Organic Resources :: Leaders in Organics
From '60s Counter-Culture to Business Change Agent
Zoe Helene Interviews Theresa Marquez (pictured), Chief Marketing Executive, Organic Valley
ZH: I understand that your history in the Natural Products Industry is, "wide and deep." Please tell me a little about your history with The Organic Center.
TM: I'm one of the founding members. There is an entire chronological History of how the Center got started. The Center was a dream child of several people: myself, Katherine DiMatteo, Mark Retzloff, Gene Kahn and others. We were all on the Board of the Organic Trade Association (OTA). As the industry matured and as OTA grew, we knew we needed a completely separate entity focusing on the science of organics so that we could get scientific information to back up what we were experiencing.
ZH: Research was being done all over the world, but the scientists weren't in sync?
TM:Right - and they still aren't. Good science was being done, but scientists weren't syncing up and the science wasn't being publicized very well. We clearly needed both research and education and promotion. We formed a 501C3 so that others could get tax credit by donating and so that we could accept funds outside the industry.
ZH: What is your personal scientific background and why is science important?
TM: I have no scientific background. I was an English major with Creative Writing. I've been a Chief Marketing Executive in the industry for thirty plus years. How often have we heard in the organic industry, "Oh, there's no difference between organic and conventional, we can't believe that there is because there is no scientific research to prove it..." and they're still saying that by the way, and of course it isn't true. A funny thing about the human family - they hate change. You know, Zoe, personally I don't need the science. I have something that has become a rare thing: common sense.
ZH: But you can say this to someone and you still get that look.
TM: I don't bother trying to convince someone who is not convincible, and frankly I don't even need to anymore. People are coming into organics in droves, and they're doing it because of personal experiences and not because of science. But at least now we can look at some of the science and we can say, "Ha! Conventional equals higher pesticides, - organics equals lower pesticides," like we didn't already know that.
ZH: Taste plays a factor too.
TM: Organics is about soil. Feed the soil - you feed yourself and the world. Of course you can't exclude air and water, but soil is usually the most important component of good food. 'Foodies' understand soil has a lot to do with the way things taste.
There is a book called Our Stolen Future which I highly recommend. It has three authors; Theo Colburn, Diane Dumanoski and John Peterson Myers. They started doing a research study to see to what degree pesticides in our foods are responsible for cancer and ended up finding the real problem is how they wreak havoc on reproduction systems. They actually mimic our hormone system. They call them 'hormone imitators.' There is a huge amount of evidence that confirms if you're going to have cancer - even what type of cancer - this is probably determined while you're in utero.
ZH: So the pregnant mother unknowingly ingests toxins via conventional food she picks up at the local supermarket.
TM: Foods full of pesticides are basically going into the fetus when it is so completely new and vulnerable. Those toxins affect that baby for the rest of its life. We grow more rapidly than any other time in our lives when we are in the womb.
ZH: Trusted, beloved American brands.
TM: What do you make of the phenomenon of two female seagulls nesting together? How about hermaphrodite whales? How about the alligators in Florida that were born completely sterile without penises? When we start to trace the amount of reproductive problems in animals that are showing up now that have never shown up before, there's just no history of this, it is unprecedented. And then there are people who say, "Well that's just animals but it's not going to hurt humans."
ZH: Like we're not animals.
TM: And male sperm count. Today a man has 25% less sperm count than his father's did, but the biggest indicator is the skew from males to females. Now there is more female infertility than male infertility. Women are having a tougher time getting pregnant.
ZH: That's what happened in ancient Rome. Sperm count fell to nil because of lead poisoning.
TM: We have a huge amount of evidence. It is right there in front of our eyes. But the problem really isn't science. The problem is people's fear of change. In the agricultural world there are so many things that are broken. This isn't just me saying this. Many large companies such as Unilever and Sysco have acknowledged that the food system has problems and needs change.
ZH: The conventional business model of systematically demanding more profit regardless of how it affects product or people creating or consuming product is ultimately self-destructive.
TM: The government and the people producing this food are one. The revolving door is so blatant it's almost a joke. The food corporations run our world. Someone showed me George Bush's list of what he didn't want to see in the media because it would create panic. Everything we're talking about right now was on that list. Pesticides, reproductive problems, hormones, environmental degradation, global warming - the works.
Think about it, years ago scientists were arguing about whether or not global warming was real. Fifty percent would say it was and 50% would say it wasn't. Now only one percent of scientists believe there is no global warming.
In just a couple years, today's argument over whether or not pesticides are bad for the environment is going to change to, "We have an issue."
ZH: Your Earth Dinner Creativity Cards are beautifully executed. Can you share with us a little back story about how they came to be?
TM: A lot of times people make changes because they have an emotional catharsis, but how do you talk to people about things that really go to the heart? Stories are a way we pass down emotional content and somewhere along the way it seems many of us have lost the ability to tell them. Families have stopped having dinners together. When I grew up you learned a lot around the dinner table. So the cards, in part, were motivated by an impulse to help people learn to tell stories again around the dinner table.
ZH: Could you see doing a follow-up set that focuses on The Organic Center?
TM: We'd do a deck focused on the Center in a heart-beat. We're very much about facts, but facts can be tough to stomach all at once. Our first round of tended to be a bit negative. All the bad news. So we reworked the content to minimize that negative. But yes, we're definitely going to do other iterations including a kid's deck and this time we'll sneak in some of the more difficult facts around issues like water, which is a big problem. In our original deck talked about how many bushels of good soil lost for every bushel of conventional corn produced? Two bushels. Two bushels of eroded soil goes down the Mississippi and right on into the Gulf. There are 200 miles of dead zone caused by soil erosion and pesticide loading. These are facts. Facts that surely point to our stupidity, you know - the stupidity of the human race.
ZH: If we don't see the problem it doesn't exist.
TM: We're going to start posting some of the original research we did on the website. I'm really excited about it. We've got some really great, beautiful stuff. These facts are fun and stimulating and get people involved in gathering their own information instead of hitting them over the head.
ZH: I'd like to hear your thoughts on organics and animals, from farm animals to domesticated companion animals to wild animals at the mercy of the human animal.
TM: Whenever anyone asked me about science prior to the Center, I would say, "If you really want to know, ask a conventional dairy farmer who made the shift to organic about their animals." The facts here are extremely powerful. We deal with thousands of dairy farmers in our cooperative and their animals eat better than we do. They eat 100% organic. Medicines too are very restrictive. If you want to be a good organic farmer you have to be into wellness and preventative care because you have to use homeopathy and acupuncture and alternative medicines as a way to prevent things like mastitis. You can't just use antibiotics. They found out mastitis is genetic, by the way, and conventional farmers will simply cull the herd.
ZH: As in... kill.
TM: Yes, as in kill. The cull rate of conventional farmers is quite high, especially when compared to organics. Ask any farmer who has made that transition from conventional to organic dairy they will say, "I can't believe how healthy the animals are!"
ZH: This alone would make a great article and I think it should be done.
TM: I want to send you our Animal Wellness Calendar. It is dedicated to our Veterinarian, Dr. Paul Detloff, we call him "Doc Paul." He was a conventional vet who got into organics because he saw one of his clients on the street and he said, "I'm sorry you dropped me," and they said, "Oh I didn't drop you, my dog is just so healthy now I don't need to bring him in." I can't tell you how many farmers tell me, "If it weren't for Doc. Paul I wouldn't be in this business."
ZH: OK, so the last group would be endangered wildlife.
TM: There are many wonderful stories about farmers becoming interested in wildlife around them, on their farm, after making the switch from conventional to organic. Organic farmers have to find environmentally friendly ways to control things. Flies, for example, are a big problem in farming and you can't just use pesticides. Well, what is the best way to control flies? Birds. I know a farmer who had 100 swallow nests brought in and now he has almost no flies. That's what I love about organic farming: it definitely encourages creativity! And organic dairy farmers are getting a very fair price for milk now and can afford to develop conservation areas. They're out there encouraging wetlands or building buffer zones instead of drying them out for pasture to make ends meet. There's an old joke amongst farmers that goes, "What's the worst part of farming? Walking to the mailbox," because you don't ever know what you're going to get until it gets there. Any conventional farmer you talk to will say, "Yeup, that's the truth," and they won't even laugh. It's an abusive system, yet you still have dairy farmers that are so hateful of organics. They seem to think is some kind of wing-nut, longhaired hippy group, when really it's conventional farmers, family farmers, just plain old farmers trying to stay farming. Most dairy farmers, by the way, really love their animals.
ZH: It's a mindset.
TM: It's a way of thinking. You know there is this dialogue in the industry, "Oh we used to be a movement now we're an industry." Well we're an industry powered by a movement, and part of that movement is a deep respect for the environment. Pesticides are not environmentally respectful.
ZH: Did you know Christmas trees are heavily sprayed with pesticides? It has to do with mono crop farming.
TM: That's terrible. The Organic Center published a study where they took children from two to five-years-old and fed one group conventional and the other organic. Each day tested their urine was tested. The children eating conventional had eight times the amount of organophosphates in their urine (organophosphates being the most harmful in the pesticide family). Then when they switched the control groups, the pesticide levels in the urine dropped. This proved that eating organic could significantly reduce children's exposure to pesticides. Pesticides we don't even need. Yes. This study was conducted again and this time they switched the control groups after a week. And guess what? Almost overnight the amount of pesticide residue in the urine flipped. The children who were eating organic and were switched to conventional had eight times the organophosphate residue in their urine.
ZH: What exactly are organophosphates?
TM: Zoe, organophosphates (OPs) are described as nerve agents. OPs like chlorpyrifos and dimethoate are used extensively on most fruits and vegetables.
TM: I call this our toxic debt. It is time to pay it back. For instance, we don't know if we can reverse global warming, but hopefully, we can.
ZH: How did you get interested in all of this to begin with?
TM: How old are you?
ZH: I was born in 1964.
TM: OK, I'm a 1946 baby. I'm the first of a post World War II babies group. I'm an alternative hippy from the sixties. People in certain genres of literature call us the 'Disinheriters' as in, "I'm not going to live that way. I'm not going to be a middle class person with middle class values. I'm just not going to do it. I'm going to be an organic gardener."
My mother was the daughter of a dairy farmer and if you think about it, everyone was originally an organic farmer prior to the war. I was raised with a compost pile and make-from-scratch cooking. We almost never ate out. My mother would make us plant fish bones underneath the roses in the rose garden. I was raised in an old-fashioned way.
Then I hit the sixties and become my own drop-out counter-culture person. I simultaneously discovered Robert Rodale and Frances Moore Lappe. It was "Frankie" in Next Diet for a Small Planet who made me understand the politics of food. I'd never even thought about it. And yes, I was a "Disinheriter," and it all got jumbled up in the Vietnam War and that day in 1964 when John F. Kennedy was assassinated. It added up to a huge disillusionment about business as usual. I also have four brothers so of course I was a major feminist: anything to do with leadership and women.
We sixties kids were like, "No we're not going to do this, no we're not going to do that," and then after a while we started saying, "Well what are we going to do?" It probably was an entire decade, but after that decade we started to talk amongst ourselves and say, "OK, so what do we believe in?" and then, "Let's live the things we believe in. Get over being reactive and start being proactive. Walk the talk." Many of us in the Natural Products Industry come from that. And of course our huge influencer was music.
ZH: Of course. You dance very well, by the way.
TM: Oh we danced and made music and had a lot of fun. And of course it was great music. I have a daughter who is twenty and she knows all the music.
ZH: From Science to Music. Now you know I love that!
TM: And, Zoe, if you're interested that story about the animals and their health is just waiting to happen. I'm really surprised it isn't out there.
About Theresa Marquez:
Theresa Marquez has been involved in food and farming since the mid 1970s. Wearing a variety of hats throughout the past 30 years, her current job is Chief Marketing Executive for the largest organic farmers cooperative in the United States, CROPP Cooperative, and its brands Organic Valley Family of Farms® and Organic Prairie. CROPP consists of over 1000 small and mid-size family farmers. The Cooperative markets over 100 certified organic products including; milk, soy, cheese, butter, cultured products, eggs, produce, and meat. Marquez joined the Cooperative in 1995 and has helped to grow the business from $5 million to $334 million in 2006.
Marquez serves on the Organic Trade Association (OTA) Board of Directors, and The Organic Center, (TOC), a non profit organization dedicated to proving the benefits of organics. Marquez has been a guest speaker at numerous events and conferences including; Natural Products Expo, National Nutritional Foods Association, American Marketing Association, Organic Trade Association, Food Marketing Institute, WKKF Foundation. In addition she pioneered the Food Alliance eco label and is currently working hard to start a new national tradition - The Earth Dinner.
"As a marketer, I truly enjoy being a catalyst to bring people closer to food, farming and the environment. Besides the obvious benefits of taste and beauty, it is a joy to work and create together for a common goal."
About Zoe Helene:
Update January, 2007
VisionRose CEO Zoe Helene is a multidisciplinary artist and sustainability activist 'on a role'. A theatrical by trade, Zoe has with multiple interconnected projects in rapid development. Cosmic Sister is Premium Casual meets Luxury Eco, an evolutionary new body-conscious woman's fashion brand for the Eco It Girlie-Girl. "Cosmic Sister is about a truly integrated woman is dangerous in all the right ways." Zoe is also developing ARTists for SUSTAINability, a non profit organization enabling the power trio of Art, Sustainability and Socially Responsible Business build mutually beneficial relationships where all parties thrive, "Like the primary colors, each element is essential to the infinite spectrum of possibility." Zoe's extensive background in integrated communications and tribal marketing drives the snowball effect momentum, "The Digital Revolution gave us the power to influence rapid evolution through the unprecedented phenomenon of 24/7 global connectivity, real-time new media convergence. Collective E-consciousness." Zoe has also teamed up with Asheville based master multipercussionist and Composer River Guerguerian to produce a new album celebrating groove as universal language. "Music and dance transcends limiting chronological concepts of time and bridges even the most conflicted of cultural barriers." www.zoehelene.com