David Katz

Forging Your Own Path

Recorded: May 15, 2012

Are you interested in how organic farming became more mainstream? David Katz explains how he pursued organic farming and food policy at a time when most people were disinterested.

David Katz is passionate about organic farming. At a time when organic farming was not offered as a college degree program, Mr. Katz fervidly pursued a Bachelor of Science degree in Organic Farming from U.C. Davis. After graduation, he played a pivotal role in the creation of the organic food movement at a time when people were still skeptical about its practicality. In the early 1970s, Mr. Katz was one of the first sustainable farmers to offer certified organic products to the California market.

Mr. Katz co-founded California Certified Organic Farmers, the first organic farming organization in the country to establish a formal certification process, and was a founding board member of the Organic Farming Research Foundation in 1992. In his research role, Mr. Katz was actively involved in developing a grant-making program that eventually catalyzed hundreds of millions of dollars of public and private funding for organic agricultural research. In addition to his contributions to organic farming in California, Mr. Katz has enjoyed a lifelong environmental career focusing on land preservation and conservation.

David Katz: Early on I was an activist. I cared about food and water and the land, was going to UC Davis. I was studying agriculture and I told them I wanted to major in organic farming. And like 1970, they told me I was crazy, organic farming, and I insisted on it and went out to become an organic farmer and help found the first organic farming organization, California Organic Farmer’s Association in the country. And when we started out, as organic farmers and activists, all the experts said “well, organic farming doesn’t work. You can’t make a living. The world will starve to death, we’ve heard them all,” right and if I had tried to convince them back then that we were going to have the kind of vital organic farming industry you have now, they thought I would…everyone said “you’re crazy.” But basically, many of the activists and early farmers believed in it, they knew instinctively that it could work and we developed the understanding and science and understanding of the biology as we went. And if everyone, if we had listened to that so called experts, it would have slowed it down but a lot of people knew it was the right way to go. And we were able to then build a body of knowledge and fill in the gaps in terms of what really makes it work. And of course, along with it we built some of the institutions like we started the Organic Farming Research Foundation and we started the Organic Farmer’s…California Organic Farmer’s Association, so these were self organizing entities who said “can’t more people come together to make something work?” And that’s always been important and powerful, is to bring allies together to get something done.