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Food Politics

Charlie Johnson’s Open Letter on Organic Milk

As long as there are children going to bed hungry and arriving to school hungry, there is no such thing as a surplus.

To whom it may concern or bring discussion:

I am an organic grain/hay producer from Madison, South Dakota. I am a member of NFO and serve as a board member for Northern Plains Sustainable Ag Society. NFOrganics handles all feed/grain sales from Johnson Farms. NFOrganics is a member of the national marketing association, OFARM. However, I do not speak for any organization, directly or indirectly, in this statement. This is strictly my own observation and a call for a positive course of action.

Recently, I attended the NPSAS Winter Conference in Huron, South Dakota. I also just returned from the annual OFARM meeting and the 20th annual UMOFC, both in LaCrosse, Wisconsin. Prevalent amongst the organic community was discussion of unwanted surpluses and associated price declines in many sectors of organics. For some, especially within organic dairy, access to markets has increasingly become a serious issue with a growing number of producers finding they have no markets at all. As organic producers we understand we are more than just the food we produce. We are part of a community—one that cares about the soil, environment, and most importantly, its people. So would it not better serve our mission to allow our overproduction to be used to serve our communities, rather than allow a 5% surplus ruin 100% of our market? We need to be proactive; we need to implement a “Surplus is a Blessing” program, because as long as there are children going to bed hungry and arriving to school hungry, there is no such thing as a SURPLUS.

For one month, perhaps on a rotating basis, organic producers from all sectors would forgo 5% of their volume or gross sales to be used for charitable food outreach. Such an outreach would involve only 1.5 days worth of volume or sales, less than 1/2% annually. Dairy producers could ask that their 5% volume go to local schools or food pantries. Processors and cooperatives could provide the service and distribution to make the outreach possible. Other perishable foods could be arranged with similar efforts. Organic producers not able to donate product could invest 1/2% of their annual sales into a “Surplus is a Blessing” fund.

As a community that cares, we need to insure that producers maintain and build profitable price levels, now and into the future. With a vision of hope, we see the food we produce feeding ALL people in our community, indiscriminately. Enhancing our community through available, good food does serve our purpose, engaging our community is my call to action. As we have heard the message, “Yes, We Can”, now too, the organic community should stand up and say “Yes, We Will”!!

Charlie Johnson
Madison, South Dakota