In Their Words: Tom Chapman, Clif Bar, and Chair of National Organic Standards Board
Tom Chapman, Sr. Sourcing Manager, Ingredients, Clif Bar Inc., shares his passion for organic insight on the NOSB board and his views on the organic check-off.
OPN Connect: What path led you to your career at Clif Bar? Please share a little about your background and your role there.
I started my career at the organic certification agency QAI after graduating from college. I worked on international programs, accreditation and complaints. Then I moved to Numi Organic Tea to head up their Quality, R&D and Sourcing teams. I joined Clif Bar in 2011 and have been working in the sourcing department ever since. I find myself out in the field a lot, meeting with growers on their farm to learn about their constraints, working with suppliers about meeting our growing demand or finding new tasty ingredients for our products.
OPN Connect: How did organics come to be such a focus for Clif Bar and how do you see their commitment to organics into the future?
Clif Bar’s co-owners Gary Erikson and Kit Crawford took Clif Bar organic after they decided not to sell their company. By keeping Clif Bar a family and employee owned company they realized they could do more good and create a company unlike any other company. Kit articulated our purpose best when she said, “We’re working to run a different kind of company: the kind of place we’d want to work, that makes the kind of food we’d like to eat and that strives for a healthier, more sustainable world – the kind of world we’d like to pass on to our children."
Under this vison, we developed a business model that we measure ourselves against what we call our five aspirations – that is planet, business, community, people and brands. These aspirations always require a rebalancing to keep the company equilibrated so that any one aspiration does not dominate another. This differentiates us from competitors and consumers value our aspirations. For us organics is not a marketing tool. It is integral to our aspirations, envisioning a planet where organic agriculture is a norm, not the exception. Organic agriculture is a core tool used to expand our positive impact on the planet and community.
OPN Connect: What are your hopes and goals as chairman of NOSB?
I hope to make progress with sense of balance and mutuality. It seems that the organic community is forever in a state of strife which I think is a side effect of rallying a passionate and inspiring group of individuals around a common goal. While the goal is shared, we have a tendency to differ on how to achieve these means.
At Clif Bar we constantly work to rebalance our five aspirations. I think the organic community needs to rebalance its aspirations as well. As chair, I am trying to encourage that balanced perspective. Instead of choosing a single side, we must find the appropriate balance. For example, we need to balance greater social-economic access to organics while maintaining premiums for farmers and consumer integrity. We need to promote growth of organic acres, help farmers improve yields and manage production challenges, and encourage historical foes to embrace organic agriculture, all while maintaining robust standards and level playing fields. There are no organic farmers without organic consumers and there will be no organic consumers without organic farmers.
OPN Connect: You also talked about ongoing debates for the NOSB about organic seeds and bioponics - can you share what you believe should result from these discussions? Do you think this is actually what will result?
Organic Seeds: The goal here is to encourage use of more organic seed in the organic agricultural production. There is unity in concept, but disagreement on how to achieve results. We are currently reviewing and exploring options based on public input at our last meeting. I think continued dialogue will help us find the appropriate next steps to further raise the bar on this requirement.
Bioponics: This issue has never fully been resolved by the NOSB and dates back to 1995. The 2010 recommendation, while the closest attempt yet, was incomplete and acknowledged as such during the meeting in Woodland, CA. Since then, opposing parties have only become more entrenched; painting inaccurate caricatures of each other. This is not contributing towards a solution. At the root of it, the question is this: Is soil implicit to the definition of organic or can the organic label represent a wider perspective of sustainable agriculture? This is a difficult question to answer as the history of organic agriculture is rooted in the soil, however, consumers now interpret the label to be representative of sustainable agriculture with or without the use of traditional soil production. Additionally, most agree the label can be applied to crops and products that do not grow in the soil naturally, like mushrooms, seaweed and aquaculture. So, it appears that the organic label can mean more than just soil, but how much more? Can the organic label encompass a greater view of sustainable production without degrading or dominating traditional soil agriculture and maintaining the integrity of the organic label in the eyes of the consumer? While I might be naïve, I do think this board will find a consensus rooted in compromise and integrity.
OPN Connect: Do you believe that a generic organic products checkoff is a good idea? Why or why not?
I have heard persuasive arguments on both sides of this issue. I understand that many organic growers, especially in California have been ill-served by their check-off or marketing orders. However, I think the checkoff proposal made a good effort to address those concerns. Organic growth has been tremendous over the past decades and shows no signed of slowing down. It’s during times of success like these that we should evaluate, reflect and make decisions that will continue to foster growth and a strong market for organics. Waiting for a decline in the market would be imprudent and too late. In my opinion, now is the time to double down on our investment in organic agriculture. We need more research, promotion and education, not less or even status quo. While I am all ears to alternative options, this is the best proposal I’ve seen and I support it.
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