Fish on a plane

In my job, I get the pleasure of having to do a bit of travel on airplanes. Travel is never easy, and I am reminded of this when I watch people deplane at our destination. There is always that poor soul who is sitting in seat 9E but had to place their bags in row 17. I enjoy watching them trying to get to their bag after a long flight. I watch them fight against the current of humanity getting off the flight as they are trying to advance row after row to get to their belongings... I call these people salmon. I think of all of the wildlife shows I have seen where determined fish fight the river’s mighty current, swimming upstream, just to get to a familiar spot. That image of fighting against an outside force trying to turn you around or push you aside always reminds me of our own struggles as an organic egg producer within our own industry.

You might think that eggs are pretty simple. We are found in more than 95% of all households in the United States, eggs are an excellent source of protein second only to mother’s milk, and often eggs are the best value for center of the plate proteins in any supermarket. Within our own segment of the industry, we have grown by leaps and bounds over the past 17 years I have been involved. You can now find organic eggs in all major retailers, all mass box stores and specialty retailers. Gone are the days of only finding organic eggs at local small independent retailers.

With this entire acceptance, many of the organic egg producers follow production practices that align us directly against the large mass commercial egg producers. In the egg industry, there are more than 304,000,000 laying hens currently in the United States. By the latest count provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, only 14,000,000 are organic. This makes us only 4.6% of the total laying hen population. This means we are a very small fish in a big ocean.

Often we are seen as fringe producers on the outside of our own trade groups, marketing boards and associations. Like that mighty river trying to push the salmon back to the ocean, we fight against these associations as they try to get the mainstream producers’ message out over our voices. If you do some digging in our industry, it is not hard to find advertising, articles or websites making claims that commercial egg production is equal to or even superior to organic production models. It is sad that there is a history of large-scale producers placing their product and production methods in a positive light while trying to point at a perceived disadvantage in organic production practices.

I am sure our industry is no different from what many of you face in your own businesses and your daily struggles. Fortunately, we as an organic egg producer and all of us as an organic community have access to like-minded companies and are able to pool our resources, time, expertise and influence under the banner of the Organic Trade Association. Here we have a small but dedicated army to make sure our message of being different is able to be heard.

Here, we have a presence in the process that shapes so many of our market places. Through the Organic Trade Association, we have access to our nation’s legislators, their staff and all of the governmental agencies that shape the rules and markets that all of us try to share in.

I made a commitment to myself this past year, I wouldn’t just open and skim all of the Organic Trade Association blasts that land in my inbox, but I would actually read them. It is amazing the depth of work our staff does for us, how well connected Laura Batcha and her team are, and how much communication they give us on our industry. I don’t think we give them the credit they deserve until we are deep in the trenches with them on a cause that’s near and dear to our own product or market.

I just want to say how proud I am of our company’s 16 years of membership in this organization. So, my end of year words of wisdom to all of you still reading this are please take a minute and read the information that the Organic Trade Association sends out. Support the Trade Association with your time, expertise and participate in their annual events.

Lastly, when an important issue does present itself to your industry, take a stand with the Organic Trade Association and let them know you’re engaged. Here’s to a Happy 2018.   // 

David Will, General Manager of Chino Valley Ranchers, was named Organic Trade Association 2017 Member of the Year. He was selected for his advocacy for the trade association within his company and his role in developing trade association comments, positions and strategy to advance organic poultry production standards. He is a strong defender and advocate on the Hill with Members of Congress and their staffs on behalf of organic farmers.