A letter from OEFFA Executive Director Carol Goland
In July I shared with the board and staff my intention to leave my position as executive director of OEFFA at the end of this year. I’m now including you in that news, and I’d like to take a moment to say more about my decision and to reflect both on my time with OEFFA and what lies ahead for us both.
I’ve long had a suspicion that executive directors have a certain shelf life, and I’ve wanted to be mindful of not staying beyond my expiration date. The average tenure of non-profit executive directors is six years. Staying on through the fall allows me to complete 18 years, a number which is personally meaningful.
There have been times over the years when the work has been especially tough, when we’re facing whatever challenge has come along, and it was tempting to think about stepping away. But that never felt like the right time: not right for me, since it would feel like I was leaving in defeat, and certainly not right for the organization, walking away and asking someone new to step in and immediately face a big problem.
The alternative is to leave when things are going well. It’s a little harder on a personal level, because that’s when the work is especially fun, but of course that’s the best time for the organization to undergo a transition. It took me a long time to reconcile myself to the fact that I’d have to make the decision to step away when things were going well and I was having fun. Of course, that leads to some ambivalence, which I expected and accept.
I mention all of this to underscore that I chose to leave now because of my confidence that OEFFA is in a position of relative strength, making this a good time to hand over the reins. This in turn is a reflection of everyone involved in OEFFA, most certainly our staff, but also our board, other volunteers, and all of you who support our mission with the choices you make about how you grow and what you eat.
This is a really great job that I have loved. But after 18 years, I’m ready for something else. I don’t know what the next chapter holds—and I will correct you if you refer to this as my “retirement,” as that’s not my plan. I’m going to take the winter to rest, literally and figuratively clean house, and figure out what comes next.
Inevitably, this transition has me thinking about how OEFFA and our movement have changed in the last 18 years. When I started as executive director in October 2004, I joined an existing staff totaling four: two people working 1¼ time in OEFFA Certification, which was run from Steve and Sylvia’s garage in West Salem, and two people working a combined 25 hours a week for OEFFA from a room in a church basement. We certified about 400 operations and had about 850 members. Fast forward to now and we are a staff of more than 40. We’ve gone from a combined (OEFFA and OEFFA Certification) budget of about $250,000 to $3.6 million. We certify about 1,200 operations and our membership numbers more than 4,000.
Growth for the sake of growth is meaningless, of course. The significance here is how OEFFA has been able to increase its impact in building a more sustainable food system, assist farmers in starting and operating viable businesses, uphold the integrity of the organic label, and protect the natural resources on which we all depend by promoting ecological production practices.
This is not a measure of my success but of yours. I had some very fortunate timing, stepping into my role when people were beginning to pay more attention to where, how, and by whom their food was grown just as the organic industry’s growth began to skyrocket (thanks in part to the establishment of the National Organic Program just two years earlier). I’ve said many times that the success of OEFFA these years has been due to my being able to hire tremendously capable and dedicated staff. That, in turn, is a reflection of the vision of our founders 44 years ago and how you, our members, have built OEFFA since then into the strong organization it is today.
I can’t attempt a full retrospective of the changes over my tenure, but I do want to note some of the accomplishments for which I’m most proud and hopeful. These include establishing our Policy Program (2011); securing funding for a dedicated Begin Farming Program (2016); upholding our commitment to keeping certification accessible to the Plain Community (and others who don’t use current technologies); becoming the certifier for the Food Justice label; creating our Fair Farms education program; expanding our concept of chapters to include those based on common interests (not just geographical proximity); and deepening our commitment to being a diverse, equitable, and inclusive organization. I’m also filled with pride every time I round the corner from High Street to Croswell and lay eyes on our beautiful building, which we were able to purchase in 2014, ensuring a permanent home and valuable asset for OEFFA.
Moving forward, OEFFA will face challenges, some internal and some external, some familiar and some new. I remain deeply concerned about the ongoing efforts to reduce the integrity of the organic label, especially in allowing non-soil based growing systems as “organic” (I’m looking at you, hydroponics). I am also troubled thinking about the hurdles beginning farmers face in accessing the land and capital needed to establish a viable farming career. And I worry that the deep divides we see across our country will also tear at the fabric of the OEFFA community, tattering the generous ways in which you have always shared and supported each other.
I am, though, confident that OEFFA will rise to these challenges. I will be watching and cheering from the sidelines.
I accepted this position as executive director of OEFFA with the hope that I’d wake each day feeling like I can’t wait for my feet to hit the ground so I could get to work. It has been that and so very much more. Thank you for the opportunity you’ve given me to serve you and this great organization for the last 18 years. It has truly been one of life’s greatest gifts.