Dear OOC Community:
The tumultuous 2023 legislative session, which included the longest Republican walkout in Oregon history, ended on Sunday. While it was a bruising roller coaster of a ride in many ways, we are overjoyed to announce that the OOC’s advocacy led to the largest investment in organic in Oregon’s history: HB 5025 A will provide “$2 million General Fund to the OSU Extension Service to support OSU College of Agricultural Sciences Center for Small Farms and Community Food Systems to work with agricultural producers to support and expand organic agriculture sectors.” This will more than double the capacity of the Organic Extension Program, aiding all farmers interested in organic and low-input practices. As background, in 2017 Oregon Tilth provided $100,000 in seed money to launch the Organic Extension Program housed at the Center for Small Farms and Community Food Systems. In 2019, at our request, the Legislature allocated $375,000 to the Center for Small Farms and Community Food Systems, which OSU used to officially establish the Organic Extension Program. Through OOC organic educational efforts—such as hosting Speaker Rayfield on the Double J Jerseys organic dairy farm tour last fall—and the legislatively-funded Emerging Sector Organic Market Assessment, legislative leadership saw the value in continued investment in organic. The OOC worked closely with leadership on this request, which was based on a fiscal analysis from 2021’s SB 404 -3 that included five FTE positions for the Organic Extension Program. What started as just a part-time position has now grown to 2.2 FTE and this new funding considerably builds on that growth and squarely puts OSU’s Organic Extension Program on the map. OSU has the opportunity to be a national center for excellence for organic and low-input practices, as well as applied research, akin to such leaders as ASU’s Swette Center for Sustainable Food Systems, University of California’s Organic Agriculture Institute, University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Endowment for Organic Agricultural Research, and Cal Poly’s Center for Organic Production and Research. As we did in 2019, organic stakeholders plan on working with OSU to identify the cropping systems and subject matter that should be prioritized in these positions before the search process gets underway. We are incredibly grateful to the legislature for this allocation of resources and couldn’t have done it without our advocate and lobbyist, Jonathan Manton of Sawnee Services, nor the support of our coalition partners. Kudos Jonathan!
OOC Lobbyist Jonathan Manton and OOC Board Member Mike Dill of Organically Grown Company, preparing to testify in Salem. Photo courtesy of OOC. Other Legislation
Our other priority concept, SB 789 also passed, maintaining current protections for the brassica seed industry in the Willamette Valley Protected District. However, the legislation was amended as part of the negotiations to end the Republican walkout, which was beyond our control. The amendment adds another sunset (July 2024) on the 500 acre cap on canola acreage in the WVPD and mandates an ODA-led work group of stakeholders on both sides of the issue to come up with potential compromise “co-existence” solutions by September 30, 2023, to work on during the short 2024 legislative session. Of note, organic was specifically called out as the first stakeholder to participate in the workgroup (see line 32). This is a considerable change from the similar Canola Rules Advisory Committee from five years ago, which didn’t officially include any organic growers. Passing any legislation is a challenge, and especially so during a session marked with deep partisan divides. It should be considered a win that we passed the amended bill maintaining current protections, and the coalition behind the bill stands ready to find a permanent solution that includes a science-based discussion about the coexistence of canola and brassica seed in the WVPD. We are already doing all we can to ensure equitable seed representation on the workgroup and are working with seed farmers and stakeholders to set up legislator farm tours this summer to make sure the seed perspective is better understood.
Another of our legislative concepts, an Organic Policy Specialist at ODA, ended in a mystery. We were told more than once that this position was going to be added to the agency budget, but on the morning of the ODA budget hearing, it was nowhere to be found. We will continue to advocate for this position next session. The Farmer Support bill, SB 1058 -2, a state match to the USDA organic cost share reimbursement, our newest legislative concept, had a successful hearing (at 28:10) in the Senate Rules Committee on May 25th and received positive feedback, but didn’t move forward. It is not unusual to need to introduce novel concepts more than once to gain traction, and it also should be viewed as a win that the bill had a hearing, building a foundation for reintroduction down the road. Our initial idea for this bill was broader than just cost share. We wanted to create a fund to reward and incentivize climate-smart agricultural practices that lead to resilient farms, like cover crops and other organic practices. However, since there were other legislative concepts seeking similar support, like the healthy soils bill and the natural and working lands concept, we narrowed our ask. We look forward to collaborating with the climate and environmental communities on a joint concept in future sessions. The OOC also advocated for many additional bills in line with our mission, and opposed others that aren’t. There were several other notable food systems expenditures this session. For example, the Farmers Market Association received $2.5 million; the Oregon Community Food Systems Network received $2.6 million for grants to small scale farms and ranches, and another $1.5 million for regional food infrastructure; $1 million was allocated for housing displaced agricultural workers; the Farm to School Grant Fund received $10.65 million; the climate resilience package—which has a natural and working lands component—passed, as did a significantly-amended factory farm moratorium. All in all, despite significant disruption to the democratic process, we are celebrating one of our most successful sessions to date! THANK YOU to all of our legislative champions, coalition partners and allies, and all OOC supporters. This work is monumentally more effective when the organic community joins us via testimony and contacting their legislators.
While the session was all-engrossing and kept us on our toes, we made time to accept an invitation from ODA and the Good Food Foundation to attend a dinner at Enoteca Nostrana to kick off the 2023 Good Food Awards festivities. The Good Food Awards, the national initiative that honors makers that excel in both taste and sustainable production, is accepting entries online (samples are shipped later.) The 18 categories include chocolate, confections, pantry, snacks, grains, beer and cheese—and the national awards ceremony will once again take place in Oregon. The OOC would love to see more organic entries! You can enter here. It takes 5-10 minutes, the cost is $105 and BIPOC makers and members of the Good Food Guild receive a free entry. But act FAST—the deadline is midnight tonight!
Photo of Erick Garman, ODA's Trade Development Manager at the Good Food Awards Dinner. Photo supplied by the OOC. Several OOC coalition members also made time to attend a Farm Bill Listening Session Conducted by U.S. Rep. Andrea Salinas. Read about it here. We’re also supporting national groups leading Farm Bill advocacy—for example, signing on to an ask by American Farmland Trust to create a federal match for State and Tribal Soil Health Programs in the Farm Bill. Board member Mike Dill from OGC, along with our Washington partner, CORA, has been leading efforts to include organic-specific asks in the Farm Bill, and this work will be on-going. We also received press coverage about the release of the Organic Market Assessment, including in Organic Produce News, Oregon Business, and Capital Press. In bittersweet news, Board member Susan Schechter recently announced she is stepping down to fully enjoy retirement. Susan has graciously offered to keep volunteering with the OOC and we will hold her to this! We are grateful for Susan’s many years of service and it is not an understatement to say that the OOC would not exist without Susan’s dedication. Thank you Susan—we look forward to staying in community with you. Thanks are also in order for Stacy Kraker of Hummingbird Wholesale, who agreed to take over the Treasurer seat, and Alice Morrison of Friends of Family Farmers, who stepped into the Secretary role.
Founding Board Member Extraordinaire, Susan Schecter. Photos supplied by Susan.
This spring, coalition parter Hummingbird Wholesale announced a transition to an Employee-Owned Purpose Trust (EOT)! Hummingbird was also awarded 20th in the Oregon Business Best Green Workplaces in Oregon. One of the joys of running this coalition is getting to work with visionary organizations and businesses like Hummingbird that truly embody the triple bottom line mentality. You can learn more about Hummingbird’s new ownership structure in this letter from founders Charlie and Julie Tilt. We are thrilled to announce that GloryBee and Save the Bee have joined the OOC. We’ll do a longer introduction to their important work soon.
We’re currently putting together a proposal for a USDA Organic Market Development Grant, which is due August 8th. Our focus will be on Market Development and Promotion (there are additional grant categories) and we're grateful to the many allies who have already stepped up to support this big push. If you’d like to partner and/or support these efforts, reach out soon! There is a 50% match for this grant, so please make a donation so we can maximize the amount of federal dollars we request. And we are finalizing our agreement with coalition parter Oregon Tilth on the Transition to Organic Partnership Program or TOPP. Stay tuned. We also are looking forward to getting out in the field. We’ll be in touch with farms who’ve already contacted us about hosting a farm tour, and let us know if you’d like us to come to your farm or facility. Finally, Board member Brian Baker will be staffing the Organic Matters booth at the Oregon County Fair July 7, 8, and 9. Stop by and say hi. Onwards and have a wonderful long weekend, Amy Wong Board Chair