An amazing thing happened after I finished giving my talk at EcoFarm last month.

Dru Rivers got up and called for people to speak out at the next CCOF board meeting.

Click here for Dru’s Message about this year’s CCOF meeting

I had just finished speaking on a panel with Anne Ross and Lisa Bunin in a workshop called, “How Can You Mend A Broken Organic Program?” Dru stood up at the microphone and announced that she would be showing up at the next CCOF board meeting. She would be calling for a change with CCOF’s certification of hydroponics. 

The room became very charged.

Dru is one of the early members of the California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF), founded in 1973. She is one of the founders of EcoFarm, and continues as a board member. As a founding partner at Full Belly Farm, she is one of the most respected organic pioneers in America. Her gentle voice carries considerable weight in the room.

As of today, Dru has decided to postpone the planned protest and participate instead in an intensive session at the CCOF board meeting. Please join her.

Dru Rivers recorded at EcoFarm during questions after the presentation:
“So how to mend a broken program?… I would like to come away with something tangible that we can all go do.   

“I’m Dru Rivers from Full Belly Farm, and we are part of the Real Organic Project as one of the farms in California. We are also long time CCOF certified members. And I don’t want to create factions, because I think that certification is really important to our farm, and also to this community here in California and across the country. 

“But I kind of want to be a rabble-rouser with CCOF, and go to their meetings and say, “We don’t want to be certified with you if you are going to continue to certify hydroponic farms.” 


“I’m wondering if that ..You’re talking about the NOP and the NOSB, but here on the farm level, do you see that as a way to make change and to fix the system?”

Dave Chapman:
“Yes, sure, I think that if the farmers insisted! One of the things we see right now is there is a lot of diversity in certifiers in America. And many ARE certifying hydroponics and many are NOT. Many WILL certify CAFOs and many will NOT.

“If the farmers, who I think overwhelmingly oppose the certification of hydroponics and CAFOs, insisted that they would take their business elsewhere if the certifier didn’t follow the law, (the Organic Food Production Act), then I think that we would see huge change. Just as we will see huge change if the eaters say, “I want to buy food that doesn’t come from CAFOs and HYDROs!” So, yes, I think that would be really powerful, Dru.”

Dru Rivers:
“Well, I’m just going to put it out there that February 18 is the CCOF Annual Meeting in Sacramento. There’s a lot of press available, and I plan to be there with a picket sign.”

Lots of applause.

Dru Rivers. California organic farmer.

The next CCOF board meeting is on Feb 18 at the Sheraton Grand Sacramento Hotel in Sacramento, California. Dru invites others to join her. 

This failure of the National Organic Program has become a huge issue in America. Hydroponic production for certified organic has grown tremendously for vegetable and fruit categories such as tomatoes, berries, greens, peppers, and cucumbers. Driving along the Coastal Valley, we now see some of the best farmland in America covered with black plastic and hydroponic pots.

“Certified organic” hydro pots covering some of the best farmland in America

In the national debate of the last 6 years, the leadership of CCOF has led the charge to allow certification for all hydroponic production. They always insist that there should be required labeling for hydroponic, but others seem to ignore that part. 

At the same time, some other certifiers have strenuously opposed hydro certification, even refusing to certify such production themselves. Some say it is illegal based on the language of the Organic Food Production Act. Some just say they don’t certify hydro.

The CCOF leadership even testified in support of hydro at the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) meetings BEFORE the CCOF board took a position. Eventually, the CCOF board embraced the pro-hydro stance. One board member has described CCOF’s commitment to hydroponics as “a mile wide and an inch deep.” 

Within the CCOF board, this has been a contentious issue, with one board member actually insisting that hydroponic is BETTER than soil growing. This position was repeated in the EcoFarm discussion by another hydro producer. I suspect that many hydroponic producers feel this way.

Two very different views of what “organic” means.

Paul Muller in the fields at Full Belly Farm. California organic farmer.

The picketing has been postponed for now. Dru has been persuaded to attend the board meeting instead for an hour-long session to discuss hydroponics.ALL ARE INVITED.

If you care about CCOF, please show up. I am sure that some hydroponic producers will.

In my mind, the CCOF position reflects the beliefs of a tiny minority. Most organic farmers in California believe that organic farming is inextricably intertwined with the soil. Most organic farmers everywhere in the world believe that. The astonishing redefinition of organic is the effort of a few. That is reflected in the overwhelming vote of the Organic Farmers Association membership to prohibit hydroponic from certification.

The reason for the debate is that we face a powerful, well-organized lobby representing an industry that claims to already be at a billion dollars a year in sales. Of course, Driscoll’s is CCOF’s biggest single client and is also the world’s biggest “hydroponic organic” producer.

By their own claim, Driscoll’s sells 65% to 70% of the organic berries in America!

According to Miles McEvoy in 2017, hydroponic container producers represent less than 1% of certified operations. And yet their sales account for much more. 

Speaking with an NOSB member about the failure at Jacksonville in 2017, I said that 60 farmers, representing the entire organic community, came to the meeting to testify. I wondered how the NOSB could have failed to heed so many organic pioneers. Farmers from all over the country spoke eloquently about why soil is the necessary foundation of organic farming. But it made no difference to the outcome. 

This NOSB member said to me, “Yes, but California didn’t show up.”

That is changing now.

If you are a California farmer who cares about the future of CCOF and the National Organic Program, show up at this board meeting on Feb 18. Please speak up and let the board know that you care.

It is time to show up.
Many thanks,


P.S. PLEASE share this letter. It is the only way people will learn about this.

Jim and Deborah Durst. California organic farmers.

“Much as we try, we can never duplicate the intricate, inter-relatedness of the natural world. That is what makes organic agriculture so miraculous. It holds the natural world in a position of awe and respect, and allows that which we do not totally understand to continue to amaze us. To me as an organic farmer, this awe and respect is the foundation of organic agriculture.
When we try to manipulate this inter-relatedness into a system of agriculture that does not recognize the intricate mystery, we bypass the natural processes of life with artificially constructed processes.
Hydroponics or container agriculture is one of these artificial systems, regardless of where the inputs come from. By removing the soil, they have bypassed natural systems. Hydroponics works and can be sustained over time, but it does not qualify to carry the term ORGANIC if it does not honor and respect the role that healthy soil plays in the food chain.”

-Jim Durst

Ward & Rosie Burroughs, daughter Benina Montes, and the next generation of California organic farmers.

First and Foremost:  Hydroponics should never have been approved by any certifier or the NOP as Organic because the foundation principle for the Organic Certification under the NOP is based on growing food and fiber in healthy soil.

“Today we know that the microbes in the soil are the master gatherers providing all the nutrients needed for the roots of plants and trees. Healthy Soils sequester carbon which is the key to fixing Climate Change.”

2020 Burroughs Family Statement: “Our stewardship of the land starts first with Organic/Regenerative Practices which protect, preserve and enhance the health of all life on all our farms, starting from the microbes in the soil to the birds in the sky, including air and water, all are interrelated and interconnected to our environment.

We are blessed to live and work on the farm where we experience the beauty of God’s creation and the everyday miracles of life.

-Rosie Burroughs from Burroughs Family Farms. 

Steve Sprinkel. California organic farmer.

“I was really tickled after we went to that hydro farm yesterday, and we heard the entire bus blow up behind us and start talking about it. And they were SO WELL INFORMED. Everyone that had gone on that tour. I know that Dave must have been tickled to hear people repeat back all the things that he’s been saying all these years. 

“The EcoFarm community was a little bit criticized for including this hydro farm on our bus tour…and the board especially was horrified. We had a little bit of an interior donnybrook back and forth with the committee, and we eventually said we definitely delegated this responsibility to the committee, and we’re going to let it fly. 

“At the time I said, ‘Well okay, this is just a one-off. I don’t want to go to any CAFO. I don’t want to go to some confined, feed-lot dairy just because it’s certified. I don’t want to go to any confined poultry operations just because it’s certified.’ 

“Well, I changed my tune. I want to go to one now, just to see what people say. Like Dave said, let’s put it on the milk carton if we’re so proud of it.Let’s go show the individual consumers what we’re calling organic. Because I learned a lot by going to see the dark side of it.”

– Steve Sprinkel, speaking at the end of the EcoFarm session, “How To Heal A Broken Organic Program.”

Scott Park speaking at EcoFarm. California organic farmer.

Park Farming supports ROP’s effort to restrict organic certification for hydroponic facilities. In the quest for efficiency natural methods have been discarded for technological tools. However, on our farm, we have found the most efficient farm tool is the soil! Given the chance, soil will positively impact every aspect of crop production while producing nutrient-dense food naturally.

Organic status for hydroponic farming is saying the soil doesn’t play a vital role in food production even though soil is the most natural aspect of any organic farm operation. It seems ludicrous to remove soil from the organic equation.

“Park Farming greatly appreciates the efforts of ROP to maintain the intrinsic value of the word “organic”. To attach “organic” to a hydroponic system cheapens the meaning of the word, thereby casting a negative shadow on true organic farmers.

“Keep up the good work!”

     – Scott Park (A proud clod kicker!)

Amigo Bob Cantisano. California organic teacher and organizer.

It is critical to uncouple hydroponics from organics. The organic farming and consuming community will be much better served by the continued support and focus on plants grown in nutritionally vibrant soil.

Certainly, there is an opportunity for hydroponics to show their mettle, but not within organic certification. Consumers will be confused, the market will be muddied and the long term significance of organic will be blemished. Organic food must be grown in soil by microorganisms and the myriad of interactions between these species. Healthy food for healthier humans and the planet.

– Amigo Bob Cantisano

To further this conversation join us at the Dartmouth Symposium.

The Real Organic Project Symposium will be held on April 3 & 4
at Dartmouth College. Please join us there for an important dialogue. Attendance is free for ROP certified farmers and farm crews. Travel and housing scholarships are available. Please email us for information.

Click here for tickets to ROP Symposium at Dartmouth

Dave Chapman
Executive Director /
Real Organic Project /

“The nutritional value of today’s food is lower than at any point in history.

“You would need to eat twice as much meat, three times as much fruit and 4 to 5 times as many vegetables to get the same amount of minerals as available in the same foods in 1940.”

– Dr. Christine Jones