Harnessing the Power of Industry, Scientists and the Public to Advance Organic Through Research

An update from The Organic Center

A trusted source of information about scientific research concerning organic food and farming, The Organic Center covers up-to-date studies on sustainable agriculture and health, and collaborates with academic and governmental institutions to fill gaps in our knowledge. The Organic Center also works to make the science of organic accessible to food producers so that they, in turn, can make organic food accessible to people of all walks of life.

Because of the way it operates, The Organic Center serves as a bridge between the voices of organic farmers and industry representatives with academia. It also goes a step beyond traditional farmer and consumer communication to reach policymakers. The Organic Center manages the project through the lifespan of the research. And then, it leverages the research results into actionable next steps.

Check out the Organic Center process wheel (above) to better understand how a small organization achieves big results.

Identify: One of the most important things The Center does is identify areas where there are gaps in knowledge about organic. This is done through many channels: holding discussions at grower meetings, meeting regularly with its scientific advisory board, conducting an annual survey, leveraging OTA networks such as the Farmers Advisory Council, and holding stakeholder meetings throughout the year. These help identify perennial and long-term organic needs, and allow The Center to have a finger on the pulse of the industry.

Research team: Often scientists do not talk with industry or farmers, so research addressing challenges impeding the organic sector would not happen without a bridge between the voices behind those needs and academia. The Organic Center is that bridge. It identifies labs working on cutting-edge issues and reads papers to find people publishing in the most impactful journals. Many of these scientists have never worked on organic before. This can have cascading effects on increasing organic research, because once a lab starts working in organic, it often continues to take on organic projects and even train students in organic.

Develop a project: The research needs to be directly impactful to organic stakeholders and have meaning to the target audience. The Center engages stakeholders throughout the process, and puts together an advisory board that can include farmers, researchers, industry members, extension agents, government agencies, and other non-profits. This helps provide guidance for the project to make sure it is relevant.

Find funding: Many of the projects require funding from multiple sources, because grants and industry funding are limited. Even with multiple funding sources, many of the projects are pilot projects. The results are then leveraged for larger-scale grants such as Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative grants from USDA.

Project management: The Organic Center manages the project throughout the lifespan of the research, making sure it sticks to a timeline and provides clear deliverables that can be applied to solve challenges. It also provides any skills needed to complement the researcher’s expertise areas.

Communication: The Center is the main outreach entity for organic science—through its extensive networks, a Google Grant of $480K leveraged to make sure research findings are the top search results on the Internet, and through such activities as webinars, workshops at regional and national meetings, newsletters, press releases, social media, and web pages developed for each project. Its outreach efforts have been so successful that researchers reach out for The Center to be on their large-scale grant applications as a collaborator as it has a record of thorough and effective project management and communication, making their grant proposals more competitive. The Center also goes a step beyond traditional farmer and consumer communication to reach policymakers. 

Leverage results:  The Center leverages the research results into actionable next steps. The findings are used not only to solve the initial challenge areas that the project addressed, but to identify new gaps in knowledge, which starts the cyclical process over again.