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Weighing In On The Growth Of Organics

Much as we applaud many aspects of Diane Brady's examination of the organics industry ("The organic myth," Cover Story, Oct. 16), we at Stonyfield Farm take exception to the cover image and text as well as the title of the story, all of which we found misleading.

The organics "myth"? The organics industry is "failing to stay true to its ideals"? Hardly. As Brady explains, Stonyfield Farm and other companies are spending considerable time and money sourcing now-scarce organic products, supporting family farms by paying premium prices, and helping farmers financially as they convert from conventional to organic.

Neglected in the story was the fact that our organic milk comes from our partnership with Organic Valley Family of Farms CROPP Cooperative, a dairy cooperative of more than 600 family farmers -- zero factory farms.

We source more than 160 million pounds of organic ingredients annually: fruit sweeteners, milk, grains, spices, etc., which support more than 40,000 acres of organic production. Also absent from the story was the fact that some ingredients, like organic cocoa, banana, and vanilla, can't be grown in the U.S., so we import them, while our imports of organic ingredients that could be grown in the U.S. make up less than 2% of our organic ingredient purchases.

Stonyfield Farm has been one of our nation's leading advocates of family farms in the U.S. for more than two decades. We spend millions of dollars each year investing in farmers converting to organic, sponsoring training workshops and other programs, and paying premiums to farmers to produce organic milk and other ingredients.

The potential of organic to transform agriculture and improve the health of the planet is no myth at Stonyfield Farm. It's a daily reality.

Gary Hirshberg

President and CEO

Stonyfield Farm

Londonderry, N.H.

Your article was incorrect in its descriptions of "confined" organic cows vs. those that are "free to roam." During the coldest half of the year, and indeed year-round, cows at Aurora Organic Dairy farms roam free in fresh air and sunshine, while most cows in New England in the winter are confined in barns.

Additionally, you were wrong to use the word "failure" to describe the encouraging growth of the organic movement. The insinuation that the "ideals" of organic have been compromised completely ignores the evolution and improvement of the movement over time. The author's view of organic ideals seems to come from a moldering copy of the Whole Earth Catalog, circa 1968.

We are also disappointed that the author chose to rehash the negative rhetoric of a few fringe activists instead of celebrating the great contribution that organic has made to America's food supply and environment.

Finally, the author's use of the term "organic myth" is not only false but is an insult to the hard-working, visionary people who are building the organic movement.

We believe all certified organic farms, companies, and their leaders should be upheld and supported, not inaccurately disparaged and sensationalized.

Marc Peperzak, CEO

Mark Retzloff, President

Aurora Organic Dairy

Boulder, Colo.

It is true that demand for organic milk and other foods is growing faster than supply. Shortages of many organic ingredients are increasing prices and our reliance on imports and invite the attention of entrepreneurs and growth-oriented companies. But to suggest that as a result the entire organic food industry rests on a myth is ridiculous and unfair. Imagine how different the average business story in your magazine would be if this same logic were applied to other sectors of the economy.

Increasing U.S. production of organic foods and animal products is the long-term solution to today's shortages. Currently, farm policies designed to solve pre-WWII problems and practical hurdles facing farmers thinking of adopting organic farming are holding back the transition of farmland to organic production. The forthcoming farm bill should focus on overcoming these constraints as one way to more effectively assure food safety and security for consumers and more and better jobs all along the food chain.

Dr. Charles Benbrook

Chief Scientist

The Organic Center

Troy, Ore.

The one missing element in your otherwise impressive and comprehensive story was a lack of emphasis on the fact that the vast majority of all dairy products in this country, like many other organic categories, are produced by businesses of high ethical integrity.

A comprehensive report that rated the country's 70 organic dairy brands, posted on, indicates that approximately 90% rely exclusively on family farms, not on the large industrial feedlot dairies profiled in your story.

Dean Foods Co.'s (DF) Horizon Organic milk may be the largest player in the market, but it would be a grave disservice to all the hard-working family farmers in the country if consumers conclude that Horizon's 8,000-cow operation in the Idaho desert has become the standard for organic production.

Mark Alan Kastel

The Cornucopia Institute

Cornucopia, Wis.

As an organic farmer, it is difficult for me to see the words "The Organic Myth" on the cover of a national magazine. However, organic farmers are not in denial that industrial agriculture is doing everything it can to put industry into the regulatory definition of organic agriculture.

The side of the story you missed, though, is that organic agriculture has the potential to meet the demands of the future. We are now paying the price for the U.S. Agriculture Dept. not promoting organic practices in the 1970s, when farmers were instead told to plant "fence row to fence row." If 36 years of federal research and support had been thrown behind organic agriculture, we would all be healthier right now, and supply would more than meet demand.

Tom Ruggieri

Fair Share Farm

Kearney, Mo.

I worked on and off for Sandy Weill beginning in 1974 until his retirement ("Self-portrait, ego included," Books, Oct. 16). In this era of sad performances by so many American chief executives, there are several key things your reviewer missed about Sandy's career.

First, he could cut costs, unlike most Wall Street CEOs. Second, he made people perform better than they ever thought they could. Key employees would do anything to get the approval of "Big Daddy," and his aura raised everyone's level of play. Lastly, unlike so many in the modern CEO ranks, Weill made money for everyone who bet with him. One old employee said to me several years ago: "He made more [people] into millionaires than any CEO in American history." Not a bad legacy.

John D. Spooner


Marie Gryphon's ideas in "Better teachers: A lesson plan" (Ideas: Outside Shot, Oct. 16) won't work. Here's why:

Corporations won't pay the higher taxes needed to feed the budget for dynamic math and science teachers. There is a serious shortage of math and science talent in America, which creates market demand. But businesses can simply pay more for the math and science talent available. Public education can never compete dollar for dollar while such a shortage exists.

Gryphon's market approach might sound good, but it isn't realistic. I guess that's why some of us actually work in schools while others dream fanciful dreams in ivory towers.

Kevin Brisbois

Tualatin, Ore.

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