Last night, I attended the OTA awards recognizing Leadership in the Organic Foods Industry. Organic became an industry started by idealists like my father, as a response to farming with toxic chemicals. These committed few believe, as I do, that poisons don’t belong in the food supply. Ask any mother and she’ll tell you that she doesn’t want to feed even trace amounts of carcinogens and hormone disrupters to her children. Several joined the caravan and the few became an “industry”. Fast forward several years and things are looking brighter as the industry has grown from a seed into a sapling. But we now have to contend with unsustainable GMO agriculture. Instead of decreasing their use, GMOs have exponentially increased pesticide and herbicide use in a misguided mono-crop disaster.
But here is hope for our planet and our health. Side by side studies with “Conventional” Vs Organic show that Organic yields are equivalent and organic yields are greater in times of Drought. Organic methods are the gold standard for healthy soil, clean water, and the food Mother Earth intended for us to eat. For those of you wondering about organic standards, please see my blog post with answers from Dag Falck. http://thedeepersideblog.com/2013/09/15/dag-falck-replies/
The first award was presented to my parents Arran and Ratana Stephens, of Nature’s Path Foods. They were honoured with the Growing Organic Industry Award. When recently asked if Nature’s Path was a non-profit activist group or a consumer foods company, Dad answered “Both”. I’ve copied his and mom’s inspired acceptance speeches below.
The Second Award was presented to Kyle Mathison of Stemlit Growers for Organic Farmer of the Year Award. In a rousing speech which made my mouth water, Kyle spoke about his quest to grow the best, most juicy, luscious fruits. He has helped advance solutions in orchard weed control, organic fertilizer, integrated pest control etc etc. Kyle, a fourth generation farmer from Washington, made me salivate as I flashed though my most memorable fruit experiences. That peach I bought in Montreal, those figs from Florence, the sweet muscat grapes from France that tasted like candy, ripe mangoes from India that defy description. The Apples dad has espalliered. I wish I had the text of his speech so I could make you salivate too.
The third and last award of the evening was presented to Karen and Colin Archipley: the Rising Star Award. Colin is a war veteran who founded the Veterans Sustainable Agriculture Training program. Helping veterans, who face employment hurdles after leaving the military, Karen and Colin create a link between jobs for vets and organic agriculture on Archi’s Acres in California, their organic hydroponic farm. Talk about literally turning swords into ploughshares! They recently helped plant the White House’s Organic garden.
During their acceptance speech, Colin made everyone in the crowded room raise their hand and pledge to be Semper Fidelis. This is a Marine Motto. Always Loyal. It was a lovely gesture. From a former marine leading the pledge (whose opening I solemnly swear reminded me of the marauders map), it was powerful. If anyone had been unsure about the zealous commitment to Organic farming, this dispelled any doubts.
I saw Bob Quinn the KAMUT grower on my way out. Bob and I spent many years bumping and into each other at European Trade shows. No matter where I was or what my mood was, Bob made me smile with his killer smile dressed in his cowboy boots and hat with two sprigs of Kamut in its band. Kamut (heirloom wheat found in an Egyptian tomb and subsequently planted in the midwest) has higher protein content and superior nutritional content to modern wheat. It also doesn’t cause bloating. Only organically grown, Kamut, which is trademarked, is growing literally by leaps and bounds since I last saw Bob. Bob tells me that over 70,000 acres are dedicated to the organic sowing of Kamut! That is great news for Kamut growers, happy tummies and the planet.
Below is the inspiring speech mom and dad gave:
OTA Growing Organic Leadership Award ACCEPTANCE SPEECH, Sept 26, 2013, Baltimore, MD:
Dear friends, family, OTA Board Members and Fellow Travelers,
Thank you for bestowing this honor upon us. We are privileged to be recognized. This journey has been a labor of love. It is to create a better world for our children, grandchildren, and the children of the universe.
This has not been a solo play. So wonderful to see many familiar faces who have been a vital part of the organic movement for years, and together we have nurtured and grown this into an industry. What is the power of a committed few? According to Margaret Mead:
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
Rather than talking about what has happened over the past 45 years that Arran and I have been together (and believe me, we have seen a lot), I would like to pass along some advice in building a successful legacy enterprise, and what we have learned from our mentors:
Never sacrifice quality for money or for any other consideration
Always do your best, and leave the rest
A success is a failure that never gave up. There’s no substitute for patience and persistence.
Never compromise core values and principles. Business and the market are in constant flux, VALUES never change.
Now, I’m going to turn this over to Arran…
On behalf of the many, Thanks for the Award!
Because of the visible stand that i and my family have taken against the artificial genetic modification of our food supply, And our fight to have GMO foods properly labeled in California and Washington State so people can make an informed decision about whether or not they wish to feed this stuff to their families, I received a tongue-in-cheek question, “Are you a packaged consumer goods company, or an activist group?” I happily answered, “Both!”
2 1/2 years ago, lying in the ICU ward, my life was dangling from a very slender thread, hovering somewhere in the void between life and death. It seemed then, in some strange way that I had a choice—to go into the Beyond or stay on and complete some unfinished aspects of this existence. I chose, or so it seemed, to live on.
Having been granted a life extension, I re-dedicated whatever time was left to serve the Creation in some small way—on the one hand to nurture and protect the fragile earth, to help fulfill the destiny of our enterprise, Nature’s Path and ensure its smooth succession to the next generation, to be there as a loving father and husband, and on the other hand, to continue to evolve as a human and spiritual being.
In ancient times, it was said, “Honor your heavenly Father and your earthly Mother that your days may be long upon the earth, for from one mother proceeds all that lives; therefore he that kills, kills his brother, and from him will the earthly mother pluck her quickening breast.”
I have always felt a kinship with this spiritual, but non-religious Father-Mother aspect of existence.
Over the past seven decades. I have been much blessed to have been raised by loving parents on the family farm on Vancouver Island; to have lived in India; to have married one of her daughters; to have been blessed by her Saints, to have been constantly involved in the organic movement since 1967, before there was an industry, to have, with my dear wife of 44 years, and our four children–Shanti, Gurdeep, Jyoti and Arjan) built an inter-generational legacy of Nature’s Path, without selling out! For our friends in the investment community, no part of NP is for sale, just to save your and our time.
We have made many good friends over these decades, many of whom are in this hall tonight. We honor you all, we love you all. To all who are part of the burgeoning organic industry, starting with our unsung heroes: family farmers, suppliers, the hundreds of Valued Nature’s Path Team Members, wholesalers, retailers and last but not least, our millions of customers, we salute you, for without you, we wouldn’t be here.
The world we all share and love, is in crisis. Nature is under serious attack, and she’s beginning to revolt. It’s up to us to nurture and care for what is left. Our generation has made a terrible mess of polluting the nest; let us hope and pray the next generation is wiser. My dad told me, his ten year old son, as we hand planted a field of corn together to “Always leave the soil better than you found it.”
With modern methods of chemical agriculture, using fossil fuel based fertilizers and attacking pests with massive amounts of pesticides and herbicides, we are short-sightedly destroying the long-term fertility of our soil bank, depleting it at the expense of future generations. In less than 20 years, since the first GMO crops were introduced, more than 90% of soy, cotton, sugar beets, canola, and Hawaiian papayas now contain alien gene traits. There have been no long-term safety GMO trials, which makes us part of an unprecedented feeding study, but we are not lab rats! Nor are GMOs even labeled, yet they are in 80% of supermarket foods. GMO crops are failing their maker’s promise to provide greater yields, toxic herbicide use has gone up 15 fold, allergies have increased three fold in the short two decades since GMOs were introduced into the North American agricultural system. Predicted super weeds have developed resistance to herbicides, contaminating more than seventy million acres in North America, now requiring even more deadly chemicals to eradicate them. Thousands of unique species of plants and creatures are lost every year. Instead of cooperating with nature as we should, as guardians or trustees of our land bank, modern science and short-sighted consumerism is waging war against Nature. And this has many of us disturbed.
Biotech companies are interfering with evolutionary processes that have taken thousands—even millions of years to perfect. Genetic modification is not a continuation of selective breeding, but the significant alteration of life forms. And the outcomes are haphazard and unpredictable.
Organic agriculture and soil conservation is the only bulwark against this tsunami of ecological mismanagement.
Because we are concerned that good organic farmland is being lost due to ageing farmers retiring with no heirs to take their place, we have begun to buy good farmland, with a cooperative crop-sharing model. It is working, but with the rate of demand exceeding supply, we desperately need more young organic farmers. We are grateful to be a part of the organic solution. You are, or can also be a part of the solution. A new, caring economy is needed. A fresh paradigm of conscious capitalism, if I may borrow the term, a new generation of idealist-entrepreneurs is much needed. There is hope, and I am an optimist. I will fight for the good of the earth so long as I live, and until the I that is my body becomes the earth, while the I that is my soul soars free from its temporal fetters to merge the lesser light with its Source in the greater Light.
Let me share one of my farmer/songwriter/father’s songs:
Across the plain, my yellow grain
Lies restless as the sea,
How could this all be given to a guy like me?
To fill my need I sowed the seed,
And now repaid I’ll be,
How could this all be given to a guy like me?
The seasons change with splendor,
My ceiling is the sky,
The earth, my master, happy man am I
Two arms that gladly share my toil
Or hold me tenderly,
How could this all be given to a guy like me?