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Organic Trade Association announces 2022 Leadership award recipients

Winners to be honored on May 9 at Organic Week

Maggie McNeil
(202) 615-7997
April 6, 2023
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The Organic Trade Association (OTA) on Thursday honored four outstanding organic visionaries with its 2022 Organic Leadership Awards.  Recognizing their commitment and stewardship to supporting and advocating for organic on their farms and in their communities, advancing organic solutions to fight climate change, and addressing social needs and responsibilities, the trade association will celebrate these exemplary individuals during Organic Week next month.   

The Leadership Award winners will be hosted at an official reception on May 9, the opening day of OTA’s Organic Week in Washington, D.C.  Organic Week takes place May 9-11, and is an important opportunity for farmers, retailers and the entire organic supply chain to gather and collaborate for 72 hours and help shape decisions that impact the future of organic. Registration for Organic Week is open now.  


The Organic Trade Association first established its Organic Leadership Award in 1997 and awards have been given annually since. Awardees are nominated by their peers and chosen unanimously by the association’s Board of Directors. 

The distinguished 2022 Organic Leadership Award Honorees are:   

Organic Groundbreaker 

The Organic Groundbreaker Leadership Award recognizes long-standing OTA members who have dedicated their careers to advancing organic agriculture and trade by providing broad vision, innovative creations and solutions, and the work and leadership that turn dreams into reality. This year’s winner, David Oien, is a true organic pioneer. A third generation Montana farmer, David started farming in 1976 when he returned to his family’s wheat farm and transitioned it to organic, thus beginning his long and storied career in the industry.  

David was instrumental in introducing legumes to local organic farmers – and ultimately to the northern Great Plains – enabling depleted soils to be replenished with nitrogen fixing crops like chickpeas and lentils. He has been influential in expanding the practice of cover cropping, and an early advocate of crop rotations with a focus on the beneficial legumes. He founded Timeless Seeds and Timeless Organic Foods which have provided organic legume seeds to farmers and offered a valuable and profitable market for their crops. He is a nationally recognized expert in the benefits of growing organic legumes and biodiverse, nutrient dense crops, and has been throughout his farming career a tireless advocate in forwarding organic policy, research and education. 

“Our focus has always been to help maintain the model of family farming in an environmentally responsible way. Timeless Food has served as a channel to create value-added markets for farmers who were interested in farming organically and farming crops that they probably hadn’t farmed before,” said David. “Our mantra is the pulse crops and the heirloom grains -- unique varieties, premium quality, and nutrient density. Wheat is king in Montana. We don’t compete with them. We are certified organic family farmers who have the courage to do innovative crops.”  


Organic Farmer of the Year 

The Organic Farmer of the Year Leadership Award honors individuals who have made significant contributions to support and advance organic agriculture and trade at the farm level. Receiving that honor this year is April Jones Thatcher, owner of April Joy Farm in Washington state. April Joy Farm is a direct to market certified organic farm growing more than 200 varieties of vegetables, fruits, flowers and herbs on its richly bountiful 24 acres, alongside a grazing group of goats and donkeys devoted to the restoration of soils and a 70-bird flock of Animal Welfare Approved certified poultry.  

April started her farm from scratch by herself in 2006 and has been organic from day one.  From the beginning, April wanted her farm to connect closely with the community it serves, and all products from the farm are sold directly to families through a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. An engineer by training with an MBA, April established an apprentice program in 2017. She has partnered with other organic farms and businesses to expand their markets and her CSA offerings. She recently co-founded the Farm to Heart Initiative which is currently providing organic produce to 60 local children in low-income families free of charge. She and her husband Brad, who joined the farm in 2012, are full-time farmers with no off-farm income. 

“I deeply appreciate the opportunity to be a voice for America’s small acreage, organic farmers. Our contributions to the public good are repeatedly overlooked and minimized,” said April. “Organic farming is a dynamic, inspiring career -- one that challenges me every day to blend my technical and project management skills with my creative spirit and passion for working with natural systems. Organic farming is a very personal way for me to keep showing up for my land and community.”   


Organic Climate Action 

The Organic Climate Action Leadership Award recognizes an individual who has demonstrated exemplary leadership in advancing organic solutions to mitigate climate change. This year’s award goes to Nicole Rakobitsch, Director of Sustainability for CROPP Cooperative/Organic Valley. Nicole is a leader in the climate-smart agriculture community and has spearheaded significant sustainability projects at Organic Valley and with its farmer members. 

Nicole joined the Organic Valley team in 2012 as a sustainability coordinator after working with farmers for almost a decade on soil and water conservation planning and design in her home state of New York. Early on Nicole led a project that resulted in Organic Valley’s facilities being powered with 100 percent renewable electricity by 2019. Her team in 2021 partnered with a credit union to launch the Powering the Good Loan Fund to provide the best loan terms for Organic Valley farmers wanting to cut their reliance on fossil fuels with renewable energy. Her team most recently applied for a USDA Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities Grant and was awarded $25 million. This grant will allow the co-op to invest in 1,200 new climate-smart practices on more than 500 member-farms over the next 5 years. 

“I began my career working with farmers to design and implement conservation practices. I saw first-hand that farmers are stewards of the earth and discovered that organic farming has the potential to protect and even restore the earth.” say Nicole. “Farmers are interested in making improvements that better the earth...It is our role to help facilitate that change by providing educational, technical and financial resources. We can have a major positive impact on the earth when farmers are given the tools they need to succeed in conservation and climate-smart farming." 


Social Impact  

The Social Impact Leadership Award recognizes individuals who have made outstanding efforts to be a source of positivity and stability for customers and organic community members during the pandemic and beyond. The winner of this year’s award is Seth Goldman, co-founder of Eat the Change and its recently launched brand, Just Ice Tea. Seth is an activist entrepreneur who has committed his career to bringing organic, environmentally-friendly food to the public, and to ensuring livable wages and healthy working conditions for his employees and the farmers who grow his products.  

Seth began his career when he co-founded Honest Tea in 1998, the country’s first organic, Fair Trade Certified™ tea. In 2020, in the middle of the pandemic, Seth co-founded Eat the Change, focusing on nutrient-dense, plant-based products that prioritize organic ingredients and are kind to the planet. The Eat the Change Impact Grant Fund was then quickly established, which donated more than one million dollars to nonprofit groups providing access to climate-friendly foods. In fall 2022, Just Ice Tea, was launched after Coca-Cola – which had acquired Honest Tea in 2011 – unexpectedly discontinued the line. Rather than deserting the farmers and growers with whom the company had worked for decades, Seth and his partners launched a new organic and Fair Trade Certified™ bottled tea line in just three short months.  

“I am so honored to receive this award because the organic farming community is what inspires me to do this work. We are determined to democratize organics – to make them available to everyone,” said Seth. “I have always considered myself an activist, so our work to spread the adoption of organic food and drink is at the center of my climate change efforts. Organic must be at the core of any efforts to improve human health or planet health.” 

Sponsors for Organic Week 2023 events include Organic Valley, General Mills, Amy’s Kitchen, Danone, Ardent Mills, Applegate, Stonyfield, Driscoll’s, Oregon Tilth and Mercaris. For Organic Week sponsorship opportunities, contact the Organic Trade Association

About the Organic Trade Association

The Organic Trade Association (OTA) is the membership-based business association for organic agriculture and products in North America. OTA is the leading voice for the organic trade in the United States, representing over 10,000 organic businesses through membership and its Farmers Advisory Council. Its members include growers, shippers, processors, certifiers, farmers' associations, distributors, importers, exporters, consultants, retailers and others. OTA's Board of Directors is democratically elected by its members. OTA's mission is to promote and protect ORGANIC with a unifying voice that serves and engages its diverse members from farm to marketplace.