"Let us not talk falsely now, for the hour is getting late." -Bob Dylan, All Along the Watchtower
Beyond the gloom and doom of the climate crisis, there lies a powerful and regenerative grassroots solution: organic food, farming, and ranching. Even as politicians and the powerful fossil fuel lobby drag their heels and refuse to acknowledge that we have about ten years left of business-as-usual before we irreversibly destroy the climate and ourselves, there is a powerful, largely unrecognized life-force spreading its roots underground.
An army of organic farmers, ranchers, conservationists, and backyard gardeners (supported by millions of organic consumers) are demonstrating that we can build a healthy alternative to industrial agriculture and Food Inc. Our growing organic movement is proving that we can not only feed the world with healthy food, but also reverse global warming, by capturing and sequestering billions of tons of climate-destabilizing greenhouse gases in the soil, through plant photosynthesis, composting, cover crops, rotational grazing, wetlands preservation, and reforestation.
The heretofore unpublicized good news on climate change, according to the Rodale Institute and other soil scientists, is that transitioning from chemical, water, and energy-intensive industrial agriculture practices to organic farming and ranching on the world's 3.5 billion acres of farmland and 8.2 billion acres of pasture or rangeland can sequester 7,000 pounds per acre of climate-destabilizing CO2 every year, while nurturing healthy soils, plants, grasses, and trees that are resistant to drought, heavy rain, pests, and disease. Organic farms and ranches can provide us with food that is much more nutritious than industrial farms and ranches - food filled with vitamins, anti-oxidants, and essential trace minerals, free from Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), pesticides, antibiotics, and sewage sludge.
In 2006, US carbon dioxide pollution from fossil fuels was estimated at nearly 6.5 billion tons, approximately 25% of the world's total. If a 7,000 lb/CO2/ac/year sequestration rate were achieved on all 434 million acres of cropland in the US, nearly 1.6 billion tons of carbon dioxide would be sequestered per year, mitigating close to one quarter of the country's total fossil fuel emissions. If pastures and rangelands were converted to organic practices, we would be well on our way to reversing global warming.
We need an organic revolution in ranching and livestock production, as well as farming and forestry. We must drastically reduce meat overproduction (77% of all US agriculture resources are devoted to raising animals or animal feed), and over-consumption (a leading cause of obesity, heart disease and cancer) and ban methane-belching factory farms. As the Rodale Institute points out, organic livestock practices, (rotational grazing, manure management, methane capture for biogas production, improved feeds and feed additives) can drastically reduce livestock-related emissions and, because of the massive acreage currently devoted to livestock production (nearly 2.5x greater than croplands), can safely sequester approximately 60% of the total greenhouse gases that humans, animals, cars, and industry are pumping out every year.
This Organic Revolution, or "Great Sequestering," made possible by a global grassroots movement with the power to transform the marketplace and public policy, is perhaps the only short-term solution at hand that can buy us the precious time we need to radically reduce energy use and greenhouse pollution and build a green economy. Although politicians and the coal and utilities industry claim that sequestration of massive carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants is on the horizon, there is little or no scientific evidence to back this up. Sequestration of CO2 in the soils of organic farms and ranches, on the other hand, is a proven fact.
Before carbon-sequestering forests and grasslands were ravaged by chemical-intensive industrial agriculture and forestry, organic matter generally composed 6-10% of the soil volume, three-six times the 1-3% levels typical of today's industrial agriculture soils. In other words, taxpayer subsidized, chemical-based industrial agriculture and forestry, factory farms, and unrestricted grazing have turned the earth's soil (which still contains three times as much carbon as the entire amount of CO2 in the atmosphere) from being a climate-stabilizing carbon sink into a massive and dangerous source of global warming.
Given our escalating climate emergency, the burning question is how do we move organics in the US from being the 4% alternative in the marketplace to being the norm, and organic acreage from being 1% of total cultivated land to the majority of farmland, pasture, and rangeland? We must sound the alert, offer practical solutions and rapidly transform public consciousness and policy. But the Via Organica, the road to get there, will be long and arduous. The majority of Americans must stop buying chemical, GMO, globally sourced and so-called "natural" food, and switch to organic and more locally and regionally produced products. We must also rise up as a political movement and change public policy. We must force the politicians and corporations to stop our business-as-usual destruction of the climate and public health, and move to an ethical and scientifically grounded policy and practice that promotes health, conservation, greenhouse gas reduction, and organic sequestration. Please join and support the OCA and the global organic movement as we wage this epic struggle.
Recent polls indicate that many green-minded consumers are confused about the qualitative difference between products labeled or advertised as "natural," versus those labeled as organic.
Many believe that "natural" means "almost organic," or that a natural product is even better than organic. What does certified organic or "USDA Organic" mean? Certified organic means the farmer or producer has undergone a regular inspection of its farm, facilities, ingredients, and practices by an independent Third Party certifier, accredited by the USDA National Organic Program (NOP). The producer has followed strict NOP regulations and maintained detailed records. Synthetic pesticides, animal drugs, sewage sludge, GMOs, irradiation, and chemical fertilizers are prohibited. Farm animals, soil, and crops have been managed organically; food can only be processed with certain methods; only allowed ingredients can be used.
On the other hand, what does "natural" really mean, in terms of farming practices, ingredients, and its impact on the environment and climate?
To put it bluntly, "natural," in the overwhelming majority of cases is meaningless, even though most consumers do not fully understand this. Natural typically means conventional, with a green veneer. Natural products are routinely produced using pesticides, chemical fertilizer, hormones, genetic engineering, and sewage sludge. Natural or conventional products - whether produce, dairy, or canned or frozen goods - are typically produced on large industrial farms or in processing plants that are highly polluting, chemical and energy intensive. "Natural," "all-natural," and "sustainable," products in most cases are neither backed up by rules and regulations, nor a Third Party certifier.
Companies selling so-called natural products are simply telling us what we want to hear, so that we pay an organic or premium price for a conventional product. Perhaps this wouldn't matter that much if we were living in normal times, with a relatively healthy population, environment, and climate. Conventional products sold as natural or "nearly organic" would be a simple matter of chicanery or consumer fraud. But we are not living in normal times. Demanding that natural and conventional producers and vendors make the transition to organic is a matter of life or death. And standing in the way of making this great transition are not only Fortune 500 food and beverage corporations, Monsanto, and corporate agribusiness, as we would expect, but the wholesale and retail giants in the organic and natural products sector as well, UNFI (United Natural Foods) and Whole Foods Market. Two thirds of all products sold by Whole Foods and UNFI are "natural," not organic.
So don't be fooled. Buy certified "USDA Organic" products today and every day. Your health and the health of the planet are at stake.
OCA's Washington, DC staff literally danced through the streets on Inauguration Day, passing out OCA literature emblazoned with slogans "Hope," "Change" and "Planting Peace" to the happy crowds. But January 20 proved to be just a temporary interlude in our ongoing struggle to educate and pressure corporations and politicians to "do the right thing" and green the planet. Our agenda since January has included putting pressure on the organic industry to maintain strong organic standards and pressuring President Obama and the Congress to help support and expand organic food and farming and stop using our tax money to subsidize chemical farming and GMOs (genetically modified organisms).
OCA members sent thousands of emails in support of First Lady Michelle Obama's organic garden at the White House, as well as the USDA's People's Garden on the National Mall. President Obama's repeated references to local, organic agriculture in his speeches on agriculture and health care, and his pro-organic appointments to the USDA and the National Organic Standards Board represent significant victories directly attributable to the OCA and our allies raising our collective voices.
Even our losses were offset to a certain degree. We sent 100,000 letters to Obama opposing Tom Vilsack's appointment as USDA Secretary. Although Vilsack temporarily withdrew his name from the nomination, we ultimately failed to block the confirmation of a man who has served as a cheerleader for genetic engineering and factory farming. However, the outrage demonstrated by organic consumers over Vilsack's controversial appointment, according to informed sources in Washington, is undoubtedly one of the reasons why Obama appointed a strong organic advocate, Kathleen Merrigan, as Deputy Secretary or second in command at the USDA.
It's clear that Tom Vilsack could feel the heat of OCA members looking over his shoulder as he made the Obama Administration's first appointments to the National Organic Standards Board. In past years, the OCA has had to protest NOSB appointees who represented big businesses with small stakes in organic. But Vilsack's are the best NOSB appointments in recent memory. The new members of the National Organic Standards Board include Jay Feldman of Beyond Pesticides (an OCA Advisory Board member), Joe Dickson of Whole Foods, Annette Riherd (a family farmer growing organic fruits and vegetables who is a long-time buy-local-and-organic advocate), Wendy Fulwider of Organic Valley and John Foster of Earthbound Farms.
G rassroots pressure by the OCA and litigation by our allies has finally brought about significant results on the Genetic Engineering front. In September, there was a major legal victory against genetically engineered (GE) sugar beets. The Center for Food Safety proved in federal court that the government's approval of Monsanto's GE sugar beets was illegal. In the ruling, the judge acknowledged that the "genetic pollution" of GE threatened to deprive farmers of their choice to grow non-GE crops and deprived consumers of their right to eat non-GE food.
Monsanto and the sugar industry aren't going to throw in the towel just yet. American Crystal Sugar, the nation's largest sugar beet processor, is still pro-GE. American Crystal President David Berg told the New York Times he thought customer acceptance of GE sugar was "a big non-event." In response, the OCA initiated a boycott of GE-tainted sugar. As of early October, over 35,500 organic consumers had let American Crystal know they were joining the boycott.
The profile of the Organic Caucus is growing in Congress. Legislators are raising the concerns of the organic community more vocally. In July, the House of Representatives voted on food safety legislation that would have unfairly penalized organic and small farmers. As organic consumers opposed H.R. 2749, the Food Safety Enhancement Act, the first vote failed because it was unable to secure the support of House Members concerned about the impact of industrial techno-fixes on organic, small-scale and local farmers.
The bill wasn't able to pass until Organic Caucus Chair Sam Farr secured a promise from bill sponsor Rep. Dingell that the bill wouldn't create conflicts with the National Organic Program, would consider the needs of small farms, organic practices and conservation methods, and "not harm farming practices that have existed for centuries with minimal documented health risk." The fight has moved to the Senate.
This November, the National Organic Standards Board will consider three strong recommendations to the USDA, put forward by OCA and our allies. The recommendations would direct the USDA to stop personal care and cosmetic companies from advertising their products as "organic" unless they are USDA certified, keep nanotechnology out of organic, and improve the living conditions of organic poultry and livestock. So far, nearly 24,000 organic activists have sent letters to the NOSB in support of these recommendations.
For the past six months OCA has turned up the heat on organic and natural product brands, retailers, and wholesalers, especially Whole Foods Market and UNFI, demanding that they all walk their talk and stop substituting conventional ingredients for organic ingredients in what were formerly certified organic products; stop pretending that cheaper conventional foods and products greenwashed or labeled as "natural" (which represent 2/3 of the sales of WFM and UNFI) are "almost organic" or almost as good as organic; and stop buying and selling conventional body products and cosmetics containing synthetic chemicals and petrochemical derivatives that call themselves organic on the front label, but which are not certified.
V iá Orgánica (The Organic Way) is OCA's sister organization in Mexico. The Via Organica (VO) headquarters are located on a beautiful 20 acre organic farm and eco-tourism center in the central highlands of Mexico, seven miles from picturesque San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, nestled between two UNESCO World Heritage sites. Utilizing its farm, farm school, organic retail and wholesale business, website, agro-eco tours, and bilingual newsletters, Via Organica's mission is to promote organic food and farming, Fair Trade, and local green economic development in Mexico and Latin America, in the process strengthening OCA's ability to deal with cross-border and global issues.
Via Organica is poised to strengthen the growing organic farming movement in Mexico. Through modern water conservation techniques, heirloom seed saving strategies, rural economic development models, Via Organica's farm school is training hundreds of campesinos (small farmers) every month. The primary goal of Via Organica's farm school is to empower and assist small farmers in preserving their food heritage and making the transition to organic.
Part of Via Organica's mission is to create practical, successful business models for Mexican small farmers and businesses. To this end, Via Organica operates a full-line organic food store and cafe in downtown San Miguel de Allende, selling local and regional organic products, some of which are grown on the Via Organica ranch. VO is also building up an organic wholesale business, linking together organic farmers markets, producers, retail stores, and restaurants across Mexico.
The VO store or tienda in San Miguel is a model of small business profitability, as well as a testament to the growing demand in Mexico for healthy, fresh organic food and green products. In addition, Via Organica's farm school, which is located at the ranch and eco-tourism center, offers regular, well-attended workshops on organic farming and permaculture for hundreds of campesinos (small farmers) throughout the region. Workshops have included hands-on demonstrations of organic composting, pest control, soil analysis, marketing, and food nutrition.
To overcome the high costs of organic certification for small farmers and producers, VO is working with local and regional groups to develop a low-cost system of community-controlled organic certification, called Certification Participativa. Other VO projects include community nutrition classes, educational radio programs, working with schools and hospitals, a summer youth camp, and a campaign to convert a number of roadside or street taco stands into healthy, inexpensive organic "fast food" outlets.
To finance our work and spread our message, OCA and VO sponsor seven-day organic Eco-Tours every month, bringing US organic consumers and farmers to Mexico for a first hand look at the organic movement there. These educational tours provide insight into the struggles and successes of Mexican organic farmers, consumers, and rural activists, who are challenged by enormous problems including NAFTA and corporate "free trade," industrial farming, climate change, and the "Wal-Mart-ization" of their economy.
An inspiring highlight of our tours is a trip to the Center for Economic Development and Sustainable Agriculture (CEDESA) in Dolores Hidalgo, a dynamic community organizing project that has been working with poor farmers for over 40 years to help them become self-sufficient using traditional organic farming and grassroots permaculture or appropriate technology techniques. The CEDESA site and farms include rooftop rainwater catchment systems, water-free composting toilets, organic vegetable, fruit, cactus, and medicinal herb gardens, beehives, and low-input outdoor stoves and ovens.
OCA and Via Organica extend a cordial invitation to organic consumers, gardeners, and farmers in the US to sign up for one of our bilingual escorted tours and visit us in beautiful sunny Mexico for your winter vacation. Tours are led by OCA Director, Ronnie Cummins. Tax-deductible donations to the OCA can be earmarked for our Mexico educational programs.
For further info or to sign up for a Via Organica monthly tour, please contact the OCA national office at 218-226-4164, or read our eco-tour information on the OCA Tours Page, or at ViaOrganica.org, Via Organica's Spanish language website.
by Molly Blakemore
As I write this letter, the papers, TV, and the internet are all broadcasting non-stop bad news about the climate crisis, war, deteriorating public health, and what is now called the Great Recession.
On World Food Day, global hunger organizations reminded us that a billion people across the globe are malnourished or starving, while two billion more, mainly small farmers and rural villagers, are living in extreme poverty. Meanwhile, public health advocates continue to decry the fact that a full two-thirds of the residents in our Fast Food Nation are either obese or overweight. Agronomists warn of impending crop failures and a serious decrease in global grain reserves. With a destabilized climate and weird weather now routine, it seems almost normal that Minnesota's autumn fall colors have been cut short by an early snow. Our Via Organica staff in Mexico tell us that the region's farmers are going through the worst drought in 50 years, with corn and bean crops seriously stunted.
Mother Nature and our billions of brothers and sisters down the block and around the world are obviously trying to tell us something: it's time for a change, big change. The "change" that the new administration promised us in January, opposed every step of the way by powerful special interests and lobbyists, has turned out to be, at least so far, small change.
Out-of-control corporations, indentured scientists, Wall Street banksters, and politicians seem perfectly content to maintain business as usual, no matter the cost - even if the cost is human survival.
It's time for a change. We are the organic grassroots force that can save the planet. We are the antidote to hopelessness and fatalism. We are the messengers of hope. We are fortunate to have a practical organic solution to offer for the climate crisis, a solution which has the power to resolve our public health and economic crisis as well.
But let us not talk falsely now. There is no time to lose. The hour is getting late.
We need your help more than ever to broadcast our message and mobilize the grassroots around OCA's life-affirming, positive message: organic food and farming and ethical green living are the practical solution to our crisis. 85 percent of our funds come from individuals like you, our grassroots supporters. Please use the enclosed reply envelope to send us a tax-deductible donation.
Thank you so much for your support.
Regards & Solidarity,
Ronnie Cummins, OCA National Director
After eight years of tireless and magnificent work, Craig Minowa, OCA's environmental scientist and editor, and our resident musical genius, is moving on to focus full-time on other duties. Craig's all-green music company, Earthology Records, and band, Cloud Cult www.cloudcult.com, have become so popular that he can no longer afford to divide his time between OCA and the music world. In addition, Craig and his wife Connie (a former field organizer with the OCA) are celebrating the birth of their new baby boy, Nova, on October 2.
Craig has served as OCA's point person on scientific matters, with a special emphasis on pesticides, toxic chemicals, body care products, and children's health. He has left his knowledgeable imprint, positive outlook, and sense of humor on OCA's electronic newsletter, Organic Bytes, over the past decade, and is a major reason why we've grown to 250,000 subscribers and become a powerful voice for organics and Fair Trade in the US. We will sorely miss Craig, but we're happy he'll be carrying our green and organic message to an even larger audience with his music and vocal skills. So thank you Craig for all you've done, and thanks in advance for all the good work and artistic inspiration that lies ahead.
Although Craig is a very difficult act to follow, we welcome another young resident staff genius, Alexis Baden-Mayer, OCA's Washington, DC lobbyist, coalition builder, and lawyer, as the new editor-in-chief of Organic Bytes.
An organic future is unlikely if the US continues to spend billions of dollars waging war, in a profoundly misguided quest for oil and a so-called "war on terrorism." We have endured eight years of war in Afghanistan and, while the president has promised to eventually withdraw from Iraq, he continues to describe Afghanistan as the "good war." In this era of climate crisis and diminishing energy, water, and food supplies, we need to be planting peace, not waging war. As US forces contaminate the Afghan countryside with depleted uranium, the possibility of this third-poorest nation in the world being able to feed itself in the future is rapidly diminishing. Meanwhile, along with other war profiteers, Monsanto has landed like a vulture in Iraq and Afghanistan to take advantage of new laws protecting the rights of corporations to patent and control seeds and food. www.organicconsumers.org/plantingpeace/
Organic Consumers Fund's Grassroots
Netroots Alliance project
is working to create a healthy organic future that embodies the interrelated
principles of health, justice, sustainability, peace, and democracy.
We support holistic health care, access to health care for all; fair
trade for farmers in the Global South, and labor rights for US workers.
We also support an organic transition in agriculture, as well as a
transition from fossil fuels in energy; the legalization of raw milk,
industrial hemp and marijuana; an accounting of Bush's crimes and Obama's
bailouts; and an end to the corporate control of politics and the media.
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