In my recent travels across America, one thing has become abundantly clear: Demand for organic food is soaring. The current organic market has grown to more than $35 billion in annual sales, and with companies like Walmart and Target making organic widely available, its growth is expected to continue. Supply, on the other hand, is not growing fast enough to meet demand. There's just not enough organic food to go around in the U.S., so producers are now going overseas to help meet America's increasing call for organic foods.
American farmers, this is a big opportunity!
George Siemon, CEO of Organic Valley, which is now a billion-dollar cooperative of dairy farmers, has seen a 15 percent growth rate in the past year -- but can only fill 60 percent of his orders. Recently, when I spoke to him after he received the Rodale Institute's Organic Pioneer Award, he said, "We've gone through the Dark Ages, and butter is back in." But he still can't find enough farmers to supply it.
And it's not just the big food companies that are having a hard time finding supply. In Boulder, Colorado, I met a young goat farmer. More than anything, she would like to find certified-organic alfalfa to feed her goats, but she can't "at any price." (Her name is Taber Ward, and she's at Mountain Flower Goat Dairy, if you have a source for her.)
Organic CSAs and small farmer's markets have gotten the bulk of the media/mind share attention (and have been rising steeply in number in the past few years: up 76 percent since 2008). But there's a real need right now for large-scale production so that American consumers can buy the organic foods they desire at their local supermarkets.
Small local farms alone aren't enough to save the world. Transitioning the world to organic is the only way we can store enough carbon underground in the soil to stop climate change from destroying our ability to survive on this planet. Yes, according to a recent study conducted by Rodale Institute, regenerative organic farming can reverse climate change -- and people want to buy its harvests!
American farmers: If the American public -- the free market -- is demanding clean, healthy, organic foods free of pesticides, herbicides, and GMOs, don't you want to be the ones to supply it rather than let other countries do it? Countries that ban the use of GMOs, such as Japan, Australia, and the entire European Union, are supplying our country's food and earning our dollars. American Farmer, you can help change this. You can help meet the growing demand for organic foods across this country and help bring American dollars back to American food producers.
Companies like Applegate and Chipotle are eager for organic meats and organic feed for the animals in their supply chains. Right now, they have to go to Europe and China to meet consumer demands. Or substitute with nonorganic products, which disappoints their customers.
Have no fear of change. I have seen my Mennonite neighbors, who almost went bankrupt as chemical dairy farmers, save their farms by transitioning to organic. Organic Valley was there to help them along the way, and the cooperative can help you, too. I have seen lives changed, farms saved, and families' health transformed by the switch to organic.
By not meeting organic demand, we are outsourcing our futures. American farmers, you are losing out on potential growth that's now going to farmers overseas. Not to mention you're subjecting yourselves and the planet to toxic chemicals like 2-4, D and to ever-tougher superweeds. I know you love the look of a weed-free field, but there are better, healthier ways to get it than by using harmful chemicals. I beg you to consider going organic.
If we truly want to feed the world -- to change the world -- we need both big and small farmers to go organic. In other words, we need all farmers. Everywhere. Switch to organic. People and producers are willing to pay you well and help you succeed. You are not alone!
For more from Maria Rodale, visit www.mariasfarmcountrykitchen.com