Saturday, January 14, 2012

Beyond Organic

The first time I ever heard the term “beyond organic” was many years ago…our very own Boss was being sarcastic and facetious (unusual for him) and trying to prove a point. Somehow, over the years, those in “the know” have glommed onto his outspoken phrase. While it is irritating that he doesn’t get the credit, it does at least give credence to the fact that a NEW buzzword is needed.

Organic, biodynamic, sustainable, alternative are used in opposition to conventional. The comments would lead one to believe that conventional is anathema and anything, anything else is better, no matter what. This argument is divisive and derisive and just downright WRONG!

There are 7 billion people on this planet. 7 BILLION! Can you even fathom this number? I can’t. My poor, little mind can’t even imagine a one hundred thousand, let alone a million. BILLIONS?

The amount of food needed to feed all these folks is quite possibly beyond the scope of human comprehension. I want to point out here that despite all the hoo-ha regarding types of food production, there are still starving people in the world. Until everyone is fed and clothed, the arguments over types of production simply serve to alienate the factions when they could be working together. While I am a staunch supporter of local, clean and homegrown food, I do NOT for one minute think that small producers can possibly feed the world. Sorry, alternative ag folks… NO WAY!

There is a place in food production for ALL the various production types….yep, ALL of them. It is up to the consumer to decide which one he or she chooses. If cost is the defining factor, then organics will NEVER be the norm. To use the organic label, one must be certified. To comply with certification, the inputs alone can be three times the price of the same item produced in a conventional manner. As long as cheap food is necessary, then government subsidies will exist and so will $1 burgers at MickieDee’s. There are those who would argue that it works the other way, but I’m not so sure.

The fact of the matter is all of these choices are convictions…not unlike one’s choices or decisions in the realms of spirituality and theology. Just as a human cannot take over the position of the Holy Spirit in the realm of Christianity, no one can force convictions (of any type) on another. Nor, might I add, should they try!

Someone once told us “the whole world is goin’ organic!” We just laughed. More than ten years later, we are seeing the word everywhere. Green, organic and sustainable are BIG selling points. The big box stores are jumping on the “local” bandwagon. Take a step back and look at this phenomenon…the words have been re-defined to fit their current usage. The definition of “organic” from twenty years ago doesn’t apply today, particularly in a global economy. Constant discussions and re-definitions of “local” are commonplace among food producers as they attempt to command more of the market share.

A lot of groups have taken issue with “farmwashing”. This is the term given to the attempt by big box stores and chains to make themselves look connected to their sources…and to the actual production of the items they sell. This may or may not be the case. Further investigation should be warranted.

I will argue to the death for the right of farmers to farm the land. I will even admit to the necessity of some type of feedlots and factory farms in order to produce food on the scale needed to feed 7 billion people. However, any attempt to make these look lovely and picturesque at all times is a disservice to everyone who eats food. Farming has a side that is somewhat gross and possibly horrifying to the un-informed. That is just a fact of life. Education about production should be part of “farm transparency”, not the continued practice of “enhancing” farm image.

Presently, food does still grow on farms, and it takes dedicated farmers to understand and work the land to produce the crops. This doesn’t matter if it’s the 2,400 tons of potatoes harvested daily for McD’s fries, the millions of pounds of chicken harvested in a single day in the state of Virginia,
or the amounts produced by organic, natural growers and market gardeners here in the Valley.

There are crops that may be grown in ways similar to the home garden while on the farm. However, once they leave the farm, the sheer volume necessitates different handling. Personally, I think this is where the difference becomes profound. When we grow lettuce by the bushel and transport it 12 miles to town, it is a far different commodity than lettuce produced by the multiple trailer load and transported 2 or 3 THOUSAND miles prior to its consumption. The same holds true for other crops.

Ultimately, “it’s the choice of the eater”. I once heard some old, local guy call into a local radio talkshow and say just that. He was right.

You make the decision for yourself. Don’t judge others, don’t attempt to dictate that everyone be just like YOU. Just do the best for yourself, your family…and if you’re feeling generous…your community. If everyone did that…we wouldn’t need all the rhetoric.

Organic, sustainable, alternative, call it what you will. They are all just words, vague in definition, random in their usage, all with the hope of commanding a little more of the market share.


Know your farmer,

know his practices,
and make an informed decision.

Rest assured…you will be WAY "beyond organic" at that point!

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