The Organic Trade Association (OTA), a membership-based organization of organic food companies, is working to bust myths about organic food. “Despite organic sales and accessibility at all-time highs, consumer confusion about organic benefits remains significant,” say Laura Batcha, CEO of OTA. “Consumers need to know the facts about organic so they can make the smartest choices for themselves and their families.”
The All Things Organic Conference will be hosted by OTA on September 17-18, 2015 in Baltimore and will help provide critical information on the future of organic. Michael Berger, Founding Partner and Vice President of Supply Chain at Elevation Burger and a Food Tank board member, will be honored with the OTA Rising Star Award at the event. And I will be speaking on a “State of the Organic Industry Panel” with Laura Batcha, Executive Director and CEO of OTA, and Melissa Hughes of Organic Valley.Worldwide, organic food sales grew 170 percent to US$63 billion from 2002 to 2011. In the United States alone, eaters purchased US$35.9 billion of organic food in 2014, representing 4 percent of total food sales in the U.S., according to the Organic Trade Association (OTA). And the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports that more than 3,000 farms across the nation are transitioning to organic production models.
But many eaters still don’t know what the organic label means. According to a 2014 study published in the International Food and Agribusiness Management Review, 17 percent of American and Canadian consumers think organic food is also locally grown, while another 23 percent believe locally grown food is automatically organic.
Farmers around the world are not only responding to consumer demand for more organic food, but also making the best decisions for their businesses. A recent meta-analysis of 44 scientific studies by researchers from the Centre for Research on Sustainable Agricultural and Rural Development shows that organic farming is not only environmentally sustainable, but also financially competitive when compared to conventional farming practices. The scientists found that despite the enormous growth in sales, organic agriculture currently occupies only 1 percent of global cropland, so there is plenty of room for further expansion of organic production.
But significant challenges and consumer confusion must be overcome in order for organic to increase significantly and benefit all eaters. Many entrepreneurs, farmers, researchers, and agricultural scientists are working around the globe to protect the integrity of organic labels and ensure continued growth within the sector. Here are some notable companies and organizations working to make organic food more accessible:
1. The Cornucopia Institute, through research and investigation, acts as a watchdog organization for organic agriculture in North America, advocating on issues that affect consumer health and tracking corporate consolidation within the sector.
2. Eden Foods, which began in Ann Arbor, MI in the 1960s, is the oldest organic food company in North America. The company has grown from a co-op to a large organic distributor, and continues to track the environmental impact of its food upstream with suppliers, through company operations, and downstream through monitoring of all social impacts.
3. Elevation Burger is one of the first all-organic fast food chain restaurants striving to meet the need for convenience while delivering more sustainable menu options. The company has restaurants stretching from Texas to Maine and has historically partnered with farmers and ranchers to sponsor certification of their herds to grow their supply.
4. Georgia Organics, based in Atlanta, GA, uses farmer mentorship programs, instructional videos, and outreach events to connect Georgia farmers to Georgia consumers and to contribute to a more sustainable and healthy food system.
5. The International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) acts as an umbrella organization for organic interests across 117 nations, facilitating production and trade, promoting sustainability in agriculture, and building organic leaders’ capacity through close to 800 affiliates.
6. The International Society of Organic Agriculture Research (ISOFAR) supports research for the promotion of organic agriculture by facilitating global cooperation, methodological development, education, and knowledge exchange. ISOFAR supports individual researchers through membership services, publications, and events, and works to integrate stakeholders in the research process.
7. The Kenya Organic Agricultural Network (KOAN) is the national certifying body for organic agriculture in Kenya. The organization was the result of a consultative process involving organic practitioners who created a strategic national framework.
8. La Via Campesina is the international peasants’ Movement that currently represents 200 million farmers from 164 local and national organizations in 73 countries. As a grassroots organization headquartered in New York City, La Via Campesina strives to unite peasants, the landless, female farmers, and rural youth to defend small-scale sustainable agriculture on a global scale. La Via Campesina routinely participates in discussions on food policy with the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and the United Nations Human Rights Council.
9. Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Services (MOSES) is an education and outreach program that promotes sustainable, organic agriculture practices in the U.S. MOSES supports farmers who use sustainable, organic methods not just for farming but also to help build strong, healthy communities. The organization is also well known for its MOSES Organic Farming Conference, the largest yearly event for the organic farming community.
10. Navdanya, which translates to “nine seeds,” represents the nine crops that are essential to India’s food security. The organization works to conserve and save seeds, promote sustainability, teach healthy eating and cooking, and foster the success of women organic farmers in India.
11. Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA) is a network of over 5,000 farmers, policymakers, educators and food lovers that aims to support organic food, sustainable agriculture, and a cleaner environment. The group develops and promotes the distribution of locally grown, nutritious food throughout the northeastern U.S. with chapters in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont.
12. The Organic Center is a hub for the most current scientific research on organic agriculture and health. The Center works with academic and government institutions to fill knowledge gaps on sustainable agriculture. Currently, the Center is working to find organic solutions for new diseases appearing in citrus, apple, and pear orchards across the U.S.
13. The Organic Consumers’ Association involves citizens at the grassroots level in campaigns to protect the integrity of the organic label. Based in Minnesota, the network has grown to represent 2 million online and on-the-ground eaters, advocating for their interests at every level of policy.
14. The Organic Federation of Australia is a nonprofit network that works to build organic and biodynamic businesses across Australia. The network recently launched a National Organic Intern Program to help young people get started in the organic food industry.
15. The Organic Federation of Canada brings together key players to ensure excellent standards and regulations that stimulate the growth of Canada’s organic sector. The organization works on behalf of small organic producers to ensure that their voices are heard and their needs are addressed.
16. The Organic Growers School, based in the Southern Appalachians in the U.S., provides practical organic education for a network of farmers and gardeners. Through the efforts of extension specialists, the organization is working to create an informed network of consumers and producers that work together to support healthy communities.
17. Organic Valley is a Wisconsin-based organic dairy company that has responded to consumer demand for family–farmed food products free of pesticides and growth hormones.
18. The Rodale Institute, through research and networking, strives to create and share the best practices in organic farming. For the past 60 years, Rodale has managed a farm in rural Kutztown, PA where the group conducts scientific studies and educates community members about the value of organic food.
19. Soil Association is a charity organization in the UK that campaigns for humane, healthy, and sustainable food, farming, and land use. Founded in 1946 by a coalition of scientists, nutritionists, and farmers, the Soil Association seeks to address the direct links between farming practices and animal, plant, human, and environmental health. They help provide solutions to help individuals live, eat, farm, and grow within the planet’s currently available resources. They work closely with communities to create and inspire trust in the organic market and improve consumer understanding of organic principles.
What organic farms and businesses are working to protect the environment and public health in your community? We want to hear about these leaders! Email Danielle@foodtank.com with your thoughts and ideas!
(Danielle Nierenberg is President, Food Tank, foodtank.com)