The most complex, radical technologies on earth: Truth Default Theory and Organic

(See All Our Previous Letters Here)

farmers rally to protest the usda at a national organic standards board meeting in the fall of 2017 in Jacksonville Florida

Farmers gathered from all over America to speak out in Jacksonville. Shown here are organic farmers from 9 states marching together.

“Collectives do not emerge from the tops of institutions. They begin with one person and then another, the invisible social space where commitment and action join and come together to become a dyad, a group, a team, a movement. To put it simply: no one is coming to help. There is not a brain trust that is going to work out the problems while we ponder and wait. The most complex, radical technologies on earth are the human heart, head, and mind, not a solar panel.”

Paul Hawken in Regeneration

Linley discussed last week the revelations of The New Yorker article called The Great Organic-Food Fraud. I was left wondering…

How it was possible that Randy Constant was able to get away with it for so long?

Malcolm Gladwell points out in Talking to Strangers that most of us are not built to detect lies. We are built to trust people. This is called “Truth Default Theory.” We are hardwired to believe people because our very existence depends on our ability to work together. We survive by cooperating. Thus our default is to trust. There are always a few who are made differently, who spend their lives being very suspicious. They tend to be social outcasts. And they often detect the fraud that others uneasily turn away from. Gladwell calls them “holy fools.”

Randy Constant’s lies were many. In the end, the price of that Faustian bargain came due for Randy. He paid that debt with his life. But the aftermath was untold damage to the organic label. That fraud also contributed to the acceleration and triumph of the so-called “organic” confined livestock CAFOs that feed off of that cheap “certified organic” grain.

The cheaper the “certified organic” grain is, the greater the advantage to the CAFO producers, who are themselves competing with real organic farmers relying on pasture for their animals. How do you compete with someone who is playing by entirely different rules?

An image of cows roaming on green pasture with text below that reads "Cows at Butterworks Farm, a Real Organic Farm in Vermont."

The member of the National Organic Standards Board who worked for Constant was a small player in all that. But she was a pivotal voice in the 2017 NOSB vote that embraced hydroponic as organic.

That vote in Jacksonville was a turning point in the hydroponic invasion of organic.

That was when large conventional hydro vegetable companies like NatureSweet finally started their “hydroponic organic” divisions. They now felt that the government was all in. That was when the crack in the dike became a gaping hole, and the hydro money came pouring in.

I suggest that this NOSB member violated the Conflict of Interest standards of a government advisory board. If running two “organic hydro” businesses while engaging in such a decision isn’t a conflict of interest, then what is? There were others with a conflict of interest on this issue, and they had announced their possible conflicts to the board. The USDA inevitably decided that such conflicts were NOT conflicts, and life proceeded as planned.

But the vote in Jacksonville was different.

I know for certain that at least two of those who voted to allow hydroponics as “organic” regretted their decision soon after. I know of another who has made numerous public statements that seem at odds with her vote to embrace hydro. I wonder if the whole thing might have gone down very differently if Constant’s employee had been transparent about her business interests in hydroponics?

The Jacksonville vote didn’t get the two-thirds required to become a recommendation, but it was still taken as a mandate by the USDA. They were thrilled to put this thorny issue behind them. As NOP head Jenny Tucker has said on numerous occasions, “Hydroponics is a settled issue.”

So I am calling that Jacksonville vote null and void.

It was a corrupted vote. Hydroponics will NEVER be a settled issue in organic as long as the organic movement rejects it. And it does. Over and over. Remember, the US is the only country I know of to allow hydroponic to be certified as organic.


The Soil Seven were all members of the NOSB in 2017. They understood the meaning of organic and they fought to protect it. They lost.

The Soil Seven were all members of the NOSB in 2017. They understood the meaning of organic and they fought to protect it. They lost.

It might not matter, since the USDA has entirely ignored ALL of the recommendations of the National Organic Standards Board since 2010, starting with the original recommendation calling for the expulsion of hydroponics from organic.

As with all of the problems that are damaging the USDA Organic seal, “hydro organic” is based on secrets. Secrecy is what enabled Randy Constant to make a quarter-billion dollars off of us. Secrecy is what enables hydroponics to be sold as organic. Secrecy is what enables CAFOs to sell their milk, meat, and eggs as organic.

How many people would pay a premium for a quart of milk that had a picture of a CAFO dairy on the carton? How many people would pay a premium price for a carton of eggs with a picture of a cramped hen confinement facility? How many people would pay a premium for a pint of blueberries with a picture of a plant growing in a pot of coconut husks sitting in a sea of black plastic?


60 marched in Jacksonville to support real organic.


Smoke and mirrors. That is how we lose.

It is important to remember that all of this “fauxganic” can only succeed if WE continue to support it. People often buy food based on “value”. “We want to support organic farming but…. we also want a good deal.” We don’t want to be elitists or naifs who are taken advantage of.

If enough of us demanded real organic food, we would be able to get real organic food.

We might feel helpless as we see the farms that we want to support leaving the food shelves of the supermarket, pushed out by the “good deals” (lower prices) of CAFOs and hydros and grain fraud.

What can we do? We can get together and build a movement.

If everyone who read last week’s letter donated $100 to the Real Organic Project, we would raise close to a million dollars. Do you know what we could do with a million dollars? We have done so much with so little already. We now have 850 farms proudly certified with the Real Organic Project. Help us to go further. Help us to get real organic food on the shelves. Help us to keep real organic farmers in business. Help us to provide genuine health to people. Help us to mitigate climate change. Help us to protect the land and the air. Help us to improve animal welfare. Help us to protect local communities. Help us to create a more stable and decentralized economy.

Governmental reform is important, but we can’t wait. There isn’t time. We can do this on our own.

If we act. Now.

“The number one cause of human change is when people around us change. Research by Stanford neuroscientist Andrew Huberman upends the idea that beliefs determine what we do or what we can do. It is the opposite. Beliefs do not change our actions. Actions change our beliefs”.

Paul Hawken in Regeneration.

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