For over 40 years, Oregon Tilth has been gathering people together to discuss sustainability in our farm fields and marketplace. More than ever before, we’re committed to engaging in dialogue with farmers, processors, consumers, environmentalists and the people we serve to shape how public policy translates organic principles into practices.
Organic food has grown considerably over the past decade, but still accounts for only four percent of total retail food sales in the marketplace. And only one percent of more than 900 million acres of agricultural land is certified for organic production.
Local, state and national policies direct how easily organic practices can be adopted and implemented by producers. Unfortunately, public investment in researching organic practices continues to lag far behind; less than two percent of the USDA’s research budget was dedicated to organic market analysis, research and education out of $2.5 billion dollars. In addition, agricultural producers attempting to transition to certified organic practices – the majority are small businesses – often face high costs, little support and inadequate infrastructure such as processing facilities that also meet federal requirements for organic.
Sustainability and organic crisscrosses multiple policy areas, including environment, public health, agriculture, transportation and more. We understand it takes active engagement with legislators to tackle all of these interconnected issues head on. But consensus building for cohesive policy strategies requires a shared investment of resources, time and openness to work together.
Consumer demand for more sustainably produced food choices is clear; sales of organic products grew by a little more than 11 percent in 2013.
Oregon Tilth’s policy work includes grassroots action with our members and clients as well as “grasstops” relationships that provide access to inform, educate and influence the highest levels of policymakers. As a participating member in the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, our staff members serve on committees for conservation and research, supporting advocacy on issues ranging from incentives for environmental protections to studying seed diversity as an answer to climate change. In addition, we partner with groups like the Organic Trade Association, Center for Food Safety and Oregon Environmental Council to lead efforts to inform legislators about the benefits of organic agriculture.
Often, our work happens behind the scenes as a measured voice on hot partisan issues. In 2014, our executive director joined the Oregon Governor’s Task Force on Genetic Engineering to represent the concerns of organic producers and consumers about GMO crops such as contamination. And Oregon Tilth also serves on the ODA Specialty Crop Block Grant Program Advisory Board, helping determine distribution of federal funds to increase production and market success of Oregon-grown vegetables, fruits and nuts.
We continue to fight for national action in policies, regulations and funding through a stakeholder-led and partnership-based approach. But in a tough budget climate we will challenged to protect the hard-fought gains made in recent years; more than ever before, we need to grow public commitment to organic’s role in environmental conservation, public health and economic opportunities for all communities.