By Melody Meyer
I moved to central California as a teenager with the unlikely intention of following the Grateful Dead. I landed instead in the most fertile region of the golden state. Rich with Salinas Valley loam and Central Valley water and heat, I arrived in the fruit and vegetable capitol of the world. At the same time organic agriculture was spreading its influence across the bountiful landscape, creeping into strawberry production, baby lettuce mixes, sweet peaches and pears. California was the cradle of organic agriculture, nurturing an agrarian child that would quickly grow to be a formidable presence.
Today California can boast its place as the golden state of organic food and agriculture. According to Kelly Damewood from CCOF, California has 21 percent of all certified organic farms in the U.S., representing 40 percent of all farm-gate sales with $12.34 billion in gross organic sales. We grow a diverse and distinct assortment of organic high value crops such as nuts, berries, leafy greens, grapes, tomatoes & citrus. In fact over 90 percent of all organic lemons, almonds, avocados, plums, processing tomatoes, raspberries, strawberries and grapes are grown in California! A full 100 percent of all organic pistachios, raisins, tangerines and figs are cultivated and harvested in the golden state.
Organic contributes hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue and hundreds of thousands of jobs to the state’s economy. California enjoys the most “Organic Hot spots” - Organic Hotspots boost household incomes and reduce poverty levels at greater rates than general agriculture activity. Indeed, I reside in an organic hot spot in Santa Cruz County California. For years I have witnessed a multitude of organic farmers, farm workers, entrepreneurs, experts and organizations like California Certified Organic Farmers and the Organic Farming Research Foundation thrive around me. My entire life’s work has been torched by the glow of one hottest of organic spots!
Despite all this upbeat data, certified organic farmland is only three percent of California’s agricultural land at 790,413 acres, and organic represents only four percent of food purchases. How can we drive consumer awareness, advocacy and flex our political might to grow organic beyond these three & four percentile? As esteemed pod-caster of Farm to Table, Rodger Wasson said “Perhaps we should be congratulated—remember when Apple was considered a loser at 5% of all computing? We can do this!”
An oft repeated sentiment was that Millennials must be a key component to our messaging. Never before has a generation been more committed to food and the environment. They live with a true sense of mission; organic must evolve with a message that is meaningful and relevant.
Food is medicine, organic food heals the environment, and organic is good for farm workers and consumers. We must tell the stories of the soil, farm workers, animals and health care costs related to pesticide exposure. The organic message rings with mission and purpose for our youth.
For those in business it is crucial to educate our top executives and leadership on the benefits of organic. The earth is not just a subsidiary of our economies, if we hide the externalities inside our P&L’s then no one is accountable.
Political and policy involvement is of portentous significance as we build the future of organic. Organic must be represented in the farm bill, food safety, crop insurance, access to credit, transition assistance, distribution, infrastructure build out, research and regulations. We must play defense at the federal level with the current Administration and Congress so that organic has equal representation well according to its potential.
The political climate in California is likely more conducive to growing organic through various programs such as the healthy soils initiative. Imagine what would happen if just five percent of all agricultural research and five percent of all promotional activity was allocated to California organic. Imagine if five percent of all the food served in state programs was organic.
As Matt Dillion from Clif Bar astutely put it, “You need to know the roadmap to scale the summit”.
Organic California is building that road map and setting goals that will make organic food and organic agriculture the prevailing influence in California and perhaps in the U.S. by 2030.
My hope is that you will join us towards this goal.