Organic Consumers Association

Organic "Evolution"

Many of our country's best farmers no longer even use the word

As a consumer who generally tries to do the right thing, I've always thought the decision to buy organic was a no-brainer. But in recent years organic has grown to include paradoxes such as the organic factory farm and the organic TV dinner. And now, there is even organic high-fructose corn syrup. We are not far from organic Coca-Cola.

At Indian Line Farm, in Great Barrington, MA, weeding is still done by hand. Now these aren't absolutely good or absolutely bad developments. As offensive a concept as organic high-fructose corn syrup may be, a product like organic Coke will sponsor a lot more organic acreage in this country. But this is certainly not what the founders of the organic movement had in mind.

It's worth remembering what they did have in mind. There were three legs to the original organic dream. One was growing food in harmony with nature
-- a non-industrial way of farming that treated animals humanely and did not use chemical pesticides. The second leg was that our system of food distribution should be different; food co-ops, farmer's markets, and community supported agriculture could replace the national agricultural system. And the third leg was the food itself. We shouldn't be eating red delicious apples; we should be eating ten different kinds of apples because biodiversity in the apple tart means biodiversity in the orchard.

The lesson to be learned is that consumers of all kinds, but especially eaters, are producers in the most important sense. With every food purchasing decision, we are helping to create the world we want to live in, one bite at a time.

For all sorts of reasons -- some good, some mistaken -- the organic community decided more than a decade ago that it needed federal recognition and regulations. Big companies wanted to sell organic products nationally, but they needed standard rules. And farmers thought that a standard label would give credibility to organic, which it did. But once we had an official federal organic standard, small farmers lost control of the niche.

Today the organic dream is in peril. In fact, many of the best farmers in this country no longer even use the word organic. The USDA developed a set of rules -- and they got pesticides, hormones, and many drugs out of the system. All wonderful. But if you look at the new rules, that's all they address. There is nothing written about the kind of food that may be called organic, or its distribution. There is no rule against high-fructose corn syrup. A myriad of synthetics are allowed in processed organic food. And we find ourselves with an organic transcontinental strawberry: 5 calories of food energy that use 435 calories of fossil-fuel energy to get to a supermarket near you. This is organic food forced through the industrial system, shorn of its holism. What has been lost is that one key insight about organic: that everything is connected. The organic dream has been reduced to a farming method.

The way we spend our food dollars is one of the most important votes we cast, and the choice we consumers are increasingly going to be faced with is not organic or conventional, but local or organic. I come down on the side of local. When you buy local, you're voting for a short, highly legible food chain -- one that supports all three legs of the original vision. This shorter food chain brings the consumer and producer together, and the producer gets to tell her story. Organic label or not, it had better be a good story: clean food, grown without pesticides, the animals being treated humanely. Another reason to buy local is that farms produce more than food -- they produce a kind of landscape too, which your food dollars help to conserve.

Michael Pollan is the author of The Botany of Desire. This article is adapted from a talk hosted by the Great Barrington Land Conservancy.

Jo Ann Baumgartner Wild Farm Alliance 406 Main St., Ste. 213 Watsonville, CA 95076
831-761-8103 fax

Home | News | Organics | GE Food | Health | Environment | Food Safety | Fair Trade | Peace | Farm Issues | Politics
Español | Campaigns | Buying Guide | Press | Search | Donate | About Us | Contact Us

Organic Consumers Association - 6771 South Silver Hill Drive, Finland MN 55603
E-mail: Staff · Activist or Media Inquiries: 218-226-4164 · Fax: 218-353-7652
Please support our work. Send a tax-deductible donation to the OCA

Fair Use Notice: The material on this site is provided for educational and informational purposes. It may contain copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. It is being made available in an effort to advance the understanding of scientific, environmental, economic, social justice and human rights issues etc. It is believed that this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have an interest in using the included information for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. The information on this site does not constitute legal or technical advice.