“Every state in this country has rural areas and urban areas that could benefit from agriculture—specifically organic agriculture—and if we invest in it, we’ll see a real turnaround.”
— Annie Brown, Rodale Institute
Part 1: Panel introductions
- Annie Brown, director of development, Rodale Institute: moderator.
- Andrew Bahrenburg, national policy director, National Young Farmers Coalition: Founded in 2010 to fight for young farmers to have a seat at the table in policy discussions; creating a social network of young farmers to trade expertise and support, especially in rural areas.
- Karen Washington, farmer and community activist, Rise & Root Farm: Grew up in the concrete jungle of New York City and didn’t make the connection on how powerful growing food and eating healthy was until she started growing her own food.
- Cate Hollowitsch, community engagement manager, Organic Valley: One of the largest organic cooperatives in the nation, with more than 2,000 family farms across about 35 states.
- Steve Geest, MOM’s Organic Market: Environmentalists who happen to run a grocery store; organics is the path to fulfilling the grocers' environmental mission; in business since 1986, with 19 stores, many in the Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, area.
Part 2: Bright spots amid looming Farm Bill
- By 2020 the Pennsylvania governor wants 10 percent of state farmers to be organic, Brown said
- Two-thirds of U.S. farmland is currently managed by someone aged 55-plus; what happens to that farmland in the future will determine everything, Bahrenburg said.
- Consumers respond both to quality and a good story; if we’re out there telling the story, organics will continue to grow, Geest said.
- The transparency behind your products, the farming methods, the production processes, and all the other parts along the way are what’s going to help drive the consumer to trust the organic seal more than any other seal that’s out there, Hollowitsch said.
Part 3: Unlikely partnerships
- The Pocono Raceway (NASCAR) asked Rodale for help in converting all farmland around the racetrack to organic (40,000 acres) and it wants to serve a full organic menu to attendees, Brown said.
- A 50-50 joint venture with conventional company Dean Foods would bring organic products to large parts of the U.S. that Organic Valley can’t get to on our own, Hollowitsch said.
- In Chester, New York, a group of investors purchased 120 acres of land specifically for young farmers, with a 30-year renewable affordable lease, Washington said. The investment will maintain organic practices and eventually certification.
- Many of our members are members of the Farm Bureau; they bring our policy literature to the table at those meetings, Bahrenburg said.
- “Lobby days” through various trade organizations tell legislators the story of what organics can bring to their communities, Geest said.
Part 4: Education and training
- Companies and individuals provide financial support to help young interns learn about organic farming through Rodale’s Next Generation Scholarship Fund, Brown said.
- The training piece is especially important for “first-generation farmers” who didn’t grow up on farms, Bahrenburg said.
This session—Friday Keynote: The Big Ideas in Organic/Panel Discussion—was recorded at Natural Products Expo East 2018.