So-Called Organic Power Elite
Gordon Watkins (email@example.com)
Thu, 20 Nov 1997 09:45:34 -0600
I find your continual references to an "organic power elite" ironic and
a little disturbing, particularly as they seem to be directed at
farmer-driven efforts to impact public policy (see in particular your
recent post bashing Mr Kindberg and his work). OFPA came about due
primarily to the coordinated efforts of organic farmers across the
country and farmers continue to push for implementation. We organic
farmers are certainly not an elite group, at least not the ones I know,
and whatever power we wield has been hard won and is due mostly to the
fact that we are farmers, we have a vested interest, and we believe
strongly in the virtues of organic food production. That allows us to
speak from the heart and gives our cause its real strength and power.
One of the real difficulties we small farmers face when attempting to
impact public policy is that it takes a lot of time. So does farming.
Thus the paradox: how do we continue doing the thing which gives us
power while taking the time to lobby for public policies which will make
our farming more successful? Our answer has been to organize ourselves
and then carefully select, from among our ranks, articulate and skilled
organizers and spokespeople who can devote the time necessary to travel,
build consensus among farmers (no easy task, we're an independent
bunch), take that consensus to the halls of Congress, and fight like
hell to get them implemented. Mr Kindberg is one of those unlucky few
who has temporarily set aside his love of farming to carry our cause
forward. You seem to think that there is a small group of people at the
top who determine direction and call the shots. That couldn't be further
from the truth. (Although, from your name-calling diatribe I suspect you
had an unpleasant encounter with Mr Kindberg which may be coloring your
This bottom-up, farmer driven approach is the best we've come up with
and, while there's sure room for improvement, it's been pretty effective
and it's certainly representative and anti-elitist. Now don't get me
wrong, I'm not suggesting that OFPA enjoys the full support of every
organic farmer in America (sal, are you listening?). Like I said, we're
an independent bunch and opinions on OFPA are more varied than the
varieties of tomatoes we raise. I personally have my own misgivings.
But, beginning before passage of the 1990 Farm Bill, great efforts were
made, nationwide, to involve organic farmers in discussions of OFPA and
I doubt there are many farmers out there who were not at least aware of
the many forums available to provide input. To suggest that the movement
is driven by an elite group baffles me. How could we be less elite?
Part of the problem, I think, is that we threaten the traditional power
base. It's like that scene where the mob of farmers is outside of
Frankenstein's castle shakeing their rakes and hoes and scyths. For
years, farmers have been the passive recipients of whatever the
non-farming, paternalistic power base (including the government, the
research community, chemical manufacturers, and well-meaning non-profit
"support" organizations) thought was best, whether it be research,
subsidies, or other public policy. Now that organic farmers are wielding
what small amount of political power we've garnered (and we weren't the
first- NFO and others led the way), the powers-that-be feel threatened.
I don't know the answer there. Get over it. We're at the castle door.
The real threat to the movement right now is not from some misperceived
"power elite" cloistered away in a smoke filled room making our
decisions for us. The danger is in being co-opted by the many
non-farming groups who have jumped aboard the turnip wagon since passage
of OFPA, including product manufacturers, processors, non-profits, etc.
That's why it's so important that we have representatives like Mr
Kindberg who will be vocal, maybe even piss a few people off, but will
keep the farmers' agenda on the front burner. I think farmers now have a
growing base of power, particularly with the creation of OFMA, and if we
remain vigilant and energetic we can stay the course and not be
PS: Incidentally, General Hinds, the concept of a "cooperative of
cooperatives" was not stolen from you as you suggested. It arose here
in the Ozarks at least 3 years ago and was the original impetus for the
creation of OFMA.
Douglas Hinds wrote:
> Although the word "organic" is now as much of a marketing tool as
> anything else (which is why a would be "organic insider power elite"
> hopes inherit by way of OFPA, the benefit of the consumer recognition
> that - at no small cost - was established), the tradition and spirit of
> organic agriculture is certainly true to the concepts embodied in what
> today is known as "alternative, biolgical, ecological and perhaps above
> all, sustainable" agriculture.
> More later.
> > Brett in Monterey, CA
> Douglas M. Hinds, Director General
> Centro para el Desarrollo Comunitario y Rural A.C. (CeDeCoR)
> (Center for Community and Rural Development) - (non profit)
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