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Yvonne and beyond

By Andrew Rodman

Recently I spoke with Yvonne Frost, Oregon Tilth’s Certification Director and Executive Director from 1980 to 2002, about the pioneering role Oregon Tilth had in processed food certification. 

Back in 1985, the Oregon Tilth Directory listed four certified processors; Cascadian Farms, Coffee Bean International, Nancy’s and LifeStream. Oregon Tilth continues to be a highly respected organic processing inspection agency, with over 500 processors certified in the roster.

I asked Yvonne why Tilth got into organic processing, back in the day. “One of the main reasons was the farmer sold his product to a processor, and then the processor did whatever he wanted to it, then slapped ‘organic’ all over the label of the bottle. Nobody knew what was in it. We felt ‘that’s not very organic.’ They were taking organic food, processing it and making a non-organic product. There were no guarantees, nobody got inspected, nobody had to keep records.” 

Tilth set out to change the organic industry by setting up protocols for processors that took their in-house procedures into account, in the way it affected the organic food post-harvest. “We set up processing standards. The NOSB (National Organic Standards Board) took those standards, and lifted them right out of our handbook to put in the Federal law.”

“We certified General Mills for cereals.” Yvonne recalls, “They used those totes, over and over again, to move cereal from one area to another. They just sprayed the hell out of them, because they didn’t want bugs in their cereals. We told them you have to bring in new totes to put your organic stuff in. You can’t use your old stuff over and over again. That was a hurdle for them, because they had to change their whole policy, and they did it no problem.” 

Because of the initial costs associated with organic processing production, changes were easier for the larger companies, than for smaller garage operations.

With a pioneer’s perspective on the changing landscape of food systems, Yvonne is especially impressed by the growth of the organic industry; about 20 percent a year. Health consciousness has moved from the fringes to the norm. These days, she often spots shoppers reading ingredient labels, something she never used to see. 

Now, as a retired senior citizen, Yvonne sits on the sidelines while others have taken up her work in certification. But she still continues her food activism, working to convert her rest home kitchen to farm fresh. “Well, I feel it’s the only way we are going to help, particularly old people, stay healthy.”

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