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What the Times' Organic Tomato Story Missed: Golf Courses

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's All Aboout Organics page, Organic Transitions page, and our Farm Issues page.
A recent New York Times article about organic tomatoes grown in the Los Cabos region of Baja California raised the question about whether "large-scale" export-oriented organic agriculture can truly be sustainable. According to reporter Elisabeth Rosenthal, the answer is no. She writes:

 The explosive growth in the commercial cultivation of organic tomatoes here, for example, is putting stress on the water table. In some areas, wells have run dry this year, meaning that small subsistence farmers cannot grow crops. And the organic tomatoes end up in an energy-intensive global distribution chain that takes them as far as New York and Dubai, United Arab Emirates, producing significant emissions that contribute to global warming.

Tom Philpott at Mother Jones piled on the critique, declaring in his post "Organic Tomatoes in January: Sucking Mexico Dry":

 What's going on in Baja seems more about generating a premium-priced product while systematically degrading a landscape. Want organic tomatoes in the cold months? Buy them in a can.

There's no question that eating seasonally is important. So are the larger questions of whether the USDA organic label provides enough emphasis on sustainability. But Rosenthal's point about water depletion in Baja coming from organic agriculture may be flawed.

Larry Jacobs, who runs the Del Cabo organic farming cooperative, which works with over 400 farming families in the area, says Rosenthal "completely blew it."

He observed that the water issues in Baja (as well as in the West as a whole) are tremendous. "From the tip of the Baja all the way to San Francisco, there are very few aquifers that aren't maxed out or overdrafted," he said.

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