Keeping the National Organic Program Honest: Farmer Protest in Stowe Highlights NOSB Meeting

From Wood Prairie Farm’s always interesting Seed Piece Newsletter.

Wood Prairie’s Jim Gerritsen is also the president of the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association.

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Farmer Protest in Stowe Highlights NOSB Meeting

by Jim Gerritsen

It has become a troubling and recurring pattern for the USDA National Organic Program (NOP) to disrespect and ignore the Congressionally-mandated citizen stakeholder National Organic Standards Board (NOSB).  The Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 created the NOSB with the important role of advising the NOP on matters critical to the operation and success of the organic community.

When the NOP willfully ignores guidance from the NOSB trouble is soon to follow.  Back in 2010, the NOSB ruled that hydroponics – crop production without soil – does not conform to the traditional definition of organic farming.  Despite this NOSB position, and shockingly, despite there being no certification standards for hydroponics by which to assess compliance, the NOP – bowing to corporate pressure – has been allowing organic certification of hydroponic operations.

Two years ago, the Agrarian Elders sent a letter NOP Administrator Miles McAvoy (drop down “Organizations” menu) criticizing NOP actions on hydroponics.  The NOP has also ignored our letter.

In exasperation, a tractorcade protest (scroll to photo of orange tractor) against USDA-NOP’s arrogant behavior was organized by Vermont organic farmers in the resort town of Stowe where the NOSB was holding its Fall Meeting.  Speakers – including Maine’s Agrarian Elder Eliot Coleman – not only spoke against USDA misbehavior, but read specific citations from the USDA’s own groundbreaking Report and Recommendations on Organic Farming which in no uncertain terms described the foundational principle that organic farming must be soil-based. I believe they call that “Checkmate.”

To virtually unanimous support among independent organic stakeholders present in Vermont, many organic family farmers testified before the NOSB protesting the NOP’s allowance of hydroponics and calling for an immediate moratorium on the certifying of hydroponics operations.  Wood Prairie Farm’s Jim Gerritsen read a statement – entered into the public record – issued by the Agrarian Elders.  The statement reiterated the absolute clarity that organic must be soil-based and the illegitimacy of NOP’s actions allowing hydroponics. That statement appears immediately below.


Statement to the NOSB from Agrarian Elders. October 24, 2015

Soil is the Foundation of Organic Agriculture.

We believe organic crop production must always be soil-based.
Therefore, crops grown from non-soil-based production systems, such as hydroponics, must never be considered or labeled organic.


Signed by Agrarian Elder:

Michael Ableman, Foxglove Farm, British Columbia

Don Bustos, Santa Cruz Farm, New Mexico

Amigo Bob Cantisano, Heaven & Earth Farm, California

Eliot Coleman, Four Season Farm, Maine

Jean-Paul Courtens, Roxbury Farm, New York

Jim Crawford, New Morning Farm, Pennsylvania

Gloria & Steve Decater, Live Power Farm, California

Jim Gerritsen, Wood Prairie Farm, Maine

Liz & Jake Guest, Killdeer Farm, Vermont

Betsy Hitt, Peregrine Farm, North Carolina

Nash Huber, Nash’s Organic Produce, Washington

Norgert Kungl, Sedwood Green Farm, Nova Scotia

Anne & Jack Lazor, Butterworks Farm, Vermont

Frank Morton, Wild Garden Seed, Oregon

Hiu Newcomb, Potomoc Vegetable Farms, Virginia

Dru Rivers, Full Belly Farm, California

Susan Tyler, Whaelghinbran Farm, New Brunswick

Shirley Ward, Esalen Farm, California

Warren Weber, Star Route Farms, California

Tom Willey, TD Willey Farms, California

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