Lessons for Organic Agriculture from the Upper Midwest Organic Marketing Project

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American Journal of Alternative Agriculture





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The strategic implications of a major, unique effort in the U.S. to expand organic food and agriculture are examined in this article. The authors recently completed an evaluation of the Upper Midwest Organic Marketing Project (UMOMP), funded initially by The Pew Charitable Trusts, and under the guidance of the Midwest Organic Alliance (MOA). The UMOMP was designed to increase the land area under organic production in North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, and Wisconsin. On the supply side, the focus was on organic grain, edible bean, and dairy commodities. On the demand side, an increase in organic food consumption was the focus in the Minneapolis—St. Paul metropolitan area. The UMOMP not only encouraged growth in demand, but also aided in the creation of necessary regional organic production, processing, distribution, and retail infrastructure. The UMOMP was generally successful, notably in the increased involvement of mainstream grocery stores in providing and promoting organic food products. Part of this success was due to the MOA's help in forging broker and distributor connections between mainstream stores and regional and national organic suppliers. A broad-based public awareness campaign about organic food and agriculture was another important element in the UMOMP strategy. The organic production and marketing educational effort should help to enable future expansion of organic hectarage. However, serious national or regional strategies to encourage organic farming probably will need other elements as well. Such strategies will involve some fundamental issues about the future structure and nature of organic farming and food systems, e.g., whether organic agriculture can remain centered on small- and moderate-sized family farms that operate in a somewhat independent and entrepreneurial fashion. Whether organic agriculture can be a vehicle for encouraging food systems that are more regional in geographic scope is a related issue. Preserving an organic farming and food system that differs substantially from the presently evolving “industrial” system may necessitate a slower and more deliberate approach than was used in the UMOMP. However, that could involve some sacrifice in the rate of growth in organic supply and demand.

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