Organics & Ecological Sustainability

Defend and build upon “organics” for an ecologically restorative agriculture and economy.

Non-synthetic chemical agriculture has been practiced in traditional cultures all over the world for millennia. Only for a century, so-called “conventional agriculture” – reliant on synthetic biocides and petroleum-based fertilizers – has produced a lot of food and grown global population, but has destroyed once-fertile soils on hundreds of millions of acres, polluted most of the world’s freshwater and fisheries, and is destroying the climate. Sir Albert Howard studied and documented traditional, non-chemical agricultural practices in India for decades in the early 1900s, coming to deeply understand how such “organic” systems benefited soil, crops, water and community health. In 1940 Howard wrote the classic organic farming text An Agricultural Testament, which along with the works of Eve Balfour, Rudolf Steiner, and J. I. Rodale and many others, inspired the development of the early organic farming and natural foods movements in Europe and the US.

With the founding of California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF) in 1973, Oregon Tilth in 1974, and many other regional certifiers, a common definition of “organic” began to take hold in culture, the market and law, and the modern organic farming and organic products movements took off. Since the 1970’s we have seen a steady rise of public support for organic produce and for products certified as being made from organic ingredients, and we’ve seen increasing support for a more whole-systems ecological approach to farming and land management. The organic movement has had great success in educating the public and farmers to the extraordinary benefits that organic farming methods bring to soil, water, farm family and farm labor health, biodiversity, climate (through CO2 sequestration), food quality, and consumer and community health.

OAEC garden

Our organic farming, foods and products movements have also had to constantly play struggle against the chemical corporations who have billions of dollars in profits at stake in selling – and making farmers become dependent upon – synthetic chemical pesticides, fertilizers and corporate-owned genetically engineered seed worldwide. In 2000, the USDA finished establishing the National Organic Program to define and regulate “organic” nationwide for farm and consumer products. Since then the organics movement has had to be ever vigilant in protecting what the US public has come to expect from a food or product being labeled as “organic” – including opposing aggressive chemical industry attempts to have GMO foods, crops grown with sewage sludge, and irradiated foods be considered “organic”.

OAEC Organic Practices

Since our founding in 1994, OAEC has been deeply engaged practicing and demonstrating organic horticulture and teaching organic gardening and wildlands management. We have focused our organizing and policy work on building organizations and networks to advocate for stronger state and federal organic standards, to help farmers and ranchers transition from chemical-intensive methods to organic and other ecologically restorative practices, and to oppose attempts by the chemical industry to degrade the legal definition of organic. We help build coalitions, and mobilize our own members, to expose efforts by some product manufactures and retail brands to mislead the public through labeling products “organic” when they are not, in fact, certified organic, as well as scam labeling programs declaring non-organic food and consumer products to be “natural”, “sustainable” or other terms that have no legal definition and thus offer the consumer no actual information on their production practices.

Some of the work we have done at OAEC to defend organics and build ecologically restorative food and agriculture production systems include:Organic Meal

  • The Mother Garden at OAEC is the 7th oldest consistently certified organic farm in California, out of over 3,000 farms currently certified by CCOF. The gardens were first certified organic in 1974, when the Farallones Institute owned the land.
  • In 1994, OAEC and the Sonoma Land Trust created one of the first organic farming easements in the US. Our easement insures that the gardens at OAEC can only be farmed organically, as certified by CCOF or a succeeding certifier.
  • The OAEC Mother Garden Biodiversity Program has taught organic gardening skills to many thousands of gardeners and farmers in organic gardening, permaculture, school garden, intentional community and other workshops, to our interns, and to thousands of garden volunteers who have attended our Garden Volunteer Day that has run every Wednesday for 40 years.
  • OAEC saves seed on and stewards a collection of 3,000 varieties of organic, open-pollinated food crops and medicinal and landscaping plants, and is active in supporting organic seed saving libraries and research projects around California.
  • The certified organic plant nursery at OAEC has propagated and sold or donated hundreds of thousands of annual and perennial food crops and medicinal and landscaping plants to many thousands of gardeners and hundreds of community, school and horticultural therapy gardens around California and beyond.
  • For two decades, OAEC has organized major seed exchanges where hundreds of other organic farmers and gardeners freely share their favorite organic varieties, including annually at the Ecological Farming Conference, the Bioneers Conference, the National Heirloom Expo, and other venues.
  • OAEC’s Wildlands Program has managed our wildlands preserve as a research, demonstration and teaching center for ranchers and other land managers on how to restore coastal prairie grass, mixed oak-redwood-fir forest, and chaparral ecological communities without the use of synthetic chemicals.
  • The OAEC kitchen has fed and inspired tens of thousands of OAEC visitors with all-organic vegetarian meals prepared with the fruits of OAEC’s gardens and orchards, and local organic produce from other North Bay producers. Our 20th Anniversary OAEC Cookbook is a ‘how to’ live, grow and cook a wonderful organic life.

OAEC Organic Advocacy

OAEC works with partner organizations at the local, state, national and international levels to defend and strengthen federal and regional organic standards, and to expose false organic claims (in farm and ranching operations as well as at the point of sale of fresh produce and value-added products). We support and collaborate with organizations and networks working specifically in one or more issue areas that advance organic and ecologically restorative agriculture and production processes. Please take a look at the good work of some of our partner organizations. Please join their campaigns, and support them with contributions.

Organic GardenBeyond Pesticides

California Certified Organic Farmers

California Climate and Agriculture Network

Californians for Pesticide Reform

Center for Food Safety

Ecological Farming Association

Food and Water Watch

Friends of the Earth

Organic Consumers Association

Pesticide Action Network North America

Wild Farm Alliance

Xerces Society