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A brief history of Oregon Tilth

The Early Years

The history of Oregon Tilth reaches as far back as the early 1970's, as the descendant of Regional Tilth, formed in 1974 at an Ellensburg, Washington gathering of farmers and concerned consumers. Regional Tilth provided a community and framework for a prolonged conversation about the persistent issues relative to sustainable agriculture and what kind of footprint we leave for those who follow us. With chapters in Oregon, Washington, Northern California, and Idaho, regional Tilth was a conduit for some of the early discussions that have influenced local, regional and national sustainable and organic communities, policies, and practices for nearly 40 years.

Organic Certification as a Service

In 1984, the Willamette Valley chapter of Tilth began an organic certification program to serve the needs of growers looking to protect and promote organic farming. These standards became the blueprint for organic certification programs in several other states. In 1986, Willamette Valley Tilth became independently incorporated as Oregon Tilth Inc. The following year, the first edition of Standards and Guidelines For Oregon Tilth Certified Organically Grown was published. In June 1987, Oregon Tilth received its 501(c)(3) non-profit status from the IRS.

Although many private organic certifiers emerged in the 1980's, Oregon Tilth continued to offer certification as a part of a broader research and education effort, providing organic certification as a service to producers, yes, but also as a service to the general public, by way of making sure what consumers purchase is the real deal.

Oregon Tilth shared its model of certification with other organizations to implement programs in other parts of the country and the world. In the late 1980’s, Oregon Tilth formed the Western Alliance of Certification Organizations in partnership with California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF) and the WA State Dept of Agriculture’s Organic Program to formulate materials list standards and further align the three Western Certification programs. This work informed West Coast input into the USDA National Organic Program.

With a sound background of materials review, in 1997, Oregon Tilth helped form the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI), which continues to flourish in evaluating materials for use in organic farms and processors throughout the country. Oregon Tilth was one of the first to recognize that the standards of organic agriculture needed to be applied to the food processing environment in order to effect change on a national level and inspire the transition of millions of acres to sustainable, organic practices.

Present and Future

Today, Oregon Tilth is one of the largest certifiers in the country and undeniably the most balanced-roughly half of our certified operators are farms and the other half processors. This gives Oregon Tilth a unique and invaluable perspective on the entire supply chain, from seed to table, farm to fork, literally from the ground up.

Nearly 30 years after its inception, Oregon Tilth publishes the quarterly magazine In Good Tilth, co-sponsors the Organicology conference, collaborates with university researchers on sustainable agriculture, supports member chapters, and delivers educational programs linking urban and rural people in the support of a sustainable-and sustaining-course for agriculture and the planet. Oregon Tilth looks forward to continuing to contribute to our collective journey toward sustainability, as we all continue to be defined and refined in the coming years.

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