There is not a day that goes by that I am not filled with gratitude. When I received this letter from Theresa Marquez from Organic Valley Coop, my cup runneth over.
(Open Letter to Mrs. Green)
Theresa Marquez, Mission Exec.
Organic Valley Coop
So, a debate we still keep hearing is that Walmart is the boogie man and Whole Foods Market (WFM) is not far behind. How is one to be politically correct? CROPP Cooperative sells in 50 states and I have had and still have the privilege to get acquainted with many retailers in the U.S. My background is also 15 years in retail (schlepping groceries) before I worked for CROPP/OV, so you might say I have hands-on insights. Regarding opinions on who is the most politically correct retailer, I like the saying, “Shop and let shop.”
Those who have choices of where to shop are really lucky. For me, I live in rural America. A CSA is great if there is one close by, you can afford it, and have the time and inclination to cook. I am an avid gardener and cook and love to shop at the farmers’ market when I can get there—it is 50 miles roundtrip for me. My next choice is the co-op if you are lucky to have a good one in your community. Some people only have a Walmart to shop at and one might say they are lucky, too given that there are communities where the nearest real food store is a 100-mile roundtrip. We sell to some of the Midwest Walmarts and get letters now and then from moms thanking us as that is the only place they can get organic milk. So the bottom line? No retailer is perfect. In fact, as humans aren’t we all somewhat flawed? We all have blind spots, too. Even cooperatives have lots of their own problems.
I really admire WFM. They announced that they will require GMO labeling in all of their stores by some date five years from now. That is a huge deal! Because they are big, they can make an impact on GMO labeling and did so. As you know, I am passionate that we must accelerate change for the good in food and agriculture, and that today we are experiencing a kind of renaissance in food. But how can we change if we ignore the mass market? That is where most of the food is sold including organic.
Perhaps it is not where we shop but how we shop and what we shop for, and how willing we are to confront our retailers with the issues we want them to address and the products we want them to carry. If enough of us shop at conventional stores and keep leaving suggestions of what we want them to carry, that we want them to identify farmers, etc., we can make a difference. Retailers want to sell food and they will carry the food their customers want. And WFM along with the Retail Cooperatives are excellent models and places to experience this renaissance of food. And they are not the only ones.
The question I find myself asking more and more is: How do we build bridges between conventional food and ag? We need all the stakeholders involved if we are going to accelerate the change we need for our children’s health and future.
There are plenty of table-pounding food activists who are quite adamant that this is right and this is wrong, and this is a good product and that is a bad one, and this is a good store and that is a bad one and so forth. I say, beware the judgmental, vocal minority and those with rigid attitude.
Frankly, some of the most harm done to the organic industry has been done by our own watch dogs. Their attitudes and actions promote elitism. I think they have a role, and I am probably even one of them at times, but the difficult path is somewhere between feeling strongly about what we know and believing while being willing to have a dialogue with those who have different beliefs, (but are willing to dialogue). There are those who we will never reach (certain older male politicians), so don’t bother.
As my friend Diamond Dave likes to say, “Cast a wide net, find the common thread and don’t panic. Keep it organic.” Remember, the earth is always at the end of our fork.
Note from Mrs. Green: Theresa Marquez was a guest on my show in March. Here is a link to the podcast so you can hear her passion, wisdom and strong connection to the Mother Earth. http://mgwwebhost.wpengine.com/2013/03/25/organic-valley-1814-farmers-strong-2/