OP: The “Organic and Sustainable Agriculture Policy Advisor” is a newly created
position. Why was this position created and what kinds of responsibilities and duties
will you be undertaking?
Lipson: My position is a result of the organic community’s voices being heard.
The National Organic Coalition, the Organic Trade Association and OFRF have
all recommended that a position like this be created since the beginning of the
The general idea for
the job is to help coordinate and facilitate development of policy for
organic farming issues
that go beyond the regulatory program of the
NOP. Prior to this, everyone including USDA employees would contact the
NOP with all kinds of
questions about organic,
but the NOP has a lot on
its plate and needs to
focus specifically on its
regulatory and enforcement responsibilities. This position was created, in part,
to be able to help take things off the NOP’s plate that don’t deal directly with
its regulatory mission.
The other very important part of my job is to act as a facilitator and shepherd, bringing different USDA agencies together. Due to the growth of the organic sector and the development of organic policies brought about by the
latest Farm Bill, organic agriculture has already started to become more integrated throughout the USDA, but not necessarily in a coordinated fashion. My
job is to make that happen.
One project I have been working on is the development of tracking codes
for the import and export of organic product. This involves representatives
from the NOP, Foreign Agricultural Services (FAS) and Customs and Border
Control. In addition, I will be a liaison between the NOP and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), helping integrate organic producers
into the federally run conservation programs. I’m also working on the “Know
Your Farmer, Know Your Food” initiative, which I will expand on later.
I guess the agricultural metaphor for my job duties would be to be cultivate
the organic seedlings that we have in various parts of the USDA and get them
well-rooted and established. It’s about institutionalizing the knowledge about
organic within each department.
The USDA’s “Know Your Farmer/Know Your Food” initiative is part
of a goal to support rural agricultural communities and reconnect
people with where their food comes from.
quality. Number three is promotion of
agricultural production and international trade. And, number four is
healthy food and diets, specifically for
None of these goals are necessarily
brand new, but there is more focus
than there was before. I will be identifying where organic farming fits into
these strategic goals. Obviously, I think
organic has a role to play in all of
these goals and, in some cases, could
have a leading role.
OP: Can you tell us about the Organic
Lipson: The Organic Working Group
is an informal information-sharing network for all those within USDA who
deal with organic within the duties of
their job. I will be helping facilitate
this group along with others who have
led it for years, but my job will be to
take it to a more intentional level of
coordination and growth.
My goal is to help develop a more
regular system of sharing information
about organic from each of the different agencies and generating ideas for
synergy. A key part of this is getting
more systematic about information
flowing out to people outside the
USDA, such as the public and the organic community. For example, how
do we get to the point where those in
the organic community know where to
go to for information on trade development or conservation program
OP: What are the latest details regarding
the ‘08 Farm Bill implementation for or-
ganics? What are some of the challenges?
OP: You said that the USDA has a new strategic plan and priorities. Can you tell us
Lipson: There are four major goals. The first is to promote the vitality of rural
communities. The second is to improve the conservation and resilience of
working lands, including forest and private agricultural lands that are producing foods and fiber. This means improved performance and environmental
Lipson: Some parts of the farm bill are
already fully implemented and are
preparing for the next cycle of annual
funding. For example, the organic research provisions in the farm bill have
already gone through a couple of cy-