When Rose Welch and her husband Ronnie Cummins started the Organic Consumers Association in 1998, it was a tiny grassroots effort headquartered just north of Silver Bay, and formed mainly to pressure the federal government to keep strict organic standards.
Now, the organization has seven employees in Finland, Minn., and a handful more spread across the country. Five years ago, they became international after they helped start an organic-focused nonprofit in Mexico.
Welch still remembers those early months, though, holding meetings at the library in Silver Bay and recruiting a high school student to help them build a GeoCities website.
“You look back at all that and go, ‘Wow,'” Welch said this week from Via Organica, OCA’s sister nonprofit in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. “It’s really become a movement.”
Today, they have 900,000 Facebook followers and send a weekly e-newsletter to more than 600,000 subscribers.
Early in her career, Welch and her husband worked in Washington, D.C., lobbying against genetically modified organisms (GMOs), particularly vegetables, fruits and other crops which have had their genes altered artificially. Such efforts at the policy level are important, Welch said, but she and Cummins saw the need for an organization that tackled similar food issues using a grassroots approach.
“When we first started out, there wasn’t an organization that dealt primarily with consumers and organics,” she said. “We’re giving people the positive options and letting them know that there is an alternative out there.”
Fighting against the current U.S. food production system as important to the couple, but so is enabling an alternative way of life. This drive led Cummins and Welch to Mexico, where they teamed up Welch’s longtime friend Rosana Álvarez to start Via Organica, an organic farm, shop, restaurant and educational facility.
“This whole system we have set up in the U.S. is hurting people so badly,” Welch said, citing farm subsidies and other policies that she says have enabled U.S. crops, especially corn, to be sold cheaply in Mexico. She said this has undermined the local market, forcing Mexican farmers to leave their land and find work elsewhere — often across the border in the U.S. She also said imported corn has negatively affected the diets of Mexicans.
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