Source: Gary Brock video
To see an expanded version of this article with additional comments from Jim Riddle’s speech and the conference overall, go to www.rurallifetoday.com and click on this story for expanded view.
By Gary Brock
DAYTON — Jim Riddle says the values of Ohio’s organic farmers are, at their roots, conservative values.
Framing organic farming in the light of the conservative movement was one of the many surprises during the keynote address Feb. 9 during the 38th annual Ohio Environmental Food and Farm Association’s conference at the Dayton Convention Center.
More than a thousand Ohio farmers gathered for the two-day conference focusing on organic farming practices and future growth of the industry in the state.
A strong advocate for organic farming, Riddle served on the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Organic Standards Board from 2001 to 2006, chairing the board from 2004 to 2005. In the years since, he has remained engaged on organic issues, calling for attention to process, transparency, and integrity.
“I’m from liberal Minnesota, and I’m going to Ohio, with conservative governor and you did held elect our president, I’m not blaming you, that is the reality. So when I think about it, organic values are, at their core, at their roots conservative values,” he told the audience. “I will frame this using the slogans of the conservative movement and how they really manifest in our choices as organic farmers.”
Pro Life: “We are really pro-life – from the ground up. We do everything we can to encourage and sustain life, and we don’t just focus on one species at one point in time, we are focusing on everything from soil organisms to pollinators, to predators to wildlife diversity – both above the soil and below the soil. And every study that has been done has shown …
Property Rights: “It is right to not be polluted upon and not be subjected to pesticide drift or GMO contamination. Contaminants must remain on the other side of the fence. We should have a right to farm clean food on our side of the fence (loud applause). This is something we need to be vocal about and to be better protected than we are now.”
Homeland Security: “To me, there is nothing more patriotic than taking care of land and water resources to produce healthy and abundant food. We don’t have a country if we are do not have healthy resources and healthy food. There are lots of other things involved, but this is one of the things that is forgotten in homeland security when it is related to a healthy land.”
Immigration: “Unless you are Native American you are an immigrant. It is immigrants who produce a lot of our food who have set up our agriculture systems.”
Free Market Farming: “We also practice free market farming. We’re farming to meet consumer demand. We’re not making farming choices just because that is where the government subsidies are. We break away from program crops. We diversify our rotations. Partly because of our organic standards, but we are making choices of what we grow to meet consumer demands, and not government subsidies.”
Creation: “We support Creation at it’s core. In other words, love your Mother, and we do.”
Self-Regulation: “We are a self-regulated industry. We actually went to the government and said, please regulate us. We wanted the word ‘organic’ to be protected and defined. Our market is based on strong standards and maintenance of integrity and trust, and confidence in the organic label.”
Riddle said conservation is conservative. “There have been some excellent leaders in the conservation movement from both sides of the aisle. This is not a political issue,” he pointed out.
“We believe in personal responsibility: We are what we eat. When we make healthy choices we are in good health and we are less a burden on society. It’s not the healthy people that are driving up insurance premiums. It’s the unhealthy people and that is related a lot to diet and environmental exposure.
“And last, I will also proudly say: America First. That’s OK to say. What I say is that we invest and protect America’s organic farmers instead of sourcing some questionable imported products,” said Riddle. He said that today about 70 percent of the organic soybeans in the United States are being imported. About 40-50 of the organic corn is being imported. “If there is anything we can grow in this country it is organic corn and beans. Those are the easy crops in organic. But we are bringing them in because of cheaper prices, from India, the Ukraine, Turkey.”
In 2014, he said, Minnesota organic farmers sold $7.5 million in organic soybeans. That same year, $75 million in organic soybeans came into this country from India. he said there are concerns about imported “organic grains” because it is harming U.S. organic farmers and trade.
Riddle said because of these values, “We are a model of what conservatives should be looking for. We are an industry that is successful economically while protecting the land through rigorous standards and a whole lot of paperwork. I apologize for that. But that is what we have set up; our own regulatory system even before the government passed any laws.”
Riddle said, “I love the theme of the conference – ‘Growing Today, Transforming Tomorrow’ because that is exactly what we need to do. The sense of urgency is so strong that I think we need to put it on its head; transform today in order to grow tomorrow. We need to start now and transform in every way that I can.”
Riddle grew up on a dairy farm in central Iowa. He said he loved his mother’s garden. “It really influenced the direction of my life. I’ve always lived in the country. He was involved in local farmer’s market, and in the late 1980s started inspecting organic farms.
His wife told him in 2010 – “Let’s grow blueberries. Which is an easy thing to say, but a more challenging thing to do,” he said. He now has Blue Fruit Farm, “but I am more excited about growing such berries as elderberries, aronia berries, honey berries.”
He has been invited twice to speak at organic conferences in Iran. “At the time, State Department said to go, by all means. We are doing a lot of soft diplomacy there, such as Philadelphia Philharmonic, wresting teams and seismologists. “I’m glad I went there, this is Persian culture. I thought women there would be oppressed, but found this was not the case. They look at organic as completely consistent with their religious beliefs.”
Riddle said, “We are all children of the earth. We are natural beings who need clear air, clean water and clean food to survive. This is reality and a fact of life. We are part of the earth’s ecosystem and need intel to base our decisions on. We cannot stick our heads in the sand. We have to be serious. We need to learn the natural world. That includes putting down the devices. A cell phone is a tool, and needs to be kept in perspective,” said of the over-use of cell phones.
“Cell phones are designed to addict. What can they do to keep you engaged? To suck you in. What can you do to relate to our natural world? First, put down that phone.”
He said, “I think we can best change what we can control. And that is ourselves. At least that’s what my wife tells me. What can we control? We can control our own diet. We make choices every day, three times a day – what do we put in our mouths? How much do we choose to put exercise into our daily lives. That is a challenge. And how much do we prioritize time with friends and family? Are we really prioritize the things that are really important in life?
“To me this is time in nature. I get great inspiration from being outdoors. Even in winter, I cross country ski, and I don’t bring my phone. It is just me and the earth, just quiet and snow. I come back rejuvenated, my mind is clear. I encourage you to find time with what you enjoy, such as the garden.”
Riddle is a major advocate of the farmer’s market.
“There is value of the farmer’s market. That personal connection – sharing the pride in what you do. New foods and new experiences to tell people about your food and how it is grown. The farmer’s market is educational. Farmer’s markets are transformational. Also, the urban garden movement gives me great hope. Young people have a way they can approach farming, along with people who may not have the space,” Riddle said.
“We need to have school gardens. Give kids a way to learn, to get dirty. It is healthy to get dirty. I want to see the farm to school programs to continue. Building relations are important.”
He said, “We should be looking at watershed and well-head protection. Every study conducted shows that going organic helps protect groundwater from pollutants. We need to hold up organic as the cost-effective solution to protecting water quality. There is no argument – when you are not using pesticides you are are not letting them into the water. You are protecting the water supply to millions of people.”
Also, he said, “We can be giving federal tax preferences, incentives to farms that use organic farming practices.”-
Riddle said one of the issues facing organic farmers today is pesticide drift.
“All the burden is on the organic farmer. Farmers lose business, lose money. We also have GMO drift. We need to biological companies to take responsibility for their products. When they are on their side of the fence fine, but when they come over – it is their property. It is their patented DNA found on my hard causing economic harm and they need to take responsibility for those damages.
Riddle told the audience that, “I love the theme of the conference – ‘Growing Today, Transforming Tomorrow’ because that is exactly what we need to do. The sense of urgency is so strong that I think we need to put it on its head; transform today in order to grow tomorrow. We need to start now and transform in every way that I can.”
He said there is great value in the farmer’s market. “That personal connection – sharing the pride in what you do. New foods and new experiences to tell people about your food and how it is grown. They are educational. Farmer’s markets are transformational. Also the urban garden movement gives me great hope. Young people have a way they can approach farming, along with people who may not have the space,” he said.
He also urged school districts to have school gardens. “Give kids a way to learn, to get dirty. It is healthy to get dirty. I want to see the farm-to-school programs continue and grow.”
He said Ohio’s organic framers need to tell there story.
“In our organic community we share information, what to do and not do. We aren’t protecting any trade secrets. That kind of sharing of information is important. I am very good at helping people grow from my failures. ‘This was a good idea that didn’t work out…’ That kind of honesty is really important,” he said.
He urged the farmers to share their story with the media. “Don’t be bashful. Now is the time to be bold. In every way. Step out and tell your story. Don’t be afraid to be political. In whatever way is comfortable to you, whether its local experience, or just contacting local legislators… letting them know what you think needs to be done.”
And what does he see as the future of organic farming?
“I say – stayed tuned.”
BIOGRAPHY: For more than 30 years, Riddle has been an organic farmer, inspector, educator, policy analyst, and activist.
From 2001 to 2006, Riddle served on the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Organic Standards Board, chairing the board from 2004 to 2005. In the years since, he has remained engaged on organic issues, calling for attention to process, transparency, and integrity.
He is founding chair of the thriving Winona Farmers’ Market and the International Organic Inspectors Association (IOIA), and has served on the leadership team for eOrganic and on the boards of the International Organic Accreditation Service, Beyond Pesticides, and the Organic Processing Institute.
He served on the Minnesota Department of Agriculture’s Organic Advisory Task Force from 1991 to 2009, and was instrumental in passing Minnesota’s landmark organic certification cost-share program in 1998 and a national organic certification cost-share program in 2002. From 2006 to 2013, he worked for the University of Minnesota Southwest Research and Outreach Center as Organic Outreach Coordinator.
From 2013 to 2016, he coordinated the organic research grant program for graduate students at the Ceres Trust. He has recently been appointed to chair the Minnesota Organic Advisory Task Force, which provides advice to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture and the University of Minnesota.
Riddle and his wife also own and operate Blue Fruit Farm, a five acre fruit farm in southeastern Minnesota growing certified organic blueberries, elderberries, aronia berries, black currants, blue plums, honey berries, and juneberries.
Gary Brock can be reached at 937-556-5759 or on Twitter at GBrock4.