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Organic Farmers Association to be a leading policy voice for organic farmers

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This article comes from the NOFA/Massachusetts 2017 April Issue Newsletter

By Dan Bensonoff

OFA 2: Elizabeth Kucinich

Almost every industry and cause has an interest group in Washington D.C. working on its behalf. It would seem that organic farmers are no exception. With groups like National Organic Coalition (NOC), Organic Trade Association (OTA) and National Sustainable Action Coalition (NSAC) actively lobbying in D.C, one would think that the interests of organic farmers would be more than adequately represented. But just recently, a new organization called the Organic Farmers Association (OFA) has been gaining momentum as it gears up to be a uniquely farmer-driven policy player.

OFA came into being through a merger between two separate efforts. Originally, there was a group of farmers and organic farming advocates that came together about four years ago to figure out how they can create a unified voice for organic farmers in D.C. Around the time that this group (then called the Organic Farmers Alliance) was beginning to launch, the Rodale Institute announced that they had formed a policy organization with very similar goals. After some deliberation they realized they would be more effective through a merger. Rodale has remained the fiscal sponsor, but the structure now contains elements of both groups.

OFA seeks to differentiate itself from other, similar groups by giving voice solely to the needs of organic growers. According to Kate Mendenhall, one of the lead organizers of this new group: “Organic farmers’ policy needs currently aren’t being met... while regional and state groups like NOFA have been working for 40 years on the grassroots level, there hasn’t been a national conversation around organic farmers’ needs.”

According to Maddie Monty, a member of OFA’s steering committee: “Organic farmers will be the only ones who get a vote on policy positions and governance” within OFA. Regardless of whether you manage one acre or 1,000 acres, each farmer will get only one vote.

Currently, the major voice for the organic industry in D.C. is the Organic Trade Association (OTA). While it’s likely that the newly-formed OFA will align with OTA on many policies, there will likely be differences as well, since OTA includes processors among their members. (Only 12% of their members are producers). Issues that favor processors over producers, like the new organic check-off program, are likely to be among those policies that will divide these two groups. But, as of now, OTA and other allied groups have offered their blessing. In a statement, an OTA spokesperson said: "Organic farm-level production is diverse and vast. Organizing is a challenge, but we wish them well." 

The founders of OFA aim to ensure that they don’t hinder the work of other groups. Monty says: “We’re working hard on the steering committee to make sure the existence of OFA benefits current organizations.” One of the goals of OFA will be to share resources and break down important national policy matters into digestible information for regional groups. Although organizations (including NOFA) won’t have any power to influence policy, they will still have a seat at the table. According to Monty: “There will be a concerted effort to unify the voices among the various groups.” Whether adding yet another member-based non-profit will ultimately compete with other groups remains to be seen, but Monty believes that “the more voices we have in Washington speaking about sustainable agriculture the better.”

OFA hopes to have a strong advocacy presence in time for the 2018 farm bill negotiations. They’ve already hired Elizabeth Kucinich, wife of politician Dennis Kucinich, to be their head lobbyist. But they’ll have to wait until their farmer members develop the policy platform, a process they’ve already embarked upon.

Interested in learning more about the Organic Farmers Association? Check them out here.

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