A One-Day Symposium in Support of the Real Organic Label
Churchtown Dairy, Hudson, NY, October 14th, 2023—On an unseasonably chilly fall day, hundreds of food faithful congregated under the vaulted dome of The Round Barn to attend the Saving Real Organic conference. In a space so beautifully crafted that it’s more reminiscent of a Tudor theater than a winter cow shelter, leading voices of the organic food movement—farmers, politicians, activists, and change makers—took to the stage, TED-talk style, to engage, educate, and share.
The Real Organic Project, whose allies include Al Gore, Alice Waters, Paul Hawken, Michael Pollan, Dan Barber, and Abby Rockefeller, sprung to life in 2018. It was created by a committed group of organic farmers who were increasingly frustrated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s cozy relationship with large agribusiness and constant weakening of USDA Organic standards. After numerous attempts at reform of the National Organic Program, the farmers did what change makers usually do: they stood up for the integrity of the organic label that they helped create and took action! Thus, the Real Organic Project and a new “add-on” organic certification program was born.
The Real Organic Project label provides a necessary counterpoint to the USDA Organic label which the founders of the Real Organic Project contend has evolved into a money-spinning, mass-marketing tool for big business. While eaters trust that what they are buying (and paying more for) is healthy for them and the planet, sadly, the truth isn’t quite so palatable: a slow, steady greenwashing of questionable food production has taken place under the USDA Organic label. What the Real Organic Project provides is an important differentiation—a more transparent certification program so that eaters can identify authentic, organic food that is farmed with integrity and established principles.
The organization recruits, inspects, and certifies farms that are already designated USDA organic and applies a higher list of standards to be accepted into the program. The certification team spends time with each farmer learning how they feed the soil, how they raise their animals, and how those who work on the farm are treated. When Real Organic Project certifies a farm under its label, eaters are getting food that’s healthy for their bodies, good for the environment, and fair to the people who helped bring it to the table. The project has so far certified 1,100 farms, and Real Organic Project certification is free of charge to the farmers.
But more needs to be achieved, so to share why their fight is critical for eaters, farmers, and our fragile environment, the Real Organic Project harnessed the powers of twenty-two speakers and experts who came to Hudson, NY, from as far afield as Florida, Colorado, Iowa and Minnesota to spread the word. From 9am-5pm, the schedule at Churchtown Dairy was jam-packed with twenty-minute info-intensives on the core issues affecting the organic farming, retail, and eating movement. Subjects ranged from raw milk, composting, and biodynamics, to race and farmland-ownership, the agribusiness lobby, and the rise of hydroponics.
Environmental pioneer, event host, and raw milk advocate Abby Rockefeller kicked off the event, and introduced a lucky few to her herd of Brown Swiss, Jersey, and Guernsey cattle while discussing the challenges and benefits of raw milk production. Both Real Organic Project co-directors—Colorado farmer Linley Dixon (who holds a master’s degree in plant and soil science, specializing in organic agriculture, and a PhD in plant pathology) and veteran organic farmer Dave Chapman, whose Long Wind Farm in Vermont will celebrate its 40-year anniversary in 2024, took to the stage and shared their mission.
Alongside were talks from legendary organic farmer, tv-host, and James Beard Leadership Award Honoree, Eliot Coleman, attorney and political activist Zephyr Teachout, and the Real Organic, boots-on-the-ground farm-certifier Iriel Edwards—to name a few. Each shared powerful information about how to take back and care for our land and treat it with respect.
Not only was there a rapt audience for this powerful line up present at Churchtown Dairy, but thousands also watched it live-streamed on Facebook. The Churchtown Dairy, a beautiful biodynamic farm that produces raw milk, cheese, beef, pork, and medicinal herbs was the ideal spot to host this event; the event was so well-received that the Real Organic Project will be returning in 2024. If you’d like to watch the symposium, recordings are available to stream here. To get involved in Real Organic’s mission, join the Friends of Real Organic program to get access to book club interviews with special guest authors, weekly newsletters, podcasts, and past virtual symposia and events.