President Trump and the USDA must protect farmers
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This week, the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) is meeting in Jacksonville, Fla., to decide whether or not to redefine organic to remove soil as the foundation for organic farming. The NOSB is the USDA committee that advises on the standards for organic labeling. A host of organic farmers will be there to meet them. These farmers are defending the value of traditional organic farming in the face of corporate lobbyists opposing them.
 
Farmers voted overwhelmingly for President Trump in the election, but already his administration has shown it will side with the big corporations that are impoverishing them. In the first day of the Trump presidency, new animal welfare reforms in the National Organic Program were withdrawn for further study.” Just last week Trump's USDA, at the behest of the big producers, got rid of a rule allowing farmers to challenge predatory and retaliatory practices by multinational corporations. This policy locked many farmers into unfair contracts that are driving them deeper into debt.
 
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The same betrayal was evident in Trump's trade policies and agricultural budget cuts. The American farmer has few friends left. 
 
When I first became a mother, I did what many parents do and turned my thoughts to finding the right food to feed my kids. Living in rural Iowa  the food bowl of America  one would think this would be an easy task. But it wasn’t. I ended up having to drive two hours just to find food that was not grown in a way that was harmful to my kids or the earth. I had to drive that far to find organic food.
 
These days, finding organic food is easier. Thanks to the hard work of farmers who care about the quality and nutrients of their produce, we have a label on food that immediately says to parents and consumers: I am organic.” At a glance we can know that the food they are putting into their bodies is healthy.
 
The success of those organic farmers, however, may be their undoing. So many consumers are buying organic food that the big industrial producers want to cash in. Rather than changing the way they grow food to fit the definition of organic, they are lobbying hard to change the definition of organic to fit the way they already grow food.
 
They want to allow food grown without soil to be labeled organic. That means that hydroponic produce grown using plastic tubing and styrofoam which contains flame retardants, phthalates, and other chemicals known to cause cancer, will be part of the new definition of organic. Consumers will no longer be able to know how their produce was grown under the USDA label.
 
Now the likes of Amazon (who recently acquired Whole Foods Market), alongside Driscoll’s, Wholesum Harvest and even Scott’s-MiracleGro are all supporting hydroponically grown produce to be labeled organic’. Growing produce in plastic and styrofoam and nutrient solutions” is cheaper than growing it in the soil, but it isn't organic.
 
If the USDA decides to permit hydroponic, it will leave genuine organic farmers  the ones who created the value of the label, and who farm in a way that doesn't deplete the soil of its nutrients  unable to compete with the big producers. They will be in peril of losing their markets and being forced off their land. The decision to farm in a way that is healthy and environmentally sound is their competitive advantage  now it could be their undoing. 
 
They know that the odds are stacked against them. Already 99 percent of agricultural land in America has been lost to industrial agriculture which pollutes the surrounding communities' air and water and depletes the soil of its ability to grow food in the future. Only 1 percent of America's agricultural land is farmed in a way that ensures that it can feed future generations.
 
By growing food organically in the soil, farmers' agricultural practices regenerate the earth and also sequester carbon that mitigates the effects of climate change. The latest science is becoming clearer and clearer that organic farming is key to the health of the soil microbiome and ecosystem  as well as our own. It is vital for a thriving future.
 
Moreover, these farmers are the ones we picture when we imagine the American farmer. Up at dawn, working the land in a picture of bucolic harmony with nature. But they are a critically endangered species. If the Trump administration caves to the lobbying of the large corporations who want to cash in on the USDA label without truly growing food organically, it will ring the death knell for American organic farming as we have come to know it. 
 
Organic means something. It means we have an alternative future possible where food is grown in a way that sustains us and our planet. It means farmers have a viable market for food grown nutritiously, and don't have to give in to the agro-industrial machine. It means eaters have transparency when they roam the aisles of their supermarket to learn how their food was grown. But most importantly, it means 'grown in the soil'. 
 
This week, we will find out if the USDA and the Trump administration agree, and side with American farmers and eaters.
 
Lisa Stokke is founder of Next 7, an organization that seek to advocate for ideas to benefit the next 7 generations.