On Capitol Hill, the Organic Trade Association (OTA) represents the interests of the now $43 billion organic industry. Organic Consumers Association (OCA) advocates on behalf of those who buy organic food and other products. The National Organic Coalition (NOC) represents a variety of organic stakeholders including farmer, retailer, consumer, and environmental groups. Noticeably absent from the halls of Congress, however, is a voice speaking specifically and explicitly for certified organic farmers. That is, until now.
After several years of research, careful planning, and thoughtful collaboration, a new grassroots initiative has been launched to provide a voice in Washington, DC for organic producers. The Organic Farmers Association (OFA) is sponsored by Rodale Institute, which supports the organization by providing communications and development resources, a portion of OFA's funding, and the Institute's historic connection with organic farmers and farming. Behind the scenes, OFA's formation has been guided every step of the way by an interm Steering Committee made up of two-thirds certified organic farmers and one-third representatives from organic farm organizations (including NOFA-VT).
For years, lots of organizations in Washington have claimed to speak for organic farmers. Too often, however, the voices of farmers themselves were being drowned out by the well-funded megaphones of industry and Big Ag. So, years before OFA's official launch, a group of long-time organic farmers and movement leaders (many of whom have worked on organic issues for decades) began discussing the need for an authentic farmer voice in the realm of federal advocacy. They included:
- Bob Quinn, organic farmer at Quinn Organic Farm*
- Dave Colson, organic farmer at New Leaf Farm*
- Michael Sligh, program director at Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI)*
- Edward Maltby, Executive Director of the Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Association (NODPA)
- Faye Jones, former Executive Director of the Midwest Organic Sustainable Education Service (MOSES)
- Harriet Behar, organic farmer and Senior Organic Specialist at MOSES
- Jim Riddle, organic farmer at Blue Fruit Farm*
- Joyce Ford, organic farmer at Blue Fruit Farm
- Kate Mendenhall, former Executive Director of NOFA-NY (now serving as Director of OFA)
- Liana Hoodes, former Executive Director of NOC, and current policy advisor for NOFA-NY
- Liz Henderson, organic farmer and board member of NOFA-NY, Agricultural Justice Project (AJP), Domestic Fair Trade Association (DFTA)
- Renee Hunt, program director at the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA)*
- Steve Gilman, NOFA-IC Policy Coordinator
- Ted Quaday, Executive Director of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA)
*members of OFA's interim Steering Committee
In the meantime, Rodale Institute had identified the very same need, and in 2016 launched OFA as a project of Rodale. Recognizing the obvious benefits of working together, the two groups committed to merging their overlapping visions for OFA in the interest of organic farmers.
Although OFA formed as a membership organization, its goal is to work closely - rather than compete - with existing state and regional organic farmer organizations to respond to organic farmers' needs and represent their interests in Washington. Along with directly raising the voices of organic farmers on federal policy issues, a central focus of OFA will be to build the capacity of its Organizational Members to grow their grassroots and encourage farmer involvement in advocacy. By providing direct representation in Washington and a one farm, one vote structure, OFA hopes to grow into its role as the organic farmer voice on the Hill.
OFA is currently accepting nominations for its first member-elected Policy Committee, which will guide its policy process and positions in upcoming Farm Bill deliberations and other policy discussions impacting organic farmers.