My last several posts have concentrated on explaining my view of Organic Certification and some of the many reasons I won’t do it. But I’ve also said that our family uses our dollars to purchase food and products I cannot make or grow from certified organic farmers and producers. Here are several reasons why.
If you can’t know your farmer, Certified Organic remains one of the only ways a person can be reasonably sure he or she is refraining from eating genetically modified organisms (no, I simply refuse to capitalize anything about them). Might as well make sure the biotechies are angry too. It is beyond the scope of this particular post to explain gmo’s so if you’re not informed I recommend you check it out. You will learn a lot by reading books by people like Michael Pollan (‘In defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto‘) and Jeffery M. Smith (‘Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Engineered Food‘ (I capitalized it there out of respect for the author ok?)) and oh, oh, there’s a movie version of Genetic Roulette.
Although Organic Certification does not guarantee a product is free of gmo’s, organic farmers are required to go to extraordinary lengths to combat the contamination of their crops by transgenic pollen, etc. This is the USDA’s method of trying (so they claim) to create a world where organic and biotechnology ‘coexist’. Its a policy which completely ignores very basic science covering plant reproduction. But until enough consumers get wise and force the government’s hand, ‘coexistence’, which puts all the onus on the victims (organic farmers) of contamination (like blaming you for not doing enough if you’re house is burglarized), is the best we’ve got. You can learn more about the USDA’s take on this by reading the agency’s blog, or more specifically the policy statements they’ve made about gmo’s in certified organic foods.
2. The Power of the Movement!
Another reason our family supports certified organic producers with our food dollars is because we want to ‘vote with our fork’. I know…but cliches can work. In the early 90’s, after decades of pressure from consumers and farmers, the USDA got involved in the organic farming business. Since then organic farmers and consumers have continued to push the government in the direction they want to head despite pretty long odds, until today we find organic food to be the fastest growing segment of the food marketplace. (Local and direct to consumer sales are recently following the same pattern!).
Until local and direct to consumer sales penetrate the market to the same extent as certified organic, policy makers will take little notice. Right now they’re paying attention to conventional, biotech and organic. I have no qualms about putting my vote squarely in the third column.
Although certified organic doesn’t necessarily mean pesticide free, the odds are much, much better (than in conventional) that it does and many of the pesticides approved for use on certified organic farms are less harmful to humans (not known carcinogens for example) and the earth (usually derived from plants instead of petroleum or synthetic chemicals; usually biodegrade more quickly).
3. Stewardship of Earth and Flavor…
Certified Organic farmers tend to be very concerned with stewardship of the land. This just makes sense if you think about it. Their customers tend to be more informed about the damage to our air, water and soil caused by factory animal farming, pesticide and herbicide runoff, etc. Also, because they are prohibited from using things like gmo crops created to withstand glyphosate, they need to find other more benign ways to control weeds. This includes techniques like mulching, cover crops, crop rotation, rest periods and hand weeding (employing more people). Many of these methods actually build soil and soil fertility which is really, really smart if we want our great grandchildren to have the luxury of things like…eating. If you really want to learn something fun about conventional agriculture do a quick internet search for ‘topsoil lost in North America’.
This concentration on the health of the soil tends to lead to more nutrient dense and therefore, tastier food. This is obviously subjective but it’s been my experience and many have shared it. Maybe its a placebo but based on my personal knowledge and experience farming it holds true that healthy soil translates into better taste.
4. Good neighbors…
Organic farmers tend to be good neighbors. I have no idea if they typically yell at the neighborhood children or bring a cup of sugar to people who move into the house next door. I mean good neighbors in the land use sense. Organic farmers are in a fight for their lives against biotechnology companies. These organic farmers are fully cognizant of the idea that defensive rights always trump offensive rights. Yes, you can do whatever you like on your land (I don’t actually agree with that but that’s neither here nor there) but you cannot negatively impact your neighbors.
Pesticide drift, herbicide run-off, the spread of super-weeds and biotech contamination through cross-pollination all violate this principle and organic farmers have been some of the biggest victims (I don’t mean to downplay the victimization of all the world’s eaters). Obviously I don’t know, nor have I surveyed all of the world’s organic farmers but it just makes sense to me that, being constant victims of these problems, they would be more cognizant of their own boundaries. I’m a big fan of that.
5. It might be your best option…
I often write these blog posts from the perspective that everyone has the same things I do; namely, space, motivation, knowledge base and sheer orneriness (a key virtue in farming I think). But the truth is, I very much understand that is not the case.
I get that I don’t live in a country where everyone has a hand in growing/raising at least some of their own food. I realize there are nearly as many motivations for not doing this as there are people who don’t. Being familiar with USDA Ag Census data I also understand that we don’t (yet) live in a world where every person who can’t grow their own food has a farmer’s market within walking distance of their house or better yet, a daily market to allow for fresh food everyday.
Also, though I consider it an extremely shameful display of the biggest problems with our national/global food system many people find themselves living in food deserts.
If, for whatever reason, you can’t grow your own, and you can’t know your farmer personally, certified organic is a great option. If my recent post mentioning pesticides has you nervous keep in mind that just because certified organic producers can use certain pesticides doesn’t mean they are. There are many reasons farmers choose to certify and most of them are based on ethics. Many, and I would venture to say most, farmers will struggle tooth and nail to maintain the same ethics when they scale way up to meet the often uncaring demands of the capitalist market system which forces supermarkets to look for single and easy sources.
Thanks to the internet, if you’re curious, you may be able to use the packaging to look up, find and ask the farmer who grew that lettuce on your plate what certified organic means to her/him. Local Food. Eat well – be well.