A leader with deep organic roots: Kim Dietz, President of the Organic Trade Association Board

“Food, family and farming were part of my upbringing,” says Kim Dietz, president of the Organic Trade Association’s Board of Directors. That upbringing created deep organic roots in Kim that were fed and nourished by a healthy and delicious culture of organic food, organic gardening…and Italian cooking!

Growing up in California with an Italian mother and grandmother, Kim’s family turned their quarter-acre backyard into an organic garden growing everything from tomatoes to fava beans and raising poultry for eggs and snails for escargot. She worked during college summers as a head cook in a sustainable summer camp that grew its own food, and in the early 1980s, leased land with a local group of people to grow the food they ate—one of the area’s first organic community gardens.

Kim, who is now Senior Manager for Environmental, Natural and Organic Policy at The J.M. Smucker Company, began her professional career in organic at the organic juice maker R.W. Knudsen. (R.W. Knudsen was purchased by The J.M. Smucker Company in 1984.) It was there that she also began her more than 20 years of active involvement with the Organic Trade Association, inspired and encouraged by Bill Knudsen, one of the founding members of the trade association and a former president of its Board of Directors.

“The Organic Trade Association has always been part of my career, and I’m fortunate to work for a company that has such a long history and commitment to the organic industry,” says Kim.  

Kim took time recently to share her thoughts with the Organic Report on the future of the organic industry, and on her priorities in her new leadership role.

What do you see as the big growth areas for the organic industry, both domestically and internationally?

“The organic industry continues to grow at double digits. We have reached $50 billion in sales, and a recent OTA survey shows that 82% of households today buy organic. We should all be very proud of these achievements. The areas of dairy and produce will continue to grow despite the challenges. Our focus should be on implementing domestic National Organic Program standards in fiber, personal care, and pet food, which will bring growth. Internationally we need to have a secure and confident supply chain and continue to work with USDA on implementing equivalency agreements.”

What are the highest priority items on your to-do list as President of the Board?

“I have five top priorities: to defend the organic standards, to work with all stakeholders in the supply chain to protect against fraud, to encourage involvement and member engagement, to help raise the funding to do all the good things that the Organic Trade Association can do, and to ‘Live the OTA Mission’ of promoting and protecting ORGANIC in a unified voice that serves and engages its members from farm to marketplace.”

What do you see as the biggest challenges facing organic producers and the organic industry?

“One challenge is organic fraud in the marketplace and making sure that everyone in the supply chain knows the importance of doing their part to validate the certification process.  If there is a flaw in the organic system, then it is both the public and private responsibility to fix the problems.  All stakeholders need to work together to ensure the consumers can trust the organic seal.

Another challenge is ensuring all stakeholders have the tools and incentives to invest in the future of organic agriculture. The industry continues to struggle with lack of research dollars, lack of resources to transition from conventional to organic, and a confused consumer who is faced with numerous label claims competing in the marketplace.”

How can the Organic Trade Association, farmers, processors and organic stakeholders address those challenges?

“I volunteered to co-chair the association’s Global Organic Supply Chain Integrity Task Force so that I could emphasize the importance of this issue as well as ‘get into the weeds’ with a very committed group of members to craft a resource guidebook on ways to reduce the risk of fraud to their operations.

The National Organic Program has also issued Interim Instruction on maintaining the integrity of organic imports, which recommends best practices and provides examples that certifiers may use to comply with the existing regulations. 

Eliminating fraud will take all of us to use the tools provided by the Organic Trade Association as well as implementing the NOP best practices on maintaining organic integrity.

An organic check-off program, which we’ve been promoting for some time, would go far in providing the much-needed funds for research and promotion, including education to the consumer. USDA is considering our proposal for such a check-off program, and we are hopeful that this innovative idea will eventually become a reality.”   //