Bob Scowcroft: “Tales from 25 Years in the Organic Movement” | Authors at Google

>>Male Presenter: What does organic mean anymore?
Tales from the front lines of the movement and just to give you a little bit of background
on who Bob Scowcroft is is basically he’s an activist. He first joined the environmental
movement to work on the Alaskan Native Claims Settlement Act in the early 1970s and later
became a national organizer on pesticide issues for the Friends of the Earth. As organizer
for the FOE, he set up table at the Natural Food’s Agent Orange because of the drift of
that herbicide on nearby farms. And basically from there, um, Barney Brickman and 2 other
organizers from the California certified organic farmers came and paid him a visit to his table
and introduced Scowcroft to the organi, organic farming movement and since then he became
the first professional environmentalist to attend and present at the ecological farming
conference. Then held at a muddy church camp in the Santa Cruz Mountains.>>Presenter 2: Hi everyone, I’m Liv and I’m
a chef. And I’m just delighted to have my friend Bob here. I met him at the EcoFarmConference.
So, 15 years after I interviewed him as a reporter when I was in Chicago, so thank you
for coming.>>Bob Scowcroft: You’re welcome.>>Presenter 2: Bob is quite a story teller
and raconteur so I’m, we’re just gonna be pretend it’s not summer and it’s winter. We’ve
got our feet pulled up to the fire and I’m just gonna ask a few questions and I think
he’ll just go. So, that was a long time ago.>>Bob Scowcroft: Yes, that video was shot
it 1989. He noted that organic was about 1 percent of the food economy. We are 23 years
later and thousands of articles and reporters and chefs, organic’s now 4 percent of the
economy. When I joined CCOF I was the first full time employee and director, there were
178 farmers in the program. When I left there were 780 farmers in the program. During the
5 years that I was at CCOF, actually I’m just gonna step back and say, to give you a sense
of the history of organic, it started to be written about in the 20s and 30s, both in
Japan and in the UK. Rodale really brought it to the US in 1947, first publication of
Organic Gardening. But, Mokichi Okada in Japan and Sir Albert Howard and Lady Balfour, Lady
Balfour is the key, you know, royalty is what it is; she was interested about the soils
so she started a soil association in the 20s over there in the UK. So this, to this day
we hear that it’s a fad. Well, we’re getting on almost 100 years, 80-90 years; I think
the fad part a really mute point now. But the first regulation was written in Oregon
in 1974. The first law, actual law, was in California in 1978; it was a 2 page law and
Ag so disliked the word organic that the only way they could get it passed was to make into
the health and nutrition program. I’m not sure if you knew that. And California health
and safety code was where the first organic food act was parked and it had no enforcement,
it was 2 pages long but it did define the simplistic no synthetic devotion to natural
crop rotation; the very basics of what organic had started out. So by ’89 with Alar, which
was, to this day they call it the Alar scare. I very strongly point out it was not a scare,
it was carcinogenic and it was taken off the market 6 months after CBS’ 60 Minutes did
the story on it. But it took Meryl Streep to bring attention to it. Environmentalists
had been working on it for a decade but it was Meryl Streep in the, on a couple of TV
talk shows, the power of talk shows, that brought it to attention. So, CCOF rewrote
the California law for enforcement and then a year later, thanks to Senator Leahy, 7 people
got together and said we’ve written the California law, we have friends in Oregon, we have friends
in New England, a couple in Ohio, let’s write a national law. Little did we know what we
were getting into. But, for the power of individual and the power of very small group, I think
this is a particularly critical story to tell. That to this day, 7 to 10 people dedicated
and with a vision can get together and can make global change. Never forget that. It’s
happened here. It happens in a lot of places.>>Presenter 2: So that was 1 percent of the
market. We’re now at 4 percent?>>Bob Scowcroft: Little over 4, 4.2, 4.3>>Presenter 2: So I’m gonna ask the question
from the other side. Why so slow? Why so, what’s, what have been the impediments?>>Bob Scowcroft: Um, uh, absolute to this
day, resistance from the agro industrial food system and it’s an integrated system, crop
insurance; you can’t get organic crop insurance to organic research; you can’t get that to
scale. Now there’s 4 supermarkets and 3 box stores that represent something like 70, 7
buyers in United States purchase between 70 and 80 percent of all our food. 7 buyers.>>male #1: All food or organic?>>Bob Scowcroft: All food total comes through
7 buyers. Now, it’s like, in California there are 2,200 organic farms, 2 of them, and I
said earlier in a meeting I’m gonna try not to use brand names, but 2 of them gross a
billion dollars. And they sell into those 7. So economies of scale, very difficult for
organic to integrate into, um, research, organic pest management. The system of Ag research
is really product based. Actually, there was a law, this is a kind of funny, well, depends
on your Ag sense of humor, Birch Bayh and Bob Dole wrote a law in the 80s called the”
Bayh Dole Act” [Laughter]
>>Bob Scowcroft: It’s not, everyone’s gonna have pineapples but the “Bayh Dole Act” reformatted
the entire research system to be product based. That you could be a company and give money
into an Ag research program and dedicate a research question you have and you could profit,
i.e. patent, off that product that came out with academia. So, organic is information
based. You can’t really patent information. You can’t, it’s public domain activity. So,
finding out when to release the ladybugs or when to apply, when to harvest a cover crop,
which cover crop works with which soil? That was a historic Ag research program from our
land grant system, from the late 1890s to the 1940s, that’s what land grants did. And
then in, after the agricultural chemicals became very popular in the ’70s, by the ’80s
the system, we wanted to cut funding for Government waste and to Ag, we were wasting Government
money to get information. So, instead, we wanted, by this act, to privatize our Ag research
system. So imagine how you’re gonna get an organic crop rotation system in place. I’d
say that’s very expensive, that’s been one of the main challenges is breaking that, and
the other part is also economy of scale, competitive price organic can be is very expensive in
many parts of the country, you can’t get it year round in many parts of the country. So
the first person with berries or some of the other fruits and vegetables sell it for a
lot of money. That’s something called the capitalist system where they make a very healthy
profit. And, somehow, this is supposed to be, this is supposed to be a negative to organic.
Well, it’s, uh, buyer and seller working it out. Now, things have changed a little bit.
After CCOF, 2 farmers and I decided, talk about tilting against windmills, we decided
that we were gonna change the grant making program so we founded the Organic Farming
Research Foundation so that we could make grants but our grants were based on, uh, agreeing,
upon receipt of money to not patent any information that it was all, 100 percent, in the public
domain and that we would fund ideas as well as actual projects. And OFRF, I retired a
year and a half ago, I was the executive director for 20 years, the average lifespan of a, professional
lifespan of an E.D. is 3 to 5 years. So I was there 20 years and we made over 350 grants
and many of those recipients are now professors and are now, finally, over 20 universities
have organic research programs. So, look how long it took us to get there.>>Presenter 2: What was the most difficult
part about getting the federal law written?>>Bob Scowcroft: Um, well, it’s the opposition
of the agricultural industry; some of you may have a little bit of awareness that the
Farm Bill is front and center this summer. It’s a really big deal. Well, in 1990 was
an earlier Farm Bill, the House Agriculture Committee refused to hold any hearings on
organic. I was actually in a meeting in the mid ’80s in the USDA that a senior agency
official came in and broke up the meeting ’cause a communist sympathizer was there;
that was me. [Laughter]
>>Bob Scowcroft: Supporting organic family farmers and I had to leave the building. That’s
the intensity of the passion at that period of time. But, 1990, 5 years later, the House
Ag Committee refused to hold hearings so we actually had one congressman from Oregon,
two actually with Sam Farr, but really, Peter Defazio carried the bill on the floor of the
house, no hearings, no public testimony, no public comment. Senator Cranston and Senator
Leahy carried it in the Senate. One hearing, one time and on the house it was voted 198
to 189 and we won the amendment on the floor of the House. And we just pushed every grass
roots button we had and the law was 16 pages long and it required a National Organic Standards
Board which was the only advisory board that had the right to stop a bad action and to
recommend a good action. There are 29 advisory boards in the USDA, only one has statutory
power and that’s the National Organic Standards Board. The administration at the time, and
I have to say including into the Clinton administration, never empowered the actual drafting of the
regulations. They were due 18 months after the passage of the law; we got it 10 years.
It took them 10 years to post the rules and they were terrible. They suggested you could
use genetic engineering; you could put sewage sludge on organic farms as long as –, a
number of pasture regulations were terrible. They made a mistake, and actually this is
kind of a cool little computer story, it was the first rule ever published on the internet,
it was the USDA decided, they had this little corner thing, organic, no big deal and they
would publish it on the internet and ask for public testimony, the largest testimony they’d
ever received was animal welfare issues around production of veal which is a pretty lousy
way to, well we’ll leave that for another topic, but that had gotten 35,000 letters.
So they published the organic rules thinking they’d get maybe a couple of thousand, we
generated 325,000 responses. Working assets, now called CREDO Phone Company, the largest
single, it donated, it generated 35,000 comments through their phone subscriber base, into
the rules. That was such a tsunami, ten times the comments they’d ever received, that they
had to rewrite the rules and then the press, I think we we’re probably in contact, Liv
and I and many others, the press really caught wind of this major embarrassment and made
major organic hay about it and they went back and had to rewrite them again. And, finally,
in 2002, 580 pages of every single thing you can and can’t do around organic was published
and approved with two exceptions. One was pasture, they didn’t quite know how to figure
out what organic pasture and organic meat and dairy was and is. They just published
the final rule there in 2010, 20 years later, and the other was the interface between recombinant
DNA, genetically engineered products and organic. All they said was you can’t use it and we
felt there was a lot of protocol behind pollution from that and some other issues. So, those
of you that wanna get into organic, you gotta start when you’re 20 or 30 cause you’re gonna
take it from 4 percent to 50 percent you gotta be young, I think, well maybe I’ll be on a
roll for a couple more years.>>Presenter 2: Really? Can we reach 50 percent?
That would be astonishing.>>Bob Scowcroft: You know, I think the infrastructure
as immature as it is, has the capacity to do that understanding that organic transition
requires, one of the key threads is 3 years from the last application of a prohibited
material. So, if something happened and we had to go organic, I believe essentially the
body of knowledge is there in almost every crop and commodity to farm it organically
but the land isn’t. And we don’t want sod busted or marginal land or wets lands taken
out and farmed organically. We want the deep soil of the heartland farmed that way but
it’s gonna take years, so I have a fear, it’s been my experience that organic in many cases
has grown due to sensational pesticide stories for the most part, horrific poisonings, drift,
discovery or final proof of carcinogenic chemicals and people throw up their hands, “That’s it,
I’m gonna buy organic. I don’t care.” So if we have some other more food safety, food
issue, stories coming down the pike the push for organic with that same peaks and valleys
that we had during Alar where apples went for 70 dollars a box that were 6 or 8 dollars
a box, the size of that package before. I will say, going a little bit out on a limb
here, my sense is that relative to food issues and the things that I follow, that some of
the next frightening data that’s just starting to be peer reviewed, when I say frightening
it’s not somebody standing up on a screen and ruining a dinner party or in a public
speech, I’m talking about peer review science coming out of Academia, the abuse of antibiotics
and chemicals in our meat production should gray the hair on the back of everyone’s head.
And the stories are just beginning to come out. Just recently, uh, and I can provide
the link later on if you wish, urine tract infections, there’s dinner party topic for
ya [Laughter]
>>Bob Scowcroft: had been tied to a certain antibiotic overused in poultry production.
They know this, medical schools have now proven this and, yet, can we get that antibiotic
out of poultry? They don’t even, they want more research, let’s take, you know, the data’s
not really in yet. You know science; we need more studies in the future. Far as I’m concerned
that data’s in and what I’ve read about some of the chemicals, antibiotics in hog production,
I only eat, I mean, I know the meat I eat almost personally, not the chicken itself
[Laughter]>>Bob Scowcroft: but the producer that made
it. How do we transition, I guess is the, to get the 50 percent, you need a government
objective, you need a massive investment in research and, of course, you need the consumer
that’s gonna be paying those higher prices, in some cases, some seasons, to support it.>>Presenter 2: We’re close to 50 percent with
the Google culinary purchasing team with organic>>Bob Scowcroft: Awesome, awesome.>>Presenter 2: we’re not quite there but,
and our meats and poultry are antibiotic and steroid free and, but what’s the positive
argument about organics? Yes we want to avoid this and this but in our culture where we’re
concerned about nutrition and optimizing your life and things like that, is there a benefit
to eating organic that is, say, something about nutrient density?>>Bob Scowcroft: That’s the, uh, that’s the
Pandora’s Box and I’m happy to open it.>>Presenter 2: Go ahead.
[Laughter]>>Bob Scowcroft: But I’m gonna ask you to
hold it for just about 60 seconds until, I came to organic really trying to ban agent
orange and my concerns about pesticides and herbicides. People come to organic for different
reasons, have different paths to, uh, eventually say, “You know, I wanna be positive, I wanna
be solutions based.” Organic is a solution that we should all support. Moving the needle,
to this day, is still antibiotics and chemicals and pesticides. The question that arises ever
more frequently that I wanna now address is, is it more nutritious? And it’s a very difficult
question to address. I was very lucky in my run, I got to know, uh, Mothers and Others
for Livable Planet which Wendy Gordon and Meryl Streep founded, got to know them. At
that time, both, for about a year pretty well and Wendy Gordon decided she wanted to say
that organic was more nutritious, I said, “Wait a minute.” So she got a new professor
on staff in the early ’90s, a woman named Doctor Marion Nestle. Who is now quite well
known in her books and I would encourage you to log in or get on her blog, she’s a brilliant
writer, and says that, in a matter that someone like me who’s not a scientist, can understand.
And also a woman named Joan Gussow. So we had several years of meetings in New York
whenever I would come through about addressing the question of is organic more nutritious?
And the variables seem almost insurmountable upon, to accumulate those in a manner that
you can say yes or no, and let me just throw a few out for you to think about. First of
all, America has something called the standard diet and in a way that’s linked to how much
pesticides you can have as residues on certain– []. It used to be based on a 180 pound male
which became a real issue when Doctor Philip Landrigan wrote a book called “Pesticides
in the Diets of Infants and Children” where he came out of his work saying, “Kids ate
applesauce, squash, bananas and you’re saying men eat 6 bananas a year. Children eat the
same amount as men every week. This should be, the standard diet should be based on pesticides
that kids get, they’re the most vulnerable.” Then he went on to speculate about, “Well,
what micronutrients are we getting? Are they getting enough? How do we manage that when
our kids are newborns and starting out with just four or five, when they move from mother’s
milk or formula and start getting foods.” And I don’t believe, I’ve been on some panels
with him in the past and I don’t believe he ever was able to come to an academic understanding
of how you would measure those kinds of nutrients. So the standard diet is an issue, pesticide
background contamination is an issue, of course the soil it’s grown in is an issue, the way
the seeds have been bred. At lunch we talked just a little bit, our brilliant academic
community has, um, not, through classic breeding practices, actually, very little recombinant
DNA, although they’ve begun to embrace that as well, have bred our seeds for our products
now for ease of harvest, uh, mechanical tornado harvesting. That, the tomato has to be, all
of them in a thousand acres, has to be about the right size with thicker skin so the machine
can pick it. Actually in the last few days they discovered that in the process of growing
these tomatoes, they also need to look a certain color cause we tend to buy really orange ones
so they bred in color, and they also need to take up more water because we all buy everything
by the pound. So we’re actually buying the water that we subsidize to irrigate it back
and, uh, broccoli or tomato that’s taken up a little bit more water. Brilliant marketing,
academic, Bayh Dole act, companies want this. Now you come along and they discovered that
the, uh, in breeding it, literally in the last few days the sciences have come out that
they discovered that in this quest for the harvested tomato, they had lost the gene for
taste. [Laughter]
>>Bob Scowcroft: And that they had just, heck, where is it? And they had just discovered
where it was and now they’re gonna breed that gene into the tomato for taste as well. I
started yelling at the computer screen when I read that story. It’s like, just go out
and get heirloom tomatoes, brothers and sisters, what are you doing trying to get another silver
bullet to shoot another gene into an agro industrial system that is largely energy based.
We can’t ship those tomatoes around the world that much longer or import them that much
longer with spikes on energy. So I think it’s a bit meandering here but soil fertility,
biological activity in the soil breaks down the micronutrients slower that heirloom seeds
pick up faster. Then it has to be harvested for immediate deliveries cause we all know
that starts to break down once it’s been harvested. Can organic do that? Yes, it’s clearly doing
it. There are a number of studies out there doing that but they’re citrus specific or,
uh, heirloom variety tomato specific in New England in the summer or strawberry specific.
Thus, on a podium, I can’t yet, in all honesty, say that organic is more nutritious.>>Presenter 2: But, as soon as I hear you
say, “They’re breeding the plants to do, for more water uptake,” I’m hearing nutrient,
uh, nutrient scarcity, the density is now diluted, nutrient dilution. Is that, that
must be true.>>Bob Scowcroft: Um, certainly in the soils,
you know, as the soils break down as it’s all about breeding something will take up
N, nitrogen N, faster and more efficiently. You have a route that’s looking for that fertilizer.
Sorry to put a personality on it but it’s just not gonna take time to break down the
nodule on a cover crop that’s left that little piece nitrogen node on its root to break down
over the winter. It’s not gonna look for it. It’s gonna go right to where the N is in concentration,
that’s the fertilizer we put down a couple weeks ago. I brought with me and sent over
to you which you can make available. I did look up, uh, what is it, yeah, here’s the
June 29th issue of the journal Science, um, talked about finding the gene that makes tomato
taste better. So being published in Science is fantastic, it’s very important point of
view but, and the fact that these publications are covering these kind of stories is also
very new. Science and Nature is a two premier publications, they never really covered organic
until the, actually one of the first organic research stories they ran in Science was in
the mid 90s, actually one of the early OFRF grants was Doctor John Reganold who compared
organic apples, biodynamic apples and conventional apples for, uh, price, taste, nutrient density
and, um, I think shelf life. And he found that 4 out of the 5 cases, organic exceeded
that in an academic protocol and biodynamic won the other one. And OFRF made those, made
those grants. I’m really proud of that grant.>>Presenter 2: You have some other historical,
uh, artifacts you brought. You wanna tell us about that?>>Bob Scowcroft: Some other goodies. Sure,
Uh, [Pause]
>>Bob Scowcroft: 19, no wait, 2009 the Journal of HortScience did a story on the sorry state
of American fruits and veggies. Basically what they found, again, I can give the link
later on, this was a case of such a quest for color, taste, harvest ability that conventional
produce tested out for, I think, 7 to 10 micronutrients, 40 percent lower than organic. So it wasn’t,
depends on which side of the coin I guess, it wasn’t that organic is necessarily less
nutritious, it was that an organic fully four season biological system was maintaining,
the, um, delicate balance of nutrients in their fruits and vegetables as compared to
conventional which had really largely abandoned, um, their breeding program for more of the
commercial marketplace. [Pause]
>>Bob Scowcroft: Here’s a couple>>Presenter 2: Life magazine?>>Bob Scowcroft: Life, okay, this is kind
of an ageist here [Laughter]
>>Bob Scowcroft: 1970, Life magazine, as far as I know this is the first cover story about
organic. Written in 1970, organic comes of age and, you know, blonde, young actress with
her organic. Those, uh, you don’t necessarily have to chuckle out loud but those of you
who remember TV and ads at the time, I checked out she had one acting gig. She was a model
on TV for Noxzema shaving cream where she purred, “Take it off, take it all off.” And
some guy would shave his, um, and she made so much money that she bought an organic food
store [Laughter]
>>Bob Scowcroft: and left acting to be an organic activist.
[Laughter]>>Bob Scowcroft: Uh, and, uh, it goes on to
show that you see Santa Cruz Farm and Garden and talk about how organic has come of age
since the ’50s. And I think it’s really a phenomenal read. Since I’m here at Google
and I’d, actually I got the desired response at lunch when I showed it around, there’s
also two ads in here, one for this breathtaking new technological development, at 200 dollars
per, it’s something called a Polaroid camera. So, when I’ve showed it in certain places
people like, “Yeah, organic, that’s cool, right? ’70s, but look at that Polaroid camera
for 200 dollars. [Laughter]
>>Bob Scowcroft: breathlessly the newest deal out there. But it’s important, again, really
for what they talked about USC and crop rotation and whole grains and nutrition and what USC,
I said USC, UCSC, produced. I also wanted to show>>Presenter 2: Well, that’s a story.>>Bob Scowcroft: two other things here, maybe
three I’m, I try to bring something to get a chuckle. You never know your audience entirely
so don’t feel like you have to go overboard on my last piece here.
[Laughter]>>Bob Scowcroft: Or, actually, I’ll show the
book, too. In 1979, the last year of the Carter administration, a couple people said organic’s
kind of working. And he tasks a group of scientists and farmers to come together and write a task
force report on organic and make some recommendations. If this is real, this is growing, what should
we do to expand organic farming? And they wrote this report, they made 20 some odd recommendations
and it was published, um, literally the last few weeks of the Carter administration, an
organic program coordinator was hired to then implement these recommendations and he was
on staff when the Reagan administration came in. Whatever your politics are, John Block
was the Secretary of Ag at the time and under the ‘reduce Government and eliminate waste’,
he laid off 500 people as one of his first day green slip, pink slipped 500 people at
the USDA. Big press, great, immediately reducing, well, they rehired 498 of them as consultants.
[Laughter]>>Bob Scowcroft: Cause they needed this staff
but they kept 2 off permanently. Now, that was Doctor Youngberg and the poor woman in
the secretary pool who happened to be assigned to his desk to help him, she was laid off
as well. But then they went further, they ordered all the copies destroyed, and the,
uh, the plates that printed this also be destroyed. And I happened to be in Garth’s office the
day that order came down and he was distraught, I mean, this is kind of his life’s work. So,
um, seeing myself as a kind of a movie character and feeling adventurous, uh, I took 20 of
these and wrapped them up in brown paper thinking that, and smuggled them out of USDA passed
security. And I made a much more of a, I mean, really I just walked out the door with a bag.
[Laughter]>>Bob Scowcroft: But it had, I thought I had
the only copies of this document at that time. One reporter, this is the power of the press,
James Risser from the Des Moine Register, wrote a story about this and, uh, the uproar
was so strong that, though Garth was never allowed back in the USDA, this became the
most requested report in the ’80s during the Reagan administration. Number one, tens and
tens of thousands, that’s good news.>>Presenter 2: And how much of this has been
implemented?>>Bob Scowcroft: Only 5 of the recommendations
have been fully implemented. Now, I have to say, um, Deputy Director of the USDA is Doctor
Kathleen Merrigan, she’s a former OFRF board member, she’s number two, she’s created and
fully implemented, now, all of these recommendations are now in the implementation track. She has
a fantastic website called ‘Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food’. I almost thought about dialing
that in. They had an event today at the White House; she emailed me this morning saying,
“If you want to link into it, it’s about women farmers. It’s how to find local, how to find
how your USDA dollars, farmer’s market, hoop houses. It’s a really, really cool program
that has a compass and they just released 2.0 this morning. You might think organic
is, uh, that the classic liberal, conservative divide is around organic and it generally
has an image of being a left or a liberal, uh, phenomenon. But you’d probably, or maybe
not, maybe I’m wrong but, um, our general assessment is there are more republican organic
farmers than there is democrat, if you will. There’s a route in organic of conserve, as
in conservatism that is particularly out in the heartland that these farmers have taken,
the parents, the grandparents and now the children have taken very seriously. And, uh,
one of the more famous or infamous depending upon your point of view, it was a gentleman
named Paul Weyrich, passed away a couple years ago, he founded the Free Congress Foundation,
he wrote a news and commentary called the Conservative Voice, for many years he was
sort of the conservative voice to what Norquist is to ‘no taxes’. He was, what he said was
conservatism when and he wrote an amazing column on February 2006, the next conservatism
and conservation where he declared the future of conservatism was organic family farms and
protecting our soil and managing our water and buying locally. It’s an amazing document.
If we wrote it, another bit of propaganda, but time and time again, I accept all interviews.
I’ve been interviewed by, uh, Liv, many times New York Times AP. I’ve also been on the 700
Club, um, [laughter] you name it, part of my motto is to complete and total transparency.
I’ll ask, answer any question for anybody at anytime. And I love bringing this, uh,
bring this out. His last one is, “Think locally, act locally.” This was the Conservative Voice
in 2006 and maybe more than any document we should have this on all of us whenever debates
break out or the more public presentations. What’s to be against about, Paul Weyrich’s
vision of a family farm, the Jeffersonian, steel of our backbones from buying and keeping
our monies and food and our soil where it belongs. It’s very important. And then, though
I have others here, two others and then we’ll go to Q and A, wanna do that?>>Presenter 2: Sure.
>>Bob Scowcroft: In the theme of taking any interview at any time, let’s see is this dated,
yeah; in 2003 I got a call from a reporter from the National Enquirer. How many people
know the National Enquirer? [Laughter]
>>Bob Scowcroft: I see some hands went like this. Nobody looked around so you’re okay.
[Laughter]>>Bob Scowcroft: So the National Enquirer
calls and she says she’s a reporter and I’m sure this is a joke, one of my buddies, I
mean, this is the kind of, this is what we do for fun, is pretend, internally.
[Laughter]>>Bob Scowcroft: And she was doing a story,
“Are organic foods worth the cost?” And, you know, I just wanted to say is this Joanne?
Is this, come on, you know, ha ha. I did it once or twice and she got really irritated
and said, “I’m in New York, I’m on a deadline, I report for the National Enquirer and I’m
doing this story.” [Laughter]
>>Bob Scowcroft: “Mister Scowcroft, do you wanna talk or not?” So I played it straight
and she did a long interview. She called others and low and behold, she wrote an incredibly
straight story. All, as any reporter would write. She went out, checked farmer’s markets,
she asked about the rule and the 95 percent, the 100 percent, some other questions, not
all of which went in there and they had photos of a farmer’s market and we ended up talking
for about an hour and a half. And, you know, I’m not a subscriber and I didn’t quite wanna
buy one every week at the checkout stand for other reasons. So, um, being, uh, having a
sense of humor I had a contest, internal to the staff and others, that we wanted to see
who would discover it first cause we have a lot of eyes and ears out there and we’d
give them some kind of prize. And it took about 6 weeks before someone outside of the
staff said, “Well, my Grandmother’s uncle was at the barber shop.” It was clear they
had bought it themselves [Laughter]
>>Bob Scowcroft: but they had about 5 degrees of separation to the fact that they had gotten
the article and read it and low and behold I was quoted in the National Enquirer. This
is the range of interest that we have out, out there and these kinds of stories. And
I thought it was, um, rather phenomenal that she wanted to do this. I should add at the
end of the phone call, we went into pesticides and antibiotics, at the end of the phone call,
you know, “Thank you, Mr. Scowcroft” and she said, “By the way, um, I really hate you”
and it just came from such a, I said, “What, excuse me? Did I?” She said, “Well, no it’s
not you, it’s that I had take out and it’s been delivered while I’ve been talking to
you and now I don’t think I can eat it.” [Laughter]
>>Bob Scowcroft: And I thought, “Okay, one person at a time.” You know, one person at
a time.>>Presenter 2: Um, I’ll begin with the first
question, this is, there are people who are saying organic is now so mainstream, I mean,
Doctor Oz is talking about eating organic, Oprah talks about eating organic. Walgreens
carries it, there are enough disruptive farmers in California who are saying organics is so
diluted, so it’s so mainstream now, it’s not really organic anymore. Is it, is it?>>Bob Scowcroft: Uh, absolutely. It’s the
law of the land. If it’s not organic, it’s a felony. So you have to meet those regulations.
Now, some of those perspectives come from a quest for purity.>>Presenter 2: Yes.>>Bob Scowcroft: I should back up a little
bit; organic is still a voluntary term. Nobody’s making anyone in this room farm that way,
garden that way, thus, eat that way. If you choose to buy an organically labeled product,
you have the force of law behind you and, actually, in the last few years as they begun
to enforce it, several, actually several people have now gone to jail for violations of multimillion
dollar violations of the certificates and the rules. Purity is, uh, why we set up the
national organic standards board. This is a board that’s set up to assess when a material
can be allowed or not be allowed. Whether a practice should be approved or not approved.
And it’s a passionate debate and some of the materials that have been allowed generate
intense passion and when the vote comes down against it, somebody raised their hand and
said, “Well, that’s it. Industrial farming’s taken over. It’s not organic anymore.”>>Presenter 2: I hear that a lot.>>Bob Scowcroft: That’s untrue. Nevertheless,
some of the advances and their ability to become part of the rule are very slow. So
I, again, as we talked over lunch, uh, my feeling is that knowing if you have the time
and energy, knowing your farmer, visiting her farm, his operation, is always, uh, one
of the best ways to go about it. Particularly if it’s in your neighborhood. I’m, uh, a flexitarian
when it comes to the long push of organic. We need all the farmers we can get to farm.
We hope to provide the tools to farm organically, we hope the body of science and knowledge
and the passion to continue continuous improvement, to take root. Some are less patient than others
to get there. So, but you’re right to know that organic is embedded in the law. Transparency
is a critical part of that. So if you wanna tease that out some more that’s fine.>>Presenter 2: Well, I would but I think there’s
some questions. Yeah, you wanna stand up? Yeah, I think we can hear you in the room.
Go ahead.>>male #2: You have to repeat the questions.>>Presenter 2: I have to repeat, okay.>>female #1: My question is are there countries
that are doing it better than us and what lessons we can learn from those countries?>>Presenter 2: Who does organic better than
we do?>>Bob Scowcroft: Um, many. And almost universally
because their Governments have endorsed it, have invested in it and created action plans
to grow it. There are a number of European countries that have goals, some of which have
already been met to have 20 percent of their food economy be certified organic. Sweden,
um, Switzerland, a National University in Switzerland is an organic university. One
of the people in that quick video, Brian, Doctor Brian Baker, has been hired out of
a university in New York, he’s moved to Geneva to be the translator of all the European research
out of the, this is the university project that translates organic research from around
the world into English. We can’t even do that here. And Brian is now doing it out of, uh,
F-I-B-L, which is the acronym worldwide. Just, what a concept. Where is our academic institutions
on almost a simple information gathering?>>Presenter 2: You were saying at lunch, what’s
the top university in this country for organics?>>Bob Scowcroft: Now a number have organic
engagement programs but in my personal opinion, and since this is on film I’ll be hearing
it from many of them that I didn’t name, but Washington State University is where it’s
at. WSU is phenomenal. They have organic undergraduate programs, they have organic online programs,
they have organic masters and PhD programs. They just received a 5 million dollar grant
to expand, uh, their organic farm. Not only in its own ability to be state of the art
organic research but they have integrated the organic, they actually call it the smart
farm, cause the architectural school’s gotten really excited. The computer, there’s an amazing
amount of computer applications, apps, for organic farming just being developed. Water
hydrology, the water use, soil fertility and the business school, all now are integrated
into the WSU smart farm program. And I found it ironic that UC Davis with a thousand professors
in Ag, I’m sorry, Post-Docs, assistant professors, Ag professors nearby that WSU comes to Santa
Cruz and San Francisco to raise money for their organic farm in Washington when Davis
has five or six organic researchers out of that thousand.>>Presenter 2: Yes?>>male #3: Hi, um, I find that the terminology
when it comes to animal friendly agriculture practices and, you know, and organic animal
products gets a little confusing. Like, for me, it’s really important to have eggs for
like chicken that are able to, like, graze a pasture and stuff like that. And, you know,
now when you go to the farmer’s markets they have farms that advertise sort of pastured
eggs or whatever. But I’m, I mean, I find that I don’t really know exactly what that
means and it’s not really breaking the rule, right, I mean, so I guess I’m wondering whether
there is any progress being made about putting some teeth, some regulatory teeth behind sort
of animal agriculture or terminology and things like that?>>Presenter 2: Regulations and terminology
around pastured eggs etcetera.>>Bob Scowcroft: You know, the success of
the organic label, it is the only competitive conventional egg and it is extremely different,
profoundly different. It’s now trying to be modeled by many other ecolabels. The flip
side of that is that many other ecolabels really don’t wanna go through 20 years of
legislative action, regulatory formatting or framework, I call it sort of the natural
regulatory spaghetti thrown against the wall. I’m happy, animal free pasture, no drugs,
sometimes sprayed, I mean, it’s just everything is out there and, uh, particularly in animal
welfare issues right now. It’s really, to the extent possible, getting a tour, getting
to a location, getting to a farmer or rancher or talking to them in the farmer’s markets
with, uh, again, I don’t know how close you follow this but, uh, the Humane Society had
a revolutionary breakthrough 50 years coming, has made an agreement with the Ag producers
association to have these larger cages, um, we go from a foot to 5 feet. They can, chickens
can turn around now. This is the grand bargain that we’ve made and it’s not in the Farm Bill.
The powers that be struck it out and the powers that be are the pork producers. “My God, if
they let chickens turn around then hogs will have to get out of their crates.” If you really
wanna be clinically depressed on animal production look at a conventional hog operation.>>male #3: Yeah, you know, I actually do that.
You know, I do, I’ve been to like 2 particular farms in this area that I know exactly how
they treat their chickens and those are the only farms that I’ll buy from. But I mean,
I think, for, in order for this sort of to drop, you know, drive sort of greater adoption
of these animal-friendly practices.>>Bob Scowcroft: Well, many of the animal
welfare groups are trying but right now the heads of Ag committees won’t even hold hearings.
They won’t even, I mean, the congressman from Oklahoma who’s an extremely conservative individual
and remarkably pro agro industrial systems approach, passed the Farm Bill, can’t even
get Boehner to put it on the floor of the House. That’s the stranglehold that the industrial
farming system right now has. If it goes on before the house then there’s, um, what many
people are calling a Monsanto amendment which waives all the regulations around genetic
engineering and requires the USDA to approve anything within one year of application without
health and safety testing. So one amendment got in of 70 or 80, I think, in the Farm Bill
so it’s just too, that’s where the consumer power, that’s particularly impressed with
an entity like Google and the operation you have here ’cause you are, in fact, leveraging
forces by orders of magnitude as a group more than you would ever guess. You have no, I
mean, maybe you kind of hear it or maybe it’s kind of sort of the road now, the norm. You
have no idea what you’re buying power can do
[Sneezing in audience ]>>Bob Scowcroft: as far as leveraging change.
Well, there’s questions everywhere.>>male #4: Can you talk a little bit more
about the cost dynamic? You’ve mentioned it a few times that there’s, there’s a, there’s
economies of scale yet to capture. What are the specifics there and how do you balance
that against the other comments you’ve made around knowing your farmer and how do you
know your farmers and keep your produce local when things start to grow and stuff like that.>>Bob Scowcroft: Uh, the complexity of the
marketplace, you can get to a certain scale and go to 7 farmer’s markets and you and maybe
1 or 2 workers harvest that and bring it direct to market. You’re paying the farmer pretty
much the entire cost for that. But that’s still some fruits and vegetables, once you
start getting into cold storage, there’s a little bit more as a middle person there.
Once you get into larger trucks or hydro coolers or ice machines that broccoli has to go on
ice just about in the field, a little bit more cost there. Now you start to look at
the scale as I have an ice machine maybe I should grow a lot more broccoli and hire 5
workers and sell it into a regional chain. Cost might go down at a certain point but
now you wanna grow something difficult, trial and error, you’ve gotta grow it out several
years to see whether you can grow okra or, and we’re just talking fruits and vegetables,
um, if you’re inter, I’m sorry, just vegetables, tree fruit, do I wanna put 5 years of apple
varieties when, into my farm when apples might go out of vogue and raspberries. Anyone that’s
been down in the Watsonville, Salinas area knows that, I mean, even when I moved there
in the ’80s, apple trees were everywhere, there’s 1 or 2 apple growers left because
raspberries, raspberries, raspberries, raspberries. So now, apple growers, they have harvesters
that come through, they have an intense season, they can put it into storage for 3 or 4 months.
Completely different infrastructure for that land and they have equipment, cost up front,
loans, crop insurance, certain size,HACCP, food safety issues now regulatory over, overlays
that you have to follow. So, scaling up and commodity specific and your business plan
and your marketing initiatives, all play a role in that dynamic and then when you get
into meat products, for example, there was a fantastic hog farmer, almost have their
name, just wait, in Watsonville and we all went, “Finally, we can eat pulled pork. We
can eat bacon from the farmer’s market.” Those of us that eat meat and that farmer couldn’t
make it, they ended up losing their money for one reason, their only slaughter facility
was down in Los Angeles area and it was so large that it couldn’t even take their 10
hogs every 2 weeks make, they couldn’t cleanup, never mind that it was natural or organic.
So, California is in desperate need of what’s called a mobile slaughter unit that can actually
go to the farm and slaughter specific to the five, you know, name your meat products and
some of the dairy issues and some of the cheese making issues. So it becomes very complex
very quickly relative to what stream of commerce you wanna go into. One of the more recent
responses to that are certain aggregators or co-ops where a number of veg growers are
going together and starting to aggregate and using one dock and one cooling system or a
grower that had a cooling system is beginning to see another stream of income cooling other
very small grower’s product. It might be one pallet, it might be 3 pallets, drive up literally
with your pickup truck with 20 flats of strawberries and they’ll cool it for a couple of days so
then you can move it out when it’s ready. I don’t know if that’s helpful but it’s just
the complexities>>male #4: Yeah, it just seems like there’s
a huge need for, like you said, shared infrastructure in the middle tier of the producer and buyer
and then a lot of these organic people have it incredibly difficult, like I read the Omnivore’s
Dilemma and they talk about how organic first started it was not just about revolutionizing
how food was produced but also how it was distributed and what people ate. And it seems
like, at least sitting in the sort of Shangri La of San Francisco, the piece of that that’s
still has a lot of development to do is the distribution piece in the middle cause these
small farms have such a challenge getting their food to market.>>Bob Scowcroft: I would actually say it has
been revolutionized even since Michael wrote that but it is in certain regional locations.
There’s an amazing co-op up in Eugene in Portland called Organically Grown. It was founded by
organic farmers. It now represents several hundred organic farmers. It’s an ESOP, they
have shares, they have bonus plans, employee stock, 140 of the 200 employees own this company
now and they have built the entire infrastructure by and for. They go to restaurants, wholesalers,
they may serve some of the entities up there, people at lunch seemed to know. But what we’re
still, this is still really essentially outside those 7 buyers I brought up before. The 4
supermarkets and the 3 box stores.>>male #4: [inaudible]>>Bob Scowcroft: Well, my feeling is that
to get it to 50 percent, those 7 buyers bring it to an economic strata that we can’t reach,
commodities of which can work in that format for a period of time in the future and my
quip to the Nation, the Nation did a story about it and I got in a little bit of trouble
saying, “Well, the good news is those pesticides are not being used on 100 thousand acres,
because of scale it won’t go into that, but our response was like [indistinct], now we
need to set up a peach tasting stand at the entrance to those box stores and let them
know what a real peach just harvested tastes like. Then those people can come to the farmer’s
market. If you go to some of the intense markets in Oakland, you’ll see the organic tables
have longer lines than the conventional. As a matter of fact, very important survey done
for years if not decades by the Grower magazine, fresh produce the packer, most conventional
publication out there has consistently shown that the lower the economic strata, the greater
the desire for organic products. Completely countered the image that you see some of these
NGOS that are opposing organic want, it’s an elite food. I mean, we certainly have not
done a good job, I can think of any number of video examples of the most amazing superstar
that only eats organic that reinforces the elite image but the fact of the matter is
that when given the possibility and the opportunity that all economic strategists specifically
the lower ones which use organic consistently shown in the conventional publication.>>male #5: [Indistinct]>>Bob Scowcroft: I love that question.>>male #5: So I was wondering if you could
talk to the science?>>Bob Scowcroft: Sure. Well, there’s a couple
of things. First of all, where are, where does it say the US to feed the world? We certainly
feed corn and soy beans to feed stations around the world but, um first, secondly we already
produce something like 1.4, um, 1.4, one and half times more food than the earth consumes
currently. The waste, war and storage and transportation eliminate a phenomenal amount
of that food. And, uh, my passion is to declare that we should be feeding the world information
rather than somehow assuming that we are industrializing and exploiting our soil to move, uh, feed
products in competition to Brazil or Russia and China to meet operations elsewhere.>>male #5: So from a food system perspective
if you wanted to take an international [indistinct]>>Bob Scowcroft: Absolutely, the FAO has published
a number of papers recently showing, that’s an entity of the UN and I can’t pull the name
up right now.>>Presenter 2: Food and Agriculture Organization.>>Bob Scowcroft: And there’s a rocket, no
not rocket, well there’s one person that’s particularly been overseeing a lot of these
peer reviewed research reports showing now that organic fields are better than conventional
and a number of the African nations that, particularly women, owned and run, small family
farms are producing a significantly better yield and crop rotation systems and local
cover crop, compost, green manure crops and that if we are serious about, really serious
about feeding the world we should be cooperatively developing research stations and information
stations not genetically engineered products that require fertilizer and chemicals. Just
exporting the problems that were showing up, having shown up here.>>Presenter 2: Last question.>>male #6: So, one issue you haven’t mentioned
at all, I’m curious to hear your thoughts on the community garden. I have the good fortune
of being married to woman who has a passion for it. We have all manner of [indistinct]
and peppers [indistinct] elsewhere. Does this have any impact on scale or is just a hobby
for –>>Presenter 2: Can gardening impact, can mini
farming as John Jeavons calls it, impact our food supply?>>Bob Scowcroft: I think it could. Some very
intriguing initial papers are starting to come out about community gardens, actual just
yields and nutrient delivery among some of these gardens but by far, the more important
component of gardening is the actual individual act of growing your own food and understanding
what it takes and particularly in community gardens working with others building a community
around a food and breaking bread and meal culture. We don’t really have that in the
US. If you go to Italy or some of these other, I came home the other day and there was a
bag of plums on my front doorstep and nobody even put a note on it and they were incredible
and I knew they came from my street or somewhere and then just yesterday somebody shouted out,
you know, “I got plums up the wazoo and I just went to every house and dropped them.
I hope they were great!” And it was a moving, it was a moment. It was great. I’m happy to
eat these plums in my cereal every morning. I have a very special Bartlett pear tree in
my backyard and I’ve been doing the same thing, dropping them off cause they all have to go
pretty much come off in the next 2 weeks. So I think those acts of both just the personal,
it came from my garden, the salad or the fruit tree. I really want a Meyer lemon tree; I
killed my last lemon plant. I was working too hard. I think the garden movement is very
important and the last thing I’d say is the gardeners by and large are gonna save us all
because they’re growing out heirloom seeds and exchanging seeds and saving seeds and
trading seeds where the new organic seed movement and seed alliance and seed savers are coming
from, by and large, gardeners. If it wasn’t for the gardeners that have done this the
last 30 years.>>Presenter 2: It’s something to do with,
to take of suburban sprawl is to start growing food on it, right?>>Bob Scowcroft: Now, Detroit has a food plan,
it’s very contrev, someone wants to industrialize that but basically Detroit has an actual plan
and it’s beginning to take some of these blocks and turn it back to farming and the larger
community agricultural garden stations to feed the community around it. And that is
a mayor initiative supported by Whole Foods and a number of, you know, philanthropic entities.
I should say one more thing, just to close, can I do that?>>Presenter 2: Sure, yes, please, your book.
Well, the book you’re in.>>Bob Scowcroft: Yeah, it’s not mine. One
of the things that I’m at the very early stages, and I’m saying this for the record, I guess
people are gonna have to start holding me to it but I’m gonna write a book, the people’s
history of organic . We’ve got 35 years of these little, I brought other goodies like
in Russian, in St. Petersburg Russia, a sale of organic cranberries. So if you’re really
short here in the US you can go over to St. Petersburg, buy organic cranberries. But,
I’m 61, many of us have been working on this for 30, 40 years, are retiring or disengaging
entirely, I’m not I’m just doing things in a different way now. But I think capturing
our history is really important so I got an idea years ago, I was looking for revolutionary
librarians, which a particular audience though that’s was really funny, revolutionary librarians.
But, actually, 2 came up to me afterwards and said, “We are revolutionary librarians.”
And I said, “Well, what I want you to do is an oral history of the 20 people that started
organic in California” Well, a few have passed away, others are in their 70s, some of us
are in a late 50s, 60s. We need to capture this. And low and behold they ended up with
52 oral histories at UC Santa Cruz’s McHenry Library, all downloadable mp3’s you can listen
ad nauseum for hours at us talking away and then it got, within the library system they
were so excited about at UC Press, said let’s make a book out of it. And they tasked the
librarians to find the best and put it in order and get about 15, 18 pages of each one
in print and this just came out, it’s called “Cultivating a Movement” and it’s, I found
it, I’m learning things about my friends that I didn’t know. Jim Cochran the great strawberry
grower and UFW supporter started the daycare, as an assistant in a daycare program. But
we should all, in almost every menu, be capturing our oral history now. And so I’m going around
the country to other places and I’m a trustee on a foundation so I’m actually, I think,
working with other foundations. I think there’s some funding now to, cause this is mostly
all local. What happened in New England, what happened in Oklahoma, what happened in Wisconsin
and Washington is, in a way, an indigenous to the place. But, the students job will be
to study this and to find the common themes. But, “Cultivating a Movement” is a pretty
cool read and you will recognize some of the farmers in there if you go take a look on
the web about it. It can be purchased through UCSC, I didn’t bring it, Irene is really the
hero that did this book. I have a chapter in here, as well. Amazon, I guess, has it
too.>>Presenter 2: Well, we’re gonna look for
your, your memoirs.>>Bob Scowcroft: Well, yeah, the people’s
history of organic has a couple of PG-13 stories about it too. Some great scandals and the
gathering of the tribe of organic activists both young and old is at Asilomar Conference
Center every January. It’s 32 years running, I’ve been to all but 3 and they’re from 80
years old to 8. It’s a great conference .And, of course, that’s where we reconnected last
January that led to me coming here today.>>Presenter 2: Thank you so much.>>Bob Scowcroft: Thank you very much for coming.

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