Rodale Institute Honors 2021 Organic Pioneer Award Winners

Photos above: Jay Feldman delivers remarks at the Rodale Institute (l); Jay Feldman and Maria Rodale (m); Jay Feldman and Rodale Institute CEO Jeff Moyer (r). 

For Immediate Release

KUTZTOWN, PA, September 12, 2021—This weekend, Rodale Institute, the global leader in regenerative organic agriculture, honored the recipients of the 11th Annual Organic Pioneer Awardsan annual recognition of leaders who are changing the landscape of regenerative organic agriculture for the better. Beyond Pesticides founder and Executive Director Jay Feldman, farmer and activist Denise O’Brien and New Mexico farmer Don Bustos are the 2021 Organic Pioneer Award recipients.

Jay Feldman is the founder and executive director of Beyond Pesticides. He boasts a 40-year history of working with communities nationwide to educate them about toxins and organic policies and practices, addressing agricultural, lawn and landscape management practices that maintain ecological balance, enhance biodiversity and eliminate toxic chemical use. (Please watch this 3½ minute video reflection from Jay Feldman: 40 Years Beyond Pesticides.)

Jay has successfully fought to remove from the market hazardous pesticides and helped draft pivotal local, state and federal organic law. In 2010, he was appointed to the National Organic Standards Board where he served as chair of the Crops Committee. Jay is a past chair and board member of Earth Share, and currently serves on the standards board of the Real Organic Project and the executive committee of the National Organic Coalition.

Prior to his founding Beyond Pesticides in 1981, he served as the Health Programs Director of Rural America, an advocacy group for rural areas and small towns. Jay has a Masters Degree in urban and regional planning with a focus on health policy from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, and a B.A. from Grinnell College (IA). (See a summary of his remarks below.)

Denise O’Brien is a farmer and community activist from Atlantic, Iowa. She is the co-founder of Women Food and Agriculture Network and past chair of the Board of Directors for Pesticide Action Network of North America. Denise also helped found and served on the board of Sustainable Iowa Land Trust, an organization that helps establish beginning farmers and uses easements to preserve land for food production in Iowa.

She currently serves on the board of the Iowa Organic Association, is the chair for the county Democratic Party and is an Assistant Soil and Water Commissioner. O’Brien served as an Agriculture Advisor in Afghanistan from 2011 to 2012 and used that experience to deepen her knowledge of women farmers on an international level.

She has farmed with her husband, Larry Harris, for 45 years and maintains 17 acres of the original Harris farm, five of which offer certified organic fruit and vegetable production and incorporate a high tunnel and greenhouse for starter plants as well as turkeys. Denise loves the physical and mental challenge that organic vegetable production offers her aging body.

Don Bustos is a family farmer from Northern New Mexico, farming land that has been in his family since the Spanish Land Grant of 1598. He was one of the first farmers in New Mexico to receive organic certification and has been certified for over 20 years. In addition to farming his family land, Don is a co-director of the American Friends Service Committee’s New Mexico Program, where he focuses on training beginning farmers and developing farmer networks throughout the state.

Don served on USDA’s Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) board and was the chair of the Western SARE board from 2011-2013. He also serves on the board of the New Mexico Acequia Association and is a former board member of the Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture. Don played a lead role in developing the vision and raising the funds for the Santa Fe Farmers Market Complex, considered one of the top farmers markets in the country. 

Source: Rodale Institute

Jay Feldman's Acceptance Remarks: A Summary

Jay Feldman at the Rodale Institute's Organic Pioneer Awards celebration in Kutztown, PA on September 11, 2021.

Beyond Pesticides' executive director Jay Feldman at the Rodale Institute's Organic Pioneer Awards celebration in Kutztown, PA on September 11, 2021.

At the ceremony for the Rodale Institute’s Organic Pioneer Awards for 2021, award winner Jay Feldman, executive director of Beyond Pesticides, said: “I am honored and humbled to receive the Rodale Institute’s Organic Pioneer Award and join the list of current and former awardees of farmers, scientists, and advocates. These are all dedicated leaders who have worked to define the severe problems associated with chemical-intensive agriculture and establish organic standards as a necessary and viable path forward in protecting the land and public health—as we confront the climate crisis and biodiversity collapse. I personally and for Beyond Pesticides, its staff and board, deeply appreciate this honor.”

As he remarked during the awards ceremony at the Rodale Institute in Kutztown, PA on September 11, “My own journey took me from the coal fields of southern West Virginia, where miners suffer from black lung disease, to the farm fields across the United States, where farmworkers and family farmers suffer pesticide poisoning. I learned about the inadequacies of the federal pesticide law directly from those who handled or were exposed to pesticides and suffered daily exposure and illness, and quickly turned to organic as the solution. “

“In 1982, I asked Bob Rodale if he would testify in the Agriculture Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives on the Organic Farming Act, bipartisan supported legislation that was intended to set up the Low-Input Sustainable Agriculture Program (now the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program) at USDA, to support research and organic practices. Bob agreed to testify without hesitation when others feared losing their credibility by uttering the word “organic” in the Agriculture Committee. At that time, it was viewed as fringe and not viable commercially. When the bill stalled, we changed the name to the Agricultural Productivity Act, and within a year it passed Congress. Then, we went on to work with the broader organic community to pass the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) in 1990, which established federal standards and labeling for organic food production. These efforts embrace the efforts that Rodale spearheaded in calling for and teaching regenerative practices that must start with organic principles. There is no time for compromise with regenerative practices that do not holistically embrace organic practices at least as stringent as OFPA.”

“Our work is now at a critical intersection on key issues related to the existential crises of climate and biodiversity. In taking petroleum-based pesticides and fertilizers out of use, organic has become the only viable holistic solution to tackle the public health and environmental problems associated with the threats we face. And, when we face these challenges, we protect those who are disproportionately affected by pesticide and synthetic fertilizer dependency, farmworkers, family farmers, landscapers, others who handle and produce these toxic products, and those at highest risk in the people of color community as workers or as residents of towns next to production facilities or chemical-intensive farms.”

“At Beyond Pesticides we are extending the principles of organic to all land management –parks, playing fields, open space, and other landscapes—as communities across the country are recognizing the role that all land management plays in eliminating the toxic products, protecting ecosystems, ensuring resiliency, sequestering carbon, and healing our planet. It is an honor to be recognized for our work and the collaborations that we are a part of to move ahead with the urgent transformations that are taking place and must take place for a sustainable future that respects life.”