SPRINGFIELD — Former Major League Baseball All-Star Jayson Werth joined U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, for a roundtable discussion with local organic farmers in Springfield Monday.
The event brought together organic farmers and other agricultural stakeholders from across central and southern Illinois for a discussion on the budding organic market and the challenges the industry faces.
Werth, a Glenwood High School graduate, owns an organic farm in Macoupin County. Though the investment started during his playing career as a means of "creating an edge" for himself on the field, Werth has since become an advocate for organic farming and a "clean way of living."
"I believe in the industry. I'm a consumer as well as a producer, and it's one of the biggest-growing industries in the country and even the world," Werth said. "It's an interesting time to be in organic farming."
According to the Organic Trade Association, organic farming is "a system of production, processing, distribution and sales that assures consumers that the products maintain the organic integrity that begins on the farm."
Such assurances include the absence of genetically modified ingredients; toxic and synthetic pesticides or fertilizers; antibiotics or synthetic growth hormones; artificial flavors, colors or preservatives; and sewage sludge or irradiation.
Those invited to the discussion expressed various concerns, from ensuring that imported organic products are following the same sets of standards as those produced domestically to the price of organic crop insurance.
Davis said the 2018 farm bill, which is being fleshed out in a House-Senate conference committee, contains a lot of "wins" for the organic community, including provisions making it easier to transition from traditional to organic farming.
"That's why the farm bill is so important," Davis said. "We invest in programs that are going to help with that transition for those that want to move into organic."
Davis said he hopes the labeling process is streamlined, making it easier for organic farmers to produce and for consumers to understand what they are buying.
"Our job in Washington is to make sure we don't get in their way. We don't want the next Jayson Werth who wants to get involved in organic farming to be sidelined or hindered by what Washington says they should or should not do," Davis said. "The organic standards certification is a process that we have to protect."
In spite of their different allegiances -- Davis is an Atlanta Braves fan while Werth played for two division rivals, the Philadelphia Phillies and the Washington Nationals -- the two have become friendly this past year.
Davis first met Werth when the former All-Star went to Capitol Hill to discuss the farm bill with lawmakers in January. The congressman subsequently invited Werth to be his guest at the State of the Union address weeks later.
Werth, who retired earlier this year after playing 15 seasons in the big leagues, said he does not fully know what his role is yet in the organic movement, but he hopes to devote more time to his 300-acre farm, where he grows corn, beans and wheat.
"I call myself more of an apprentice farmer at the moment," Werth said. "But now that I have time, I've moved more from a management role into ... a hands-on role a little bit."
In addition to his farm, Werth does consulting work helping farmers looking to transition to organic farming.
After his contract with the Nationals expired last fall, Werth, 39, signed a minor league deal with the Seattle Mariners earlier this year. Right before he expected to be called up to the major league roster, he strained his hamstring. While rehabbing at home, he determined he "didn't love it enough to go back" and called it a career.
While just in town for the day, Werth said it was good to be home.
"I always love coming back home to Springfield," Werth said. "This is where it all began."