Musings from the Office of Partnership Development

By Lola Dannehl-Schickman, Development and Partnerships Manager, OFRF

Two weeks into January, while madly preparing for our 22nd annual all organic benefit luncheon at EXPO West, I heard the perky ping of my phone’s text message app—breaking my concentration and pulling me out of the spreadsheet of budgets and tracking that so desperately needed my attention. I dove for my purse—the noise had to stop—what could be this important? 

I clicked open my app and was immediately deluged with the painted faces of newborn calves—many still wet from birth, standing shakily, testing their lanky limbs before attempting first, cautious steps. “It’s been a long night!” was the only text in the long stream of adorable pictures.

There are many reasons to support organic farming and ranching; building healthy, regenerative soil; protecting farmers, farmworkers, and consumers from highly dangerous and toxic pesticides, creating diversified and non-toxic agricultural landscapes that support pollinator health, protecting our water sources; creating better economic opportunities—the list goes on and on. Staring up at me with those big, beautiful, bovine eyes that crazed January afternoon, was one of my personal favorite reasons to support organic—animal welfare. 

On weekends (when I’m lucky enough leave my laptop at the office), I b-line for 300+ acres in the rolling California hills where you can see the Milky Way, hear frogs, crickets, and coyotes, and best of all—watch happy cows frolic through wide open grassland (yes, they do that…it’s a thing). These happy cows are the product of an organic system. But what does that mean? On this ranch, it means the cows eat an untreated nutritious diet of fresh organic grass and clover, are allowed to roam free through beautiful terrain rather than being forced to live in tiny, enclosed pens, and are not treated with antibiotics, growth hormones, or GMOs. For the staff, it also means carefully stewarding their acreage, closely monitoring the herd’s grazing patterns, and being mindful not to overtax the land. 

Two rapid months passed and suddenly it was the day of our 22nd annual luncheon. Looking out at a sea of faces, a 7th generation farmer and OFRF Board member, Heather Darby spoke about how she was able to save her family’s diary farm by converting to organic. The adorable faces of happy baby cows once again frolicked through my mind and I was reminded, yet again, of the impact organic farming makes not only on animals but our entire ecological food system. 

In our world of buzzwords, marketing/media campaigns, and political line-drawing, it’s easy to lose the impact of what a word actually means. Take for example, organic. Does it designate an expensive grocery product? Or does it refer to happy, well cared-for animals? Livable market wages for the farmers who grow and raise our food? Planting/growing systems that rejuvenate soil while mitigating and even lowering the impacts of climate change? Does it mean non-GMO? Or a chemical and pesticide free work environment for farmers and farmworkers? Or perhaps non-toxic food and drinks that are safe to give our children?

The answer? All of the above. But for organic and transitioning farmers, it can also mean social pressure from friends and community members to remain using conventional farming practices despite seeing the health and cost benefits of an organic system. It means having less resources at your fingertips to deal with unique on-farm needs like pests, weeds, and soil biology. It means taking the road less traveled and having to take risks in order to pioneer new solutions. 

At OFRF, it’s our mission to foster the improvement and widespread adoption of organic farming systems by cultivating organic research, education, and federal policies that bring more farmers and acreage into organic production. We understand that organic farmers need cutting edge, science-backed information to address their unique on-farm issues, that policy makers need help understanding why organic offers big picture solutions to critical environmental, health, and socio-economic issues, and that consumers need help understanding why “organic” is more than just a .50 markup. Through our annual luncheon, we brought together farmers, ranchers, distributors, food retail executives, environmentally conscious media companies, chefs, and nutritionists; anyone and everyone interested in the word and meaning of organic. Because of the generous sponsorships, ticket sales, and event donations, I am ecstatic to say we raised over $100,000 in support of our work to improve, increase the adoption of, and share what it means to be “organic”. 

I am equally excited to announce that over the last several months we have formed a new and particularly impactful partnership with the Foundation for Food and Agricultural Research, which has allowed us to fund an additional three research projects this year. OFRF Impact Partners, like the Foundation for Food and Agricultural Research, make a critical difference in our ability to grow the cutting-edge information so desperately needed by our organic growers and producers. 

With such a strong start to 2019, I am hopeful that this year will be an important and unifying year for organic—one where all out definitions come together to create a dynamic, and multifaceted understanding of the social, environmental, and physical impact “organic” has on our food system.