OSU Organic Extension Program Update

Author: Nick Andrews, Oregon State University Small Farms Program

Publication Date: Winter 2021

OSU Extension and Oregon Tilth, Inc. have been working together since 2017 to develop a new Organic Extension Program at OSU. The nascent program started in 2018 with one half-time Organic Vegetable Extension position. Friends of Family Farmers, the Oregon Organic Coalition, and Organic Valley, wanting to build the program, asked Oregon lawmakers to fund the new Extension program and this legislative advocacy was rewarded on June 26, 2019 when House Bill 5050 passed. The legislation mandated funding for two additional Organic Extension positions.

A group of Organic farming stakeholders met with OSU administrators and decided to start the program with one Organic Vegetable and one Organic Pasture and Forages Extension position. Both are fulltime Professor of Practice faculty with field-based positions. They will be part of the OSU Center for Small Farms and Community Food Systems, but will work with organic farms of all sizes around the state. In January, 2020, I accepted the Organic Vegetable position, the Organic Pasture and Forages position is currently being filled.

In 2019, OSU Extension formed an Organic Extension working group, an interdisciplinary team of OSU faculty and staff who are interested in working with organic farmers. That April we hosted the Organic Extension Summit at the OSU North Willamette Research and Extension Center along with industry stakeholders and identified some promising areas of collaboration. In 2020, we launched the OSU Organic Agriculture website, which highlights organic agriculture resources, OSU faculty who are interested in working with organic farmers, and some current organic agriculture projects at OSU.

Since 2017, Oregon Tilth has provided invaluable financial assistance to secure these positions and are continuing their support with the goal of forming a third Organic Grains and Pulses position. Oregon Tilth, Friends of Family Farmers, the Oregon Organic Coalition, and Organic Valley will also continue to advocate for additional Organic Extension funds from the state.

The Oregon Organic Coalition is leading an organic stakeholder work group to develop an Oregon Organic Action Plan that will identify strategic ways to further strengthen the organic sector in Oregon. The stakeholder work group includes representatives from across the organic sector. The Action Plan includes policy proposals for the upcoming 2021 legislative session, as well as recommendations for long-term public, private and non-profit actions to support and grow organic agriculture and business activities in Oregon. The goal with this plan will be to develop a roadmap for more fully leveraging the economic, environmental and health benefits of organics.