Moving Organic Forward at Organic Week 2022 Recap

April 11, 2022

The Organic Trade Association’s Organic Week is all about moving organic forward. Oregon Tilth proudly represented and advocated for our clients on the frontline of the food system. 

Congressman Peter DeFazio (D-OR) Honored with Organic Champion Award.
Congressman Peter DeFazio (D-OR) Honored with Organic Champion Award.
Pictured: (front row) Megan DeBates, Vice President, OTA, Government Affairs; Chris Schreiner, Oregon Tilth, Executive Director; David Lively, Organically Grown Company, Pioneer Emeritus; Congressman Peter DeFazio, U.S. Representative for Oregon’s 4th Congressional District (back row) Angela Wartes-Kahl, Organic Integrity Cooperative Guild, Board President; Gwendolyn Wyard, OTA, Vice President, Regulatory and Technical Affairs; Ben Bowell, Oregon Tilth, Education and Advocacy Manager
Photos by Erika Nizborski Photo

Day 1 – Organic Trade Association (OTA) Member Day

An opportunity for the Organic Trade Association’s members to discuss topics that reflect their priorities and expertise. Oregon Tilth engaged in the following sessions:

  • Farmers Advisory Council (FAC) – Oregon Tilth is a member organization. The council’s core objective is to recognize farmers as the organic trade’s foundation and to elevate their voices to inform the OTA’s policy and advocacy priorities. The FAC has developed a list of priorities for organic agriculture to shape the next Farm Bill, due for passage in 2023.
  • Climate Change Task Force Meeting – The Task Force recognizes organic agriculture as a key part of the solution to the climate crisis. At this meeting, attendees discussed proposal concepts in response to USDA’s recently announced Partnership for Climate-Smart Commodities opportunity to invest $1 billion in pilot projects focused on technical and financial assistance to producers who implement climate-smart practices on working lands. The meeting’s goal was to identify opportunities to collaborate and find other project partners to serve complementary roles. We want organic projects to be part of this important USDA climate initiative.
  • Organic Center Meet ‘n’ Greet – An opportunity to hear about the Organic Center’s recent work and planned research trajectories, including studies to showcase how organic farming is climate-smart, testing of glyphosate in retail milk, an evaluation of inadvertent pesticide contamination for organic farmers, and continued work on race, equity and inclusion in organic agriculture.
  • USDA Supporting Organic Transition – USDA has announced a $20 million Organic Transition Initiative to make transformative investments to support the transition to organic. At this town-hall meeting, attendees had the opportunity to offer their perspectives to inform the new program’s priority areas. Top USDA administrators were there from the Agricultural Marketing Service, the National Organic Program and Farm Service Agency. The session also included breakout group discussions on priority topics including livestock feed grains, specialty crops produce & seeds, integrating fiber crops (cotton and hemp) into rotations, and brands / retailers and manufacturers.

Organic Political Fundraiser and Organic Champion Award Ceremony – An evening event brought organic supporters together to present Congressman Peter DeFazio (OR) with the Organic Champion Award for his long standing work for the organic sector as one of the industry’s most influential champions since the passage of the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) of 1990. In his remarks, Congressman DeFazio discussed working closely with Oregon Tilth on passing OFPA. He celebrated the tremendous progress and growth of the organic industry during the past 30 years of his political career and encouraged the audience to keep fighting for food system change.

Day 2 – Future of Organic Conference

Pictured (left to right): Stephanie Jerger, Vice President of Administration, OTA (discussion leader); Nicole Fabricant, PhD, Associate Professor, Towson University; Jade M. Algarín, Environmental Justice/Community Organizer, St. Croix Environmental Association; Amber Sciligo, PhD,  Director of Science Programs, The Organic Center; Eugene Pickett, Regional Coordinator, National Latino Farmers & Ranchers. Photos by Erika Nizborski Photo

After two long years without an in-person gathering, it was really energizing and inspiring to reconnect with the organic sector. The conference program’s panels and keynote speakers pushed attendees to reflect on the impressive growth of the past thirty years while asking critical questions about how the organic sector must adapt and evolve to thrive for the next thirty years. Critical questions included:

  • How can organic practices remain relevant and be recognized as an important tool for climate action and solutions?
  • How can organic meaningfully address diversity, equity and inclusion?
  • How must the organic standards evolve to continue to meet consumer expectations around animal welfare, fraud prevention, and labor conditions while also presenting measurable outcomes that advance conservation?

These are complex, interconnected questions. It takes courage, transparency and knowledge-sharing to tackle them. It was a thought-provoking day of direct dialogue and collective problem-solving.

  • Panel Discussion: Introducing the State Organic Network – Oregon Tilth’s Executive Director, Chris Schreiner, spoke about his work on the steering committee for an exciting, first-of-its-kind State Organic Network that will advance state-level organic priorities identified by the people who grow, handle, process, sell and choose organic products. The network provides a forum to collaborate, and share advocacy strategies, success stories and lessons learned.

Panelist (left to right): David Lively, Pioneer Emeritus, Organically Grown Company; Chris Schreiner, Oregon Tilth, Executive Director; Sedrick Rowe, Jr., Rowe Organic Farms, representing Georgia Organics; Willow Aray, Development Manager, CCOF Organic. Photos by Erika Nizborski Photo

Day 3 – Advocacy Day

The third and final day involved visits to Capitol Hill with legislative offices. Three Oregon Tilth staff visited a total of 6 different offices representing Oregon, Idaho and Texas. During these visits, we were accompanied by other OTA member companies, including OTCO clients, who shared their stories of success, as well as identifying opportunities for support to overcome challenges. We made the case for the Continuous Improvement and Accountability in Organic Standards Act (HR 2918) designed to ensure government moves at the speed of industry innovation and evolving consumer expectations. We also made the case for increased investment in organic in the upcoming annual appropriations (govt spending bill), requesting more funding for the National Organic Program (NOP), organic certification cost-share, the organic data initiative and organic transition research. 

Pictured (left to right): Paul Hingston, Senior Director of Strategic Channels, Amy’s Kitchen; Chris Schreiner, Executive Director, Oregon Tilth; Mike Menes; True Organic Products, Vice President of Food Safety & Technology.

Finally, we explained how organic is the original ‘climate smart’ management system and any financial benefits for farmers sequestering carbon and reducing GHG emissions should recognize and reward organic farmers. It was good to be back and represent Tilth’s clients on the frontline of food system change to federal decision-makers.

During lunch on Advocacy Day, we participated in an informal lunch meeting and discussion amongst a small number of OTA members and Jenny Tucker, Deputy Administrator of the USDA National Organic Program. The focus was on how to improve the public-private partnership. Ms. Tucker summarized key approaches as follows: “Learn together. Plan pragmatically. Celebrate successes.”

Contact Information

Oregon Tilth Main Office
PO Box 368
Corvallis, OR 97339
Phone: (503) 378-0690
Toll Free: (877) 378-0690

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