Dan Kelly

“I laid out the results of the (Organic) task force’s work. I ended by saying something to the effect, ‘This looks doable. Let’s adopt these standards by regulation.’ This was a novel idea. Rick Lowerre (Deputy Director of Regulatory) sort of gulped and said, ‘Can we do that?’ I had read TDA’s statute and said, ‘Yes, we can.’ Nobody in the room said we couldn’t. So we did. After our rules were adopted in June 1988, Hightower sent me on a bragging mission to California. They had been thinking about becoming the first state to certify organic food. Now Texas had done it. I rolled out our program at a national organics conference in Asilomar, near Monterey. At that point Hightower became the toast of the organics movement nationwide. Hightower didn’t stop in Texas. He had TDA’s Marketing Office go after support from other states’ agriculture commissioners… John Vlcek was director of marketing, and Heather Ball was to him as I was to Susan. Heather went to a meeting of state agriculture commissioners and got them to adopt a resolution in favor of organic certification. That can’t have been easy—Heather got the assignment because (Mike) Moeller thought it was hopeless—but Heather is a force of nature when she wants something done. The national program is largely Hightower’s, too, with plenty of help from people TDA enlisted in the fight…Number one (legacy) by far is adopting organic certification. That had national impact in so many ways—consumer and farmworker health and safety, economic development, environmental protection. It’s a $50 billion-dollar-a-year industry today.

Dan Kelly was hired by Susan Raleigh Kaderka in 1987 at TDA in Consumer Services. One of his tasks was to look into having Texas regulate organic food. Dan met with the main private-sector organizations that certified food as organic, including California. Dan then organized a task force of Texans to review the findings and recommend next steps. They had three working groups—one for producers, one for processors, and one for marketers and retailers. Nobody else was doing this at the time. Of course, individual Texas companies like Arrowhead Mills in Hereford, Deaf Smith County, had been national leaders in the organics market for a long time, but there was no state or national certification. The task force was a businesslike, serious group. Dennis Holbrook, who ran South Texas Organics, headed the producers’ working group. Boyd Foster, the CEO of Arrowhead Mills, headed the processors’ group. The retailers’ group had executives from Randall’s in Houston, Minyards in Dallas, and Whole Foods Market, at the time a startup in Austin. Margaret Wittenberg represented Whole Foods. She pushed hard for strict retail standards. The task force adopted draft standards for each of these three sectors of the organics industry in Texas.