At its most elemental level, the word "organic" means "alive." The following people, through their vision, sweat, passion and persistence, brought life to the organics industry, propelling it into the $10.8 billion business it is today. Whether through farming, legislation, innovation or education, these are individuals who have made it possible for today's generations to live a truly organic lifestyle. They have dedicated their lives to improving ours, and they are alive with the spirit of organics.
President of Blobaum & Associates, a Washington, D.C.-based natural products consulting firm.
Years in the industry: 32. Blobaum began as an editorial consultant to Rodale Press and spent six years on the organic steering committee of the National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture. He's been a board member of the International Organic Accreditation Service, the Organic Farming Research Foundation, the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute and the Organic Alliance.
How have you influenced the organics industry? "My attempts have focused on broadening the base of the organic community by mobilizing support for organic food and farming by consumer, environmental, animal protection and other public interest sectors. The combination of organic farmers and the organic industry is still a tiny economic sector, [which] needs allies to be effective in the political and regulatory arenas, and lacks the resources and political clout to go it alone."
Do you think the mainstreaming of organics has been good for the industry? "For the most part, [it's] a necessary and positive development. This seems obvious when the number of certified organic farmers, after 40 years of development, is still less than 9,000; only 0.3 percent of U.S. crop and pasture land is under organic management; and organics sales account for less than 1 percent of what consumers spend for food. Mainstreaming will assure organic sector growth in the long run, however, only if it can be accomplished without compromising organic integrity, failing to meet consumer expectations, eroding public confidence in the organic label, or making marketing claims that cannot be verified."
What do you think is the future of organic regulations? "Overall, I believe [they] will become increasingly politicized and globalized and that the influence of organic farmers, independent organic companies, consumers, environmentalists and animal protection advocates will be diminished. We see this already in the performance of the National Organic Program, which is undermining public confidence in the government-based regulatory/enforcement approach and is raising serious concerns about the ability of government regulators to guarantee organic integrity. Legislation to update and improve the 1990 Organic Foods Production Act would appear to be an obvious solution. But this has been resisted due to mistrust of the political system that would be called on to change the law. Trends [such as erosion of farmer and consumer input and disappearance of pioneer organic companies through mergers and acquisitions by international food companies] will be exacerbated if the outdated and flawed organic law remains unchanged and current attempts to weaken international organic norms and diminish the influence of private certification and accreditation alternatives continue."
What do you think will be the next hot category in the organic marketplace? Will any category or product fade "If the growing trend toward factory-farm practices on organic farms can be reversed, I believe the marketing of organically produced meat, milk and other livestock products is a huge, unrealized opportunity."
Burda's organic career began with Eden Foods in 1978. As the company's sales manager, she helped introduce the first certified organic soymilk in the United States. Later, when she was sales manager for Bearito's Brand Organic Tortilla Chips, and the company began rotating organic cotton with its corn crops, Burda began experimenting with the cotton. In 1992 she and financial partner Jennifer Mueller co-founded Maggie's Organics, and in 1997 Burda bought out the company from Mueller to create Maggie's Organics/Clean Clothes.
Years in the industry: 26
Influence: "Katherine DiMatteo at the [Organic Trade Association] has called me a 'special pioneer.' When things move easy, I move on. " I kind of like to do hard stuff. I like to do new stuff." Burda adds, "I am not just into saving acres, I'm into empowering workers."
Mainstreaming: "I think it's good and bad. It's certainly what we've dreamed and worked for for so long. " Accessibility is good, but if it comes at the expense of our own specific interests" It has watered down the integrity and quality of the industry."
Future of organics regs: "I think it's going to be convoluted and very confusing. Especially as far as fibers, I think it will get worse before it gets better. But it is that confusion that will bring up new ideas."
Hot category/fading category: Hot: socially responsible products, like fair trade products. Fading: only those that don't make sense because of their packaging or marketing.
Amigo Cantisano and Kalita Todd
An organic farmer for more than 30 years, Cantisano stepped into the industry in the early 1970s, when he set up a co-op and distribution company. Since then, he has helped write the California Organic Food Act of 1979 and helped found a sustainable agriculture program at the University of California. He started an organics consulting business and has worked continually as an activist for organics. He works with Kalita Todd, his wife of 30 years, who declined to be interviewed, saying she didn't deserve the honor.
Years in the industry: 30 plus
Influence: "I'm a farming activist, trying to motivate and stimulate people to get more involved. I got the first public money for organic agriculture."
Mainstreaming: "It's a mixed bag. It brought attention to quality farming. But on the negative side, some of the larger companies have swallowed up smaller growers. Also, it has lost a little flavor, since many of the people who were in it originally were into the environmental and social sides, too."
Future of organics regs: "I think the organic industry has to become more vigilant we need to participate. The government is so new to this; they're going to make mistakes. We need to educate them."
Hot category/fading category: Hot: processed and ready-to-eat foods, since they reach out to a large group of society. Fading: Cantisano doesn't foresee any category fading, noting that as more young people can afford organics, they will be buying more.
Lynn Coody and Yvonne Frost
Founded Oregon Tilth in 1974.
Coody is currently policy director of the Organic Materials Review Institute. She is chairwoman of the OTA accreditation subcommittee and has worked internationally with the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements. She also helped write OTA's American Organic Standards and has her own company, Organic Agsystems Consulting. Recently Coody completed work on OTA's newly revised fiber standards.
Frost began Simple Organic Solutions, a consulting business, in 2002, and is still involved in the OTA. She was involved in passing the original organic food law in Oregon.
Years in the industry: 30 years each
Influence: Coody: "My main influence is one of providing infrastructure—providing organizational vision, standards writing, manual writing—all stuff that you just have to sit in the chair and do. I like to bring order to systems."
Frost: "I'm just a pushy person, and I wanted to promote what is honest and aboveboard."
Mainstreaming: Coody: "I can see two sides. I think it's wonderful that there are so many more organic acres. I'm also happy there are more consumers interested in organics. But I also know, as a farmer, it has created very difficult challenges for smaller farmers and some of the original people in organics. But on the positive side are the international contacts. It's becoming a global community."
Frost: "Mainstreaming has made people more aware of it. But it's harder for the little guy to get in the business, and I think that's too bad - they're depleting the humanity of the industry."
Future of organics regs: Coody: "Creating a global international community through harmonized regulatory structures."
Frost: "I hope money doesn't buy a change. " We must as an industry stay vigilant and make a stink [if organics regulations are threatened]."
Hot category/fading category: Coody: Hot categories are organic fiber and body care products. Frost: Hot categories include pet food, health and beauty items, and natural and organic beef. Fading category: Low-carb products and products made without attention to quality. "If you have 10 companies that make the same damn thing, the quality will end up selling the product."
President and chief executive officer of Patagonia Inc., based in Ventura, Calif. Sales in 2002 were $220 million.
Years in the industry: 20 plus
Influence: Patagonia converted its entire sportswear line to 100 percent organically grown between 1994 and '96. "Organic cotton was not prevalent at the time, and the shift to organic required a company-wide commitment—everyone from our designers to our catalog editors to our retail store staff to our production team jumped in with both feet. We launched a full-scale communications campaign to increase awareness of organics among our employees and our customers. We took employees, reporters, government officials and representatives from other companies and environmental nonprofit organizations—more than 1,000 people in all—on tours of conventional and organic cotton farms to make the argument for organics. " In the early days, we were the single largest domestic buyer of organic cotton. We're happy to say that this is no longer the case. Larger players have entered the market, and we take pride in having helped pave the way."
Mainstreaming: "The increased popularity of organics among mainstream consumers is a very positive development, in my opinion. It's in the best interest of the planet for organics to be mainstream rather than niche or just 'eco-groovy.' - Mainstreaming organic cotton has always been one of our goals. ? We?re thrilled to see mainstream players supporting organics. Higher, more predictable demand is good for everyone involved."
Future of organics regs: "It's hard to predict the future, but I can tell you what we'd like to see in the coming years. Introducing a certification system for the post-harvest processing of organic fibers would be a boon to the industry. It would help differentiate organic suppliers and increase awareness of organics beyond foods. We're also supportive of expanding industry regulations to cover water use, soil erosion and topsoil loss, and in-field labor standards. Transparency and accountability are critical in order to maintain the current growth trajectory.?
Hot category/fading category: "At Patagonia, we're pretty focused on the fiber business, so I'm probably biased when I say that I think fibers are going to emerge as the hot category. And beyond fibers, I anticipate significant growth across organic categories. This is most definitely not a fad. Consumers have solid reasons to prefer organics—from environmental preservation to human health to worker safety to product quality. When you consider everything the organic industry has going for it, it's clear that the organic revolution has just begun."
DiMatteo has been dedicated to organics since the late 1970s, when she started working in and advocating natural food co-ops. She also served as executive director of the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association and as development director for the Peace Development Fund. She has been executive director of the OTA since 1990.
Years in the industry: 25 plus
Influence:"I would have to say politics, policy and lobbying on behalf of standards."
Mainstreaming: "It's essential. Without organics moving from the fringe or outside of the industry, we will never effect the change we want in converting agriculture to be environmentally sound and reducing negative impacts of nonorganic agriculture. If that's what we?ve set out to do—change the world—then we need to be mainstream. It comes with risk and changes, but without it, we won?t achieve our mission."
Future of organics regs: "I think the areas that have not been [regulated]. Improvements in standards and more harmonization in standards."
Hot category/fading category: Hot: nonfood areas, like textile, fashion, personal and body care products. Fading: Fresh fruits and vegetables may be bypassed by other quickly growing sectors, like meats and dairy.
Rep. Sam Farr
Democratic congressman from California.
Years in the industry: About 15. "In the late ?80s, I was in the [California] state assembly and the San Jose [Mercury News] broke 'the carrot caper' story of a grower who was selling the same crop as both organic and conventional. Shortly after that, I introduced the California Organic Foods Act of 1990, and with the help of several dedicated constituents, we got that legislation passed in a bipartisan vote. I have been working to promote and protect the industry ever since."
Influence: "I am proud to say that COFA was used as the national standard framework sponsored by Sen. Leahy of Vermont. " I was glad to be part of the negotiations to stop GMOs, sludge and radiation in the first proposed [NOP] rule, and be the lead sponsor to reinstate the requirement" that livestock on certified organic farms eat organically produced feed.
"As a member of the House Agriculture Committee, I was able to insert in the 1996 farm bill language for the first federal organic-specific research at the [U.S. Department of Agriculture/Agricultural Research Service]. Since moving to the House Appropriations Committee, I have worked to increase federal expenditures for organic and sustainable agriculture. " Currently, I am working with the USDA on the organic assessment issue and [am] in conversations regarding the recent directives issued—and then rescinded—by the NOP."
Mainstreaming: "That is a very complex question. Overall, I would say it has [been a benefit]. Organics started as a lifestyle; the industry has grown a lot as other agribusiness joined, and the [NOP] rule provides enough flexibility to grow with it. I think providing consumer confidence, accountability and increasing supply benefit all those who use organic products and food."
Future of organic regs: "We are still working with a fairly new rule here, so we need to continue to work out the rough edges; this can be done by improving NOP transparency and enforcement procedures. As the USDA has found on several occasions, those in organic agriculture are passionate about their issue. We all need to keep the pressure on so we have a program that works for both growers and consumers."
Hot category/fading category: "With meat scares, I think we will continue to see strong increases in organic livestock. However, I think the next long-term gainer will be in personal care products. People want to know what they are putting on their bodies as much as they want to know what they put in their bodies. I really don't see any one sector of organic agriculture slipping. What started out as a lifestyle for a few is now snowballing into a choice for a large section of our population."
Jonathan and Katrina Frey
Jonathan Frey's parents began growing cabernet sauvignon and gray Riesling grapes on their ranch in Mendocino County, Calif., in the late 1960s. After one of the wines won an award, Jonathan and his brother Matthew founded Frey Vineyards. Today, most of Jonathan's 11 siblings and their spouses work the vineyard, which produces 19 different vintages and shipped 62,000 cases of wine last year.
Years in the industry: 24
Influence: "We're pioneers in organic wine, with the oldest and largest [American organic] vineyard," says. Katrina Frey, Jonathan's wife. Frey Vineyards is also certified by the international biodynamic organization Demeter. "Demeter is seen as the gold standard in the organics industry," she says. "We're the first vineyard in the U.S. to use the word biodynamic and Demeter-certified on our wine labels."
Mainstreaming: "I'm concerned with the potential for dilution and integration of organic standards, but I do think mainstreaming has increased the market for organics."
Future of organic regs: "I think we've got the fox guarding the henhouse. We're really active in the GMO-free zone in Mendocino County, and the USDA is trying to pick that apart."
Hot category: "Maybe clothing. I think we've just scratched the surface of that."
Drew and Myra Goodman
In 1984, Drew and Myra Goodman founded Earthbound Farm, the first company to successfully launch prewashed, packaged salads for retail sale. Today the company has become one of the largest growers and shippers of organic produce in North America. The Goodmans collaborated on their responses to the following questions.
Years in the industry: 20
Influence: "Earthbound Farm has proven that organic farming is viable on a large scale. In the retail arena, we've shown that organic produce can be profitable for retailers of all sizes. And from the consumer's perspective, we've been successful in maintaining a reasonable price premium for organics."
Mainstreaming: "There are so many facets to this answer, but we think it's true that a rising tide lifts all boats. Since organic produce is a 'gateway' category, consumers usually branch out from there to wanting other organic items. It?s a spiral that just keeps climbing."
Future of organics regs:"It's important to protect the purity and integrity of the regulations that govern organic production. We saw earlier this year that people inside the USDA thought they could modify a few rules and weaken the standards without even going in front of the National Organic Standards Board. What this whole episode illustrates is that we have to continue to be vigilant about organic standards."
Hot category/fading category: "Organic convenience foods and snacks are growing at an impressive rate right now, but that's not surprising. Everyone's looking for products that are more convenient as well as healthier. But there are also some areas where organic hasn't even scratched the surface-for example, fast casual and quick-serve restaurants."
Grant was farming sustainably before organics gained popularity in the 1970s. Since 1975, when he and his son, Andy, began phasing Grant Family Farms into a completely organic operation, the farm has become the largest privately run organic vegetable farm in the United States.
Years in the industry: 30 plus
Influence: "I have been very active in the industry nationally, serving two terms on the board of the OFRF and on a research committee. But some ways [I've influenced the industry] are intangible. An awful lot of our neighbors are now using organic farming techniques. I've had an influence on how our neighbors are farming."
Mainstreaming: "Obviously I think that's important because that's what we're into. " There is some division in organics between very small operations and larger operations, but we fully respect and cooperate with the small operators."
Future of organics regs: "Since the federal organic law was passed in 1990 and took until 2003 to be implemented, I think gradualism will define it. There will constantly be challenges to it, but due to the large response [the organic rule] got from the public, I feel it has pretty stable support."
Hot category/fading category: "The organics industry is not really a popularity contest between different products. The one big gap was in the meat industry, but that has been resolved."
President and chief executive officer of Stonyfield Farm, one of the leading manufacturers of all-natural and organic yogurt in the United States. Hirshberg is also founder and chairman of O'Naturals, a new chain of natural fast-food restaurants.
Years in the industry: 22
Influence: "When we first began to produce organic yogurt in 1995, people thought we were crazy because of the high cost of ingredients. Many said we couldn't produce organic foods on such a large scale and still remain profitable, while others claimed the demand for organic simply wasn't there.
"But over the past 10 years we've made the transition from a small natural foods company to now being the nation?s No. 1-selling yogurt in natural foods [according to market research company SPINS] and the No. 3 yogurt in the grocery channel."
Mainstreaming: "Humans have done an enormous amount of damage to this planet, and our generation of business leaders has no choice but to reverse these impacts if the earth is to remain habitable. So, yes, the mainstreaming of organics is not only good for the industry but necessary for the earth. Greater demand for organic foods leads to more certified organic family farms, less toxic chemicals and pesticides, and a healthier planet for our children."
Future of organics regs: "With the implementation of new USDA organic rules in 2002, people became more aware of organics, and they also felt more secure due to consistent organic food standards. But we must remain vigilant, and stand up to the special interests, if we are to maintain the integrity of the organic industry."
Hot category/fading category: "Consumers are looking for nutritious, organic foods that fit into their active lifestyles, so we're seeing more 'grab 'n go' offerings every year."
President of Albert's Organics, a division of United Natural Foods Inc. Albert's was the first certified organic distributor with national coverage. It distributes 250 varieties of fruits and vegetables to 5,000 natural foods stores, supermarkets and restaurants in the United States and Canada.
Years in the industry: 27—"my entire adult life" Hope began as a driver for Sunburst Farms and became a store manager in 1979. In 1981, he opened Hope 'n Hagen's Markets in Goleta and Ventura, Calif., and in 1988, he launched Buonapasta, a Santa Barbara, Calif.-based pasta and sauce manufacturer. He became a Wild Oats store manager in 1995 and joined Albert's Organics as Western division general manager in 1997. In 2001, he was named Albert's president.
Influence: "One of the driving philosophies of my personal and professional endeavors is that I want to see as much acreage transitioned over to organic farming methods, and organic product use becoming an everyday part of people's eating habits. At every stop along my career path, I have conveyed this to employees and as a part of my marketing message. Hopefully, I have had some impact along the way. Albert Lusk, the founder of the company I now run, was a visionary whose dedication to the industry and belief in its eventual growth was a big influence on me and on the industry as a whole."
Mainstreaming: "It is gratifying to see more and more organic products available and the acceptance of the mainstream consumer continuing to grow. As an industry, however, we need to stay vigilant to potential threats to our integrity and core values as the industry continues to move towards commoditization."
Future of organics regs: "Despite its rocky first attempt at implementation, the subsequent, adopted regulations have helped to legitimize our movement in the eyes of the mainstream consumer and helped to achieve some standardization across many governing bodies, which will benefit the industry [in the] long term. We must be vigilant at safeguarding the integrity of the current standards so that 'backdoor' legislation, as recently witnessed with an attempt to water down poultry standards, does not degrade the high standards that many dedicated people worked so hard to establish and maintain over the years."
Hot category/fading category: "Organic meat, given recent exposures of the questionable practices on the conventional side [that] have given us mad cow issues. This category will have the highest-percentage growth in the next few years. I also think that value-added organic produce and meat products [that appeal] to the time constraints of today's consumer will be big. I think the low-carb craze will fade dramatically."
Kiesel began working for Rapunzel Naturkost in Germany in 1990 as director for overseas organic agricultural projects. In 1997, he helped establish Rapunzel Pure Organics and became president of the company in 2001.
Years in the industry: 14
Influence: "Growing and manufacturing organic food and spreading its distribution is only part of my ideal. I think that organic agriculture without fair trade, and without observing social issues for the organic farmers and workers in the developing world—and also here in the 'northern countries'—doesn't make sense. By developing fair trade standards and applying them to Rapunzel's organic product imports, I hope to have made some changes in this respect."
Mainstreaming: "Yes and no. Yes, in terms of getting it out to the public and opening awareness for more people and products. No, in the way that the organic industry, which started as an alternative think tank with goals that were quite different from the mainstream industry, is in danger of getting absorbed by bigger corporate structures and their way of dealing with people, companies and products."
Future of organics regs: "If our organic industry and the public keep their eyes and ears open as we've done in the past, I believe we can maintain and improve the organic standards. But if policy and money starts to play a role in adapting or reviewing the standards and we don't watch out, then we will face serious backlashes. I hope that internationally, all organic standards will be harmonized soon."
Hot category/fading category: "I think organic beer and wine will come out big. I hope that highly processed items and white sugar/white flour products will fade."
Sen. Patrick Leahy
Leahy, D-Vt., is known as the "father" of the organic standards and labeling program. In 1989, he authored the legislation that chartered the organics program in 1990, and he continues to be one of the strongest proponents for organics in Congress.
Years in the industry: 15
Influence: "When I became chairman of the Agriculture Committee I made it a priority to help give the emerging organic industry a solid footing for growth, and I wrote the Organic Foods Production Act to accomplish that. There were bumps along the way, but our efforts finally succeeded with the USDA's development and adoption of the final certification rule and the launch of the labeling program."
Mainstreaming: "The organics industry has evolved across the spectrum from 'crunchy' to corporate and everything in between, while still basically maintaining the grassroots idealism that it started with. Certified organics give consumers the power, through their buying decisions, to help decide how our food is grown and how our environment is treated. Buying organic also helps to strengthen our rural communities and family farmers. We all benefit when the organic industry thrives."
Future of organics regs: "Organics are an especially bright sector in American agriculture, and we are poised to stay on that trajectory. Organics have grown dramatically in breadth and depth, at a rate of about 20 percent a year over the last decade. That"s because when American consumers see the new USDA organic label, they know that it's backed by a strong rule, and that the organic label means what it says. Our challenge, as the certification program moves beyond its infancy, is to keep it that way."
Eldon, Wendell, Harlan and Homer Lundberg
Lundberg Family Farms, founded by Albert and Frances Lundberg in 1937, was an early pioneer of organic rice growing in America. Their sons, Eldon, Wendell, Harlan and Homer, continued that family tradition, beginning in the late 1960s, and began selling their organic rice directly to the public, rather than to wholesalers who might commingle it with rice grown by conventional methods. Homer spoke for all four sons when answering NFM's questions.
Years in the industry: about 35
Influence: The Lundberg influence on organics predates the flourishing of the industry. More than 65 years ago, Albert Lundberg started farming in northern California, determined to improve the soil and the environment. This was at a time when mining the soil was the standard procedure. With his Ph.D. in common sense, he simply applied nature-friendly techniques to his farming operation—techniques that the brothers continue today. Rotating crops, enriching crops, incorporating straw and stubble, and encouraging wildlife are all foundations of organic farming that were mainstays of the Lundberg operation long before organic farming became cool.
Mainstreaming: "If the industry is to grow, the products must be presented to as many people as possible. However, we must continue to lean toward the people who are really dedicated to the industry, and pass by the faddists and quick-buck artists."
Future of organics regs: "We hope organic regulations will be tailored by the people with experience in each separate area. It would be tragic if the laws are based on wishful thinking and individual social values, no matter how well meaning they may be."
Hot category/fading category: "We do not focus on hot categories or fads. We are only interested in products that will endure the test of time. Good health is a long-term project."
Serves on the boards of the OTA and the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group. He is a founding member of OMRI, started Florida Certified Organic Growers and Consumers, and heads Quality Certification Services. Through his work with the Florida International Volunteer Corps, he has helped farm workers in developing countries.
Years in the industry: 31
Influence: Mesh says he has been a voice for smaller-scale and family farms in the industry, so agribusiness does not roll over them. He also sees his role as helping midscale and small producers gain market access. "I also try to get more resources available, like federal money for organic research."
Mainstreaming: "The environmental benefits of certified organic farming on hundreds of acres are tremendous for everybody, the animals, the environment and our water. But one of the things we need to do as an industry is figure out how smaller-scale farms will have a place in the market."
Future of organics regs: "Social accountability. Under the [NOP], social justice was not under the standards." He also foresees voluntary labeling as a marketing option. "I think our goal as an industry is to keep consumer confidence. We need to work together."
Hot category/fading category: Hot: organic fiber, raw foods and certified organic aquaculture. Fading: "I'm an eternal optimist. It's just a matter of educating consumers."
Co-founder, with Peter Meehan, of Aptos, Calif.-based Newman's Own Organics, which was established in 1993 as a division of Newman's Own, and became a separate company in 2001. Products, which are certified organic, include pretzels, cookies and popcorn.
Years in the industry: 12
Influence: "Before we even started the company, we had to convince my father [actor and Newman's Own founder Paul Newman] that organics tasted good, not like the hippie food my mother used to make in the '60s. Our motto became 'Great tasting products that happen to be organic.' Our pretzels were not nine-grain because that wouldn't look or taste like a pretzel to Pop. What we wanted to do is convince people, like Pop, to try organics by making the kind of familiar products that he enjoys and we loved as kids."
Mainstreaming: "The mainstreaming of organics into supermarkets has been a great step in introducing these products to people who might not normally encounter them, as they may not have natural foods stores close by. We think consumers really want to know more about what they are eating and its source. Once they see the benefits of organic products, the more likely they are to buy them."
Future of organics regs: "Hopefully, [they] will be more progressive and less confrontational under a new administration."
Hot category/fading category: "It'd be nice if the next hot category will be high carb, and the products to fade will be low carb. Seriously, though, we know that all snack foods should be enjoyed in moderation. We are currently expanding into dried fruit and salad greens, which are all organic, of course. The trend we'd really like to see continue is the rapid growth in organic products [that] support sustainable agriculture."
Former partner in Pavich Family Farms, once the world's largest producer of certified organic table grapes. He now owns Pavich Agricultural Consulting in Phoenix.
Years in the industry: 33
Influence: "We've always been 100 percent dedicated to organic. We've tried to be leaders by example."
Mainstreaming: "Yes and no. From the 'yes' standpoint, there's more volume of products to more people. We were one of the first to make the transition into the mass market in the mid-?80s and we had huge battles with chain stores that wouldn't embrace organics. From the 'no' standpoint, the original curators of the organic movement have either been compromised or pushed out because of competition. Growers don't have the freedom of speech to challenge stores—[retailers] are almost like a feudal empire. The solution is still empowerment by the consumer, demanding stores tell the truth about whether they're really supporting small farmers."
Future of organics regs: "Enforcement is going to be a continual problem. Will we get an evil empire group of major food companies that will change the laws?" Also, Pavich believes, "a few years down the road, biotech companies are going to screw up—it's just a matter of time when we wake up and find one of these supposed benign genes aren't benign. [Genetic modification] is going to blow up. [Therefore], it's a matter of national security that organic is kept organic. And organics will get new meaning and will get the true respect it deserves from the scientific community."
Hot category: "Functional foods and food as medicine, but it's an educational process. The real growth in the industry is on the processed food side, and that's a little bit disappointing to me."
Chairman of The Rodale Institute, which works worldwide to promote a regenerative food system that improves the environment and human health.
Years in the industry: "Professionally, 15 years, but I was born into an organic family. As a young child in the mid-'60s, I heard the word organic before it was really cool or mainstream."
Influence: "I helped to bring the Institute [which his grandfather conceptualized and his father founded] forward, continuing to develop science and research and helping to grow and expand farmer outreach and youth education."
Mainstreaming: "Yes, because that's what it's all about—organics was intended to really influence and change all agriculture. What the organic pioneers and the public wanted needs to continue to happen on a local, national and international level, because we're now living in a global system."
Future of organics regs: "They need to be continually upheld to the highest level of accountability. They need to be transparent—through the USDA, nonprofits and the general public working together and not being co-opted by any one industry. Internationally, we need to improve harmonization, collaboration and communication through a network of [world organic] leaders. In the long term, everyone is going to have to work together because we're eating food from around the world. We need [organic standard] equivalency on some level."
Hot category/fading category: "There are two hot categories—fiber and the energy industry. But anything that has associated itself with a current diet trend—anything with 'low' in the name—doesn't have a long life."
Chairman of U.K.-based certifier the Soil Association, a 58-year-old agency that also offers support to organic farmers across the United Kingdom.
Years in the industry: 37. Sams ran a macrobiotic restaurant in the United Kingdom with his brother Gregory from 1967-73, and in 1969 opened a natural foods store. He launched a whole-grain bakery in 1972, became a large-scale manufacturer of peanut butter and, in 1977, developed fruit juice-sweetened jams under the Whole Earth brand. In 1991, he founded Green & Black?s organic chocolate company. He?s the author of About Macrobiotics (Athene Publishing Co., 1972), and The Little Food Book, to be published in the United States this month.
Influence: "[I] opened the first natural foods store in Europe, then began wholesaling to the United Kingdom and European retailers. We developed the first European sources of organic brown rice in 1970 " and the first fruit juice-sweetened jams. About Macrobiotics was translated into six European languages and sold several hundred thousand copies, helping to define the dietary choices of the foundation generation of organic consumers. Green & Black's chocolate, now the world's leading organic chocolate brand " showed that you could offer the highest-quality product range, competitively priced and aggressively marketed, without compromising on organic values. It was the first fair trademarked brand in the United Kingdom. It has helped define and drive the organic movement."
Mainstreaming: "Ultimately, organics is about the consumer and the producer-processors and retailers are facilitators. Going mainstream means more consumers can access organic food whenever they want, and more producers can convert to organic standards. There has been some dumbing down of the broader nutritional message of which organics is a part, and a lot of the first-generation mainstream products have just been cleaned-up versions of junk food."
Future of organics regs: "It's a great shame that, with 10 years to collaborate and coordinate, the European Union and the U.S. organic stakeholders and IFOAM weren't competent to develop organic regulations that were equivalent. This would have been the strongest worldwide protection against dilution of standards. But I still think that the general direction of regulations will be towards greater quality—that's what drives the organic market."
Hot category/fading category: Hot: whole grains and vegetables. Fading: "Nightshades will receive a lot more attention and people will treat potatoes, tomatoes, peppers and eggplant with the same restraint already accorded to that other popular nightshade, tobacco. So a decline in tomato products and of products high in refined flour and sugar is likely. Functional foods will never really get beyond yogurt derivatives. People will balance their own diets, not leave it to food technologists."
President and founder of Goodness Greeness, an organics distributor in the Chicago, Detroit and Milwaukee areas.
Years in the industry: 14
Influence: "When we started, Chicago didn't have an organics distributor. We maintain organics continuity in the Midwest."
Mainstreaming: "Absolutely. In our market in particular, we don't have a strong natural foods presence—not like the Rockies and the West and East coasts have. We made the product available to consumers who wanted it, and now you see [organics in the Midwest] in Wal-Mart, Safeway, Jewel. The preponderance of product legitimizes the value-added perception to the consumer, especially in this part of the country where there aren't a lot of health food stores and pill shops."
Future of organics regs: "I think we'll continue the cycle of the USDA trying to dumb down the regulations and the OTA going back and fighting. The OTA is well organized for the fight."
Hot category: "Flowers. I think they're the last bastion of what hasn't been done in organics. There's nothing like going to the farmer's market and buying that perfect bouquet."
Years in the industry: 25. Scowcroft began as a national organizer working on pesticide policy and organic issues for Friends of the Earth, became the first full-time director of California Certified Organic Farmers, and then co-founded OFRF.
Influence: "Certainly through my legislative work with each nonprofit organization. I think my work with the media, as a spokesperson for organic farmers and as an organizer, has contributed to the expansion of the industry. I seem to have the knack of making connections and introducing people to each other that would not normally see the common ground they might share if they worked together."
Mainstreaming: "Overall, it is the only way to go. Most people got into this movement and/or industry to expand the offerings of organically labeled products to all corners of the food system. In a way, though, events unfolded so fast and the industry changed so fast we still haven't had the opportunity to conduct a vision-impact report to see if this is where we want to be and, by extension, to plan for where we want to go next."
Future of organics regs: "I think that as long as there are people who conduct fraud out there we will have regulations and the laws needed to enforce them. Obviously, we will need dedicated government stewards who can work with the public sector in partnership, which we don't seem to have now in at least one agency. However, we do have them in several others, and it gives hope to those of us in it for the duration that this situation can be turned around too."
Hot category: "Meat products will expand exponentially, and that in return will impact organic feed producers. I also think cotton will experience a bit of a revival, although that may come from overseas."
CEO and founding farmer of Organic Valley Family of Farms, a 16-year-old cooperative of 619 small farms across the United States.
Years in the industry: 28
Influence: "Over the years I've had the privilege of serving in a number of capacities—including chairman of the National Organic Standard Board Livestock Committee and the OTA's Livestock Committee—where I was able to advance the voice of the farmer. Through my work at Organic Valley, I've been able to develop a model for self-determined, stable and sustainable farmer price. As a result, our farmers in many cases are being paid double the price paid their conventional counterparts. This year we stand to be at the $200 million mark—higher sales than we ever imagined! I've also been able to create a supply-management model for farmers, a tool that is crucial in organics. The co-op tries not to produce any more than we can sell, because we're trying to pay farmers a sustainable price."
Mainstreaming: "Yes. It has expanded our circle, our sphere of influence, and brought greater appreciation for the vision that is at the heart of organic agriculture. Today there is virtually no food category that doesn't provide an organic choice. The challenge we face now is to educate consumers to reach for more meaning in their food purchases by supporting family farms, local supply and cooperative business models. I'm encouraged by what I see, however. Efforts to heighten awareness are taking hold in numerous regions across the country."
Future of organics regs: "The NOP rules are the most stringent in the world, but they require constant effort to maintain and improve. I believe we will open up the originating law to correct some of the foundation issues. This will be a grave time, however. It will be critical for us to make sure that the standards are not weakened by special interests that are not friendly to organics."
Hot category/fading category: "Organic meat may not be the next hot category, but it is so undeveloped and has so much growth potential that it is sure to be the biggest growth sector for the next few years. I believe that the low-carb category will fade."
Program director for the Rural Advancement Foundation International-USA, a nonprofit group that promotes sustainable and organic farming education and research, and monitors biotechnology. Sligh was a charter member and founding chairman of the NOSB, and helped develop, promote and defend the Farm Credit Act, the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program and the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990. He is accreditation chairman for the International Organic Accreditation Service.
Years in the industry: 36. "I come from a long line of family farmers, and I started my first intentionally organic garden patch in 1969 and helped to start a local natural foods cooperative out of our garage." Sligh farmed organic grain, vegetables and fruits throughout the 1970s and, as a trained anthropologist, directed sustainable and organic agriculture projects in the Caribbean in the early 1980s. He joined RAFI-USA in 1984.
Influence: "My influence has primarily come through our work on the development of federal, international and private-sector policies, regulations and marketing strategies to promote sustainable and organic farming and marketing." Recently, Sligh wrote Who Owns Organic—The Global Status, Prospects and Challenges of a Changing Organic Market.
Mainstreaming: "Overall, of course we are all thrilled and gratified at the global growth and continued steady adoption of organic agricultural practices and the many successes in the marketplace." However, he says, "Mainstream success should not be measured simply by sales and acres figures. Success must also include ensuring continued, fair access to the market for our farmers, fair return on investment and labor for farmers and farm workers, and fair contracts with the buyers, and it should continue to encourage new entrants into organic without undermining the early adopters."
Future of organics regs: Sligh believes the industry should honestly evaluate and reflect on the lessons from the last 15 years and then make reforms that protect gains but realign the balance of power and responsibilities. "There are many more things that government can do to help the organics industry, like much more research and education, but we may have also asked for too much in other areas like accreditation and standards setting. We should watch and learn from our European partners as they attempt to define the future of organics for Europe. We need to do the same by asking, "What do we want organics in the U.S. to look like in 10 years? And what policies, regulations and activities are best suited to get us there??"
Hot category: Sligh hopes to see growth in the use of combination claims, such as "certified organic and fair trade."
Eco-Farm conference coordinator for the Ecological Farming Association; processor, farm inspector and member of the certification committee for CCOF.
Years in industry: 25. Sonnabend started out as an organic gardening teacher, and began farming organic prunes, figs and peaches in California in 1982. She sold the farm in 1989 and went to work for YOCAL, an organic farmers marketing cooperative. She has been with CCOF since 1982 and Eco-Farm since 1993, and was a member of the NOSB from 1993-96.
Influence: "I've kept the snake-oil salesmen at bay," she jokes. "I've worked on using a rational, scientific basis to develop what fertilizers and pesticide controls are OK, and I've also participated in educational efforts to get more farmers to use organic methods."
Mainstreaming: "It's an oversimplified question. Has it been good for everyone in the organic community as a whole' My position is yes—having less pesticides used on less land can only be good in the end."
Future of organics regs: "Unfortunately, I think they're here to stay. Those of us in from the beginning have quite a bit of regret [that] we instituted a nightmare to watchdog very na've regulations from special interests trying to control them."
Hot category: Prunes.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXV/number 10/p. 74, 76-78, 80, 82, 84, 86, 88, 90