Show Me A Movement

“Show Me A Movement”

Barak Obama talking to Dan Barber in 2009 on the possibility of reforming the food system.

Dear Real Organic friends,

To change the world, should we focus on changing the system or on changing what we buy?

Do we best create change as activist citizens or as conscious buyers? Both can be powerful and both can be ineffective.

The recent decision by Danone to abandon 89 organic dairy farms in New England next year brings the question to the fore. Danone’s action will wreak havoc on our communities. It will also highlight the loss of choice in the marketplace. If you want to buy regional, organic, grass-fed milk in Northern New England, you won’t find it in a Horizon carton nor in any House Brand for a major supermarket chain.

So, we must again ask the question.

Letters to Congress or Boycott Danone? Will either work?

Michael Pollan looks at the camera while sitting in front of shelves with dishes.

Michael Pollan in a recent interview.

“I am asked often how things have changed since Omnivore’s Dilemma. And they’ve changed at the level of the conversation, at the level of the culture, at the level of people’s knowledge of the food system, but we still have a food system dominated by a small number of very powerful corporations. And no amount of shift in the consumer’s point of view is going to change that I don’t think. This is really a matter for the government, for policy, for antitrust enforcement, things like that. So I’ve come to think that until we get action at that level, we’re not going to see profound change.
“Concentration is, if anything, worse than in 2006 when that book was published. But there’s a lot more awareness of it. It’s a conversation.”

Michael Pollan in an interview this week with Real Organic Project


True champion of organic agriculture Senator Patrick Leahy with Real Organic Project Executive Director and farmer, Dave Chapman talking about organic integrity.

Some of our champions in Congress are speaking out.

A letter sent to Secretary Tom Vilsack this week was signed by Senators Leahy (D-VT), Sanders (D-VT),  Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Schumer (D-N.Y.), King (I-Maine), Hassan (D-N.H.), and Collins (R-Maine), as well as Representatives Welch (D-VT), Pingree (D-Maine), Stefanik (R-N.Y.), Kuster (D-N.H.), Pappas (D-N.H.), and Golden (D-Maine).
The letter called out the long overdue need to close existing loopholes in the rules governing how livestock are transitioned to organic and strengthen enforcement of the pasture rule, particularly for large-scale complex dairies.” That is what we have been saying for years.

It also said, “For years, however, organic dairy farmers in our region have been put at a significant competitive disadvantage that is now threatening their livelihood and shaking consumer confidence in the organic label.”

Dave Chapman meeting with Bernie Sanders and NOFA VT's Maddie Kempner during an OFA fly-in to Washington before the Farm Bill in April.

Dave Chapman meeting with Bernie Sanders and NOFA VT’s Maddie Kempner during an OFA fly-in to Washington before the Farm Bill in April.

This competitive disadvantage is not limited to New England. It is experienced by every small organic family dairy farm in America because they all face the same USDA-supported fraud. We are one food system. The illegal production of CAFO milk being certified as organic has crushed the once hopeful growth of real organic farms.
The letter continues, “The USDA’s ongoing delay in finalizing this rule (the Origin of Livestock), which continues to enjoy widespread support within the sector, has contributed to the oversupply of organic milk in the market, placed the integrity of the organic label at risk, and kept farmers in our states at a severe financial disadvantage.” 

Finally, we have a powerful group of Senators and Representatives speaking out on the failure of the USDA to protect organic.

And so we face our moment of truth. Will Americans rise up and say enough, or will we just turn away and shake our heads at our government?


Congresswoman Chellie Pingree of Maine addresses a crowd

Congresswoman Chellie Pingree will speak at the symposium.

“A successful local food economy implies not only a new kind of food producer, but a new kind of eater as well, one who regards finding, preparing, and preserving food as one of the pleasures of life rather than a chore. One whose sense of place has ruined them for shopping at Wal-Mart. This is the consumer who understands – or remembers – that, in Wendell Berry’s phrase, ‘eating is an agricultural act.’ He might well have added that it’s a political act as well.

 -Michael Pollan in The Omnivore’s Dilemma

Please join us. There is much to do.

There are many Congresspeople who support organic whose names are not on this letter. The signers all come from the immediately affected states of Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, and New York. But this is not just a regional issue. The real organic dairy farmers across the country are all endangered as well. They have been crushed more quietly because they haven’t been dropped in a single disastrous action, but the consequences of the low farm price for organic milk are the same. California lost 10% of its organic dairy farms in a single recent year.
And Danone is not even an American company. They are a French multinational. This is not a local issue. These are international issues. We are one world now. The decisions made in Paris can and will crush the farmers in Maine.

Congressman Peter Welch wears a blue jacket and stands at a microphone outside under a cloudy sky

Congressman Peter Welch speaking at the 2016 Rally to Keep The Soil In Organic

So we have three calls to action:

  1. Write or call your Senators and Representatives. Ask them to loudly support the letter that Leahy and others have sent to Vilsack. Write their own letter of concern calling for action.
  2. Sign the petition that Real Organic, Organic Farmers Association, National Organic Coalition, and others are circulating. The petition is just a beginning, not the end.
  3. Join 1000 Real Friends. We can ONLY create systemic change if we come together to act.

Having the support of powerful members of Congress is no guarantee that we will change the system. Leahy, Bernie, and Peter Welch have all written public letters to Vilsack before, calling for a moratorium on new certification of hydroponics as organic. The response from the USDA was a polite letter followed by a deafening silence.

We are opposed by powerful economic forces. But in the end, these same multinationals rely upon us to buy things from them. They can only succeed in darkness. Public transparency is poison to their brands. Help us shine a light.

– Dave and LinleyCows on green pasture with text reading "Act Now: Sign petition to Danone/Horizon stand with NE Organic Dairy Farms

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