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Steve Crider Oral History Interview, November 1, 2019

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TIAH EDMUNSON-MORTON: Okay, go ahead and introduce yourself.

STEVE CRIDER: I'm Steve Crider and today is November 1st, 2019, and we're together here on the UW campus for an interview about my history with Oregon Tilth. And that history includes, encompasses both commercial side of being certified and that growth of the organic industry, and then actual service on the board later on, on the board of directors.

TEM: So, I know that you went to school in Pennsylvania. Were you raised in Pennsylvania?

SC: Well, I'm a boomer. I was born in 1956, the heart of it. You know, Leave It to Beaver and all that. And my dad moved around a lot and changed professions. They were both from the south, my mom and my dad. Big, long history in agriculture and farming in the background until both sides of the family lost their farms in the Great Depression and moved to town. And nobody had a job again until World War II.

So, my parents were both the first ones in their family to ever go to college, and they left the south. We lived in Michigan and then Washington D.C. area during the '60s. And then, later, around Philadelphia in Pennsylvania in the '70s, which is where I kind of came of age, went to college, and also had proximity to Rodale. And so, we always had a garden every year and I was the one that convinced the family to put away the pesticides and fertilizers and go organic. And there was Rodale Press; there was other entities in Pennsylvania at that time that were really pioneering organic and-

TEM: How did you find out about it? What was the- how did you hear-

SC: Well, I mean Earth Day was 1970. I was freshman in high school. I was an early adopter. And we were always kind of eating fresh food. I mean we ate from the garden all year 'round. We put up stuff in the freezer. We canned beans. We canned tomato sauce. And so, that was just always a tradition out of South, going- so you can survive depression because you raised your own food. Till this day, we make our pickles and jam at home and that kind of thing. My grandmother would come visit every summer to help put up food from the garden, and so that kind of tradition carried through to be- which has now kind of come full circle, and all these young folks are like, you can make pickles! Make your own jam! It's like yeah, been doing that for a while.

And then, again, graduated college after an extended period and went straight to California. Left the East Coast and landed in the Bay Area. And I was there for three or four years, volunteering at the local food co-op just to get the discount and ended up in a shared vegetarian household in this old Victorian in San Francisco. And first came across- there was organic foods in the store as well as the bulk bins, as well as buying club and buying 50-pound bag of Lundberg brown rice and splitting it up amongst 12 people kind of thing. Those early days.

And I read the book- I came across a Rodale Press book One-Straw Revolution, by Masanobu Fukuoka, which was deeply influential. And I had Japanese friends from college days and wanted to go visit them, and people were passing through San Francisco on the way to Asia and back and forth, crashing on our floor, and I'm like I want to do that too. So, saved enough money and pulled it all together and took off in 1983. And it was the height of- I was doing a lot of anti-nuclear stuff. I was getting arrested. I was protesting the war in Central America and all that, and it was kind of like I need to go cool my jets a little bit and just get off the radar screen. And I'm go Asia and travel around with my backpack for a little while.

And that, traveling around in Asia for a while, turned into nine years, and mostly Japan. I landed in Japan and ended up there nine years and met Fukuoka, met people who had lived on his farm, the people who translated the book. They introduced me. So, I immediately got an entree into the Japanese natural and organic food world, such as it was, from that, and was welcomed. It just felt like well, this is the place to be, meant to be. And out of that, with some Japanese friends, we started an organic food company to import what was then the first organic food products coming out of the US. So, that would have been like '85, '86, '87.

And I went to a tabletop show that the US Department of Agriculture put on at the embassy in support of Pacific Northwest foods. And on that tabletop were some products, some pickles and jam from Cascadian Farm, which had just gotten underway to do that, based up in Skagit Valley of Washington, and Rising Sun Farm, which is a gourmet pesto and herb and flavored vinegar company, husband and wife, also organic and out of Oregon. And it made perfect sense. They're like well, this is what we're looking for.

We were also doing- the folks I was working with were into sheep, and we'd already created a relationship in with Oregon to go to the Black Sheep Gathering and get expertise from Oregon State government, which had an office in Tokyo. Was very helpful. And farmers and veterinarians we brought to Japan. We imported breeding stock. We imported wool. So, we had this Oregon thing going already, so I ended up visiting Oregon numerous times during that nine years. And as part of that, came to know- I met the folks at OG's - or Organically Grown - Co-op at the time. Not- it was still then.

And just all that energy around organic was really taking off in Oregon, and then in Washington State with Cascadian Farm. So, came across Oregon Tilth early on in this process and realized the importance of who they were and what they were doing and how it would help us to better explain and market in Japan, if we could, what organic meant. And that it wasn't just some claim. There was always a worry about fraud. You know, are you really what you say you are? And what's to stop you from having done this, and you're just making this claim?

So, it became a real instrumental tool, but a heavy lift to educate both the people, the distributors and retailers we were trying to sell to, the Japanese organic community, which didn't really have that model, or an idea. They had- their idea's well, you just know who came- food with the farmer's face on it. You're buying direct. Your CSA, you're participating in that CSA. You know where the food came from. Why do you need this third-party, independent certification? It was a very foreign concept in Japan. And also, with the ministries, especially the ministry of ag, fisheries, and forestries [The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries]. We're bringing this new stuff, and what is it, and here's certification. Eventually, by the time I left Japan in 1992, we helped introduce, at the formal level, the part of that introduction of organic certification in Japan, that they developed on their side. But-

TEM: So, they would certify their own Japanese products?

SC: Yes.

TEM: It wasn't an international certification. It was like a-

SC: Well, it evolved eventually. Early on, they wanted to make it like well, now you have to have Japanese certification in addition to the Oregon Tilth. We don't really recognize- and it wasn't until years later when Oregon Tilth and the other- well, with the USDA, created a reciprocity agreement. There was a big gap between the Japan organic rules, which were different and quirky just enough to be an indirect tariff barrier, like we don't recognize you're organic.

And organic still struggles in Japan as a niche of understanding. It never really has developed to its full potential because they've used it, in some ways, as a way of excluding product. You know, you don't meet our Japan standard of organic. And that finally went away during the Obama years when the USDA finally sat down and negotiated, country-to-country, a reciprocity agreement. And I was part of that team on our side. Chris Schreiner was too, executive director. There was a little working group within the Organic Trade Associate [Association] and the USDA to create that reciprocity agreement with Canada, with Mexico, with Japan to help the export side.

But one thing we did early on - and I must say the people at USDA AMS, Agricultural Marketing Service, were great supporters out of Tokyo and the embassy at that time. They allowed us to apply for marketing funds. And so, part of that, we took the Tilth organic standards as they were at that time - you know, with Harry MacCormack and all that early iteration of those people who developed that, and still very pioneering - and got money to translate that and create a published- we published a whole booklet. And my last copy of that I donated to the archive at Oregon State. I passed it onto Chris and then we put it together. We gave it, and so it's there.

It resides in your archive of the Oregon Tilth, and it was part of our pitch wherever we went. We put on seminars and talking head groups and tours and brought people from the US to here; took people to Oregon and wanted to show them all around. It had that like here's what organic means and why it's important. And it's not just my company is telling you it's organic. Here's a whole process to help create some transparency and provides privacy in some respects for the producer, but also some assurance on the buyer's side that you're getting what you say you're doing. It was a big learning curve for everyone of what Oregon Tilth and certification was.

TEM: I am curious. I know you've done a lot in your career with legislative advocacy, for lack of bigger umbrella term. So, I'm curious, the time when you lived in the Washington, D.C. East Coast center of US government, did you have any interaction with government then? Were you learning as you were young?

SC: Well, yeah. I was in- I came of age- I was from third grade to eighth grade in Washington, D.C., but that was 1964 to 1970. My father was a minister at the time. He then subsequently left and changed professions. So, half the people in our congregation worked in the bureaucracy and one of our people in the church - we're good friends - she was the personal secretary to Stewart Udall, the Secretary of Agriculture at the time. And we got tickets to go see the Christmas tree lighting and the US- and then invited to the reception afterward, inside USDA. So, I saw Lyndon Johnson flip the switch.

It was like you grow up in D.C., The Washington Post is your daily paper. And then Watergate happened. So, I've been an ardent political person just because you grow up there and it just gets in your blood, and never feel really intimidated by that. It just is. They're just like other people like us, you know? Meet them in the Safeway store shopping. It was like people you saw in the newspaper and on the news that are next to you in line checking out. So, I had that kind of experience of it, and then I've always been, from that, always been very political.

And part of that politics, I was very inspired by the antinuclear movement, but also the environmental movement and the healthy eating movement of the '70s of- you know, all of the- The Whole Earth Catalog. Our whole business in Japan was based on the fact that the Japanese person that I worked for loved The Whole Earth Catalog, and like I want to do this. I want to be this. I want- he was like nobody knew what we were talking about. Let's go to Berkeley and meet these people. And I understood that. He was surrounded by other people who didn't know what he was talking about, and I perfectly knew that because I'd grown up through that arc, and it inspired me too. So, he was a mentor, but I was also a foil to help that whole thing takeoff.

But the piece you're describing came later in my life. I was basically a salary man, as they- in Japan. I was working it. I was doing the customs clearance and I was working with the- doing demos in stores, and I was doing presentations in Japanese to buyers, to try to sell stuff. And it was that piece, that salesman piece, which is that Cascading Farms said, eventually, come back and work for us. And that was the ticket home after- by that point, I had a wife and three children. I was ready- coming back to the Willamette Valley and Skagit Valley of Western Washington, it was like yeah, this is better than Tokyo. It's going to be a better place to raise a family.

But in that latter period, while we're still in Japan, like '88, '89, '90, that's the same time when the Organic Food Productions Act got passed. So, while I was wasn't- I was far away from that, but I was also on the front lines of it because I was learning about it through Organic Tilth and all the people. I mean Cascadian Farm, all the people who were so active in trying to make that original organic food law happen, which was led by Peter DeFazio in Eugene. So, I got to really get excited about that political process and how the organic took shape and the unique thing that that really is.

So, while I wasn't on the front lines of that, I was tangential to it enough to know how important it was and the meaning of it. And at the same time, to bring fresh produce into Japan, it all gets fumigated. People are wanting, let's- you know, Japan, the natural. They love nature. They're going to- organic [stammers] should be the great marketplace. And they import 90% of their food. Organic should be a great market. But it turns out the other laws in place for fumigation- we wanted to do kabocha squash, that beautiful green pumpkin that's everywhere now. Before, nobody knew what kabocha was. I mean, we helped pioneer that in Cascadian-

TEM: That's terrible [laughs].

SC: It's an amazing...

TEM: It's a wonderful food [laughs].

SC: Wonderful. But the idea was we're going to export it to Japan. Well, they're going to fumigate it when it hits the docks, and it won't be organic anymore. So, processed food had to be the way, so we switched gears. We're going to do frozen vegetables, frozen fruit. We were the first ones to bring in- and that's where the handler certification piece comes in. So, you know, we worked- Cascadian Farm worked with Agri-PAC, the co-op that no longer exists in Woodburn, and others. People who are making corn chips. People who are making juice, bottled juice. Cascadian Farms jam and pickles that then turned into their frozen vegetables.

So, that handler processing piece for organic became the only real way to do organic in Japan, so that become even more important to be able to explain who it is and who's doing it, and for proc- in those days - it just still is to a certain- organic is the tail wagging the dog to get processors to even want to handle organic because our volumes were so small. And to make those linkages between farmers in the Willamette Valley who could make enough critical mass, even make a two-day run at Agri-PAC was our whole year's supply at the time.

They had to stop everything to clean the lines and do the organic at the beginning of a shift and all that stuff that made it really difficult and a pain in the butt to work with somebody so small at the time, but they got their organic certification from Oregon Tilth. And so did Organic Valley, the dairy people, even though they were in Wisconsin at the time and didn't even have any organic dairies out here till much later. But Oregon Tilth was the folks pioneering handling and came up with the standards for it, and people with expertise to go out and inspect for it. So, that was a real breakthrough kind of phenomenon inside of Oregon Tilth that serves, well, even to this day. It's a critical part of their business model.

TEM: It's fascinating to think about. I think when I take the leap for organic agriculture into fresh produce, I think that to me is the sort of- I don't untangle that in my head, and so to think that it's this idea of transportation into a country, that's just fascinating. It's revealing a shift.

SC: And also, too, you can only- I mean for a manufacturer, you need your volume, your quality, your consistency, but you're going to make product all year long. It's not like oh, it's September, I got to make- or it's June, I got to make strawberry jam now because that's when strawberries are harvesting. It's like no, you have to stabilize them from the field, freeze them, and then you make jam all year long as you need it. It's this intermediate step to preserve the surplus or the seconds or the number twos.

So, all these companies, all these entrepreneurs who were bubbling up there in the '80s and '90s who are still on the shelf today, the pioneers, were just emerging then. The Nature's Path cereal, the Amy's Kitchen frozen meals. Earth's Best Baby Food was huge. It's like yeah, we're going to take those frozen vegetables and we're going to puree them and make this product. It was like it's never been done before. We're the only organic baby food out there to create this new choice that didn't exist before Gerber and all those others were doing their thing.

All those pioneers needed those ingredients. So, it was always chicken and egg. Well, how much do you need? And they didn't know the ag cycle. You know, they come to you in May saying well, we want some corn right now. Well, corn's not going- I needed- the crops aren't even planted. I needed to know that in December, in January to plant it two weeks ago so we can harvest it in the fall so you can have inventory going from September onward. So, just educating people about the commitment and crop cycle to things, it still till this day, the younger generation, there's a lot of foodies and they want to do this and that but they don't understand what farmers need in order to commit to grow what you want and in the timeframe, and get their loan and build it into their crop rotation and then line up the processing later. All those things it takes. It's not just off the shelf. It still isn't.

Organic isn't a commodity that you can just, well, if I don't get it here, I'll get it someplace else. And to our own detriment, just to speak of the current times, people still aren't quite getting that, to the fact that it's still farmer based. It's not just you can just go to some trader or broker or importer and just get whatever you want whenever you want it. Organic takes- it's a longer arc. And it needs a deeper level of commitment and understanding of agriculture to be successful I think, on the supply chain side.

TEM: You said 90% was imported into Japan.

SC: Yep. Even more of a percent, higher percent now.

TEM: Really? So, there must be very, very little farmland then.

SC: Well, it's complicated. I mean Japan is the size of California with the population of the US crammed into it, of which only 20% is arable. It's like all those mountains and volcanos and hot springs. And most of that arable land has been covered over by urbanization, so a lot of the land that's dedicated is still in rice, and a lot of greenhouses. I mean they're great at green housing. They produce a lot but it's only a fraction of what the population needs. So, they do some things that they've- for political and tax and revenue reasons. They heavily subsidize rice production to keep that alive. It's kind of crucial to the cultural identity.

But the amount of imported food, the food strategy, sustainability thing is very of deep concern. And also aging out. We think 56, 58 is a really high age. In Japan, it's like in your late 60s, early 70s, the average age of farmers, so there's a huge next generational question about who's even going to be producing what little they do still.

TEM: Yeah.

SC: But I mean it's an amazing agricultural history and culture, right? So, it's a shame. It's a loss. But because it's also organized around community co-op- seikyou (生協), the farmer's co-op, you don't have a lot of autonomy to be oh, I'm going to be organic, when everybody around you is not organic and question like well, you're raising bad insects that I'm trying to kill all around me because you're organic, or you have more weeds than the rest of us. The culture of conformity and social cohesion is a- you have to really buck the system.

Fukuoka-sensei was an outlier. There's still nobody doing what he did in Japan. He's kind of a one-of-a-kind, his pioneer of no-till and organic and nature farming. Very few people have ever been able to replicate that. And then just the societal pressure, the control of the Ministry of Agriculture that you have on rural life in terms of your loans and your- they sell you the chemicals. They're the bank. They're every- they organize the local community structure that use- that you're only- one of your few ways of selling isn't through that co-op into the distribution chain. The organics that has evolved is almost despite that, to some extent.

TEM: Talk more about One-Straw Revolution. And I'm trying to remember; I interviewed Jim Fullmer, and he talked about biodynamics. And I didn't have time to go listen to the interview. I think he was the one who talked about One-Straw Revolution as being a really big kind of- knowing about that and learning about that was a really big turning point in his mind too. But I'm curious though - because he was based in America - I'm curious what that was like and what you learned, and just talk more about that.

SC: One-Straw Revolution came out in Japanese, of course, first. And through- before I was aware of him, there were actually students and followers who migrated to his place to learn from all over. From Japan, from the US, from Europe. One of those people was Larry Korn, who's based in Ashland, and he's the one who actually helped finalize that translation into English that Rodale Press published, and he's also written a very interesting book recently, One-Straw Revolutionary about his time there and more about his take on it.

That was an important book, and it was in- I learned about it from Whole Earth Catalog. That's where I stumbled across it, and then ordered a copy right away from the anarchist bookstore in San Francisco that brought in a copy for me, and read it, said I'm going to go there. I'm going to go meet this guy. And because he became so well-known, at that time- and there's a famous photograph of these three people: Bill Mollison, who started permaculture, Fukuoka-sensei, from One-Straw Revolution, and then [sighs], having a brainfart- the man who started the Land Institute, Wes... in Kansas.

TEM: It's not going to come to me either.

SC: Yeah, I'm sorry. You know it's on the tip of my tongue. I'll circle back to it. Wes. Wes Jackson.

TEM: Okay [laughs].

SC: So, those three, they were invited to come speak in the US, and then Fukuoka stayed on and did a tour. So, he came to Washington. He spent a long time in the Willamette Valley and spoke there and went on to California where he was shocked at what he saw as the desertification of California, that there's a huge problem here. The earth is dying. Basically, in his last years, he was all about how do we re-green the earth that we're, you know... I didn't understand what he was talking about in the 1990s when I was there. In fact, I was young and f- there's a lot I didn't understand about what he- that I understand better now when I'm in my 60s.

But he was shocked by what he saw about the unsustainability of agriculture in the US. But he was an invited speaker. He spent almost six weeks or two months on the road from Washington, Oregon, California speaking. And there's a famous photograph of those three at a forum together and they're kind of like the three monkeys. You know, hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil, and they kind of posed that way, the three of them. But they were like the three leaders of this movement of no-till permanent agriculture. They were the avatars of this whole movement that we're seeing now. They're calling themselves regenerative ag and all that. But those three were the thought leaders of that whole- that was just taking root in the '80s and then '90s.

So, he influenced a lot of people. He stayed at people's homes. He ate dinner with them. He went out to their farms. And people became intrigued about the actual technique of his special technique of taking the grain and pelletizing it, and the timing of direct seeding and then using the mulch from the previous crop after you've harvested it, and the other, the new crop has germinated and gets a certain height bringing that back in, the straw from that previous crop back on to be help mulch and nurture the next crop. And doing that year after year. He had a brilliant system of barley and rice but very few people have been able to replicate it successfully. So, does that answer your question a little bit?

TEM: Yeah, yeah.

SC: So, he definitely came here and visited and inspired a lot of people, and the book was a major bestseller. It's been reprinted now several times. Just came again in reprint. And I just saw a posting this week on Instagram, Alice Waters talking about- posting the old original book that I have, that he autographed and signed for me, Fukuoka-san, that I have at home.

So, he was a big influence, but not many people are able to replicate. And one thing he said to me I'll just, for the record - that I didn't understand at the time and was really somewhat offended by, but he was - [stammers] he had a bunch of us young people there at a gathering and he said you know, you talk about organic and organic, and this- you know, in some ways, you're worse. Like worse than conventional? What do you mean? He said because you think you know nature. You think you know what's the best thing to do.

You have all these assumptions about in our pride, in our arrogance of youth of changing the world, that you know what the path is or what's right. Basically, he was like why don't you stop and learn from nature a little bit? Take 30 years like me, and I'm still learning. I'm still ignorant and humble before the vast amount of what I don't know.

And I'm much more appreciative of that, of how much I know now that I don't know, and what a mystery it all is. We still don't know how soil microbiome works. We don't know how trees grow and a forest sustains itself. And you know we're still learning about the mycorrhizal relationship. All of these things that are fundamental are still, at the end of the day, very mysterious, and being more humble in the face of that as opposed to like well- which organic is very prescriptive. Well, you do this and this, and it's all about what you don't do and what things that you do do, and we were developing that and learning that as we go, and sharing that because there was no real roadmap, even today. But back then, even more so. We were still learning and failing, learning by our failures as we went along, but I appreciate that much more now than at that point.

TEM: Seems too like it's about committing to land; to a set plot of land, too, that you-

SC: Right, long term.

TEM: -over time see how something changes as opposed to the more migratory nature maybe.

SC: And that disturbance of soil. I mean how delicate that soil. Even though we don't know much about it, we know that if you over-till it, and even in Japan, and you rototill it all the time and churn it up, you're doing a lot of damage to the structure and the micro- biological life. So that was a real takeaway.

But meanwhile, for me, I was by that time in my 30s and it's a job. I'm commuting on a train in Tokyo with the guys pushing you in and stuff, and it got to be a little too much. It was time, I need to shift gears. And we would come back every June to Eugene for the Black Sheep Gathering and I was like oh my, the Willamette Valley in June versus Tokyo in June-

TEM: Pretty amazing.

SC: It was like I got to find a way back. And Cascadian Farm was the way. So, they were there for like- they saw the potential of this [stammers]. Gene and Yvonne- and I kind of want to dedicate my time with you today to the memory of Yvonne Frost who was such a friend and mentor and lovely person, and totally not an ag person at all. But the way she was able to keep the wheels on the cart and navigate and take a real leadership role nationally, Oregon Tilth was really one of those folks at the table in 1989 and '90. And you have some of that captured already from Lynn Coody and others that participated in that.

But the aftermath of that is the '90s was the springboard of all of these companies that can now make organic products, and Whole Foods and all these others that were just starting out. There was a marketplace for them, and a big - in the history of Cascadian Farm - crucial history point is [stammers] we're going to be the pioneer of organic frozen vegetables. And there were still processors here. A lot of it's moved overseas now. Agri-PAC is bankrupt, doesn't exist. A lot of the processors- there's fewer and fewer of processors now and more in higher conglomeration. We've lost some of that infrastructure, unfortunately.

But at the time, that was an opportunity. It was a niche. We're going to be like the bird's eye of organic with frozen peas and frozen corn and this and that, and nobody's doing that. It's a niche that we can take on. And just as that kind of an idea that we're going to do that, the Alar scare happened. Alar was a chemical that was used on apples in Washington State, and that dreaded 60 Minutes, 10 minutes of exposé of Alar on your apples poisoning your children and all, it was a panic. It created a panic in the marketplace that fall. I forget what year exactly. I think it was 1990. And Meryl Streep founded Mothers & Others for safe food. And there's this grassroots- organic just disappeared off the shelves overnight because there wasn't that much of it, and that was a critical turning point of now's the time. The marketplace is ready, finally, for organic to take off.

And folks at Cascadian Farm said now's the time. So, that winter they went out pillar to post and contracted with every grower who would work with us to grow all these frozen vegetables. Got a few different processors to agree to process it for us and [stammers] we're going to storm the world with all these frozen vegetables. And it turned out to be a short-lived phenomenon. It piqued, and by the time- that winter they did all the contracts; that spring that following year all the planting. By the time a year later when all that stuff came home into harvest, the market wasn't there to support the kinds of volumes that had been created.

TEM: Could they have sold it as conventional and sold it?

SC: Sure, you could have done that, and you probably did. I was on the wrecking crew to- it was a fire sale. I mean we had five years of inventory based on the projections of what the sales really were versus what we thought they were going to be. It was a boon that busted. But it provided the ingredients for a lot of other company- I mean it helped jumpstart Earth's Best. We had a lot of cheap carrots and peas and all this stuff. To see Amy's Kitchen and all these other folks that needed frozen vegetables, we're here to help you, you know?

TEM: Was it seen for that bust period that conventional was safer?

SC: No, it's just that there wasn't the market. The market, the distribution, there was no- the UNFI wasn't there. The stores were still small natural food stores that had two freezer doors.

TEM: Okay, I see.

SC: It's not like when you walk into Whole Foods now and they've got two aisles of freezer with four door- all the way down the whole length of the store. So, the infrastructure wasn't there. The delivery system, the actual merchandizing in the store to have a real freezer that didn't break down every other week because you got it used. So, it was all this chicken and egg, chicken and egg stuff.

So, then we said we're going to sell to Japan, and we did. We switched gears, and through my Japan connections, and we started- worked with the trading companies and major retailers and private label people and offloaded a bunch of that into the Japanese market in Japanese packaging and all that too. Because they love frozen vegetables in Japan. They know that. This, we used to call it three-way blend, corn, carrots, peas that used to get on school food service. That's still a big thing in Japan. They like that, kind of the '50s American occupation or whatever, or SPAM or whatever. And it got through customs because it wasn't being fumigated.

And we worked with restaurant chains. We worked every angle we could to build that and create an alternative because the American supply demand was far below our capacity to grow, and even the minimums we needed to even get Agri-PAC or others to even give us a one-day run, which, again, was our- one day for them was a whole year of inventory for us. So, we pioneered with them. We worked with some really great growers in Willamette Valley. Ellis Hester, I don't know if his name's ever come up.

TEM: Mm-mmm.

SC: He was amazing farmer, that early adopter. And he had farmland along near Salem, along the Willamette River there, and was this can-do kind of guy. So, those who could actually farm at scale and others. So again, that was part of it too, the scaling up of organic. So not only- I mean because that's always been one of the goal- yeah, there's the farmers markets and the direct fresh market, but the goal has always been how do we instill more acreage, more farmers? And organic, here we are in 2019 and we're still less than 2% of the farmland, and 5% or 6% of food sales in dollars or something like that, all combined. So, we're still a small part of the overall food and agriculture of America. But again, that processing piece becomes part of this gateway to get our conventional farmers to come over. They know how to- they've already been processing for Agri-PAC.

Some of the best organic farmers still are actually conventional farmers who, okay, I'll convert some land over to organic. I'll just [stammers]- because it's driven not by price; by return. By business. Business decision, not by any kind of personal motivation around the movement or a better world or that. It's like it's just a good business decision. But those are the ones who- those conventional farmers who switched over to do organic at scale, they know about delivery dates to processor. They know about timing and can actually have the equipment to do large-scale fields that can be harvested all at once and that sort of thing.

TEM: What were the conversations like when you came back to the US? There was this challenge that you were just talking about of timing and audience and market, that bit. What were the conversations around certification broadly, and how-

SC: Good question.

TEM: How did you talk to conventional growers that you maybe would want to convert? How did you talk about that?

SC: In that context, there's really two conversations. There was the external conversation to conventional folks to come over and convince them to come onboard. The charm offensive and-

TEM: [Chuckles]

SC: You know, because it was hard to prove that it was going to be a good business, but that was so early. But the other big question was the internal debate of- and it's still going on today because the National Organic Standards Board just got started. Gene Kahn and people from Oregon Tilth and others rotated through there and were part of that. And the big debate internally was are we going to be about purity that excludes, or are we going to- let's create a pathway for people. We've got to scale this up and we don't want to be so pure that no one can do it. You can create all the rules and make it harder and harder and harder.

So, this tension between what should be in the standards and purity plays out even to this day from people who- or the idea of let's be pragmatic and build this and adjust as we need it. I appreciate both sides. I kind of came up through the pragmatic side of it, and so that's kind of my personal bias perhaps over time. And it's had real consequences to this day, that unresolvedness about what's allowed. Synthetics versus nat- all the nuanced detail. They're deep in the weeds of organic that very few people pay attention to, and the process of NOSB.

It's been an ongoing debate. And that still exclude- in this tension it was organic been taken over by the big boys, you know? Has it been diluted? Are they cheating? Are they corrupting organic, versus we want to make this affordable. We want more people farming this way. Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. I think that debate and tension still exists. So, there was both of those conversations going on internally, amongst the community. And then once you had these standards- and of course they weren't really fleshed out- I mean the organic law passed but it was never funded. It just- that was the learning curve. Oh, you can pass all the laws you want...

TEM: [Laughs]

SC: but if you don't have the levers of government to actually put it in the budget, it's only- And then Clinton got elected, so we had eight years of some support. It was still small but at least it broke open the ice of all those years under Bush when it was just ignored. So, it finally got a foothold and then we got Bush II, eight years that really did nothing and just became a backwater. And then when Obama came in, in 2008, 2009, that reopened the door. The NOP, the National Organic Program went from like 3 people to 30, and it went from like a $5,000 budget to a $5 million budget, $5 or $6 million to $30, $35 million budget.

You could actually do all the backlog of work to actually do the accreditation of Tilth and CCOF and all these others that- all the things that were theoretical but had never been really even enacted and put in place finally came to bear in these last eight years. And it was put that era that, by that time, I was back in the States living in Skagit Valley. Cascadian Farm, by that time, had been bought out three times by various moneyed interests or venture capitalists, and then finally by General Mills.

And a lot of us didn't make it through that stage of purchasing. We want the brand. We want a few key people. We have the salespeople. We have accountants. We have an IT department. Thank you very much, don't let the door hit you on the way out. And then, at that point I switched gears. I've always been in organic but ended up with Amy's Kitchen which is another organic food company. And not certified by Tilth, but a lot of our ingredient supply is from Tilth producers.

But because I've, as I've said, such a long interest in the policy side, In Amy's, that wasn't their strong suit, and when... There was a really important meeting in the spring of 2011 at the Natural Products West trade show, the big spring annual food show that the organic industry takes place at. And it was kind of a backdoor meeting that was called by a few key leaders, George Siemon from Organic Valley, Gary Hirshberg from Stonyfield, and a few others, Michael Funk from UNFI, basically saying we've got to get our arms around this GMO thing, that they're way out ahead of us. The train's left the station.

If we don't push back now as an industry, we're going to have GMO contamination. We have to be in the forefront of fighting this and letting what eventually became known as Consumers' Right to Know campaign (what's in their food, and the mandatory labeling of GMO ingredients). So, they called in all the top CEOs, including Amy's, and Amy's brought me along because they said Steve, you seem to be the one who understands this. So, I ended up becoming Amy's point person in that movement going forward, 2011. That included not only the national work but also then the political campaigns. Prop 37 in California that turned into Yes on 522 in Washington in 2013. 2014 was the Oregon Right to Know campaign.

So, I was in deep on all three of those, fundraising and strategy and debating and networking and politicking. And it was a real eye-opener up until it was crushed and defeated in 2016, 2017 by Pompeo and the whole what we call the DARK Act. It's super- [stammers] you know, we lost all three of those campaigns. Multi, multimillions of dollars. The most money ever spent in an Oregon political campaign of any kind was spent to defeat that in Oregon.

So, I found myself back working with Oregon Tilth and others in that community, both the non-GMO project and the companies that took a leadership stake in that, of working through all that. That whole period, that six, seven-year arc. And that's how I got back on- that's how I ended up on the board. I guess to make a long story short, we're coming down to Portland to work on that Yes on 522 campaign was when I got [stammers]- spent more time with Chris Schreiner, who's always been a good friend. I mean I met Chris when he was- in the '90s when he and Connie Karr were like interns. You know, they're just starting, right?

TEM: [Laughs]

SC: Young kids, and here they are he's the executive director and Connie's the head of certification. That was a long, lovely family of organic that makes it so wonderful, just to see where they are now and the great work they're doing. But I remember when they were early 20-somethings, just stepping into this thing. But Chris is the one who invited me onto the board.

TEM: Before we get to Oregon Tilth, I do want to hear more or have you say more about the non-GMO, no-GMO with all the numbers. [Laughs] with all the props. So, I'm curious about what the, again, kind of what those conversations were like as it relates to organic, but also maybe more broadly, sustainable farming practices. Can you talk about why it's important and how that fits together?

SC: Yeah. So...

TEM: Maybe it's like the why is it a big deal [laughs].

SC: As it turned out, maybe because we preach to the converted, we're on our own bubble that... Organic has always been non-GMO from the get-go, and as soon as that technology emerged, it was like proscribed as a non-allowed ingredient, process, seed, you name it. But organic was never really marketed- I mean it's not [stammers]- it's still poorly by laypeople. Even all of- I mean it's because it's constantly changing and evolving. But I guess we just kind of assumed that our consumers and the general public just knew that organic meant non-GMO, and it turns out they didn't.

And because of the anger against Monsanto as a movement and the huge effects that glyphosate has had on health and the environment, it evolved as an issue unto itself, and both the non-GMO project, it all started with good intentions, so even more transparency for consumers to feel safe about the food, making that informed choice. Had merit, but it turns out it also created some label confusion. Still does to this day, that it somehow is maybe even better than organic or not, whereas certified organic has always been non-GMO. We just didn't market it and position it as such.

So, it got traction and still does this day, but the thing about GMO is that it's a one-off claim. Non-GMO, you can still be using glyphosate in your farming operation, and all the other pesticides and poor practices. It's just a one-off claim that after the fact, we've tested for GMO presence, and it's been [stammers]- we've got this purity. Whereas organic certification is- early on, we decided it's not going to be a purity claim. We live in an impure world. It's a process claim, which is even harder and more nuanced to articulate, and consumers just want- I want organic to be it means no pesticides. Well... no, we live- [stammers] that's not really possible in the world.

There's still background residues. We found that out farming in Willamette Valley doing the kabocha squash, and we had so much of it we wanted to sell it to some baby food people, and it turned out some of the fields that were nearest the Willamette River had the metabolite of DDT, DDE that got concentrated in those tissues, and we couldn't sell it. And the baby people said I know it's organic, but it exceeds our threshold for allowable pesticide residues.

So, that's always been a subtle piece of the organic standard is that we're not making a- a perfectly clean organic is pesticide residue free, as much as people would like that to be. It's like it's your best way to limit your exposure to unwanted pesticides in your diet. But you're not going to eliminate that exposure whereas, with the GMO claim, which is one-off and doesn't even talk about all the other attributes, wonderful attributes of organic, it's a one-off we've tested for the GMO presence and it's not detectable. Well, not delectable's also a factor of your level of testability, and that you can even test for the thresholds of detection which get more and more parts per thousand, parts per million, parts per billion.

And we didn't want to go down that path, that organic was going to- you know, the testing comes on the farm level and soil tests and some tissue residue tests, and that could definitely be stronger and better enforced and more frequent, in my opinion. But that's been the mechanism of [stammers]- farmers are not using the things that we're saying they're not using. And the residue is kind of a backup but it's not the end-all-be-all.

Does that kind of get there a little bit?

TEM: Yeah. And it seems like it's about systems of education too, that the consumer knows what- the thinking of this is sort of a larger universe of certification and labeling are part of that consumer rights or the Right to Know. And that it's a part of the same system, but that it's a system. It's not a single thing.

SC: Right.

TEM: But it fits into this larger-

SC: And there's always been, from the get-go- in the organic community it's less, but it's moved out into the larger, just this I want to be informed. It's an informed consumer to begin with, or tries to be a little more proactive because they're paying a higher price and they're going to a different part of town to find that store that they might not normally have shopped in to get that. I mean it's very intentional, and they've had to do a lot of self-education along the way to get there.

But we look at misinformation, and there's scandals, there's occasional fraud that creates doubt, and frankly, the organic community has been one to be even our own worst enemy. You know, the circular firing squad. We're as much to blame in some of that confusion, and you get a proliferation of labels. What does Salmon-Safe mean versus Rainforest Certified and all these other things that have emerged? And they're important issues, especially around right now, the certifications on fair trade and some of that. But that's had a lot of confusion too. So, people are looking for what's real, how do I know?

And so, then you see the rise in farmers markets, so [stammers], right? But even some of the farmers markets are not. You know, I'm not certified organic. I don't really need to be. You're talking to me, and all that paperwork and all that stuff, you know, you're meeting me face-to-face, I'm telling you this is what I do. Which is all well and good, but again, for me, that is kind of standing on the shoulders of the giants that came before, who spent those God knows endless hours of debate and networking, and meetings and meetings and meetings, and consensus that- it came all the way from the '60s and '70s to create the certification to create this basis of trust.

And to carve out something that's totally unique inside USDA, there's nothing like the NOP and National Organic Standards Board where the actual community has input to self-govern and self-regulate what we define to be organic that we fully- we haven't yet fully embraced the need and the power and the importance of that. Of course, the certifiers sit critically at that table, and it is, it's arcane. It's deep in the weeds. So, consumer goes in the store, you got five seconds to get their attention and to tell your story. I mean now we have the internet. They can go online. They can learn more about you. It's one of these more layers now to try to delve more deeply and be better informed. But maybe that creates even more confusion.

TEM: Yeah, I was actually going to ask you about that. I think that this idea of self-promotion and whether it- we live in maybe a societal moment, maybe a societal change where we want to hear from the people who are producing. So, I want to follow someone on Instagram and see how they play at things and how beautiful the sun is and how gorgeous the ladybug is, but that it's coming from that person, so I'm taking those pictures and I'm certifying myself and saying look at-

SC: And you develop your relationship like I never was able to do before. Over time you can go back and revisit me. Yeah.

TEM: Yeah, but then that's a sort of- that seems, in a way, more appealing maybe than understanding standards and forms [laughs].

SC: Yeah. Well yeah, it's more accessible to more people, and...

TEM: But it seems like it could be really problematic too.

SC: ...and certainly younger people as well, but people of all ages are in. I mean we're using it. You know I've got my Instagram. There's the people I follow, that it's deeply in the food community here in the Pacific Northwest that I cherish because it's not just seeing them once a year at Organicology or the Organic Seed Alliance Gathering or at the trade shows. It's deep in my appreciation and friendships with so many of these people that are in our movement and that I've gotten to know even better through that. So, I get that part.

TEM: Well, but I think it's a fascinating thing though because then, because I can maybe communicate directly with my consumers or my allies, I'm not having this kind of- then I'm relying, and the consumers are relying, more on that direct relationship maybe than they are on journalists writing about it or certifiers producing reports on it. That there is this, in a way, that lack of mediation, for lack of a better word, is good, but it also, it seems like, could be complicated by I don't need to get certified because can't you see how beautiful my ladybug is.

SC: Right, right.

TEM: Does that make sense?

SC: Yeah!

TEM: There's a - in a way, it's not the circular firing squad maybe but it's that same... those relationships are important, but also then-

SC: It is important for us to stop [stammers]- that none of this is written in stone. I mean it's all an evolution. The standards are an evolution, the market is still growing, the potential of it is still way bigger than it's actually penetrating. The demand seems to be only getting greater, and that's part of it too. So yeah, there's the farmer market, local level, your CSA, but you're still going to the store, whether it's Fred Meyer or the co-op and everything in-between for your milk or your eggs or whatever. All this- so, these things that are way beyond yeah, they may be happy, smiling chickens on the Instagram, and then you turn around and find out oh, that's not exactly what it looks like on that farm, or that was on a good day.

And the demand is exceeding the supplies. Right now, there's a huge shortage of some of these animal feeds for the milk, for the chickens, for these products that are in high demand, so we've had a return to imports because American agriculture's not keeping up with that opportunity, for a variety reasons. A host of reasons that we still need to solve, that American agriculture's not responded to the opportunity of organic in a way that we would have hoped.

So, it's being filled by Argentina and Brazil and Ukraine. And all these opportunities for fraud in the marketplace in that chain of custody of organic certification, that comes one [stammers]- it comes back again to USDA and us and the certifiers and due diligence in that, and lack of funding and personnel to do all that needs to be done to monitor and police ourselves. Otherwise, we just lose that. So, people still want those products that we're not producing. Or the coffee.

TEM: [Coughs] this is like a theme of my winter interviews, that I always have to open my cough drop.

SC: So yeah, so it's a double-edged sword. There's opportunity and there's the misinformation, but there's even more pressure on the community to do better at certification and help educate people what it means. And we've definitely been in this struggle with products that are non-GMO certified, but that's it, and have a consumer perception of being better than organic. That's a real problem, and that's something that we didn't fully anticipate or realize until how- duh, how could we have missed that? So, we're kind of scrambling here after the fact to reconfirm the value of organic and the needs of it, and it's just a host of issues and problems.

I think that's one piece I'm so happy about during my time on the board. Certification and the business model around certification is the driver, and very few nonprofits have that luxury of having that stable income source to fund the other things that we do. But the education piece that's now part of it and the fact that we've been able to go bilingual and work in Mexico and create a Spanish language - I can speak to that a little bit later - but just personally, those are some of the things I'm most proud of during the board tenure to really support and build upon and expand those aspects of what Tilth can be and is, and the respect with [stammers] it's regarded in the organic community as a nonprofit, but also doing a lot more beyond just certifying.

TEM: So, you started on the board in 2014, is that right?

SC: I believe so because I was coming down to Portland for these meetings around Right to Know. Chris, he worked me for a while because I was basically doing two jobs. I was doing my sales job at Amy's and the policy job. It wasn't like- it was both, and just a busy, busy time. And I have health issues too, you know, my bandwidth. But he and Lynn Youngbar came to me and we had a really good discussion, conversation. I was like yeah, I'm in it. I mean, I love this organization. And it couldn't have been at a worse time.

It was like I've been on other boards and other things in transition when things aren't going well, and it was at a critical juncture. There had been this bitter internal fight over that merger with- or possible merger with CCOF, which I still don't know all about that. I kind of came in in the aftermath and the bitterness and the division after that. And board members were leaving, and some had stepped away and others just had had enough. And it was just a handful of us. Susan Schechter and myself, Lynn Youngbar. I'm probably leaving somebody out, but we were down to a skeleton crew on the board. And how do you recruit? I mean how do you turn it around? How do you attract someone into a mess? People wanted to-

TEM: [Laughs]

SC: Yeah, you know. That needs fixing. It isn't just going to be a walk in the park. You have to roll up your sleeves, and there's some real work to do to help get things back on track. But because of my long history and association, I felt even more committed to double down and do that and get to spend more time in Oregon and give back.

TEM: How did you do that? What did you want people to know? What was it that you- attracted you I guess at that time to the board?

SC: Hmm. Well, I think part of it was out of a personal commitment to Chris because we were together at NOSB meetings, and by that time, that GMO war, I got to know him better and be- we were always friendly and always positive. But I guess that deeper level of yeah, I get what you're asking. And it just inspired my- well, I was honored and flattered to be invited. I think a lot of my life I've kind of felt I'm kind of a soldier. Not the leader, not- I'm not the entrepreneur. I'm the good follower, hard worker. But you know I've always been behind the scenes or... you know, I'm not on the front pages. I'm just diligent and committed and passionate. So, it seemed a way to express that.

And to Amy's credit, they allowed me time for that. The board would pay for my travel, but they saw some value in it and allowed me to break out the time from my other work. That was honored for that as well, so I felt really supported in that piece as well. [Stammers] my job had my back. My company had my back and I found it enjoyable. I mean even as hard as it was, helping turn things around and trying to understand what's going on and just to be kind of a steady, positive presence.

And then working with Lynn was great, Lynn Youngbar. I admired her steadfastness to see this through. And then we started attracting some good people to come in, and I was able to bring in some people that I know from the industry like Kellee from Mercaris and Bill Tracy, the people who are on the board now who I deeply respect. When we asked them to come on, they said- I felt very pleased that they- and you know, we laid our cards on the table. We let them know it wasn't like a walk in the park, but they stepped up and they saw the value too.

And Oregon Tilth punches above its weight in the world. When you go to IFOAM in Germany and all these- the world organic movement knows who Oregon Tilth is, and it's an important piece. A very important certifier. Their credibility and their good work. So, I was going to be- I'll be damned if I was going to let it dissipate or fall apart or, you know. I don't have any opinion whether that merger was a good idea or not idea, and all the personalities involved, but I certainly picked up on the division and the bitterness and the anger and the frustrations that, to a certain degree, are still being worked through perhaps. But less so now, now that we're in these new chapters. It's kind of been able to close the book on some of it and just move on and be better.

TEM: What about attracting the next generation? Was that part of those conversations of- at those points of transition, it can be a time to reach out to maybe the younger-

SC: Yes. Yeah.

TEM: Was that part of the-

SC: You mean the board divers- on the board? Is that what you're saying?

TEM: Mmm-hmm, yeah.

SC: Absolutely. That conversation around women, people of color, younger. A person, Roger Kubalek, I brought in. He was a former colleague from Amy's and he moved onto... brilliant young man in his 30s, well experienced in agriculture. You know, when we were like... searching, who can we bring in? We need to have six, seven, eight people, nine people on the board. We're down to four. I beat the bushes. I kind of cashed in some of my personal credibility over the years to bring in people that I would hope would say yes, and they did. So, that was gratifying.

And I don't want to take credit for it personally, but just that we needed good people, and we were able to find them to help get the team back together that could do all the work that the board needed and get us through strategic planning, and a lot of the issues of growth and the price of direction and support for Chris, and that leadership there and more hires, and the right hires. And the decision to go into Mexico was a big one. So, to have the right minds and people around the table- so part of [stammers]- and I think we're still looking to increase that diversity, but also, we had some experienced people. People who'd been on boards before. People who... So, we built a really good team that's here to this day. And so, it allowed me to step away.

Actually, I had to step down because, well, one, it was time. And my capacity and bandwidth was less. But the opportunity to work with who I'm working with now, Viva Farms, which is a small nonprofit new organic farm incubator, is certified by Oregon Tilth. So, it was the classic conflict of interest. You can't be with an organization that is certified by that certifier and then be on the board. That's the classic, you know... can't do that. So, that became part of the ability to pull away, though I miss it.

And one reason why Viva Farms chose Tilth was several. One, we're a bilingual program, so a considerable number of our farmer families in transition from farm worker to farm owner in organic that don't have access to the land and infrastructure and all the stuff that we produce are Spanish and Mixtecal [sic] speakers. And the fact that Oregon Tilth had already pion- for different reasons entirely is bilingual, and I have certification in Spanish, and it's based in Mexico, we know we have Latino farmers who can- now learning how to do their own certification. You can call and speak with someone in their native language to get certified here in Washington state, even though it wasn't designed for that.

And the other part, that model of having like 24 entities under one umbrella is much more similar to the agriculture in Guatemala and Mexico where a certifier is certifying many small farmers in a village that are under some co-op umbrella. That structure model is much more similar to what we are than what the normal young farmer or huge, industrial farmer goes in to get certified. So, the complexity of that, Tilth has experience in.

TEM: The complexity of certifying a group of growers rather than-

SC: Sharing land and infrastructure, but they're separate entities. And yeah, that's more like the coffee farmers in the highlands of Guatemala than somebody in the Willamette Valley, that particular. So, it just fit Viva's model much better than the Washington State Department of Agriculture program.

TEM: So, I have three questions and I'll let you choose which one you want to start with [laughs]. Three things I want to know about. One is I do- hearing more about what you were saying with the Oregon Tilth certification in Spanish and in Mexico. I also want to hear more about Viva Farms. Vida?

SC: Viva.

TEM: Viva, with a V.

SC: Yeah, yeah. You're right.

TEM: And I want to hear more about this transition or supporting the transition from farm laborer to farm owner, because that's very fascinating. So, pick which one you want to start with. I'll hold all three of them in my head. Maybe. [laughs]

SC: Yeah, and I'll forget things. I'll [stammers] to start the who Viva Farms is and what they do. So again, that Obama election was a real turning point in USDA and for the organic movement and just freeing up bureaucracy and money and commitment to a sustainable agriculture that didn't exist before. So, our local food hub started back then. Viva Farms started back then. They got the early, early seed money for a lot of things that are going strong right now along the local food movement Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food. That whole impetus when organic people actually got a seat at the table at very high levels in USDA was a gamechanger.

So, Viva comes out of that and was the inspiration of a young couple who started it who were bilingual, and it had... I don't know if it was a Guggenheim Fellowship or a... is it that... that the senator from Arkansas, Fulbright. They had a Fulbright to study agriculture in South/Latin America. And so, they brought that back to Skagit County under the umbrella of Washington State University, WSU, with this proposal. And our local county Extension said yes, we'll help house that. So, that was the genesis. It started very small and there's still one or two farmers who are from that period who are still with us, those Latino. So, it's been a mixture of older retired people, Latino farm workers, young millennials, single people, gay and lesbian.

You name it, there's a lot of different communities that we're providing this pathway to figure out if this is even something you want to do. So, we have wintertime and evening classes and then we have what's called a practicum, which is like the first year where you're actually given a- working with a group on a piece of land that's shared. And from that, you move on to a smaller piece. We're up to 90 acres now. We started out with a much smaller piece of land, but we just purchased 40 acres in an old farm across the road, an old dairy farm that we've converted two years ago. So, actually people who have been with the program for quite a while are farming at scale 5, 6, 11-acre blocks that are in production, and they got their own business.

And our big challenge is helping them now move off the incubator and to get their own land. A lot of that for the young people, it's like they have the sophistication; they don't have the collateral or the financial piece to get funded, to get onto their ag in the middle 40, 20-acre, 40-acre plot that we want them to be able to do. So, they're telling us the Latino families, there's all the cultural barriers, the language, immigration status, just how to navigate a white man's world of banking and finance. So, we help with all of that, about recordkeeping and business model and all those pieces that you need.

And we have had some success of people moving on and buying their own land, but not nearly to the extent that we need. So, those structural, cultural impediments, financial, remain real. So, one of the big thing- and we have shared irrigation. We have a shared GAP-certified wash station that everybody uses. We have two coolers now for get [stammers]- get stuff off the farm and into the cooler and cleaned and ready to go into the supply chain. We have a sales component. They also develop their own business and sales direct, and some are- so we give them multichannels for income.

Viva can help sell some of it. They sell direct. Some are doing farmers markets and have their own CSA or a combination of all of those. And there's the food hub that's now- that they sell into that helps distribute stuff. So, those different pieces are still coming together. I mean, we're like 10 years in. And Farm-to-School is a component. I work on that piece a great deal. Is there a viability for these local foods to make their way into school food service? So, that remains a challenge too, but I'm on the forefront of that and I'm doing fundraising. And also, with our CSA, we're in the middle of a FINI grant, Food Insecurity and Nutrition, to help fund our CSA with SNAP EBT card.

So, it's been around for a while for farmers markets, to use your SNAP benefits for the farmers market, but we're just pioneering it in a CSA setting, which has its own set of challenges. But we're two years into that. That's the accessibility equity piece we're part of. And then, everything we do is bilingual. All the classes we do, the evenings, the farmer meetings. We have people with earphones translating both ways.

TEM: How do you scale that? I think a lot about scalability when it comes generally about organic agriculture.

SC: Well, that's our challenge. That's a big-

TEM: And then it seems like what a wonderful pathway for success and for, again, that more diverse - in all of the ways - more diverse body of farmers. But then, how do you- but that takes money. It's the-

SC: Right. And we're so- granted, but we do have an income stream from some of the sales, but not- [stammers]. Farmers do pay a sliding scale to lease from us, and it starts out like at zero, or token amount. And by the time- but part of their business model is like if you're going to have to lease organic land, you need to be paying- build that into your cost structure and your business plan of what it costs to lease certified organic land. So, the people over time end up paying full market rate for what it would cost to lease organic farmland in the Skagit Valley, but that's over time so that they can learn from that and adjust to that.

But yeah, you're exactly- It's like we're what I'm doing when I'm not here talking to you, is like how do we diversity from our USDA grant dependents and begin reaching out to either foundations or wealthy individuals or the other means to fund ourselves so that we're, one, less dependent on the vagaries of USDA grants, and two, we're successful? You know we've got a great team. We've got young people [stammers], but a lot of things, a lot of places don't want to fund your infrastructure or keeping good people onboard, or the capacity building piece.

They want the shiny object of well, what are you doing new and different this year that wasn't in your other grant? That you're always proving something, that you're pushing some boundary or something that's new and different whereas we're 10 years in, we know what works and what's not. But we need that capacity building. We need more land. We need to be able to pay and retain employees. We need [stammers] compensate our farmers when Whole Foods want them to come to the store and talk to consumers. Well, that's an opportunity cost for them away from being on the farm having to - they're already shorthanded - to go be at your store. What are the mechanisms for doing all of that? So, we're- a lot of our class is outside on a picnic table. We don't even have a classroom. We're still building the more important infrastructure pieces. So, it's a real challenge. It's a real challenge right now.

TEM: Are there other similar organizations, businesses in the Northwest?

SC: There's ALBA in California. There's our friends up in Bellingham in Whatcom County that... Cloud Mountain Farm have an internship program. But not much, none on same the scale as Viva, and bilingual and the track record. You know there's other things going back in the Midwest and in New England. In fact, we were just invited to speak at, last week in Minnesota, the Farm Viability Conference, which is all about around these issues of next generation of farmers and access to farmland and funding, and all that thing.

We're not the only ones trying to get out of the box and break out and get to this next level so we can really do more long-term planning around our sustainability and crop rotation and moving, getting the mechanism to get the people beyond their incubator and onto their own farm so the next folks can come through behind them. We're not alone in that, but doesn't seem like very many others have been able to crack the nut either.

TEM: How do you see the link to the Farm-to-School and thinking more broadly about food insecurity? What are the conversations within Viva and then within the sort of communities that you would talk to in Farm-to-School around education, but also food security and-

SC: Well, that's been- I spent the last year and a half kind of going from the for-profit world into the nonprofit. But I'm in the community where my kids went to school and where I've been very active on food issues or on the PTA. So, I know the people and I know my area, and that's - I guess at this point in my life I feel... and plus the experience of being in D.C. or whatever, bring some of those skills back home to my own backyard of just going in and talking to people and, you know, hi, here I am. This is what I'm doing. And you know me because our kids were on the soccer team together, even though you're the county commissioner, or you're the head of food service.

I have some equity or some- in my own community, to leverage that. But it's been an eye-opener to be on the front lines. And I mean how criminal it is, of how little money they have to work with on a school food budget. It's like under $2 per student, per day, and that includes labor to make the food. And then you're asking people to do more labor to cut up vegetables and all this ex- it's like they're stretched so thin to do what they're doing. But if the will is there, it's all about the leadership or the person who's got the passion. We could make this happen. And those that don't, who don't, are like don't dis- I don't want to rock the boat. I'm getting my USDA stuff. I'm getting this free and whatever, you know. Don't bother me.

It's everything in-between from amazing people who are doing contracting directly with farmers and buying three cows and having them in the freezer and using them all year long to people of like oh yeah, I'm using local. We got Washington cheese in our grilled cheese sandwich. I mean there's- you know, that you got for free from-

TEM: Yeah.

SC: So, it's like everything in-between. But we're 10 or 15 years in, so we've had some major breakthroughs with one of the biggest school districts in our area in Bellingham, and this is after 10 years of effort to get there. Education, and we got- they floated a bond, a loan, and got the backing of the community and the school board and the superintendent and the politicians to commit to build a scratch kitchen. It just opened up this fall.

It's been revolutionary to actually take local fresh produce, and we've been supplying them all summer. They put up tomatoes to make tomato sauce for their- all year long. And then we're selling them- we just did an in-cafeteria demo with broccoli and cauliflower from one of our Viva farmers on Monday because it was on the menu, and here's the- so, some people who get it, and the lightbulb goes off and they get the funding and the okay, the go-ahead to like yeah, we're willing to- because this [stammers] it's been determined it's important to the community, and if I want to be re-elected to the school board or keep my job or whatever, the factors are there. I mean, they got a $16 million bond to build this thing and now it's- we're just in the first phases of implementing it. So, that's at one end.

My first year back was kind of like I'm not going to- I guess I'm older and more patient about what it takes to change the world, and I'd rather right now, as I reintroduce myself to what's going on and who's doing what, go with the flow. I'm going to go with the early adopters and the people and allies and no holdback. Who's to stop us? And those that are not onboard, we either embarrass them into doing the right thing-

TEM: [Laughs]

SC: or they'll come along eventually out of pure pressure, or, well, La Conner and Concrete are the smallest, poorest districts. Why are they doing Farm-to-School and our biggest, richest one, you're not? You're still serving schlock. So, we're kind of at that phase of bringing the other ones onboard from the other's local leaders who are already taking it and run with it.

And also, with Viva Farms, we had good funding for three years. We had a Beginning Farmer Rancher grant that had a Farm-to-School component into it that, up until July, paid for my position. So, we're scrambling to even pay for the Farm-to-School work right now. That grant's over. But it allowed us to work with [stammers]- you know, the three pillars: the school food service, the school gardens, and then the curriculum piece. So, I got to immerse myself in the issues around that, the who's doing what, ways to go forward, and so I'm taking that and trying to go to the next level with the food service folks.

Viva provides Taste of Washington Day or Harvest of the Month items for school districts, and we're trying to get more stuff in. We did a whole thing around grain. You were referring to it earlier, of you think you saw maybe the reference to the Cascadia Grains Conference. So, we have this huge opportunity in Skagit because we have the Bread Lab and Steve Jones and this local conversion in our crop rotation now that didn't exist 10 years ago because the Bread Lab showed up 10 years ago, with Steve Jones, to create these West-of-Cascade wheats and barleys that our farm- even conventional or otherwise, have adopted. Because it's great for the crop rotation.

And now, the high-end brewers and distillers and artisan bakers want it, so it's not just animal feed. It's like I can get a prem- I can grow that in a crop rotation and actually get rewarded for it. So, that's been a huge opportunity that I've perceived and got inspired by. It's also doing grain in the garden. I've got 15 schools right now, or more, where we grew up winter bar- we just planted winter barley and winter wheat that came from Oregon State and Bread Lab and saved your own seed that Viva grew, whatever, that they have this little grain piece in the garden, which I think has huge implications for curriculum. And I want to work on that piece more, but- and tying in with STEM. STEAM, if you add Arts in there.

TEM: [Laughs]

SC: STEAM, I like the A in there, or H for humanities. SHTEAM?

TEM: SHTEAM [inaudible], yeah.

SC: SHTEAM because there's a history and humanities piece to this too, and social studies with these grains that we can do a whole- and as well as the science of baking and fermentation and seed saving and all of that stuff that we can bring into the school garden. So, I'm excited about all of those pillars, that we can feed kids well, introduce them to new things. We can reinforce that in the school garden where they're actually harvesting it themselves and taking it in and stir-fry that garlic and kale and Swiss chard. And it's delicious and they want seconds because they planted it, and they harvested it and they washed it and they cooked it themselves and took the recipe home to share with Mom.

So, we have some great young people doing some great works that have been funded from various other things to- we don't have... We have AmeriCorps. We don't have FoodCorps. That's in Portland.

TEM: Yeah.

SC: You know, there's only like five or six states that got FoodCorps. Oregon did; we didn't. But we're taking AmeriCorps students and turning them into FoodCorps people in the schools and school gardens. Not Viva. There's another group that's doing that. So, just finding- I'm a yenta. I like connecting the dots and getting people, you know, well, you should know that. So, 25, 30 years in, well, you should know such-and-such or let's work to- How do we not reinvent the wheel here? There's other people doing good work and you're doing this and we're doing that. Where's the synergy? Where do we [stammers]- how we help each other take it to the next level, is kind of where I'm at.

And we have that opportunity right now because we're 10, 15 years in on all of these fronts, young organic farmers who want to- who think Farm-to-School [stammers]- It's never going to be a money-maker. I mean schools don't- but it's more out of commitment and passion that that food should be accessible to our kids. Some kids are having not two, sometimes three meals a day at school. Breakfast and lunch, and sometimes after school. That's their only- and if you think about five days a week through the summer, access to that healthy food, and not just health; just fresh. I mean [inaudible] even if it's not organic at this point. I'm not even being a purest about that. Let's just have a real carrot, you know.

TEM: Well, and things that taste different. I think that's the-

SC: Yeah, and exposure.

TEM: That even let me convince you just to taste a Brussel sprout.

SC: Right, right.

TEM: [Laughs] I love Brussel sprouts. Shout out to Brussel sprouts [laughs].

SC: Yeah, I've come around.

TEM: [Laughs]

SC: I grew up in the era of the boiled Brussel sprouts as opposed to roasted with balsamic vinegar and Dijon mustard. Oh, okay, you can do that? Oh, you can put bacon on that? Okay, I didn't realize.

TEM: People ruined a lot of vegetables for a lot of people [laughs].

SC: Yeah. And I'm also challenged and inspired by - and I think this is movement-wide, far from me alone - so I've been at this since the '70s. I'm in my 60s. I'm checking the clock. I know what... you know, that it's an opportunity to give back, that kind of come-full-circle that feels good. And to get- we kind of skipped a few generations of people really interested in agriculture and food. And all the sudden the generation we have now who are in their early 30s, 20s, these teens are going to turn the world around from climate change.

It's fun to work with. It's inspiring and uplifting to work with them. Gives me hope, you know, in my jaded age of like... And my kids come to me like great world you're leaving us, Dad. Thanks. You know, and they show me the speeded-up animation of Antarctica breaking up and I'm like gosh, I've been at this since I was- since 1970; since I was in middle school, like we're going to make this a better world. We're going to improve the environment. We're going to eat good food, and all. And this is where we are? We've only made it this far? It can be discouraging, and still is for all of us, right? We all have that kind of despair, like gosh, what a mess the Industrial Revolution has been.

But being in schools, watching these kids, like I said, stir-fry the garlic and kale with soy sauce on it and come back for thirds, it was just like yeah, this feels good. I'm not trying to- you know, as opposed to trying to get products into Whole Foods and how many cases did you sell this month, and the whole business side of it. It got to be- wore me down. We went from organic food movement to the organic industry. You know? And I've been a businessman in the organic industry. That's how I was able to buy a house and have health insurance and all that stuff. It wasn't necessarily my passion. I'm not a businessperson. I'm not a sales guy, but I ended up being one.

So, always the movement part is what motivated my spirit, and the practically of, well, I worked for Cascadian Farm and I worked for Amy's Kitchen, but it's always been the movement and the people in the farming ag side of how do we change the world is what got me up every day and made me feel proud about what I was doing. So again, when Oregon Tilth asked, come on, it was like yeah, I'll do that. I get it because you helped me. I wouldn't be where I am today if it wasn't for the people who came before me, the Lynn Coodys and the Harry MacCormacks and Yvonne Frosts who built that, that made my work possible.

TEM: So, we have farm- what was it called? They were called Tasting Tables, when my daughter was in elementary school, and so I was always in charge of- I was the lead for Tasting Tables. And I'll never forget this kid hollering across the cafeteria, "I need more kale!”

SC: [Laughs]

TEM: So excited, loved the kale, and I was like- it was just the moment of what a wonderful thing, that these kids have this opportunity for the [inaudible] to learn that you can do stuff with kale. But it's a thing that they start to trust you then, and then the next year when you're there and you're trying to get them to try something that they're- you know, they would take a no-thank-you bite [laughs].

SC: And how far we've come. When I was that age, in that school, and what we had was kale out of a can, like spinach came out of a can, that was just opened and boiled. So, everything-

TEM: That was like leaps and bounds [laughs].

SC: By leaps and bounds, and two steps forward, a step backwards. But we're at- so, I remain positive. I remain optimistic despite the evidence [both laugh].

TEM: Does feel like a challenge sometimes.

SC: Yeah. And again, seeing these Latino families at Viva Farms, back to that, I don't know if I answered all your questions around that. So, here we have people who arrived in Skagit Valley as immigrant labor, and this is over the Postwar Era. You know, 50s and 60s and 70s. But the pattern was you showed up for the migrant labor season, they worked their way up from California, Oregon, up here for strawberries, blueberries, pickles, harvest, and then things ended up in fall and then they went back to Mexico and came back in March. Well, over time, people stayed, put down roots. Now we're in the second and third generation Latino families.

And many of them aren't in agriculture anymore, but some of them are still in that segue from farm worker to farm owner. It's been really gratifying to see their success. I appreciate their challenges. I appreciate how much we have to learn from them, from their indigenous knowledge. I mean they're not waiting for OSU and WSU professors to tell them what's the right bean variety. This is the one we have in Oaxaca. This is the one that my cousin's growing in Yakima. It's done really well. I'm going to grow it over here.

You know, they just do it. Hard workers, salt of the Earth, whole families working. So, instead of doing piece rate picking strawberries for a local farmer, they're growing organic- certified organic strawberries and selling them for $25 a half-flat at the farmers market and getting that money directly. That's been really interesting to see and to support. And there's so much more we could be doing. A little more land, little more capacity building. Like I said, that's really the phase we're in right now, at Viva.

Once or twice a year, the Oregon Tilth education folks come through, either about a certification workshop or other things. So, we see them come through and we participate in our teaching education program. And then, of course, there's the certifications. So, for a lot of our folks in the beginning, we were the intermediary. Viva was the certifier interface. But part of being an organic farmer, if you're into this, you're recordkeeping and you're- all of that paperwork side and all that stuff, your budgets and your receipts and all of that stuff documenting your practices, we have to educate them. And we're an organic farming incubator, not just an ag incubator, so, eventually, you're going to have to do this.

So, to see them get up to speed and where they're actually doing their own scenario, Latin farmers and others, younger ones, doing their own certifications. So, Viva Farms is both a handler and a farmer, but we're a handler because we have the GAP wash station that everyone's using, and helping sell to OGC and others. But they're stepping up and learning how to do their own certification with Tilth inspectors coming through because that's part of the learning curve too, isn't it?

TEM: Filling out the paperwork.

SC: Filling out the- you know, like it or not. And if you can do it in Spanish or you can go to the web and get those resources in your native language, how much more accessible is that?

TEM: Mm-hmm. Well, and I've heard too that-

SC: Which was created for an entirely different meaning. It was because of the import of organic vegetables, and processing and fruits in Mexico is such a driver for year-round supply chain. That's the reason why that exists. That's what pays for that, is the certification in those big agriculture centers of Mexico. And yet, the corollary of it has been actually it helped us a lot too, didn't it? So, I've just always been intrigued by that little piece that developed for an entirely different reason that has an application in my own backyard now.

TEM: Which makes sense. I mean I think it's- yeah, it makes sense that... But having the setup to facilitate that means that the people could take advantage of- that there's a structure within which for them to-

SC: Yeah, that they even know that exists.

TEM: -learn the other stuff too. The- kind of support that learning practice.

SC: Yeah.

TEM: What did you think that I was going to ask you about [laughs]?

SC: Um, I had no idea.

TEM: [Laughs]

SC: Because I wasn't sure. You're so well researched. You're so much more prepared. I thought it was going to be kind of rambling. I anticipated what I wanted to talk about, was I know [stammers] that Japan period, that earlier period that I- things I experienced firsthand. And then this latter piece of being on the board and helping try to turn things around and get us back on track to be a really... successful organization that we are, and that our infrastructure mirrors that level of success that we have on the outside world with the people and structures. You know, that we have that sustainability [taps on table] within. So, that's kind of what I came prepared to talk about, but I had no idea, you know...

TEM: [Laughs]

SC: ...that you knew I grew up in Pennsylvania. And I'm not sure, was that on my LinkedIn, or-

TEM: [inaudible] was on LinkedIn.

SC: -my resume or something? Or I don't know what-

TEM: I think that was LinkedIn.

SC: Someone passed around [inaudible]?

TEM: LinkedIn is like the- speaking of the secondary, people have LinkedIn for their own personal business, I guess, related, employment related reasons. But for oral history people, oral historians love LinkedIn [laughs]. People put all sorts of things with dates. That's-

SC: Yeah. And I guess the- in closure, too, to emphasize why I came back, this is my tribe. These are my people. The Lynn Coodys and the David Livelys and Chris Schreiners and Connies of the world, and people at Organic Seed Alliance, and all the businesses and retailers that have come up. You know, we're all involved in something larger than our self that feels good, that's doing good. At least it feels that way. And providing good food. The mother in me wants to- always people to eat well and enjoy my table, and the sharing, and people have enough, and is there enough. All those things that I kind of grew up with and the concerns, the neuroses of my family on both sides that grew up through the Great Depression and... not starvation, but food hunger was real. If you didn't grow it, we didn't have it.

So, putting food by and having food and having your own garden. That's kind of in my DNA. But it became a life path at someplace, you know, that- and to the extent that that happened with, you know, my whole life, from One-Straw Revolution to Japan back to the Pacific Northwest, it's all kind of a continuous thread that I see the logic of, the thread through. And here I'm still at it.

TEM: Well, thank you. Thank you for taking time to talk with me.

SC: I really enjoyed- I was looking forward- and I got postponed a few times, but thank you.

TEM: Yeah, we did it [laughs].

SC: I was really looking forward to it. And again, appreciate the chance to, and honored to be included in it, really. Truly.

TEM: Yeah. Thank you.

[Tape ends]