Katherine Paul is the associate director of the Organic Consumers Association, a national nonprofit with the tag line “Campaigning for Health, Justice, Sustainability, Peace, and Democracy.” We called the Freeport resident up to see what she does for the group and found out about the impulse move to Maine that changed her life.

ON THE JOB: Paul publishes the weekly online newsletter for the Organic Consumers Association, writing blog posts and essays for the site. She also runs the online fundraising wing of the group and writes grant proposals. “And just overseeing communications strategy in general.” Two years ago, she picked up another media relations responsibility when Organic Consumers Association was one of the founding partners of Regeneration International, a group advocating for regenerative agriculture worldwide. The premise behind regenerative agriculture is that soil rich in organic material will trap more carbon in the earth and thereby help us combat climate change. (Want to know more? Source wrote about this on Oct. 29.)

NEWSIE: How did Paul end up in the business of advocating for organics in and out of the earth? As a young mother in Ohio, Paul stayed home with her children, then prepared to re-enter the workforce in the field she’d studied, as a French teacher. But as she was getting her teaching certificate updated she realized she wanted to be a writer instead. “It was not unheard of then to get a job at a newspaper if you didn’t have a degree in journalism, if you could actually write and think.” She found a job at a small-town paper called the Record Courier. “I wouldn’t have walked into the Cleveland Plain Dealer and gotten a job.” She liked writing features very much. The salary not so much; she was raising children on her own. From there, she went to the business-oriented publisher Crain Communications, writing for trade publications in Ohio. “It is amazing what interesting things you learn about that you never thought about when you are forced to delve into an industry.”

ALL THE PRETTY HORSES: As her children were leaving the nest, about 15 years ago, Paul started to get the urge to move away, along with the realization that she could. “I was at the time still working in the corporate world as a freelance writer and marketing communications person, and it honestly didn’t matter where I did it from.” She kept horses at the time, “and wanted a place to ride them near the ocean.” She took a quick trip to Maine with her daughter and liked what she saw. She bought a farmhouse in Alfred on a dirt road and moved horse and home. “My move to Maine was pretty impulsive I guess.”

COMMON CAUSES: In Maine, she landed a job with Common Dreams in Portland, a media group oriented toward progressive politics. Finally, she felt that her work dovetailed with her personal passions. “I felt so fortunate that the skills I learned working in journalism and corporate publications, that now I can apply them to issues that I always really cared about.” Through that work she met Ronnie Cummins, the international director for the Organic Consumers Association (and one of its founders). He hired her six years ago. Her first 18 months on the job were in San Miguel Allende, a Mexican city where the nonprofit runs a teaching farm, organic market and a cafe. “We have a really strong program in Mexico.” She missed the seasons though, and made her way back to Maine. These days she lives in a farmhouse in Freeport. Does she still have horses? Her last horse died a couple of years ago. “He was almost 30. And then that phase of my life ended.”

REGENERATION MAINE? One of the tasks she’ll be taking on is helping spread the word (and build the movement) about regenerative agriculture, here in Maine and elsewhere. Some states have already established local regenerative agriculture groups (including Vermont and Massachusetts). There’s definitely room for one in Maine, Paul says. “We are trying to bring together locally all of these groups that work on similar issues, but they often work with blinders on, or in silos as we describe it.” That means whether someone is working on water pollution or local pesticide ordinances, “it all falls under the regeneration umbrella,” Paul says, since regenerative agriculture is about building soil richer in organic material.


PICTURE IMPERFECT: When we suggested making a portrait of Paul at one of Portland’s grocery stores, maybe in front of some organic products, she politely declined. The Organic Consumers Association has had its ups and downs with corporations over the years, including grocery chains like Whole Foods. Part of the role Organic Consumers Association plays is in fighting to strengthen organic standards, she said, and part of it is in making sure those standards are upheld. “We have to call out those organic companies that aren’t playing necessarily by the rules, or circumventing them.”

NOT SO SWEET: Does she mean greenwashing, the sleazy art of making it seem like something is good for the environment when it’s not? Absolutely, she says. Organic Consumers Association is leading a big campaign against Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, “which we point to as one of the biggest greenwashers.” Wait, the nice ice cream started by environmentally conscious hippies from Vermont? Paul said the group had tested pints of the ice cream in several European countries, as well as in California and Vermont, and found it to contain trace (very, very small, but detectable) amounts of glyphosate, the main ingredient in Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup (and a probable carcinogen, according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer). This summer, after that news broke, Ben & Jerry’s committed to looking into its ingredients, and the company’s website makes its commitment to non-GMO ingredients clear. Paul and the Organic Consumers Association will be keeping an eye on the ice cream. “We will continue to be turning up the pressure,” she says. “We just know they can do better.”

Mary Pols can be contacted at 791-6456 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: MaryPols

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