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A Conversation with Organic Farming Research Foundation

 

Published January 29th, 2022

Kind of Wild is proud of our environmental partners because not only does it fulfill our mission of giving back to advance organic and regenerative farming, but also because they teach us so much about how we all can be better stewards of our planet.

We recently had a chance to catch up with Caroline Baptist, communications manager from the Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF), and asked her a few questions about the current state of some important environmental issues and the work they are doing now to advance organic farming. Check out the conversation below!

Kind of Wild: There’s been a lot of focus lately on promoting conversion to organic as a climate solution. Can you speak to OFRF’s approach on this topic and why it’s so important?

OFRF: Climate change is here and poses critical challenges to farmers and ranchers as well as their ability to build a healthy and resilient food system. According to NOAA and NASA, the past decade (2010-2019) was the hottest on record since records have been kept roughly 140 years ago. 2020 tied with 2016 as the hottest year on record and recent reports reveal 2021 was the sixth hottest to date. We’ve seen all types of extreme weather from floods and storms, to droughts and heat waves, and these weather events and changes severely impact farmers.

The promotion of healthy soils, the foundation of organic production, can help combat the negative effects of climate change. Strong soils release fewer greenhouse gases, absorb and hold moisture, promote drainage and adequate aeration, increase soil biodiversity, build plant strength so they can fight off disease, weed, and pest pressures, and foster deep crop root systems. Extensive research demonstrates organic farming systems capture and store more carbon in the soil, known as carbon sequestration.

Soil health and climate mitigation and resilience is at the core of everything we do at OFRF — from creating free educational resources to advocating for additional federal support, and funding on-farm research projects. This work leads to healthy people, ecosystems and economies. Check out our online educational toolkit made specifically for consumers, advocates, and policymakers that has even more information on the ways organic is part of the climate solution.

Kind of Wild: What are the benefits of organic produce for the individual consuming them, and on the same token possible risks from non-organic produce?

OFRF: We know organic production is better for the environment and helps us fight and adapt to climate change. Consuming organic products does have some potential individual benefits as well, though research is still being conducted. This includes moderate increases in some nutrients from healthy soils and lower detectable levels of pesticide residue. Per USDA certified organic certification requirements, consumers should also know that their organic produce is grown without the use of synthetic substances. Antibiotics and growth hormones are also not permitted in organic meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products, and GE (genetically engineered) and GMOs (genetically modified organisms) are prohibited in organic production.

Kind of Wild: Have you found, from working with the farming community, that organic foods also taste better?

OFRF: Visit any farmers market or farm stand, and unofficially, you’ll likely find that nothing beats the taste of products fresh from the farm.

Additionally, studies have been conducted to explore if organic foods taste better, including one from the American Chemical Society that suggests foods grown in organic conditions contain more phytochemicals and higher levels of flavonoids and antioxidant activity.

Kind of Wild: What types of advocacy and support do farmers need from the government, or the private sector, in order to ensure conversion to organic creates a sustainable business for them?

OFRF: Organic farmers need increased investment in federal programs and policies that support organic agriculture and climate-resilient practices. More funding in organic research would support researchers and farmers to find solutions to the challenges that they face today. With solutions to common problems in hand, organic farmers and ranchers will be more successful and able to make sound decisions.

The private sector is a critical partner in our effort to support organic farmers and build a just and equitable food movement that helps increase soil health, protect waterways, restore native habitats, and improve farmworker safety (among many other things!). They can do so by partnering with organizations doing this work, donate to support their efforts, and choose organic producers when sourcing ingredients. If you are a business interested in learning more, please don’t hesitate to reach out to the OFRF team (give@ofrf.org).

Kind of Wild: How do you see future growth of organic conversion and what are the goals for the category for the next 10 years or thereabouts, as a percentage of overall agricultural production?

OFRF: According to the USDA Economic Research Service, consumer demand for organic goods continues to increase — totaling 4% of total U.S. food sales. Consumers can change the food system by demanding more organic options in the marketplace, and have their voices heard by contacting their representatives to support policy that curbs climate change in future Farm Bills.

Organic conversion can also increase if farmers and ranchers receive support via programs such as the Organic and Transitional Education and Certification Program, which provides agricultural producers financial reimbursement for eligible expenses such as USDA certification fees, educational event registration fees, and soil testing as required under USDA’s National Organic Program.

Government agencies, universities and organizations including OFRF can help promote the benefit of organic farming systems via farmer training, access to organic research, continued education for policy makers on organic as a climate solution, and public outreach on the health, environmental, and community benefits of organic food production. If you’re interested in learning more, please visit OFRF’s website and consider supporting!

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