Now Comes the Work, with Audacity
As of this writing, the government shutdown which started before Christmas has ended, at least for several weeks. Our National Organic Program staff were forbidden to do their important work for over a month. At MOSA, our doors were open, but we had no place to refer tough regulatory questions, nor complaints about compliance, and we wondered about progress on Farm Bill requirements and backlogged work. We were concerned about struggling farmers losing markets while awaiting NOP certification reinstatement decisions. We were concerned for our NOP colleagues also missing paychecks. Meanwhile, Farm Service Agency office closures stopped needed farmer benefits. The shutdown hurt many folks who were already struggling.
The shutdown also cancelled NOP certifier trainings in late January in South Carolina and early February in Nuremberg, Germany. However, certification work continued, including inspections, investigations, certification decisions, planning for 2019, and answering many hundreds of phone calls each week. The day after I write this, I am headed through a blizzard toward that same South Carolina certifier training, now with three days planned and presented by our Accredited Certifiers Association colleagues, with the appropriate theme “Minding the Store.” We’ll share perspectives, and discuss many aspects of our work, including supply chain verification, cross checks, fraud detection and enforcement, imports and export requirements, Organic Livestock and Poultry Production best practices, verifying dry matter from pasture, crop rotation, organic seed search requirements, and materials review practices. We’ll also learn about new opportunities and challenges in organic hemp production. And we’ll talk about best practices for determining our best practices - how we find agreement on standards interpretation that meets these times and envisions the future. MOSA’s Jackie DeMinter and Kristen Adams are among certifiers presenting, giving back, working together with others for a cohesive and continuously improving certification community.
Now after the holidays and shutdown, here in late winter comes the work, with new vision. Today I heard some fitting words from Howard Thurman, a theologian, educator, and civil rights leader. It’s called “The Work of Christmas.”
When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks,
the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost,
to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among the people,
to make music in the heart.
Now comes the work, from gratitude, which feeds optimism. We have reasons for optimism even after struggles in 2018. For one, A recent report from Nielsen shows continued increase in organic sales. Organic is mainstream, and, millennials spend 13.8% more on organic products than other consumer groups. Top organic categories include milk, salads, eggs and bars. Data shows organic food sales rose nearly 9% over the previous annual period.
We also left 2018 with wins in the new Farm Bill. Organic certification cost-share funding continues. This is especially important for smaller organic operations, as oversight requirements and certification costs increase. The Bill also includes significant Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) funding, with that expected to continue past 2023. OREI helps farmers become more productive and profitable, and develops new agricultural practices valuable to both organic and conventional agriculture. The Bill also expands organic import enforcement, to deter fraud. It also provides $5 million for collection of organic data used by policymakers and others. Good data assists markets, risk management, trend tracking, and fraud prevention.
However, the Farm Bill also contains very concerning provisions that change the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB). MOSA had submitted comments in opposition to these changes. The farmer seat on the NOSB now may be filled by farm company employees. This could favor corporate organic interests over the important voice of the independent organic farmers. A second provision affects NOSB voting procedures, and makes it more difficult for synthetic materials to sunset from the National List.
Our friends at the National Organic Coalition created a key organic priorities scorecard to compare the final Farm Bill with the House and Senate versions.
Resources for tenuous times
It’s still tenuous times in organic. In 2018, we lost over 700 dairy farms in Wisconsin alone; that’s over 8%. Rural America is hurting. In mid-January, Robert Leonard, news director KNIA and KRLS radio, Iowa, wrote a New York Times editorial calling out the one-two punch that tariffs and the shutdown dealt to family farms. “Normally, January is a special and often joyous month for farmers, as they recover from the hard work of harvest and look to spring and a new planting season. They have sold much of their crops and are paying bills, taking out new operating loans for the coming year and buying seed, fertilizer and more. Not this year… Money isn’t moving, and when farmers aren’t moving their money, whole towns suffer. Thousands of towns. All across America… Most rural American farms are not big corporate operations. The most recent available farm census data, from 2012, shows that Iowa has nearly 89,000 farms, and 57 percent are small farms under 180 acres… So ‘big ag’ — the only farmers with the capital to survive over the long term — profits from the blundering crisis. If and when small farmers fail, larger operations can swoop in and buy up the land at fire sale prices.”
We’ve spoken with many organic family farmers facing crisis. Sometimes, they can’t maintain organic certification requirements. For some, unfortunately, we’ve had to suspend certification. MOSA’s Mark Geistlinger recently asked, “How can we best balance our regulatory and client service responsibilities and our empathy?” I think we listen. We approach the standards with practicality. We draw appropriate lines. And we point to resources. Our website includes a good list of partners and resources for financial assistance, education, market information, regulations and more.
More recently, MOSA staff are particularly attuned to resources regarding stress management on the farm. Mark recently shared information from a Michigan State University Extension webinar: “Managing Stress on the Farm and Communicating with Farmers Under Stress.” MSU Extension gathered a lot of their stress management information on a special website. University of Wisconsin Extension also published information on Farm Stress & Decision Making During Challenging Times. The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection’s Farm Center provides a variety of information and support to farmers and their families, including programs for economic development, mediation and arbitration, outreach, and technical assistance. A Farm Center presentation on how to identify and address signs of stress during difficult times is available online. Iowa State Extension also compiled resources to deal with farm stress, market stress, youth stress, marriage stress, women’s stress, men’s stress, and grief. And, MOSA’s Ben MacDonald came across a good mental health resource - mantherapy.org - aimed at men who may be reluctant to seek help, he says, “because you can't just rub some dirt on your emotions." The videos are entertaining and there is a crisis hotline anyone can call. Contact MOSA for further information regarding these resources.
There’s got to be a balance of coping and taking action. Our Inspection Coordinator Liz Daines recently passed along a notification that the Wisconsin Farmers Union is building a farmer-led response to the current dairy price crisis. WFU is working on short- and long-term federal and state policy solutions, as well as supporting farmers’ engagement in dairy cooperatives and the dairy check-off to find marketplace solutions. At dairytogether.com, there’s more information. It’s a movement to rebuild a dairy economy for family farmers and rural communities.
Spring NOSB meeting
Yep, there’s work to get back to. Already, we’re looking ahead to the next National Organic Standards Board Meeting, April 24-26 in Seattle. The docket for accepting public comments is already open, and a detailed agenda with proposals is expected to be published in mid-March.
The NOSB will review National List materials scheduled to sunset in 2021. Organic stakeholders should give feedback now, regarding materials’ necessity or potential alternatives, before NOSB votes this fall.
Crop production materials up for re-review include: Hydrogen peroxide (disinfectant and fungicide); Ammonium soaps (animal repellant); Horticultural oils (pest/disease control); Pheromones (for insect management); Ferric phosphate (slug bait); Potassium bicarbonate (disease control); Magnesium sulfate (fertilizer); Hydrogen chloride (delinting cotton seed); Ash from manure burning (prohibited for use); and Sodium fluoaluminate (also prohibited).
Livestock sunset reviews include: Atropine (medical treatment); Hydrogen peroxide (disinfectant, teat dip); Iodine (disinfectant, teat dip); Magnesium sulfate (medical treatment); Fenbendazole (parasiticide); Moxidectin (parasiticide); Peracetic acid (equipment sanitizer); Xylazine (sedative); Methionine (poultry feed additive); Trace minerals (feed additive); and Vitamins (feed additive).
And, processing/handling materials up for discussion include: Alginic acid; Citric acid; Lactic acid; Calcium chloride; Dairy cultures; Enzymes; L-Malic acid; Magnesium sulfate; Microorganisms; Perlite (filtering aid); Potassium iodide; Yeast; Activated charcoal (filtering aid); Ascorbic acid; Calcium citrate; Ferrous sulfate; Hydrogen peroxide (sanitizer); Nutrient vitamins and minerals; Peracetic acid (sanitizer); Potassium citrate; Potassium phosphate; Sodium acid pyrophosphate (leavening agent); Sodium citrate; Tocopherols (antioxidant); Celery powder; Fish oil; Gelatin; Dried Orange pulp; and Pacific kombu seaweed.
For crop production, additional expected agenda topics include: discussions on Marine plants used as crop inputs and a liquid fish production annotation; petitions for Ammonium citrate, Ammonium glycinate, Calcium acetate, Paper pots, and Allyl Isothiocyanate; and, more regarding Protecting the Genetic Integrity of Seed Grown on Organic Land. We also expect discussion regarding allowance of Oxalic Acid in organic apiculture, plus petitions for Silver hydrogen citrate, Pullulan, and Collagen Gel (casing), for allowance in processing/handling. Other topics may include Import Oversight, Excluded Methods Terminology/Determinations, 2020 Research priorities, and Genetic Integrity Transparency.
In tenuous times, balancing stress with hopeful optimism takes some audacity. We must be present, open, and active. Gather some education and inspiration at an organic conference; listen, share your story, and build bridges with your neighbor. We’re called to follow vision and discern right choices. Work for good with a grateful heart. And, recognize that the good doesn’t always appear good at first. My wife’s father used to say, “Out of the sh-- rises beautiful flowers.” Or, we could say, from the muck springs forth fruit. That’s a principle of agricultural stewardship. We regenerate. What falls away sheds new life, as green manure and compost build healthy soil, which makes healthy plants and animals, healthy people, and healthy communities.
Working toward our vision for a thriving organic world is crucial for the next generation, let alone the next seven. Perhaps our children will lead us.
In January, several Youth for Climate marches were held in Brussels, Belgium. Inspired by Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, the marches grew. On January 24th, 35,000 students skipped school to march for the climate. A day later, at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Switzerland, Thunberg made more headlines. Here are some of her urgent words for world leaders.
Our house is on fire. I am here to say, our house is on fire. According to the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), we are less than 12 years away from not being able to undo our mistakes. ...
People like to tell success stories. But, their financial success has come with an unthinkable price tag. And on climate change, we have to acknowledge we have failed. All political movements in their present form have done so, and the media has failed to create broad public awareness.
But Homo sapiens have not yet failed.
Yes, we are failing, but there is still time to turn everything around. We can still fix this. We still have everything in our own hands. But unless we recognise the overall failures of our current systems, we most probably don’t stand a chance…
Now is not the time for speaking politely or focusing on what we can or cannot say. Now is the time to speak clearly. Solving the climate crisis is the greatest and most complex challenge that Homo sapiens have ever faced. The main solution, however, is so simple that even a small child can understand it. We have to stop our emissions of greenhouse gases.
Either we do that or we don’t. You say nothing in life is black or white. But that is a lie. A very dangerous lie. Either we prevent 1.5C of warming or we don’t. Either we avoid setting off that irreversible chain reaction beyond human control or we don’t. Either we choose to go on as a civilisation or we don’t. That is as black or white as it gets… We all have a choice. We can create transformational action that will safeguard the living conditions for future generations. Or we can continue with our business as usual and fail. That is up to you and me. Some say we should not engage in activism. Instead we should leave everything to our politicians and just vote for a change instead. But what do we do when there is no political will? What do we do when the politics needed are nowhere in sight? ...It seems money and growth are our only main concerns. And since the climate crisis has never once been treated as a crisis, people are simply not aware of the full consequences on our everyday life. People are not aware that there is such a thing as a carbon budget, and just how incredibly small that remaining carbon budget is. That needs to change today... We must change almost everything in our current societies. The bigger your carbon footprint, the bigger your moral duty. The bigger your platform, the bigger your responsibility. Adults keep saying: “We owe it to the young people to give them hope.” But I don’t want your hope. I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act… I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.
Thanks, Greta. Now comes the work, and it is time to be bold. In these times, audacity is a necessity.
Greta Thunberg at the World Economic Forum in Davos, eastern Switzerland.
Photograph: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Image