Natural Foods Merchandiser

Q&A with Bob Scowcroft, executive director, Organic Farming Research Foundation

Bob Scowcroft, executive director, Organic Farming Research Foundation, talks to Natural Foods Merchandiser about where organic is going in the next 15 years.

Q: Do you feel retailers have a special role in the advancement of organic?

A: I think retailers are hidden resources that need to somehow get a jolt to understand the role they can play. Every retailer should invite their local congressman to tour their store. They should proudly show their organic produce label—most all now have some local produce. They should talk in terms of their store representing good-paying jobs. Most of the successful retailers are growing and then adding jobs. They are a grassroots business alliance for organic farmers. It's critical for them to access info they can translate into their neighborhoods.

Q: You recently announced you're stepping down as the executive director of OFRF in the spring. What's prompting this move?

A: The combination of family needs, historic reflection and that it's a perfect time to step back and put my beliefs into practice. The next generation needs to step into a leadership role. It all seems to fit together.

Q: Will you be involved with OFRF in a different capacity?

A: When a cofounder steps aside it's generally understood that the break has to be clean, so I'm not moving to the board, I'm not moving to a prepaid consultant position; I am leaving OFRF. That stated, we already have a little working memo initialed that I will be available for calls, historic perspective and small, defined projects for the foreseeable future.

Q: What are some of the beliefs this move will allow you to pursue?

A: There are a whole batch of us that are in our 50s, 60s and, in some cases, 70s who have been doing this for so long that there is a leadership ceiling for many in today's generation of organic activists. I have been very public in calling for the youth movement to step forward and assume leadership positions. OK, 35-, 40-year-olds, you've got some new ideas? Things that have to happen in the next 20 years? Step on up.

Q: You have been a part of OFRF for nearly 20 years now. How do you think organics has grown in that time?

A: This is something I have been giving thought to. For OFRF, I'm a cofounder with two farmers, but I've been involved with organics for almost 32 years. The first decade was from an environmental perspective. Organic was a solution to the toxic chemical approach of industrial ag production. I think in the past 20 years organic farming has found an acceptance in many corners of agriculture, though certainly not all. It has grown to 4 percent of the market share, which most people would say, "gosh after 30 years all you've got is 4 percent?" But this agro-industrial system has almost no allowance for any alternative production to move into the marketplace. So I think to some extent 4 percent is a pretty remarkable number.

Q: Where do you see organic in the next 10, 15 years?

A: OFRF is starting another project. With support from the academic world, OFRF is analyzing the multiple benefits organic farming brings to communities. Often, organic is correctly portrayed as an environmentally sound farming system that grows some crops and is kind of good. But what we are initiating is a project to analyze in an integrated manner the scientific research that shows the benefits that organic brings to clean air, clean water, global warming and, most importantly, jobs in suburban and rural communities. If we can address the benefits, whether they're environmental or for the consumer, we'll go a long way in leveraging more resources for organic.

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