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Member Community Round-Up

Two years into the pandemic, there is perhaps no more familiar cultural phrase describing the past year than “You’re on mute.” It immediately conjures memories of a 2021 filled with virtual meetings. At the Organic Trade Association (OTA), many were meetings where members offered their knowledge, industry insights, and time within our member communities’ portfolio. Online meeting platforms provided members a virtual space to connect with familiar friends and new industry partners as our member communities continued taking steps to advance organic this past year. (And of course, these meetings regularly offered someone the chance to remind a friend they were on mute.)

We offered more than 20 different member community engagement opportunities in 2021, some which focused on specific policy issues and others which built community among members across various organic sectors. There was much exciting work completed by our members and staff through our sector councils and task forces. As we have found, these communities provide members an opportunity to learn, network, share, teach, and develop leadership skills to help grow organic.

The trade association also invites its members to participate in time-bound, task-charged, outcome-focused task forces, which are convened either by the Board of Directors, staff, or members to recommend a course of action or accomplish a specific objective. Some meet a few times only; others are driven by regulatory or legislative agendas such as the Origin of Livestock rulemaking, the Continuous Improvement and Accountability in Organic Standards Act, or NOSB petition on ammonia extract. In 2021, over 10 task forces with 130 unique member organizations participated to shape policy recommendations and help to advance organic.

Concurrent to this work, our sector councils offer networking, community building, and leadership opportunity to farms and companies that join. In the past year, we added two new Sector Councils: the Sustainable Food Trade Action Council (SFTAC) and the Diversity Council. Our sector councils represent members across the full supply chains of organic dairy, dietary supplements, fiber, grains, produce, and retailer sectors, as well as farmers. We have nearly 200 unique member organizations participating in nine sector councils, all of which meet virtually at least four times a year. Members develop and approve work plans with the guidance of staff liaisons.

A look at council wins in 2021:

  • The Dairy Council continued forward progress on its goals to advocate for clear regulations and consistent enforcement of organic dairy standards, from helping to shape our comments for the NOSB spring proposed rule or closely monitoring the Origin of Livestock rulemaking process. This council also helped in evaluating the impact of Federal Milk Marketing Orders and other proposed changes on the organic dairy sector.

    This past year also was challenging, with particular attention to the northeastern United States where multiple dairy companies announced non-renewals of contracts for over 135 farms. Meeting time was dedicated to discussing solutions and evaluating how to prevent similar outcomes in the future, resulting in a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack outlining these potential solutions. With members representing farmers, processors, and manufacturers, the group is uniquely positioned to advocate now and in the future for solutions to grow the sector.
  • The Dietary Supplements Council prioritized its professional development through robust information sharing and networking at its meetings and advocacy for residue testing issues for supplements. Some of the key issues discussed included the impact of supply chain disruptions on industry and the growth and challenges of evolving organic hemp and hemp-derived ingredients. In collaboration with OTA’s Fiber Council, it supported the completion of the association’s Hemp Fact Sheet published at

    Since this council’s formation, it has prioritized and valued the education offered from NOSB updates from our Regulatory Team. It grew its membership in 2021, adding two new members, and looks forward to continual growth and education in 2022.
  • Approved by the Board in June 2021, the Diversity Council held its first meeting in August with over 30 people in attendance. It currently has 26 member companies participating in this newest OTA Council. Since the inaugural meeting, members and staff recruited new OTA members through our Diversity and Entrepreneurship Program, and created a graduate fellowship to support diversity work at The Organic Center. This council is working to highlight engagement, opportunity, and retention in 2022, while fostering an inclusive environment in which diverse groups find their place in the organic movement.
  • Our Farmers Advisory Council (FAC) provides input from small- and medium-sized organic farmers, ranchers, and growers for organic agriculture’s advancement. FAC members met with 29 members of Congress and five USDA agencies as part of its virtual annual farmer fly-in last February, advocating for the most pressing challenges facing organic farmers and amplifying policy priorities including advancing organic standards, fighting climate change, and ensuring organic farmers received adequate support in federal COVID relief efforts.

    In June, FAC hosted a listening session for USDA leadership on priorities for future investment in support of organic transition. Members have started offering insights on critical issues such as agricultural workforce safety, organic certification cost-share, crop insurance, and conservation programs, which will help shape OTA’s farm bill platform development in 2022.
  • With nearly 50 member organizations participating on our Fiber Council, members attended quarterly meetings that kept everyone connected through roundtable updates celebrating the successes and challenges members faced across the supply chain. These updates always result in great discussions, sharing, and networking—at a social distance! In February, the Council co-hosted an information-rich webinar with The Organic Center presenting research into the environmental footprint of organic cotton funded by Fiber Council members in 2019 undertaken in collaboration with Iowa State University.
  • In July, six members co-hosted an Organic Textile Twitter Party with Organic Voices, reaching thousands of consumers and influencers. Members continue to prioritize research, education, and communication, which this year included updating their Organic Cotton Fact Sheet with the latest production and market data, and collaborating with the Dietary Supplements Council on a one-pager on organic hemp production published at The council continues to add new members every year from across the supply chain, with ambitious goals for 2022 membership and work.
  • Members of the Grain, Pulse, and Oilseed Council represent the entire supply chain from growers to processors to manufacturers. This past year, they elected and seated new officers who collectively represent the organic grain sector from seed to feed to food. Over the year, they received technical policy briefings on critical international trade issues impacting the U.S. supply of organic soybean meal. They also engaged in a series of roundtable discussions on business and industry updates, inspirational organic moments, and impacts from COVID-19 on grain production and supply chain issues. Following the election of new officers for the council, they are finalizing efforts for another aspiring 2022 work plan.
  • As a community of diverse stakeholders across the organic produce value chain, the Produce Council had an exciting first full year of work in 2021. Members prioritized technical policy briefings on regulatory and legislative issues during meetings, including briefings on a petition to prohibit ammonia extract, USDA’s plans for an organic transition program, and outcomes on the latest hydroponics lawsuit. Like many other sectors, they engaged in a roundtable discussion on the impacts of COVID-19 on production and supply chain issues, such as accessibility of farmworkers to PPE and vaccines, and other workforce safety priorities.

    In November they hosted a listening session for researchers from the University of Rhode Island and The Organic Center on food safety incongruities between NOP standards and third-party food safety requirements. A member survey identified that their geographic footprint reaches every U.S. state and nearly every continent, which will help identify opportunities for member recruitment and to promote council diversity and representation.
  • Our Retailer Council re-wrote the Good Organic Retail Practices (GORP) guide on how to sell organic products in 2021—first published by the trade more than 15 years ago. In addition to updates to regulations around how organic products should be handled and marketed at retail, the updated GORP guide contains new guidance for non-food organic products, as well as for online retailers. In August, the council hosted a webinar for members and prospects on GMOs, learning about the novel genetic technologies emerging that are transforming the food production industry. Council members anticipate releasing the revised GORP guide in 2022 and look forward to getting this vital information out to retailers across the country.
  • The Sustainable Food Trade Action Council consists of more than 50 sustainably minded businesses committed to strengthening the organic sector’s voice in work relating to sustainability and climate, and boosting the sector’s efforts to create an environmentally friendly, sustainable food system. In January 2021, the Sustainable Food Trade Association (SFTA) consolidated with OTA to form the Sustainable Food Trade Action Council (SFTAC). Fourteen OTA members have joined this past year.

    In May, this newly formed council organized a UN Independent Dialogue on organic as a solution. The event was hosted by seven council members and brought more than 50 diverse stakeholders to look at the ways organic can help address hunger, poverty, climate change, and inequality. Throughout the year, members continued engagement in COMPASS Modules and Sustainability Reporting, tools that SFTA developed for organic businesses to build, measure and refine their sustainability programs. The council’s work in 2022 will prioritize continued advocacy, networking and thought leadership, education and communication, strategic partnerships, and more.

With unique aims that guide their work, members of each council connected virtually to meet their ambitious work plans in another year filled with uncertainty. Whether a council had over 50 members represented at a meeting or fewer than 20, they gathered to share their time, passion, triumphs, and struggles while advocating for growth within their organic sector.

If you have not yet, we encourage you to connect with your fellow organic advocates and ensure your voice is not on mute in 2022. Member communities are an invaluable opportunity for networking, education, and leadership at OTA and we need you at the table! Learn more about each at

This article was originally published in the Spring 2022 Organic Report, you can view the full magazine here.