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OPN Connect Newsletter 241 · October 28, 2021

Jenny Lester Moffitt: Organic Farmer and USDA Under Secretary


Jenny Lester Moffitt was recently confirmed as Under Secretary of Agriculture for Marketing and Regulatory Programs at the USDA and will be responsible for facilitating trade and setting national and international agricultural standards, including the National Organic Program (NOP).

After six years as Undersecretary and Deputy Secretary at the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) and 10 years managing her family’s organic walnut farm, she is in a unique position to understand the needs of both farmers and consumers.

Soli Organic1 January 2022

Jenny Moffitt, Under Secretary of Agriculture for Marketing and Regulatory Programs, USDA

Moffitt shared her background with OPN: 

“Growing up and helping run my family’s walnut farm showed me just how valuable the USDA is to farmers, processors, and consumers. I developed a passion for agriculture, farmers, and the food system, so I’ve always wanted to work in agriculture.

"My dad converted the farm to organic in 1989 and became certified organic in 1992. Our journey to organic began by partnering with local farmers, Resource Conservation Districts, Cooperative Extension, and NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Service)—and eventually with the National Organic Program (NOP).

Vitalis Jan 2022

"At that time, there were no local processors of organic walnuts, so by default, we had to start our own processing plant and find buyers.

“Growing up and helping run my family’s walnut farm showed me just how valuable the USDA is to farmers, processors, and consumers. I developed a passion for agriculture, farmers, and the food system, so I’ve always wanted to work in agriculture.” – Jenny Moffitt

"I spent my winter breaks as a 12-year-old faxing the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) and getting back a list of foreign buyers that might be interested in organic walnuts. I boxed up samples and sent out letters. Thanks to USDA’s work, we found buyers! Our first one was in Japan.

Soli Organic2 January 2022

Moffitt in high school getting ready to plant a native grass buffer strip along the edge of her family's orchard

"I’ve been keenly aware of USDA since childhood and have a deep respect for the work of all USDA employees. They are instrumental to every farm in the US, day in and day out, and I wanted to be part of that important work. But never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I would have the opportunity to serve in this role as Under Secretary of Marketing and Regulatory Programs. It is truly an honor.”

Of her new role with USDA, Moffitt said:  

“It’s such an important time for the food system, and there are key things to address:

  • Enhancing local and regional supply chains by expanding local processing capacity and creating open and transparent markets for greater fairness.
  • Ensuring fairness and equity: for producers to have access to USDA and for consumers so they can make educated buying decisions.
  • Continuing to elevate and integrate organic into more areas of USDA because of all the great work being done by organic producers.

"When an organic consumer sees the USDA Organic label, it must be trusted. That requires rigorous standards that are enforced and continue to evolve over time. I’m looking forward to working with the NOP and NOSB (National Organic Standards Board) as new regulations and practices move forward that meet both consumer and producer needs."

“When an organic consumer sees the USDA Organic label, it must be trusted. That requires rigorous standards that are enforced and continue to evolve over time.” – Jenny Moffitt

Climate change is front and center for Moffitt and a major focus of her work:

NatureSafe Jan 2022

“I helped develop California’s Climate Smart Agriculture Programs and hope to integrate more climate change initiatives into the work of Marketing and Regulatory programs, especially NOP.

"The weather is getting more extreme, and we’re feeling the impact on our ag communities here and around the world. Organic can play an important role in addressing climate change.

“CA Secretary of Ag, Karen Ross, always says, 'Ag is at the intersection of everything,' and I agree because the work we do in ag touches renewable energy, climate change, water supply, water quality, food systems, urban ag, rural and urban community networks, and food access—it is all interconnected.”  

Moffitt's experience managing an organic farm paved the way for greater understanding of the challenges of today’s organic grower: 

“Ten years managing my family’s farm and processing operation was invaluable. Nothing replaces the firsthand experience of harvesting a crop, selling it, [and] working with employees and customers to produce and bring a product to market.

“CA Secretary of Ag, Karen Ross, always says, 'Ag is at the intersection of everything,' and I agree because the work we do in ag touches renewable energy, climate change, water supply, water quality, food systems, urban ag, rural and urban community networks, and food access—it is all interconnected.” – Jenny Moffitt  

"It helped me understand the challenges farmers face daily, from worrying about the loss of a crop, to the realities that come from necessary, but paperwork heavy, regulations. I have a deep appreciation of the amount of work that farmers, who are already strapped for time, are being asked to do.

Ocean Mist Jan 2022

"I’m a big fan of the Organic Systems Plan (OSP) and helped update and renew ours over the years. There’s so much value to producers as they’re filled out, to inform our practices and constantly seek improvement.

"I’m mindful of the amount of paperwork required, and I want to explore ways to reduce it. Entering information in one place that then feeds into multiple systems may be one solution.”

Moffitt sees a big and bright future for organics:

“The role I see for organic in the US is huge. Organic, by design, is meant to constantly grow and evolve. Organic producers are innovating practices that are being utilized in all areas of US agriculture—not just organic.

"The knowledge base, the curiosity, and the research are pushing the envelope, informing all ag in the US. The way organic producers innovate and trial new practices is something we should cherish and nourish throughout USDA.”

"Organic, by design, is meant to constantly grow and evolve. Organic producers are innovating practices that are being utilized in all areas of US agriculture—not just organic." – Jenny Moffitt  

Global Organics Group Jan 2022

Moffitt shares how growers can be involved in formulating USDA policy:

“Organic farmers have firsthand experience, and it’s important for policy makers to hear from them. I encourage producers to be involved in the NOSB process [and] engage with organic networks, marketing orders, and commissions. Stay informed and get involved in the organic decision-making process by signing up for the NOP Insider and certifier newsletters.

“Organic farmers have firsthand experience, and it’s important for policy makers to hear from them.” – Jenny Moffitt

"Organic is a critical piece of the fabric of American ag; [it's] not on the sidelines anymore. USDA needs your feedback to make the right policy decisions for our collective future.”

OPS Retailer Registration January 2022

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