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The Agrarian Elders is a group of 24 organic farmers who were among the pioneers who founded the organic movement in the US. They met at Esalen Institute in 2014 to reflect on their many years of farming, and the issues that they now face.  One of the topics that came up was the NOP decision allowing hydroponic produce to qualify for organic certification.
This is their response.
Letter to Miles McEvoy from the Agrarian Elders     


January 19, 2014


Dear USDA/NOP staff,


We are a group of twenty veteran organic farmers from around the US who came together in California for a week-long conversation on the dominant issues we face in food and agriculture.  Most of the individuals present at this conference have been actively farming for 30-40 years or more, we are pioneers of the organic farming movement.  We call ourselves “Agrarian Elders.” The combined total of Organic farming experience represented in this group is over 800 years. One of the themes of our week together was how to enhance organic agricultural integrity and how to spread that integrity throughout the organic farming community.


During this conference we were made aware of a Vermont grassroots movement requesting USDA/NOP to prohibit soilless organic farming. (see web site for petitions and information).

As you know, NOSB had a lengthy public process on this issue and submitted to you recommendations to prohibit organic hydroponics in April 2010.


We agree with the NOSB’s recommendations,  especially the following statements:

1.“Observing the framework of organic farming based on its foundation of sound management of soil biology and ecology, it becomes clear that systems of crop production that eliminate soil from the system, such as hydroponics or aeroponics, cannot be considered as examples of acceptable organic farming practices.”


2. “Although the regulations do not specifically state ‘soil only production’, the exclusion of soil from organic production of normally terrestrial, vascular plants violates the intent of the regulations. This intent can be seen in these sections of the rule that require proper stewardship toward improving and maintaining the soil ecology within an organic farming system.”


We all have based our organic farming practices on improving soil fertility through fostering the proliferation of the proper soil biology with their accompanying ecologies. Soilless organic farming neglects and ignores these key goals and practices which are at the heart of our work.


We feel it is unacceptable for the USDA/NOP to ignore the NOSB public process that was established, and to make decisions without public hearings. We do not support the NOP in it allowing certifying agencies to certify soilless production. We feel this is a dangerous precedent and that it needs to be stopped.




Jake Guest, Jack Lazor, Eliot Coleman, Michael Ableman, Jean-Paul Courtens, Betsy Hitt, Bob Cantisano, Norbert Kungl, Steve and Gloria Decater, Dru Rivers, Hiu Newcomb, Tom Willey, Warren Weber, Jim Crawford, Frank Morton, Don Bustos, Susan Tyler, and Jim Gerritsen.

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