If you’ve ever found yourself wondering about how a particular piece of the organic movement began, when a policy was launched, or how new farm practices caught on, we know a person who will know the back story. Our July member spotlight is Harriet Behar, long-time OFA member, organic farmer, and one could say organic farming savant.

Harriet has over 40 years of experience in the organic sector, including as an organic educator and an organic inspector.

Harriet earns that high praise for one, she’s a great storyteller and has collected some incredible tales from her 50 years as an organic farmer, but also from everyone she’s worked with in the industry over the years. She also earned her place in organic farming from years of pushing the boundaries and asking questions.

Her journey started when Harriet was studying journalism at the University of Wisconsin and had a summer job at the botanical gardens. She had started working outdoors with plants and enjoyed the experience of seeing how nature worked together. (Side story, this was 1972 and Harriet was the first woman they ever hired. Ask her to tell you this story next time your paths cross, it’s worth the time, the laughs, and the reflection on how far we’ve come!) Around this time Harriet met new friends who were living on a farm. It wasn’t long before she moved there, dropped out of school, and became a farmer. Age-old story of how to become an organic farmer, right?

Soon she moved to a farm to grow vegetables for the community based on relationships she built with the Madison co-ops and restaurants, and also collaborated with other farmers mainly through the natural foods cooperative. This was during the same time the Madison farmers market launched where Harriet was one of the first vendors.

Then one fateful day, Harriet received a postcard in the mail about a new co-op, the Cropp Cooperative, today you know it as Organic Valley. Harriet worked there as the  farmer liaison where she got to visit a lot of farms, ask a lot of questions, and learn new farm practices. One day, the head seller asked her to step in for him during peak harvest. He handed her a rolodex and not much advice on how to get started. It was a rough few days of not selling anything, but if you know Harriet, you know this wasn’t going to stand. She started up the refrigerator truck and took the sales on the road for the first time. She earned higher prices for her sales, built new relationships with partners, and after her colleague returned, she found herself in a new role based on her success and creative approach to getting organic products into more markets.

Here she made connecting buyers and consumers with farmers and the stories of where their food came from the cornerstone of her approach—and this was long before the “Know Your Farmer” campaigns we all know today.
Harriet learned advocacy during this time and carried those lessons on as she became an organic inspector, served on the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), was a representative to the National Organic Coalition (NOC), and sat on the committee that started the Organic Farmers Association, and now she’s OFA’s Farmer Services Consultant where she supports transitioning and organic farmers. Her stance on advocacy work is, “If you agree to be invisible you will be. So if you want something you have to speak up—be prepared with a good argument, and understand what the other side wants too.”

Harriet has some advice for anyone looking to get started with advocacy:

  • Look into different associations for your particular type of farming or in your region to find a group of farmers to learn from and share with
    Talk with people and get different perspectives—there’s strength in discussing issues in a larger group
  • Farming can be solitary, but building relationships is rewarding and enriching and can lead to change
  • And of course, you can reach out to Harriet. Swap stories, ask all the questions you can think of (even if you think they’re silly questions), and make a new organic farm friend.


Would you like to nominate someone for the Member Spotlight? Please email your recommendation to madison[@]organicfarmersassociation.org