In late March, the organic industry descended upon our nation’s capitol for the Organic Trade Association’s (OTA) Organic Week. Organic Week is an annual event where stakeholders from every facet of the organic industry gather to advance organic policy priorities and find solutions to the complex issues surrounding organic food and farming. From organic farmers and processors, to distributors, retailers, researchers, and more, Organic Week brings together a diverse group of people to learn from one another while advocating for organic integrity. This year’s event was focused on creating continuous improvement in organic, and Good Earth’s very own Food Service Director, Joe McGarry, was in attendance. Below are some of his highlights.
Day 1: Member Day
Member Day at Organic Week featured a number of working sessions for different sectors and councils within the industry, and meetings with federal agencies and departments. For Joe, one of the most interesting sessions was “USDA: Supporting Organic Transition”. The town hall style session allowed farmers to speak directly with USDA representatives about what is truly needed to help farmers transition from conventional farming to organic. The transitional period can be difficult for farmers, as they are paying for organic farming inputs, but aren’t able to receive a premium organic price at market yet. This session was particularly impactful for Joe because it featured farmer voices at the center of the conversation.
From Joe: “The session was on day one, and set the tone for what was probably my favorite part of the week: that it was farmer first. It was an awesome reminder that organic is at its core about organic farming and farmers”.
Day 2: Conference Day
Conference Day featured thought-provoking keynotes from members of Congress, agency chiefs, and other policy and industry influencers. One of the most passionate panel discussions centered around the outsized and often hidden toll of agricultural pesticides on communities of color. Amber Sciligo, the Director of Science Programs for the Organic Center, touched on an impactful report authored by Ph.D. Candidate Jayson Maurice Porter called “Agrochemicals, Environmental Racism, and Environmental Justice”. The eye-opening report is available online at: https://organic-center.org/site/agrochemicals-racism-and-social-justice
Day 3: Advocacy Day
During Advocacy Day, Organic Week attendees worked in small teams to meet with members of Congress and share organic policy priorities. Joe and his team had the opportunity to meet with California Representative John Garamendi, as well as an aide to California Representative Jared Huffman.
One the major focuses in these meetings was building congressional support for the Continued Improvement and Accountability in Organic Standards Act (CIAO). The legislation seeks to support the organic program in three areas: it requires USDA to clear the backlog of stalled organic standards put forth by the industry and recommended by the National Organic Standards Board, it establishes a new framework for advancing future organic standards, and it ensures consistent application of new standards from organic certifiers. Another key focus of Advocacy Day was highlighting organic as the gold standard of climate smart agriculture and sharing organic priorities for the 2023 Farm Bill, including funding for the following programs and initiatives: the National Organic Program, the Organic Certification Cost-Share Program, the Organic Transition Research Program, and the Organic Data Initiative.
At Good Earth, we are grateful for the opportunity to participate in these important conversations that will shape the future of our food system, and we are proud of Joe for representing us in our Nation’s capitol.
Good Earth’s Food Service Director Joe McGarry in Washington DC!