foods Market is very aware of the Real Organic Project and is watching it closely.
“In fact, one of our farmers already got picked up by them because of the ROP label. If we can convey to Whole Foods in a very widespread manner the importance of ‘real organic,’ I am convinced that they’ll add many others and make this a significant priority,” he said.
Equally as encouraging is that there’s real precedence for consumers to upend the CPG and agricultural landscape.
As noted chef, Dan Barber, pointed out in the Real Organic Symposium, this is precisely what happened with barley in this country over the last decade.
“Craft beer is 46% of the beer market, whereas 10 years ago it was 5%. What happened? Craft breweries have been demanding malt from America, not imported European malt. And if you talk to breeders of barley, they’ll tell you it has been a revolution. They are breeding now for the American market, and there is a renaissance of barley planting on what was once just corn and soy rotations. Out of nowhere, Americans decided to change their beer drinking habits, and they’re willing to pay more for it. This is a great parable of what is possible in the American food culture,” he explained.
“We’ll win this thing because, for those individuals who have taken over USDA organic, it only works with smoke and mirrors,” put forth Dave Chapman. “They haven’t convinced people, ‘Drink this milk from a confinement operation, it’s good for you and the animals are really happy.’ I don’t think people believe that. They just don’t realize what’s going on.”
(The Real Organic Symposium is available for viewing here.)
(Dave Chapman, Executive Director of the Real Organic Project and an organic tomato farmer at Long Wind Farm in Vermont.)
Max Goldberg, Founder
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Fortunately, these efforts do not seem to be working.
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* Next Tuesday at 8pm EST on Clubhouse (@organicinsider), Dave Chapman from the Real Organic Project will be our special guest.
* To open more opportunities in the natural products industry for students and graduates of historically Black colleges and universities, the Organic and Natural Health Association announced a new partnership with the Williams-Franklin Foundation.
* Cascadian Farm has committed $750,000 to The Nature Conservancy to help to rebuild wildlife habitat and regenerate groundwater on 600 acres of farmland in California’s Sacramento Valley.
* For a Better World is a new podcast by Fair World Project about fair trade and the farmer-led movements that are fighting for equitable food and farming systems around the world. Episode 1 exposes Nestle’s misleading marketing claims and the current challenges faced by cocoa farmers.
* Organic Valley has just released its 2021 Impact Report.
* A look at how organic food delivery service Sakara Life has garnered a cult following among models and celebrities, as well as wealthy Millennials.
* Hewlett Packard is now offering StartOrganic’s online organic vegetable gardening instruction to all of its employees worldwide.
* The NYT on how Erewhon became L.A.’s hottest hangout.
* Organic pea protein producer PURIS has partnered with Livekindly Collective to accelerate adoption of plant-based nutrition by solving some of the biggest challenges in the global supply chain.
* Hosted by Regenerative Rising, Session 3 of the Regenerative Earth Summit will take place virtually on February 24-25 and will focus on finance, technology and policy.
* Ethiopian Airlines is now serving only organic food to its passengers.
* Paris is turning its dark underground parking lots into organic mushroom farms.
* The organic textile sector has reached a significant milestone in testing for GMO cotton.
* Last Night on Clubhouse, we had a great conversation with Carlotta Mast and Elliot Howell from New Hope, who took questions and gave us information about the recently announced Expo West Virtual Week (May 24-27) and Expo East in Philadelphia (September 22-25). Here is a a full recap of what was discussed.