oday we explore organic farming from two perspectives. First, we hear a national, policy-focused perspective from the Organic Trade Association. Second, we follow up on our recent visit to Calleva with a local, on-the-ground viewpoint of the organic farming business and experience.
Executive Director, Organic Trade Association
Laura tells us about the organic farming industry’s unique approach to regulation and policy, why education is an ongoing effort for organic, and how the notion of value plays a key role in this fast-growing sector.
All of our members understand that their businesses rely on the consumer having trust and confidence in the seal when they see it on the product or they see it at the farm. We are a group that has chosen to be regulated through the organic standards. Most people will often think of trade associations as their main portfolio being to limit regulation. Our main charge as a trade association is to protect the integrity of the organic standards, and I think that there’s quite a lot of cynicism from the public at large around government and also what they see on packages, and it’s all tied to the trend about knowing more where your food comes from and being able to have confidence in that.
We see in our research a trend towards the fastest growing portion of folks consuming organic are young and new entrants to the market. So there’s a lot of very promising trends in the demographic. So we have a standard that has a lot of inherent attributes to it that require explaining and educating to the public about how do you farm without pesticides, the fact that antibiotics are never allowed in livestock production, GMO’s have been prohibited since 1990, all these things.
As a sector, we will never get to the point where everybody’s educated and there’s no more need. It’s an inherent part of what we have to do. Price is still a big barrier for folks, and there’s a lot of people out there that have to work hard to manage their budgets. That has to be understood. We like to communicate about value more than just price. When you talk about value for organic, that brings in all the ideas of the externalities and the cost not only to perhaps your health and your family’s health, the public health, but the environment and to all those derivative costs from an unsustainable agriculture and food production system.
But it also talks about the choices that you can make within organic so it can meet your budget. Often times, people can make organic work within their budget comparative to choosing non-organic foods, even without having to wrap your mind around all the externalities. We did a recent piece of work with a chef and a price survey where we designed a menu plan where you could feed a family of four 100% organic on $25 a day, including animal protein in the meals. So it can be done if you’re creative, plus you get all the benefits of the derivative savings in terms of the externalities.
Executive Director, Calleva
Matt tells us about the local business side of organic farming, how farmers can think creatively about their role in the community, and why organic farming education can be a powerful sustainability experience.
Land is money. And you have to have land to farm. And that’s just the hard reality. It’s a huge expense to get up and going. There was Farming at Metro’s Edge meeting not that long ago, and there’s a new guy that lived in Chevy Chase and quit his job, and he’s now one of the first dairy farms to open up in Maryland in I don’t know how many years, where this used to be a heavy dairy area. In fact, the farmer who farms our land, he grew up as a dairy farmer. And they’re just not here anymore.
There’s another farm that’s right down the road from us, and there were three buddies from Virginia Tech that decided we’re going to get in the farming business. And they farmed their parents’ land and now they have a business that’s up and going off of farming. So it kind of gives you hope that there’s all these ways. Now there’s programs in place to lease to young farmers and groups to come and get a couple acres and care for the land. So there’s a lot more creative opportunity that legislation is putting through to help the farmer get up on its feet. And that is what’s exciting.
I enjoy coming at farming a little bit different. We come at it from an educational standpoint. And I think there’s a lot of ways for farmers to farm and do something else – to think what works for their community, what works for their environment, what the land tells them to do. All the time we walk around and ask “what does the land want here?”. And you get that idea. Especially with the ag reserve that we’re in, we have this area that’s protected for agriculture. It’s impressive and you just want it to continue to thrive and not get torn up and torn apart.
When we go out and we do an experience for kids or adults or anything like that, it’s connecting them with nature. And one of the hard connections, I think that we felt growing up, was that you had the industrial farmer, and then everybody else and you didn’t really have that small farm connection. At least I didn’t feel that as much. And is that important? Yes. And I think now, it’s unbelievable. Every grocery store you go into, they are are making that connection from the farmer to the produce that they’re getting, and that’s huge. Especially in this area, the DC area, there’s this huge awareness of where your food is coming from. The movies and the documentaries are coming out. We realize that we have to connect that. We can be an environmentalist and say “don’t use this” but we also have to eat food, and so it’s solving all these pieces of the puzzle. It makes it very intriguing to us, non-traditional farmers.
Within our DNA is that need to understand where the things that we put into our body are coming from and how it all works. Understanding our role in this world. All of these things are connected. And that’s the fun thing about farming. It’s just so unbelievable to get in there, pick something from the ground, clean it, prepare it, and eat it. I think it’s something that, long ago everybody had that experience, and now very few people get, and when you can get that it’s primal. it’s like touching your soul. It’s a beautiful experience.
It’s an experience that I think every kid needs for sure. That hands-on approach is how we learn and how we grow as individuals. We have to be hands-on. Having a farm and working the farm, and performing good labor, is just so healthy. A lot of times, and I remember growing up, you had a job and you didn’t really understand why you were doing it. But here, the outcomes are very obvious. It’s a complete connection of what they’re trying to get out of it, and what they’re doing. They can understand the work and the need for the work. And work is so healthy, it really is. You know, using our bodies and using our hands, and being connected with dirt. Dirt’s awesome!