Last month, over 200 people gathered at Dartmouth to participate in the Real Organic Project Symposium. Among them were Dartmouth students, organic farmers, policy makers, and activists from around the U.S. The event was open to the public and was co-sponsored by the Dartmouth Sustainability Office and the Real Organic Project.
“As part of the Dartmouth Organic Farm’s mission, we want to use the farm as a resource for our community,” says Dartmouth Organic Farm Manager Laura Braasch. “One way we can do this is helping to educate consumers about what ‘organic’ food is and what that means at all levels. We saw this symposium as an opportunity to engage with our broader food community of consumers, producers and other stakeholders who are interested in making sustainable food a part of their life.”
The Real Organic Project Symposium featured virtual farm tours showing diverse types of farming including vegetables, fruit, dairy, meat and eggs. Programming also included TED style talks from a range of actors in the food system across the US, including growers, grocers, entrepreneurs, and academics. Talks addressed questions like: What does “organic” mean on a food label? Are current certification standards stringent enough? How can organic farming help mitigate climate change? In light of the USDA’s recent decision to embrace hydroponics as organic, much of the discussion focused on the first goal of the Real Organic Project: to create an add-on label to USDA that accounts for soil health.
“Something that I really appreciate about the Real Organic Project is their determination not to give up on organic,” Rachel Kent ‘21. “Real Organic wants to hold on to the word and to work to restore its original meaning, which is care for the soil. By extension, organic also means care for the human populations who rely on that soil, and the symposium really drove home the fact that the health of the soil and the health of human beings is so intertwined.”
Braasch sees opportunities to connect frameworks and practices discussed at the symposium to the classroom. “We see an opportunity to do some creative research and data tracking on how efforts to improve soil health work: Are they effective? Are they trapping more carbon? Could we use these methods as a larger scale climate solution?”
In many ways, the Dartmouth Organic Farm is an opportunity to talk about what the certification process means for small farms and what add-on certifications are emerging. “I would like to bring students into that process,” says Braasch. “After hearing from these farmers, I think our students are really excited to learn more about how certification works, how the Organic label is evolving, and what it means to grow healthy soils.”
Watch all of talks from the day, including influential farmer and author Eliot Coleman and Real Organic Project Executive Director Dave Chapman on the Real Organic Project YouTube Channel.