Grace Gershuny Papers, 1977-2015 (bulk 1984-2010)


Grace Gershuny was born in New York State in 1950. She graduated in 1971 from Queens College of the City University of New York with a B.A. in mass communications. After a couple of years living in an urban commune in Montreal, she settled in Vermont in 1973. She became involved with the Natural Organic Farmers Association (NOFA, later renamed the Northeast Organic Farming Association) when she started vegetable gardening, and in 1975 helped organize the Northeast Kingdom Farmers Market in Newport, Vermont. In 1977 she started to work on a certification program for NOFA and helped to write its organic standards. By 1979 she was a state coordinator for its certification program. She also testified for NOFA before hearings called by Secretary of Agriculture Bob Bergland, and presented her vision of a model Vermont town she called "Newville" and discussed its projected regional food system.

In 1980 Gershuny returned to graduate school at the University of Vermont and earned a M.A. in extension education in 1982. The first edition of her book on soil management, The Soul of Soil, was published the following year. A second edition, revised with Joe Smillie and Susan Boyer, was published in 1986, and was followed by two subsequent editions. Another book, Start with the Soil, came out in 1993. Gershuny also served as the editor of Organic Farmer: The Digest of Sustainable Agriculture, a quarterly publication for the sustainable agriculture community, from 1989 to 1994.

A self-styled "organicrat," Gershuny was also involved in the establishment of both the Organic Crop Improvement Association (OCIA or "the Organic CIA"), a national certification program with regional chapters, and was a founding member of the Organic Foods Production Association of North America (OFPANA), an organic industry group that was established at a June 1984 meeting sponsored by the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM). It incorporated the following year, approved by-laws for the organization, and created guidelines for certification organizations. It was later renamed the Organic Trade Association (OTA). Another offshoot of OFPANA was the Organic Farmers Association Council (OFAC), a group of farmer-led member organizations.

In 1985, Gershuny operated Gaia Associates, a business focused on ecological agriculture consulting and organic certification. Little Bear Trading Company (LBTC) was a major client, and Gershuny made a tour certifying farms across the country for Little Bear in 1988.

Gershuny and Joseph Smillie, a farmer based in Quebec, Canada, also worked together on devising the organic certification standards ("Guidelines for the Organic Industry") for the Organic Foods Production Association of North America (OFPANA, later known as the Organic Trade Association (OTA)). The Guidelines in turn influenced other organic certification standards. Philosophical disagreement arose between those such as Gershuny and Smillie, who viewed organic agriculture as a systems-based approach and felt that organic production standards should be grounded in overall ecological effects on the soil and the farm ("agronomic responsibility") and those who favored an "origin of materials" approach, or the absence of synthetics. The latter approach became the basis of the OFPANA/OTA standards, and was to influence the development of the national organic standards.

In September 1994, Gershuny began working for the National Organic Program, which was authorized by the 1990 Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA). She started by working on a definition of "organic" and drafted a set of principles ("Prologue: Moving Towards Sustainability") as the basis for the regulations governing organic food. Gershuny also served as the main writer for portions of the 1997 proposed rule for organic standards, including the production and handling standards and preamble, the National List and preamble, and certification regulations. Gershuny also served on the Crops Committee for the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) in 1997.

Gershuny has written about her experiences in the organic food movement, and the third edition of her book Organic Revolutionary: A Memoir of the Movement for Real Food, Planetary Healing, and Human Liberation came out in 2020. She has taught at Green Mountain College and the Institute for Social Ecology (ISE) at Goddard College and has served on the ISE board. For further information, see her website.