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Natural Foods Merchandiser

Working to sustain the sustainable system

Produce Perspectives

I recently received an invitation that contained a thought-provoking quote by natural cookbook author Alice Devine Loebel: "Put your energies into sustaining the system that sustains you."

The invitation was for the second annual Building the Community of Organic Growers, Retailers, Wholesalers & Consumers gathering, a meeting to continue a conversation that began at the Eco-Farm Conference in 2000. There, it became evident that we needed to work together if we were to make sustainable farming economically sustainable for the growers, retailers and wholesalers involved. So Paul Cultrera, the general manager of Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op, invited all interested parties to meet at the store to expand the dialogue.

The first meeting attracted a large group of growers, retailers, wholesalers, educators and brokers and ended with a commitment to develop stronger relationships and communication.

Sacramento Natural took the lead again this year and held a second meeting. About 50 people attended, and it brought together veterans and respected industry participants in Northern California sustainable agriculture—growers Full Belly and The Apple Farm; wholesaler Veritable Vegetable; distributor UNFI's Mountain Peoples Warehouse; farming organizations Rural Development Center, Agriculture and Land-Based Training Association, and Community Alliance with Family Farmers; and a group of cooperatives and retailers.

The group divided in two—one part dealing with fair trade for farmers and the other with consumer education.

Reports From The Field

Creating a communication network for pricing volume and quality issues using computer links, market reports and other resources was seen as key. The group also discussed developing a fair trade farming label to ensure consumers that farmers are part of a network that is paid fair prices for proper land stewardship and good labor practices. The group's idea was to take fair trade beyond the organic rule.

Creating a dynamic, cost-effective cooperative consumer education and marketing program that would connect farming, food, health, social justice and the environment was seen to be of primary importance. Participants agreed to write a one-page synopsis of the day's discussion and progress and to develop an e-mail network to communicate progress and continue the dialogue over the next year.

As I've written before, confronting these issues, and continuing the dialogue that goes along with them, is essential to the health and future of sustainable and organic agriculture. In the past, businesses often tried to do it alone; but as the industry has grown, it's become increasingly evident that partnerships and collectives are essential. I applaud the leadership shown by Sacramento Natural to initiate the dialogue, and the willingness of participants to take time out of their busy schedules and to put aside competitive differences to work for the good of the organic and sustainable cause. Perhaps this can serve as an example to others in different regions of the country to do the same. Then we all will be following the advice of Alice Devine Loebel.

Resource For Staff, Shoppers

I recently viewed a video, Organic Agriculture & Food, created by California Certified Organic Farmers' Marketing Director Helge Hellberg. The 40-minute video covers the history of organics and a range of other subjects—current organic regulations, labeling, certification procedures, pest management, livestock treatment, nutrition, and the differences between nonorganic and organic agriculture and food. The video could be a valuable resource for retailers facing the challenge of employee turnover.

In addition to educating staff, it could be beneficial for customers who want to know more about organic food.

If you want to learn more about the video, visit, or contact CCOF at 888.423.2263, ext. 22.

Mark Mulcahy runs an organic education and produce consulting firm. He can be reached at 707.939.8355, or at

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