Robert Caldwell Retires
After nearly nine years with MOSA as a reviewer, and most recently as a Customer Service Specialist, and with over 27 years of experience in the organic industry, Robert Caldwell recently made the decision to retire.
“My organic interest had a very deep beginning in me, sort of a soul longing. The first thing that I ever remembered thinking, when asked ‘what I wanted to be when I grow up,’ was two things, really; I wanted to be a farmer and I wanted to be an artist. Both were somewhat far-fetched ideas in a practical based, non agricultural environment. I was not raised on a farm, I was raised in a cotton mill town in South Carolina. I went to college for three years but I got to the point where I felt I had to get out. College wasn’t giving me what I was looking for. So I applied for farm jobs and I ended up working on mainly dairy farms for the next ten years, the 1st one being a farm in Ottertail Minnesota which I acquired by answering an ad in Hoard’s Dairyman magazine. I always had a garden on the side, and I was reading Rodale’s Organic Gardening Magazine and Mother Earth News. It seemed to be the best way to go. It seemed right to me to follow nature instead of trying to dominate it somehow. So that’s what I did; all my gardening was organic. The farmwork was all on conventional farms, there were not many organic farms in the seventies.” Several years later, I eventually graduated from college, with many of my courses in agriculture.
“In 1989 I moved to Michael Fields in East Troy, Wisconsin and I took the job as the dairy manager at their organic dairy farm. I was there for only seven months. Other things came up, it didn’t have anything to do with the farm, it was a great farm. That was my first certified organic farming experience. We then moved to Viroqua and I needed to work. I had been involved with biodynamics and Rudolph Steiner and we moved to Viroqua for the Waldorf school here. It was also the hotbed for organic certification, which I didn’t know when we moved here. Before too long I met David Engel; we were both parents at the Waldorf school. I then went to Little Rock, Arkansas and took the inspector training. In 1993 I started doing farm inspections for Dave Engel, mainly for OCIA and OGBA and a couple of others. It was such a good fit for me. It allowed me to have one foot in both art and farming.”
“I really loved meeting the farmers. Meeting their dog, and their family. Inviting me to lunch; showing me their weird contraptions out in the shed. They would show me a piece of who they were. These were people intimately involved in agriculture. They were inviting me onto their farm and sharing themselves and it was always a rich experience. I am not exaggerating when I say that for the first 20 years that I did that work, I couldn’t believe that they were paying me to do this. I felt so honored. I am not exaggerating. That’s how much I loved these people, this movement, and this job. I still remember people and farms from more than 25 years ago. I remember little things about their farm, their personalities or conversations that we had. For me the thrill was in meeting these people.It has richly enhanced my life doing that.”
“I started teaching in the Waldorf school in 1999, but I continued to do farm inspections on the side to supplement my income. I also had my own little certified farm outside of Viroqua where we grew vegetables for Organic Valley and had a little sauerkraut business. The whole time I was farming I was also inspecting. Sometime around 2006 I started reviewing files. I have been fortunate to have traveled all around the country and inspected all types of farms; big processors; small processors. It’s now a very diverse industry with a lot of different people. It’s been very rich for me.”
“When I first got started in organic, most everyone was in it because it was the right way to farm. I am probably not too far off base here to say that in the beginning of the movement, nearly all of the organic farmers would have done it that way whether it paid a premium or not. When the USDA National Organic Standards came out in 2001, it changed things. One thing it changed was that it made a level playing field for everyone. There was no longer very much difference in the regulations between agencies and I think that was good. Some people got more than what they wanted, and some people got less than what they wanted, but it was a good middle ground. But as things go, it has its benefits and its costs. What was lost in idealism was gained in economic opportunity for a more diverse group of farmers.”
“If we maintain integrity within ourselves; between our hearts, our minds, and our dreams, and if we carry that over into the world around us, and try to keep that personal integrity with how we deal with the Earth and with other people, I think we’ll be ok. It begins with the individual. For me personally, to feel that I have personal integrity between my inner life and my outer life feels good, and if other people do that, I think we’ll be ok. For me organic farming maintains our integrity with the Earth, and it’s beautiful to do that and feel integral with the Earth that we live on that provides for us. It just feels good to strive for integrity and understanding.”
The MOSA staff and board would like to thank Robert for his hard work, guidance, and dedication to organic integrity. Enjoy your retirement!