Utne Reader visionary
You can often find Mark Kastel snooping around farms, notebook and camera in hand. It’s not that he’s up to anything nefarious. It’s just that the cofounder of the nonprofit Cornucopia Institute, an aggressive organics watchdog, wants to know who’s walking their organic talk, from meat producers to dairy farmers, and from family-scale outfits to corporate megafarms. By hanging around the barn and the pasture, chatting up workers, and watching how an operation works—and doing lots of seemingly mundane behind-the-scenes research—Kastel and his small Cornucopia crew help farmers and consumers keep track of who’s playing it straight.
Kastel, who lives on his own farm in southwestern Wisconsin, loves the work he does for Cornucopia because “we operate at the crossroads of the environment, health, agriculture, and ethics, and all those issues are very dear to my heart,” he says. His religious and spiritual orientation drives him toward social justice work, and he finds the family farm to be especially in need of justice. “Every time a large corporate consolidation has taken place in agriculture,” he says, “the people who are left behind are the ones who get their hands dirty and crack a sweat for a living.”
Read the Kastel profile “Organic . . . or Else” and an interview with him, both in the now-defunct Gourmet magazine. Time magazine profiled Kastel and the Cornucupia Institute in “Fighting to Keep Organic Foods Pure,” and Fortune covered the “organic milk war” between Cornucopia and Aurora Organic Dairy. Visit Cornucopia’s website to read its news feed on organic/agricultural issues and to learn more about the institute’s findings on corporate organic producers such as Aurora, Wal-Mart, and Dean Foods.
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