You know it’s been a whirlwind of a year when someone says, “Wait, that happened this year?”
Although we cannot capture all of the incredible, mind-boggling, frustrating and beautiful stories in and around the world of Oregon Tilth’s mission, we hope to provide at least some of the most impactful and interesting highlights from 2016 in one place. We’ve also included some food-for-thought reading material at the end.
Wishing you and yours a wonderful new year in 2017.
A whirlwind of action
Early in the year we released a research report on Oregon’s organic market opportunities and supply issues, based on outreach to over 100 companies, experts and farmers. And we focused on providing education—online and in-person—reaching over 2,500 individuals on topics from weed management to recordkeeping. Staff continued to push for improving services, bringing several certification activities online such as renewals and an enhanced producer search.
Our Latin America program launched in earnest as we translated more than 30,000 words to increase our Spanish communications, including a new website. All of these efforts have helped us better serve organic producers interested in certification, posting an 18 percent conversion rate of leads that ultimately go through the application process. We doubled down on efforts to promote the NOP Cost Share reimbursement program. We reached out to more veteran farmers, exempting them from certification fees in support of their transition to organic farming. And, we pledged $100,000 in matching funds over four years in partnership with Oregon State University to launch an Organic Extension program dedicated to building and sustaining organic agriculture. Just to name a few things…deep thanks to staff, clients, members and partners for a productive year.
From sharing video stories about organic inspections to protecting our waterways and salmon (while drinking beer), we’ve worked hard in 2016 to touch on a wide range of issues. The lack of conversation about food literacy helped connect us with award-winning chefs, inspiring farmers, the United States Botanic Garden and people helping reconnect us with our food. We spoke with leaders who are changing our institutions that feed us, from school lunches to seed breeders. We spotlighted the people behind so much of our food, capturing a photo essay of farm laborers and trying to figure out how organic can lead on social equity. And we celebrated women in agriculture, from cities to farms to all of the incredible changemakers in between. Oh, and because we’re based in Oregon, we decided to “put a bird on it” with our Lessons Learned about enhancing bird habitat on farms.
Conservation and natural resources
Destruction of habitat has reduced the variety of plants and animals to the point of risks for agriculture. And yes, agriculture plays a big part in contributing to these problems. The methods we undertake to meet these challenges in sustainable agriculture are not simply cut-and-paste models. Some farms can help conserve trees for multiple uses or restore and create forests. Some farms are working to reverse climate change by returning carbon into the Earth’s crust. Some farms do simple magic with the wonders of cover crops. Our friends at the Wild Farm Alliance are helping more farms increase understanding of biodiversity conservation on organic farms. And other farms are exploring how new (old) crops can be just the ticket for meeting environmental needs while still earning a living. What’s the bottom line? Protecting habitat and increasing biodiversity on farms leads to enhanced production.
Food, GMOs and labeling
After years of ups and downs, lightness and DARK-ness, 2016 saw the passing of a “compromise” measure regarding the labeling of genetically modified foods. No one was happy with the end result. And while it still takes a bit of digging to understand the ins and outs of this new labeling law, the biggest question remains: will consumers have better access to information to make informed food choices? As it currently stands, many still can’t differentiate label claims. Perhaps the focus should be on how GMOs are simply not fulfilling their promise of bigger yields and fewer inputs, especially if herbicide-tolerant crops are leading to illegal pesticide use.
Debate over bioponics
The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) fall meeting in St. Louis brought out both sides to debate if “bioponic” agriculture should be considered organic. Protests against allowing hydroponic of aquaponic produce to be certified as organic presented the case that consumer expectations will not be met and soil-based farms will be at a disadvantage to compete in the marketplace. Proponents of aquaponics believe it offers an opportunity for urban centers and places challenged by climate change and drought, to produce quality foods and create jobs locally. A decision was not made final, with the issue to be voted upon at an upcoming NOSB meeting.
Social equity and food justice
To fix systemic problems, you can’t just bring a box of fruits and vegetables into disadvantaged communities. Increasing accessibility to good food requires innovation and new models. We depend on an invisible group of people that get no benefits or recognition. It doesn’t help that our stereotype of farmers simply doesn’t ring true. But more work needs to be done to protect women in agriculture and the children of migrant farmworkers needed to support our food system. And progress needs to make sure that people are always put first in the face of change. It will require taking on racism in our food system. And it will require us to find opportunities to elevate whole communities that make our food future brighter.
True costs of food and farming
No one is working harder than Patrick Holden to explain how the hidden costs of cheap food are impacting health, environment and society. More and more, we’re taking an economic view to value our food differently. It all comes down to how we put a price on what we eat. Some think that greater transparency might help consumers deal with higher prices. Ultimately, with the rising costs for good food growers and eaters, it seems we need to also reevaluate how we value our farmers. From elevating animal welfare to conserving water, it’s clear that sustainability’s value in our food must only rise.
Policies on your dinner plate
While it dominated headlines, politics didn’t always make food a central issue in 2016. While some wonder how we’re investing in our food, others are trying to figure out why we left so many farm families behind. Yet, some progress has been made to improve the culture of agriculture. New ideas for changing our food system are becoming embedded in local government. States continue to lead the way for innovation, pushing for incentives for farms to fight climate change. And it’s hard to remember, but organic acreage is increasing albeit slowly. With local movements gaining momentum, more good policies are supporting organic producers. Of course, there are still many questions about the future of our food and who will make up the workforce.
Things to read and watch
- The New Bread Basket
How the New Crop of Grain Growers, Plant Breeders, Millers, Maltsters, Bakers, Brewers, and Local Food Activists Are Redefining Our Daily Loaf
- Seed: The Untold Story
Seed libraries, community gardens, and a new generation of young farmers are shifting the balance toward a more sustainable and sovereign seed paradigm
- Sustainable: A Documentary Film
Telling the tale of one small farm in the mid-west of America, a cogent and important case for a different food system from the one that we currently have
- Fixing the Food System
A review of the past and current history of calls for a national food policy, and the controversies over food and nutrition issues that have impeded development
- Quitting Season
The decision to walk away from a farm is not one taken lightly; an exploration and look inside why farmers stop farming
- In Good Tilth
A quarterly membership publication dedicated to stories and issues that matter for farmers, consumers, food leaders and changemakers
- Soil Sisters: A Toolkit for Women Farmers
Presents practical considerations from a woman’s perspective, covering everything from business planning to tool use and ergonomics to integrating children and family in farm operations
- Fields of Toxic Pesticides
Ventura County had more schools and more students—over 13,000—attending classes within a quarter-mile of areas most heavily treated with potentially harmful pesticides
- Water in Plain Sight
A refreshing perspective on water, that by allying with the water cycle, we can revive lush, productive landscapes and fix the future by understanding what makes natural systems thrive
- Bountiful Harvest: From Land to Table
Artist Betty LaDuke captures the spirit of farms and farm workers, shared in stories and paintings from the vibrant local food movement taking place in southern Oregon