Mixer attendees heard from Representative Chellie Pingree (ME-01), U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Marketing and Regulatory Programs Under Secretary Jenny Lester Moffitt, and the Swette Center’s Senior Fellow Catherine Greene.
Rep. Pingree expressed gratitude to NRDC, OTA, and ASU’s Swette Center for putting on this event to educate members and staff on the benefits of organic, and she highlighted the critical role of public investments. “As an organic farmer myself, I’m a strong supporter of how food is grown under organic standards. Organic helps support soil health and biodiversity, protects natural resources, ensures the humane treatment of animals, and more. As we debate the next Farm Bill and fiscal year 2024 appropriations, it’s critical that we bolster resources for organic agriculture.”
Under Secretary Moffitt spoke to innovative investments in organic that the Biden-Harris Administration has made through USDA’s Organic Transition Initiative. Just a year into the launch of the $300 million Initiative, a diverse array of organizations and resources are building momentum to grow organic in every state.
A portion of the Organic Transition Initiative focuses on expanding markets for domestic organic grains, legumes, and other rotational crops – and for good reason. Oilseeds and grains cover about a third of U.S. farmland. Shifting this acreage toward organic management could dramatically reshape our farming landscape.
Rotating through a variety of crops on a farm is essential for maintaining and improving soil health and increasing soil biodiversity. Farms with diversified crops also face lower risk in times of unpredictable weather – even if some plantings struggle due to too much or too little rain, others may do quite well. Crop rotation is also required for organic certification. But in order for the complex crop rotations that make organic farms successful to also make financial sense, farmers need markets for less mainstream commodities like oats, spelt, millet, rye, flax, and lentils, as well as tools to grow more domestic organic wheat and barley. That’s where creative brewers and distillers have a key role to play.
The wine sector also continues to grow, and wine made with organic grapes offers significant protection for vulnerable ecosystems and health in farming communities. California alone had 625,000 acres of wine grapes in 2020, but only about 25,000 acres of harvested organic wine grapes. Like commodity crops, nonorganic vineyards are routinely treated with pesticides, including glyphosate, which has been found in wine, and chlorpyrifos, which remains on the market even though it has been found harmful to human health. Transitioning vineyards to organic keeps those chemicals out of our water, air, soil, and bodies.
There are already over 200 certified organic breweries, wineries, and distilleries active in 27 U.S. states, and many more source ingredients from organic and transitioning farms. With flexible funding and organic-relevant technical assistance and research – including the resources proposed in the Opportunities in Organic Act – we could see organic beverages in every liquor cabinet and on every drink menu in the country.
The following leaders in the organic beverage industry helped us toast the spirit(s) of organic and show us what’s possible for this growing sector.