On November 26, 2016, Yvonne Frost, an organic pioneer and co-founder of Oregon Tilth passed away. As news spread, we heard from many across the organic community who shared memories and experiences working with this organic visionary. She left an impressive legacy.
In 1986, Lynn Coody, Harry MacCormack and Joey White, with the support of Yvonne Frost, decided to establish a 501(c)(3) nonprofit independent of what became Washington Tilth. In Sunbow Farm’s upstairs barn meeting room, the final Willamette Valley Tilth Chapter meeting concluded with the four co-founders signing Oregon Tilth’s incorporation papers.
Co-founder Lynn Coody said, “Those of us who worked with Yvonne understand her commitment and dedication to all that she did, especially to Oregon Tilth.”
Yvonne volunteered to take over the fledgling Oregon Tilth certification program. A certification office was established on her farm. Early on, Yvonne saw organic certification as something to be greatly expanded. She pushed to move beyond crop and livestock production and ultimately involve processors, wholesalers, restaurants and retailers of organic foods. A core group began drafting Oregon Tilth’s organic processing standards, including Yvonne, Harry MacCormack, Lon Ball of Trout Lake Farm, Gene Kahn of Cascadian Farm and representatives from Kettle Chips.
Co-founder Harry MacCormack recalls, “There were a number of people at the time who didn’t want to venture into processing, but as a business woman, Yvonne quickly saw that was where the money to fund organic and get organic food into the marketplace was and would be in the future. She was right!” Yvonne boldly envisioned organic food available on the shelves of every supermarket across the country.
Several organic certification programs were launched in the 1980s and as they grew, they recognized the importance of creating consistent standards and procedures. To that end, Yvonne helped organize the Western Alliance of Certifiers, which included Oregon Tilth, the Washington State Department of Agriculture Organic program and California Certified Organic Farmers. For almost two years, they worked at unifying standards utilizing the best science on what would or would not be allowed in organic farming and processing systems. MacCormack recalls, “Really, if it weren’t for Yvonne hammering us together in her loud and sometimes not gentle way, we wouldn’t have had aligned standards to shape the USDA National Organic Program when it came time.”
Connie Karr, Oregon Tilth’s current certification director, warmly remembers, “Yvonne was an incredibly special individual and our very first certification director. As you can guess, I had a very special connection with her. She was the person that hired me back in 1998. She was my mentor and played a large role in shaping the person I am today.”
Yvonne played a key role in setting my career’s course. She was a fierce organic advocate, and also a tender person underneath her fiery exterior. I fondly recall how she generously offered to take on catering at our wedding.
Since 1998, Connie and I have seen a lot of changes at Oregon Tilth and in the organic food movement. We recognize Yvonne’s role in shaping a bold vision of growth and impact. We’re grateful to have met her and appreciate all she did to support us and in service of Oregon Tilth.