Fresh Facts 39: Organic Beginnings

CCOF is the oldest organic certifier in the country going back 40 some years to a hand-full of farmers on the central coast meeting in Barney Bricmont’s farm house and starting the organic food movement from scratch.

Those original farmers were joined by people who valued biological production systems and were willing to pay for food grown this way. Amongst themselves, they would call each other “movement people” and wear that moniker with pride.

These pioneers first had to define what organic would and would not be. It wasn’t easy; it’s not easy; won’t never be easy. To this day, good people with pure motives disagree vehemently regarding what farming practices should be allowed in food bearing the organic label.

In those early days, these farmers decided what was and wasn’t, and then they would audit each other to make sure they were following the agreed upon rules.

Waaaiiit just a minute Uncle Vern, that sounds like the fox guarding the hen house! Well, for lots of things that would probably be true, but when it comes to organic, no one cares about the integrity of the product more than the farmers and ranchers who produce it. Without this integrity, and corresponding consumer confidence, we have nothing to offer.

Personally, if I had something to hide, I’d much rather be audited by a third party getting a fee for service than my organic neighbor; you can’t snow another farmer.

Anyway, for better or worse, the word “organic” became the property of USDA in the late 90’s, and stuff was hashed-out and implemented in the early 2000’s; the same time we converted our farming to organic. Now, organic means the same thing to a farm in Maine as it does to one in Hawaii, and this “new” USDA run system is the only one I have ever worked under. And over these past 15 years that I’ve been involved, there has always been a hot-button disagreement boiling, and so far, when the dust settled, the rules have always become more meaningfully difficult. Incidentally, it is a federal crime to use the word “organic” apart from certification, so saying “Certified Organic” is redundant.

That original group became the Central Coast chapter of CCOF, which still operates under a chapter system. Each of the dozen or so chapters elect officers and send a representative to the main board of directors. I am the representative from the Fresno Tulare chapter.

Today, besides certification, (which has its own board made up of non-CCOF members) we have a very active foundation supporting: organic education in classrooms, future organic farmers, a hardship fund, legislative advocacy for organic farmers both state and federal, field days for farmers to learn from other farmers; tons of very cool stuff run by a very talented team of mostly young adults committed to making the world a better place.

Of the more than 60 farmers we work with over the course of a year, I can count on one hand those who are not CCOF members.

So, I guess this newsletter was mostly informational about how we got from there to here and where here is, but without checking the map, we might think we weren’t getting anywhere.

Eat better!

Author Uncle Vern

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