Organic industry pioneer Robert Rodale first coined the term "regenerative organic" in the late 1970’s as a way to describe a more holistic approach to farming that encouraged continuous innovation and improvement of environmental, social, and economic measures.
Jeff Moyer, Executive Director of the Rodale Institute
Recently Jeff Moyer, the executive director of Rodale Institute, introduced Regenerative Organic Certification (ROC), overseen by the Regenerative Organic Alliance----- which aims to set a higher-bar standard for organic agriculture, by adding important criteria in the areas of soil health, land management, and farmer and worker fairness.
These pillars grew out of the visionary work of Rodale who wanted to speed up the transition of conventional acreage to organic. “He felt organic held the answer to human health concerns along with environmental and climate issues, and he felt we should be moving towards organic more rapidly,” Moyer said. “He was instrumental in moving the organic regulatory process into the hands of the USDA. He was aware that the way to grow something is to give it away.”
Moyer continued, “At the same time, when you give something away you also give away control. The USDA kind of gave up the concept of continuous improvement. We ended up with weak regulations around soil health and animal welfare and the standard was entirely mute on social welfare and fairness. Robert Rodale believed we could regenerate the soil, and with that our farmers, our sprit and our communities all improve if we farm accordingly.”
Today, Moyer believes consumers place real value on land management, worker fairness and social welfare. “Organic is really a consumer driven brand of its own, and consumers want to know that the products they are purchasing contain components of each of those pillars. If you are going to pay a price for organic, you want to know all your values are embodied in the price.
Rodale Institute Campus
The Regenerative Organic Alliance’s aim is to remain loyal to USDA certified organic as a launching-pad to ROC. “We want to create incentives towards continuous improvement. We worked closely with USDA so we didn’t negatively infringe on their ability to regulate organic,” Moyer said. “The reception has been beyond our wildest dreams. People who are long time organic enthusiasts along with those who have stood on the sidelines are all encouraged by ROC. “
One of pillars of ROC is soil health, so hydroponic production is not permitted in the certification. “We have had very little pushback except from producers who can’t meet the standard. We have made it wide enough to be aspirational and attainable at the same time, “he said.
How can an organic fresh produce grower enter the process? “It’s open to everybody that is already certified,” Moyer said. “Many produce growers say they can easily comply because they pay their workers a living wage and build the soil. We will work with all the accredited certifiers on how to incorporate ROC into their services.”
The Alliance’s goal is to have a standard everyone can use this summer. “You may see some product on the shelves with our logo. We really believe that we need to turn the corner on soil health and climate change– things are degrading faster than ever before. We have the support of consumers pushing us in that direction.” Moyer said.