Natural Foods Merchandiser

Spirit of Organic Awards Honors Family Farmers

The second annual Spirit of Organic Awards will be presented during a gala dinner party culminating this year's Organic Day events at Natural Products Expo East in Washington, D.C.

The awards dinner will once again feature the nationally renowned cuisine of certified organic restaurateur Nora Pouillon.

"This year, the Spirit of Organic Awards recognize the achievements of farmers and their families who have had an impact on their local communities as well as their greater, regional communities," said Scott Silverman, organic program manager for New Hope Natural Media, co-presenter of the award.

Phil and Katherine Foster of San Juan Bautista, Calif., Klaas and Mary-Howell Martens of Penn Yan, N.Y., and Tom and Irene Frantzen of Nashua, Iowa, are the recipients of this year's awards.

The Organic Farming Research Foundation, a nonprofit organization based in Santa Cruz, Calif., took nominations from a variety of organic-related groups from around the country to choose the award recipients.

"The OFRF board chose to honor these farm families because of their good organic farming practices, their involvement in local and regional farmer organizations, and their belief in making the world a better place," said Bob Scowcroft, executive director of OFRF, co-presenter of the awards. Proceeds from the event will benefit OFRF.

"Make no mistake, they represent hundreds of other organic family farmers who could and should receive similar recognition," Scowcroft said.

"All organic farmers are pioneers and deserve recognition," Silverman said. "It's not an easy task to acknowledge a select few."

Phil and Katherine Foster began their organic farming operation in 1989, with fives acres near Hollister, Calif. "We had a little success. So slowly, we started transitioning all of our grounds to organic production," said Phil, who served from 1992 to 1997 as a board member of California Certified Organic Farmers, including two years as president.

Today, the couple farms 250 acres of certified organic land, including their own 30-acre Foster Ranch. They sell their Pinnacle brand of produce—about 40 crops, including garlic, onions, peppers, lettuce and fruits—to wholesalers and local farmers' markets and grocers in northern California.

"We've always gotten a lot more out of the organic industry than what we've put into it," said Phil, who was an OFRF board member for six years. In addition to their business, the Fosters have worked with the nonprofit Community Alliance with Family Farmers to do field demonstrations and tours, and with farm advisers in their area on field trial work.

Klaas and Mary-Howell Martens raise mixed grains on about 1,000 certified organic acres in the Finger Lakes region of western New York. The Martens' operation is considered a role model for how organic agriculture can work successfully and profitably in large, commercial-scale operations. At least six neighboring farms have transitioned to organic, and the Martens actively support the community.

"We like to see what we can do to support one another, how someone who has been organic for a while can help someone who is just getting interested," said Mary-Howell, a former genetics researcher and frequent contributor to Acres USA magazine. She also teaches plant structure and function at Finger Lakes Community College and serves on the U.S. Department of Agriculture Advisory Committee on Agricultural Biotechnology.

Tom and Irene Frantzen of Nashua, Iowa, began farming in 1974. With help from their three sons, they began transitioning their 335 acres to organic production in 1995; they sold their first organic crops in 1998.

In 1999, the Frantzens sold their first organically raised hogs to Organic Valley Co-op. Today they maintain about 100 organic pigs in addition to organic soybean, corn, barley and other crops.

"Organic livestock, in our opinion, is the front line of a huge battle," said Tom, "and someone has to go there."

He cites the lack of organized organic meat marketing as an opportunity. But, more importantly to the Frantzens, organic farming means "a better quality life" because they're not exposed to chemicals, they have the promise of a more ecologically and economically sustainable way of life, and they live on aesthetically pleasing farmland.

Last year's award recipients were four women: Mary Jane Evans, chief executive officer of Veritable Vegetable in San Francisco; Yvonne Frost, former executive director of Oregon Tilth; Elizabeth Henderson, a founding member of the Northeast Organic Farming Association in Massachusetts; and Jesse Singerman, CEO of Blooming Prairie Warehouse in Iowa City, Iowa.

Steve Taormina is a Boulder, Colo.-based freelance writer.

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXIII/number 10/p. 18, 22

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