Engaging with your elected officials in D.C. and at home

Engaging with members of Congress and their staff is a critical component to advocating on behalf of organic. The good news is that the Organic Trade Association has an excellent story to tell.

After one of the most bitter Presidential elections in modern history when Americans seem more divided than ever, reaching out across the aisle and emphasizing that organic is a non-partisan issue are key. What you don’t hear very often are the stories of Members of Congress and their staff who reach across the aisle every day to work together on issues. The behind-the-scenes grunt work of lawmaking and policy discussions might not make for good headlines but the reality is that it matters to you and your business.

As the saying goes, showing up is 80 percent of life. If you want to change the way Washington works or see your priorities addressed in public policy, the first step is simply showing up. The best advocates for organic are the businesses that live and breathe it every day.

During our annual Organic Week in Washington, D.C., in May, over 100 OTA members, from farmers to retailers to certifiers and distributors “stormed the Hill.” OTA members met with over 160 different congressional offices in one day including 72 Republican members, 87 Democrats and one independent, representing 38 different states and the District of Columbia. Additionally, a few OTA members had the opportunity to meet with the newly appointed Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue.

Why is this so important? OTA members had the opportunity to educate, advocate, and engage on organic with not only long-standing champions on the Hill but with newly elected Members of Congress, a few skeptics and some policymakers who had never before met with anyone representing the organic industry. With Members of Congress developing a new farm bill, a new President and new cabinet in place and decisions that are made at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and other government agencies impacting organic businesses, it is critical that the organic industry has a seat at the table.

Storming the hill one day a year during D.C. Organic Week is impactful but let’s not stop there. It is just as important to engage in the field and year-round with your elected officials. Organic Trade Association members are hosting tours of their businesses and farms in congressional districts, holding roundtables, and participating in field hearings and listening sessions on the farm bill and other issues affecting agriculture across the country. From Oregon to Montana to Florida, Organic Trade Association members have been out in the field educating top policymakers on the benefits of organic.

Even with a divided political climate, engaging with your elected officials and their staff is essential. If you want to be a positive change-maker for organic, all you have to do is show up. Your elected official has something to learn from you, and you may even learn something from them. Organic has a good story to tell! 


Organic industry leaders and businesses representing organic food and agriculture in Oregon’s 4th District met for a June 1 roundtable with Congressman Peter DeFazio (OR D-4) to discuss the growth, challenges and needs of the organic sector locally and nationally.


Meeting with Congressman Ron Kind (WI-3): Back row—Adam Warthesen, Congressman Kind, Bryan Landsverk. Front rowStephen Walker, Bridget Landsverk, and Tony Saarem.


Meeting with Congressman Jim Costa (CA-16): Jake Lewin, Congressman Costa, Tina Owens and Marc Garcia.


Meeting with Congressman Jodey Arrington (TX-19): Sara Eckhouse, Congressman Arrington, Marci Zaroff, Angela DeStefanis, and David Will.


Meeting with Congressman Jerry McNerney (CA-9): John Ashby, Steve Koretoff, Congressman McNerney, Kelly Shea, and Theojary Crisantes.


Meeting with Congresswoman Ann McLane Kuster (NH-2): Britt Lundgren, Austin Dziki, Thomas Dziki, Congresswoman Kuster, and Laura Batcha.

Cover: Organic Trade Association members and staff snap a selfie at the White House after meeting with Ray Starling, Special Assistant to the President for Agriculture, Trade and Food Assistance, during the Organic Leadership Fly-In in March. The group discussed the role of the organic industry in the U.S. economy.

Megan DeBates is Director of Legislative Affairs and Coalitions for the Organic Trade Association (mdebates@ota.com).//