Apr 6, 2023
OTA recognizes four organic farmers with leadership awards

Four organic farmers have been honored by the Organic Trade Association with the 2022 Organic Leadership Awards. The winners will be honored next month at a reception in Washington, D.C., during OTA’s Organic Week.

The awards, established in 1997, recognize leaders in four categories: Organic Farmer of the Year, Organic Groundbreaker, Organic Climate Action and Social Impact. Honorees are nominated by their peers and chosen by the OTA board of directors.

The 2022 winners are:

Farmer of the Year: April Jones Thatcher of April Joy Farm

Thatcher started her organic Washington farm in 2006. The direct-to-market operation grows more than 200 varieties of vegetables, fruits, flowers and herbs on 24 acres, alongside grazing goats and donkeys for soil restoration and a 70-bird flock of Animal Welfare Approved certified poultry.

April Jones Thatcher of April Joy Farm is OTA’s 2022 organic Farmer of the Year. Photo: Provided

Thatcher established an apprentice program in 2017 and has partnered with other organic farms and businesses to expand their markets and her Community Supported Agriculture offerings. She recently co-founded the Farm to Heart Initiative which provides free organic produce to 60 local children in low-income families.

“I deeply appreciate the opportunity to be a voice for America’s small acreage, organic farmers. Our contributions to the public good are repeatedly overlooked and minimized,” Thatcher said. “Organic farming is a dynamic, inspiring career — one that challenges me every day to blend my technical and project management skills with my creative spirit and passion for working with natural systems. Organic farming is a very personal way for me to keep showing up for my land and community.”

Organic Groundbreaker: David Oien of Timeless Seeds

Oien, a third-generation Montana farmer, returned to his family’s wheat farm in 1976 and began transitioning it to organic. He helped introduce legumes to local organic farmers — and ultimately to the northern Great Plains — enabling depleted soils to be replenished with nitrogen-fixing crops such as chickpeas and lentils. He has been influential in expanding the practice of cover cropping and was an early advocate of crop rotations.

Oien founded Timeless Seeds and Timeless Organic Foods to provide organic legume seeds to farmers and a market for their crops. He is a nationally recognized expert in the benefits of growing organic legumes and biodiverse crops.

“Our focus has always been to help maintain the model of family farming in an environmentally responsible way,” Oien said. “Timeless Food has served as a channel to create value-added markets for farmers who were interested in farming organically and farming crops that they probably hadn’t farmed before. Our mantra is the pulse crops and the heirloom grains — unique varieties, premium quality and nutrient density. Wheat is king in Montana. We don’t compete with them. We are certified organic family farmers who have the courage to do innovative crops.”

Organic Climate Action: Nicole Rakobitsch of CROPP Cooperative/Organic Valley

Nicole Rakobitsch, director of sustainability for CROPP Cooperative/Organic Valley, joined the organization in 2012 after working with farmers for almost a decade on soil and water conservation planning and design in her home state of New York. Early on, Nicole led a project that resulted in Organic Valley’s facilities being powered with 100% renewable electricity by 2019. In 2021, her team partnered with a credit union to launch the Powering the Good Loan Fund to provide the best loan terms for Organic Valley farmers wanting to cut their reliance on fossil fuels with renewable energy.

Her team most recently was awarded a $25 million USDA Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities Grant which will allow the co-op to invest in 1,200 new climate-smart practices on more than 500 member-farms over the next five years.

“I began my career working with farmers to design and implement conservation practices. I saw first-hand that farmers are stewards of the earth and discovered that organic farming has the potential to protect and even restore the earth,” Rakobitsch said. “Farmers are interested in making improvements that better the earth. … It is our role to help facilitate that change by providing educational, technical and financial resources. We can have a major positive impact on the earth when farmers are given the tools they need to succeed in conservation and climate-smart farming.”

Social Impact: Seth Goldman of Eat the Change

Seth Goldman, co-founder of Eat the Change and its recently launched brand, Just Ice Tea, is an activist entrepreneur committed to bringing organic food to the public and to ensuring livable wages and healthy working conditions for his employees and the farmers who grow his products.

In 1998, Goldman co-founded Honest Tea, the country’s first organic, Fair Trade Certified tea. In 2020, he co-founded Eat the Change, focused on nutrient-dense, plant-based products that prioritize organic ingredients. The Eat the Change Impact Grant Fund donated more than $1 million to nonprofit groups providing access to climate-friendly foods. In fall 2022, Just Ice Tea was launched after Coca-Cola, which acquired Honest Tea in 2011, discontinued the line.

“I am so honored to receive this award because the organic farming community is what inspires me to do this work. We are determined to democratize organics — to make them available to everyone,” Goldman said. “I have always considered myself an activist, so our work to spread the adoption of organic food and drink is at the center of my climate change efforts. Organic must be at the core of any efforts to improve human health or planet health.”

Registration for Organic Week is now open.


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