Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote!

(Not Ben Franklin!)

Dear Real Organic friends,

I talked with a new friend this week about democracy. She has a compelling idea that the National Organic Program, flawed as it is, is still the best model of participatory democracy in our government. This was a surprising idea for me. I have come to know the NOP as a feeding ground for large industrial enterprises. Time and again, I have seen democracy overwhelmed by corporate interests. As we look at the major winners in the $50 billion annual organic sales, we see that ‘the many’ are dominated by ‘the few.’

But as I listened, I considered what she was saying. I do believe that we cannot abandon government; that in the end, we must find a way to lead Congress and organizations such as the USDA to better governance. The problems we face are simply too big to be only addressed individually. But to change the government, we must build movements. To build movements, we must change ourselves. So there is a personal path and a social path. Actually, many social paths.

“I don’t know what it will look like. But it’s not just about food. It’s about strengthening democracy. It’s about enabling more people to vote and talking to more people about voting, it’s about building community, it’s about organizing community.

“Food is an important issue. And in a way, I’ve come to feel like my job is to say, it’s not just about climate change. It’s not just about inequality. It’s not just about the environment, racism, gender discrimination, all those things are super, super important.

“Let’s elevate food to the realm of those other things. And let’s put it in the mix and talk about it. Because it’s something that everybody can agree on. Everybody can easily agree that we ought to have good food and that everybody ought to be able to eat it.”

– Mark Bittman from an interview in Living On Earth

In the end, we ponder the question of silence versus speaking out. This is the koan that continues to challenge the organic movement. Speak out, and hurt the brand. Remain silent, and kill the movement. That is my point of view, but there are others who believe that we must solve our problems behind closed doors, not troubling the mass of eaters who “don’t understand.”

I ask, how has this worked out for you?

Part of this conflict is based on our vision. Many of us share a vision of taking the entire world to organic agriculture. In my mind, this would be a transformative change, making a world more supportive of life, of health, of equality. And in some other parts of the world, this process of change is underway.

But we don’t expect that vision to play out as a single-world organic brand. That just isn’t the way things work in reality. When things get big, they are transformed, for better or for worse. Henry Ford building a car in his garage is very different from today’s Ford Motor Company. Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google. Once small, exciting start-ups. The revolutions preached by Franklin or Fidel or Mao or Lenin were very different from the final outcomes in the United States or Cuba or China or the Soviet Union. “Success” and scale change things.

It is possible that we need to keep reinventing and restarting. Try again, Fail again. Fail better.

So back to democracy. Yes, we should work to grow real democracy in our government. And perhaps the National Organic Program is one of the best forums for that. But democracy is based on a process of debate and strife. It is necessarily a bumpy ride.

Meeting with Secretary Vilsack, he convinced us that the changes we need are beyond his powers. But not necessarily beyond OUR powers. Perhaps we need to do it ourselves. If we seek transformation instead of power, then we need to pursue a process of constant engagement. An ongoing conversation rather than total control.

If you want to participate in such a transformation, please join us. 

Dave and Linley


“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.”

Margaret Mead