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Shel Horowitz: Green advocates must make convincing economic arguments

Last month, one town away from me, there was a big dustup when the city decided to spray some athletic fields with Roundup. In addition to concerns about the health effects on the children who’d be playing on those fields, the parcel happens to directly abut a commercial organic farm — one about to receive USDA organic certification, which means that it’s been chemical-free for three years.

I — and many others — sent letters to local officials. I’m going to share the relevant portions of my letter with you, then discuss why I framed it as I did — because there are many lessons in advocacy here, not only in the public sphere, but in dealing with any stakeholders on sustainability issues.

I stated in my letter to city officials: “As a customer of Crimson & Clover Farm and many other organic farms in the area...a 26½-year property owner in Northampton (through this past April), and an internationally recognized expert in the marketing of green products and services, I urge you in the strongest possible terms to BLOCK the proposed spraying of Roundup.

You are no doubt aware of the growing importance of agritourism and ecotourism in Northampton and the Pioneer Valley — which includes at least two lodging establishments within the City that specifically cater to a green clientele (Starlight Lama and Trailside B&Bs). Much in that sector has to do with a creating and sustaining a culture of support for local organic foods that includes both farmers and consumers....

Spraying Roundup — a pesticide whose long-term safety is highly questionable — could have severe deleterious effects on Crimson & Clover and Grow Food Northampton.

Spraying could easily drift onto the wrong fields and/or contaminate nearby water, resulting in a loss of Crimson & Clover’s organic certification, a loss of customers — I am one who would not knowingly buy from a farm tainted by Roundup....”

Why This Approach?

First, I wanted to establish my credentials.

I am affected by what affects this farm, because I am a customer. I owned a home in that town for a long period of time. And I happen to have validated expertise in the subject. But if you don’t have textbook credentials, you can work with what you have. For instance, you could speak as a property owner, parent, and purchaser of organic foods.

Second, I sought to identify organic agriculture as an important and growing sector in the local economy.

This is critical; organic agriculture is too often seen as marginal and trivial. I wanted to show that tax-paying businesses are affected by the city’s decision.

Finally, I wanted to demonstrate the potential negative economic consequences to the affected business, and to the city, and to offer a positive step.

That is why I concluded the letter with something these officials could do to show their solidarity and gain public support.

This protest around the use of Roundup involved many area residents. In the end, one City Councilor attended the rally. The mayor announced a compromise plan that put a no-spray buffer around the edge of the fields. Without the buffer on city land, the organic farm would have had to sacrifice three acres for its own buffer in order to obtain that organic certification. While it wasn’t the ideal outcome, it was much better than the original plan, and shows the power of organizing along economic interest.

Marketing consultant and copywriter Shel Horowitz, shel at greenandprofitable.com, writes the monthly Green And Profitable column and is the primary author of Guerrilla Marketing Goes Green (John Wiley & Sons).

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