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If you can’t make it to an earlier Rally, come to the final Rally at Jacksonville on October 31. Join organic pioneers Eliot Coleman, Fred Kirschenmann, Jim Riddle, Lisa Stokke, Tom Beddard, Anais Beddard, David Zuckerman, Jim Gerritsen and many other farmers and eaters. The Rally will be outside during the lunch break. And sign up ASAP to testify to the NOSB, telling them what you think.
If you can’t come in person, sign up for the virtual testimony.
You can sign up for either testifying in person or testifying online. But in either case, you can also submit a written comment.

 Once there, click the blue "comment now!" button in the top right corner.

This is very important. We need to speak up before the organic program is lost. This will be our last chance.

Please forward this letter to as many friends as possible.

The Final Meeting

As we approach the November meeting of the NOSB in Jacksonville, we are engaged in the great organic debate of our time. Can the National Organic Program (NOP) serve the organic community? Can the NOP protect and preserve strong standards that reflect the beliefs of real organic? Can the National Organic Program have integrity? The NOP is beset by news reports of its failures and compromises. It appears that we can’t trust that the milk, meat and eggs that we buy as certified organic. Much of this food is actually produced on confined animal operations with no pasture at all. We can’t trust that the "certified organic" grain that these animals were fed wasn’t actually conventional GMO grain. And we can't trust that the vegetable and berries that we buy are actually grown in the soil. This is a massive disservice to the honest organic farmers who have embraced the practices known as organic for the last 75 years. This is also a failure of the USDA program to protect the millions of trusting eaters who choose to spend their hard earned money on “certified organic” food.

One of the largest “organic” egg operations in the United States keeps 1.6 million hens, and it continues to grow. Two barns have been added since this photo was taken by the Cornucopia Institute in 2014. (Photo by The Cornucopia Institute)

This November the NOSB (National Organic Standards Board) will finally vote on a proposal to prohibit hydroponics from certification. Again. In the meantime, hydroponic vegetables and berries continue to pose as soil grown organic produce. There are no standards for hydroponic production, and there is no labeling.  Go to any supermarket in NYC at the height of the local outdoor tomato season, and you will only find hydroponic beefsteak tomatoes, mostly from Mexico, in the organic section. There will be no sign warning the customers that this Fauxganic food was grown without soil. And so we are in a final battle for the soul of the organic label. The real organic movement is still strong. Most certified organic farmers are real organic. But we can no longer say that most organic products are real organic.  Miles McEvoy has said that three-quarters of the "certified organic" eggs will be decertified if the animal welfare reform standards are ever implemented. Miles wants those reforms to be enacted as much as the rest of us. But that won’t happen because the Trump USDA and the Senate don’t want it to happen. The two most powerful Senators on the Senate Ag committee, Roberts and Stabenow, are strongly opposed to the animal welfare reform standards. That is because the two biggest Fauxganic egg producers in the country are their constituents.

Theo Crisantes testifies to the Senate Ag Committee for the Hydro Coalition, calling for the deformation of the NOSB.

And as I wrote in my last letter, ( Hydro Declares War On Organic ) the hydroponic lobby recently made common cause with the CAFO producers in their Senate testimony. They called for the "reformation" of the NOSB with 5 additional seats dedicated to representing industrial Ag interests. As if the industrial interests weren’t already well represented!  Welcome toWalganic. They also say it is time for the NOP to stop paying attention to “outlier issues” like animal welfare. In this time of Trump, taking over the NOSB seems quite possible. Roberts hopes to make these changes as part of the next Farm Bill.


Perhaps the only way we can stop this destruction of something precious is to stand together and speak with one voice. We must say yes to fertile soil as the foundation of all organic farming. We must say yes that animals deserve access to sun and soil.

We must say no to hydroponics andCAFOS. We must say no to fraud from some of the biggest producers in the world. Who gives them a pass? How is it that a single reporter from the Washington Post can clearly document so much fraud on such a massive scale while the NOP cannot? Why does it take endless task forces and studies to act, when a single reporter has shown how easy it is to find the truth?

                    Driscoll's sells over 1000 acres of Fauxganic berries like these.

I especially want to address it to the many members of the California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF) and the Organic Trade Association (OTA). I wrote a private letter to the board of the OTA last year, but my letter was never shared with the board by their leadership. So I will try a more public approach. If you know a member of one of these organizations, please forward this to them. When I sent out my last public letter, I got a tremendous amount of positive feedback, including strong support from board members of each organization. They agreed with all I said but insisted that I got one thing wrong. They said that both CCOF and OTA were neutral on the hydroponic issue.

                                        Phil LaRocca, President of CCOF.



This is simply not true. At the last NOSB meeting, my friend Phil LaRocca, identifying himself as the President of CCOF, said, “I’m speaking here in favor of organic hydroponics with two caveats. One, we should create standards that are strict with 100% organic inputs, and two, that we should label it.”  This is not a neutral stance, and it was not presented as a personal opinion. His comments were further supported by the testimony of CCOF Policy Director Kelly Damewood. I consider Phil a friend, but we disagree mightily on this. 


Speaking for OTA, Nate Lewis responded to a question from NOSB member Steve Ela:


 MEMBER ELA: "Where would you draw the line between hydroponics and containers?" 


MR. LEWIS: "I've done a lot of thinking on that. It's challenging but where I would draw the line is on what's the matrix in which the biology lives. Is the biology that is ultimately cycling the nutrients and bringing things to, making them available to plants in suspension, in solution, or is it living in a solid matrix? And if it's living in a solid matrix, like it is in a container production, you know, 2010 recommendation was that that should be allowed, and we continue to think that that should be allowed."

                OTA Senior Crop And Livestock Specialist Nate Lewis testifying to the NOSB.


Nate is ignoring the heart of the 2010 recommendation, which says, "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, can not be considered as examples of acceptable organic farming practices".


What OTA is saying is that if the hydroponic feeding takes place when the roots are in a solid medium like coconut husks, it isn’t hydroponic anymore. Magic! This statement is in accord with all OTA public comments for the last year. They repeatedly insist that they support the 2010 NOSB recommendation banning hydroponics. Then they insist that the growing practices of their two biggest hydroponic members, Driscoll’s and Wholesum Harvest, are NOT hydroponic because they grow in coconut husks instead of in water.
All of the hydroponic tomatoes, berries, cucumbers, and peppers in conventional hydroponics are grown in containers with the roots in coconut husks or rockwool. Rockwool is like fiberglass insulation. Many conventional hydro producers now prefer growing in coconut husks (called coco coir) because coir is so recalcitrant that it breaks down VERY slowly. That is why they have mountains of the stuff on Sri Lanka. It is very resistant to fungal breakdown, much like cedar shavings. It makes a marvelous substrate for hydroponic production for this reason. The same material can be used for years due to its antifungal qualities. It has been rapidly overtaking rockwool around the world as the preferred hydroponic substrate. Conventional growers like it because it doesn’t break down (and thus doesn’t contribute anything to the nutrition of the plant). It looks like soil, but it ain’t soil.
The OTA position is purposely misleading because the leadership understands all this very well. The OTA stance is that this is much too complicated for us to understand so quickly (only 7 years of study since the last recommendation), and thus it requires years MORE study. And hopefully another task force!  


It IS difficult to understand when so much misinformation is being put out. These positions are calculated to put off a decision on hydroponics forever. After all, who wants to stand up in the NOSB meeting and vote that fertile soil is not the foundation of organic farming? OTA is seeking to confuse this issue in an effort to support two of their members. But at what cost to the rest of their members!


How does it serve the OTA membership to destroy the integrity of the organic brand? The damage being done to the National Organic Program by this defense of hydroponics is incalculable. OTA is serving the rest of their members very poorly by fighting to defend two big members.

                         Hydroponic tomatoes grown at Wholesum Harvest.



I bring these points up at such length because OTA and CCOF are the big dogs in the room. If the Organic Trade Association ACTUALLY supported the 2010 NOSB recommendation, they would embrace the latest Crops Subcommittee proposal. It allows container growing, but insists that most of the fertility for the plant must still be supplied by the soil in that container. It is in complete alignment with the language and the intent of the 2010 Recommendation. It clarifies the one significant point that the 2010 recommendation left unclear. And if OTA did support the proposal, it would pass easily. 


                                                  But they won’t…. 


So I ask all the members of OTA and CCOF to really consider if the leadership speaks for you. Because the leadership is leading you off a cliff. The erosion of real standards is going to destroy the National Organic Program. The organic community is not going to accept hydroponics, and they are not going to accept CAFOs. And if the organic standards DO accept Hydros and CAFOs, then the organic community is going to leave the National Organic Program. What happens to the organic label without the organic movement?

Thetford, Vermont Rally in the Valley in 2016, listening to Senator Patrick Leahy and NOFA VT Director Enid Wonnacott.



The only reason that the organic label is continuing to grow so quickly in sales is because people haven’t yet learned what is going on.
                                                But they will….
Going forward, there is no more neutrality. Being neutral at this point means allowing Hydros and CAFOs. They are now the status quo. They are the New Organic. A vote to delay in Jacksonville is a vote for Hydro. It is that simple. Many of us have spent our lives supporting the organic movement. We are now making every effort to save it, before we are forced to leave it.


It doesn’t matter if I speak up on this or not. The truth is going to come out. I have been accused by one CCOF leader of shooting organic in the foot. By telling the truth. Surely we want to tell the truth. But we need everybody. 


     Farmer Pete Johnson talking about what the future of organic means to his daughter.

There is a series of Keep The Soil Rallies coming in the next 7 weeks. We have commitments for 17 Rallies so far, from California to Maine, and from Canada to Costa Rica. Perhaps there will be more, perhaps less, but there will be many people coming together to express their support for real organic. Some will be big. Many will be small. A few will be tiny, maybe only ten people. It doesn’t matter. What matters is showing up.

I will send out a schedule soon. If you are willing to organize a Rally, however how small, please contact me. Call some friends and march around the block. Talk about the issues. If you want to attend a Rally organized by others, go to for an ongoing schedule. Please remember that we are a small grassroots group, with little funding and no staff. We don’t even have a name, let alone dues! We are doing a lot with very little. We see the Rallies as our last chance to send a signal to the NOSB. They need to pass the compromise proposal, that will be so fiercely attacked by the Hydro lobby. They need to stop delaying and take a stand.
No vote is a vote for Hydro.

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