After 10 years of rapid growth – what does organic mean today?
Organic food means many different things to many people. Some point to organic certification as the gold standard to reducing the environmental impacts of farming while ensuring that farmers make a living wage. Some see it as a healthier way to eat. Still others see it as elite, divisive, or watered-down. But one thing is clear: The organic market hasn’t stopped growing steadily since the USDA passed the Organic Foods Production Act nearly three decades ago, while organic farmland still only makes up less than one percent of total farmland nationwide.
To mark Civil Eats’ 10th anniversary this year, we’ve been conducting a series of roundtable discussions in an effort to take an in-depth look at many of the most important topics we’ve covered since 2009.
In the conversation below, we invited four experts to weigh in on the issues surrounding organic food—from perception to policy. Kathleen Merrigan, professor and executive director of the Swette Center for Sustainable Food Systems at Arizona State University and former U.S. Deputy Secretary of Agriculture (2009 – 2013); Laura Batcha, CEO and Executive Director of the Organic Trade Association (OTA); Abby Youngblood, Executive Director at the National Organic Coalition; and Rudy Arredondo, a former farmworker and the founder and president of the National Latino Farmers & Ranchers Trade Association. (Note: Rudy was unable to join the conference call and weighed in after the fact.)
Civil Eats’ editor-in-chief, Naomi Starkman, and contributing editor Twilight Greenaway facilitated the wide-ranging discussion. The conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity.
How have you seen the organic industry change over the last decade? What were some of the bigger issues that existed a decade ago and what are they now?
Kathleen Merrigan: I wrote the draft legislation [of The Organic Foods Production Act] in 1989. Organic has always been on the upswing in terms of growth. It’s become mainstream. The Organic Trade Association has a study that shows that 82 percent of Americanspurchase some form of organic products. In my new home state of Arizona, it is up to 90 percent. It’s not a coastal thing. It’s not a liberal thing. It’s really becoming a very big Millennial thing. To me the growth of organic has been pretty remarkable compared to other parts of food and agriculture in this country… Read more…
Photo by Gemma Evans on Unsplash