NOSB Farmer Member Profile: Emily Oakley

October 2020

Emily Oakley from Three Springs Farm in Oaks, Oklahoma is finishing her five-year term on the National Organic Standards Board this month.  She has been an OFA farm member since 2018.  Emily and her husband, Mike Appel, farm three organic acres of hand-crafted vegetables and fruits on their Oklahoma farm since 2003.  They were first certified in 2007.  We interviewed Emily this summer to find out more about how she became such an incredible farmer-leader and organic advocate.

Why did you become a farmer? 

Farming gives me the chance to “be the change I wish to see”.  Organic farming brings together my beliefs about environmental protection with the lifestyle of growing healthy food.  Surely there are more farmers around the world than any other profession, and I feel a sense of solidarity in doing this work.  Plus, who wants to sit at a computer all day when you can be listening to birds, feeling the breeze on your skin, watching the seasons unfold, feeling the awe of a seed you planted grow into food someone will eat!

Why did you choose to be certified organic? 

I advocate strongly for certification because without it, organic can mean anything to anyone.  Despite the challenges of having a national label, it’s still the only way to verify that we’re doing what we say we’re doing.  Organic certification protects not just consumers but farmers as well.

What are the toughest challenges you face as an organic producer? 

I see the two biggest challenges in organic farming as building and maintaining soil fertility and weed management.  But each of those challenges also represents what is best about organic, the fact that we don’t look for quick fixes but take the long view.  Organic farmers aren’t farming for that particular season but for 10, 20, 30 years from now.

What are the most valuable lessons you’ve learned since you started? 

Persistence, adaptability, and resilience.  That’s true both for farmers and for the agroecosystems we shepherd.  As an admitted control-freak, there’s nothing like organic farming to teach both humility and release.  Farming has shown me how to let go of so much that I can’t control–weather, pest invasions, market changes–and to celebrate the small pleasures throughout the day.

What is most rewarding about being an organic farmer? 

I get to work outside, with my body and my mind, with my family, doing something I deeply believe in.  I receive so much more than I give, from the hummingbirds flying over my head as I harvest tomatoes, to watching my daughter pretend to be a cheetah in our cover crop, to being nurtured by the customers who’ve supported our farm and created community.

Why did you decide to serve on the NOSB? 

I was at a point in my life in which time opened up for me.  After a brief hiatus in serving on boards after becoming a parent, I felt ready to take on a new effort.  Why did I apply to the NOSB in particular?  As farmers, we rely on the label to communicate our practices and values to other farmers and our customers.  I’m a big believer in community service, when life affords the opportunity, and this felt like a chance to be a part of upholding organic integrity.

What impact do you feel you have had during your 5-year term as a farmer-member on the NOSB? 

As a full-time, small-scale farmer I hope I’ve been able to bring the voice of the producer to my time on the board.  I’m one of only a few folks on the board who experiences being out in the field, knows what it’s like to depend on your farm for your living, and relies on the decisions the board makes to produce the food I grow.  Making sure that full-time farmers have a voice is critical to ensuring the organic label represents the people who created and built this movement.

Why did you decide to be involved in Organic Farmers Association? 

While serving on the NOSB, I saw how much representation large farms and corporations have at board meetings, but there was an obvious missing voice in the room: farmers.  Every time OFA presents public comments to the board, I feel proud to be part of an organization that speaks on behalf of farmers, that articulates our concerns, and is so keenly in touch with the needs and beliefs of organic farmers on a national level.



This article was written for New Farm Magazine, the magazine of the Organic Farmers Association.  All OFA Members receive a complimentary issue of New Farm annually.  Join Today!