#TBT: What Does This Pickle Jar Have to Do with RAFI?

To celebrate our 25th anniversary as an independent nonprofit this year, we’ve started a new series that combines reflections on our history with the popular “Throwback Thursday” (#TBT) social media trend. Look for new articles here on Thursdays tagged with the #TBT hashtag and join us for a look back into RAFI’s long history of working alongside farmers and rural communities.
pickle jar(1)This is not just any jar of pickles. It is one of the iconic images that many RAFI staffers will draw from their minds when they think back to their introduction to RAFI. Executive Director Scott Marlow is a great storyteller and he can work his magic with these pickles. RAFI staffers, both past and present, have an affinity for the vintage pickle jar that graces the memorabilia shelf of the staff meeting room. So, just why is this jar of pickles so special? First, let me tell you that these pickles were born in the 1970s and handed down by Fay Bennett, who focused her life’s work on directing attention to rural poverty and held various positions at the National Sharecroppers Fund (NSF) from 1952 to 1974. Our organization, RAFI came from this NSF lineage. Below is a transcription of the pickle jar label, followed up with a bit of information from the archives.  


Contains fresh sliced organically grown cucumbers, vinegar, fresh dill, garlic, natural spices, salt, well water. No preservatives or color added-no imitation ingredients.

  • This is more than a good, wholesome food. It represents an important step in human ecology. The cucumbers were grown by the Southern Agricultural Assn. of Virginia (SAAV), a cooperative of small farmers in Halifax, Virginia, one of the most depressed rural counties in the U.S., on virgin land, guided and funded by the Rural Advancement Fund of the National Sharecroppers Fund, Inc. in cooperation with Organic Farms Brand Products. The soil was never contaminated by chemical fertilizers, herbicides, insecticides or fungicides. The crops were cultivated by hand, fertilized with organic materials and irrigated from a clean stream nearby. Insects were controlled by encouraging bird-life in adjoining woodlands and by proper cultivation.
  • Hand harvested by co-op members and friends, the cukes were trucked directly to a family-owned packing plant and processed using a unique natural method developed by a food scientist from Cornell University. One glance at this re-usable glass jar shows there is no turmeric or artificial coloring to hide the true color of the fresh cucumber. We’ll soon have a full line of organically grown products from SAAV and other co-op farms, providing a decent livelihood for thousands of displaced people driven from their homelands into the ghettos of the big cities-who can now return to the land they love-to produce wholesome organic foods for the growing needs of people everywhere. Thank you for buying Organic Farms Brand Products.
  RAFI’s work in organics and social justice is epitomized by this jar of pickles. It exemplifies the early and continuous drive to empower rural communities. Some folks may think of the organic movement as a relatively new advancement, but RAFI’s Just Foods Program has been at the forefront of the organic movement for decades. RAFI’s work on organics can be traced back to the early 1970s, when RAF/NSF began working on the development, promotion and protection of domestic and foreign organic farming. The label that was created for the pickle jar was an early effort to promote sustainable and socially equitable food production through an organic label. Michael Sligh, founding member of RAFI and long-time Just Foods Program director, made significant contributions towards developing the United States Department of Agriculture organic standards. Read more about his work here. In the 1980s, RAF/NSF began to diversify its outreach efforts to rural communities. RAFI continues this by working extensively at the grassroots level with rural communities through each of its programs. Read about some of the accomplishments to come out of RAFI’s program work this past year here. With all of this good work, however, RAFI has lost the original information about the organics company that packaged our prized jar of pickles. We are still looking into the mystery of its humble beginnings, and even contacted The Bronx Historical Society for their help since the label on the jar listed Organics Farms Brand Products in Bronx, N.Y. – but without the year! Organics and just foods are at the core of RAFI’s history. It is good work that we are reminded of by this historical piece of agricultural memorabilia. Jar of pickles, we will never eat you but we will ALWAYS salute you! 20150430_143613