Keynote speaker warns attendees of ‘greenwashing’ and false hype
HILLSBORO — Farming can be such a solitary occupation that farmers have come to enjoy their conferences and meetings.
At least when they are live.
The Northeast Organic Farming Assocaition-New Jersey held its annual meeting over Zoom on March 11 but Tony Kennette of Kennette Productions fought Zoom-fatigue during the meeting as he did during the two-day winter conference with his clever comments and technical expertise.
Zoom did allow keynote speaker Abby Youngblood to speak from her home in Arlington, Mass.
Youngblood is the executive director of the National Organic Coalition, an alliance of organizations and companies that work to keep integrity in the organic community.
NOFA-NJ, under the NOFA umbrella, is part of the alliance along with environmental groups, consumer groups, farmers, organic product companies and certifiers.
“We have a man in (Washington) D.C. who works with Congress on organic policy,” Youngblood said. She emphasized the importance of New Jersey’s Congressional delegation especially with Sen. Cory Booker’s involvement with agricultural issues.
While Youngbood acknowledged the atmosphere under the new administration is much better, she said that doesn’t mean organic producers don’t need to all become more engaged in advocacy. Youngblood believes organic groups need to get the message out about the role of organic as a climate change solution.
With the existential crises of climate change and biodiversity loss it is good to have an administration focused on the role of agriculture in carbon sequestration but farmers still need help adapting to the changes and understanding new regulations.
He also warned against “greenwashing” or hype about solutions that may not be truly organic and using the term “regenerative” agriculture without a clear definition.
“A lot of people want to claim they are climate friendly,” Youngblood said, but some of the regenerative systems are reliant on synthetic chemicals.
She noted existing definitions need to be tightened up.
One of the most important pieces of legislation is Congresswoman Chellie Pingree’s Agriculture Resilience Act. Pingree, a Democrat who represents Maine’s First Congressional District, is a farmer and small-business owner.
Her goal with the act is to help farmers reduce greenhouse gas emissions and sequester more carbon in the soil by providing farmers with more diverse, voluntary, incentive-based conservation options, building on existing USDA research and conservation programs.
Youngblood and NOC are working to make sure organic farmers are included in all policies involving the carbon market.
Another priority for NOC is to increase diversity and inclusiveness in organic farming. Black and indigenous farmers are underrepresented in both conventional and organic agriculture, she said, with the numbers of Black farmers and ranchers dropping throughout the 20th Century.
Booker and Congresswoman Alma Adams, D-N.C., are working on legislation addressing the needs of farmers of color. Adams represents the 12th Congressional District in North Carolina which includes the City of Charlotte and surrounding areas in Mecklenburg County.
Youngblood said NOC is working toward more mentoring for farmers who wish to transition to organic.
NOFA-NJ Executive Director Nagisa Manabe called an increase in mentorship and support for all farmers, particularly farmers of color, is very important.
She noted she was the first Asian organic farmer involved in NOFA-NJ.
During the question and answer session, Youngblood emphasized the need for more professional and high quality inspectors and encouraged all farmers to advocate with the DOA and Congress.