Working together to safeguard consumer trust in organic

As CEO of an organic marketing company that represents over four thousand acres of organic permanent crop production and more than one hundred and fifty different growers, there are always more than enough concerns to go around, from water, to labor, to new crop diseases. As if that were not enough, all of us, as organic industry players, are fighting the continued struggle of protecting the image and integrity of our common brand and mission: Organic. 

Each year, the growers that we represent in the marketplace under the Homegrown Organic Farms brand spend an incredible amount of time, energy, and dollars to prepare for their upcoming crops, and they expect Homegrown to sell their product into the market with their best interest in mind. Although there may be contracts and agreements formed, the base-level agreement between the grower and us is founded in a “trust relationship.”

Homegrown has been a member of the Organic Trade Association for fifteen years. From its start, OTA has been clear that the imperative attribute our industry holds is the trust that is established between the consumer and us. Since the beginning of our partnership with OTA, we have trusted the organization to work on our behalf to protect that precious relationship and grow it, as we all walk into an industry filled with such unique challenges and obstacles. Aware there is so much at stake, OTA has taken that charge and handled it with the utmost of care.

The organic industry has always demonstrated a trust relationship by providing great transparency to people like you and me in reference to how their food is grown. As you well know, this trust is a highly fragile idea; one unintentional break in trust can take an immense amount of energy and effort to rebuild, if at all.

Let me give an example: My growing-up years were spent on a conventional citrus farm that had been influenced by a rich history of family farming, with my parents and both sets of grandparents having been farmers. I was put to work taking care of irrigation and checking the chemical applications that were used to help with weed management. Using synthetic chemicals was necessary in the way we farmed, and I never knew any differently. Today, however, it is a different story.

In my own home, which is surrounded by conventional citrus groves, my wife and I can no longer trust the spray rigs that regularly drive by. After having been introduced to the world of organic farming, we have come to realize and greatly appreciate the positive effect organic farming has had on our family, our health, and the environment around us. We recognize some of our fears regarding conventionally grown products are, perhaps, unfounded, but the point is that we can no longer trust. The trust between conventionally grown products and my own family, which was an integral part of my parents’ and grandparents’ history for so many years, was broken after we were exposed to the positive effects of organic farming.

OTA is the organization that makes sure that the trust built between the organic industry and our consumers is not lost, but, instead, thrives. For instance, today, the citrus industry in Florida and California continues to face one of its biggest threats since citrus was first grown in the United States: the ruinous Huanglongbing (HLB) disease has destroyed countless acres in Florida, and it is now knocking at the door in California.

From the start, OTA was ready to step in to help the organic citrus industry with research and political insight on how to move forward in light of the threat HLB poses. We all worked together to intentionally and clearly communicate that the answer is not found in spraying the harshest chemicals possible to destroy the Asian citrus psyllid that spreads HLB.

I won’t say that we have yet found the end-all solution to the problem, but we have been able to help people understand that the answer needs to take into account all growing methods.  Destroying the organic citrus industry by implementing mandatory, conventional spray requirements without possessing sound support for the results simply does not make sense. OTA has been instrumental in providing a trustworthy voice in scenarios such as this and helps guide conversation with the organic industry’s best interest in mind.

In all, Homegrown’ s customers who buy organic produce from grocery stores across the nation trust each week that every product was grown in accordance with the laws that have been put in place. However, this trust Homegrown has built with its growers and customers can still be broken by one lapse of judgment. In the same manner, the role that OTA has been so willing to play for the organic industry has continued to build and strengthen the foundation of trust laid down by the founding members of the organic movement. They have been and will persist in being the gatekeeper for that trust relationship.  It is imperative that the programs and advocacies OTA performs on our account carry on and grow alongside the organic industry’s own growth.

The original foundation of trust we are constantly seeking to cultivate will always be our greatest asset and our most precious commodity.  I applaud OTA for working diligently to nurture this relationship of trust and provide a structure for protecting it throughout the organic industry. //

Scobb Mabs is Chief Executive Officer of Homegrown Organic Farms based in Porterville, CA. The company has been a member of the Organic Trade Association for 15 years.