Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Problem with "Organic"

"Organic" as a word referring to certain agricultural practices, was invented by small farmers and small processors as a response to the introduction of ‘chemical farming’ in particular just after the second world war. Nitrogen and chemicals such as nerve gas needed a  a new market and found a new and increasing role as ”farming aids”. Nitrogen could “fix” infertile grounds and watered down chemical weapons could play a role in insect control, etc. On some level one can even trace the idea of modification of genes, such as Monsanto is practicing, to a type of war mentality of the worst kind (inspired by ideas of genetic superiority such as espoused by Hitler).
From early on these fallacious ideas of what farming is all about found opposition in deep thinkers who were also practicing farmers such as JJ Rodale, Ehrnefried Pfeiffer of Kemberton Farm School, and Paul Keene of Walnut Acres Farms. They were the first ones who started to formulate what is wrong with chemical agriculture and started the organic lineage. They understood that sound organic agriculture goes hand in hand with a healthy ecosystem and healthy animals and humans. 
As a grass movement “Organics” was a way to distinguish, let’s say the Santa Fe Area Farmers Market, from large commercial farming and find a way to be competitive. “Organics” before it became fully regulated by the government -- when it was still a farm movement-- meant three things: Small family farms, bioregional marketing, and above all: no chemicals. So it had a social -, an economic -, and an  ecological - layer. 
Due to its success, larger farming entities wanted in on the act. Government is paid now by lobbyists who write the laws of this country and they got their hands on the word ”Organics”. Through sleight of hand, by promising to protect the Organic farming community, it came up with a set of standards that in effect does  the very opposite. How ?
The word organic was stripped from its social and ecological layers. Organics now is nothing but a marketing tool for places like Whole Foods and a restriction and control mechanism over small farmers and processors like ourselves --it is meant to destroy local farming and local marketing. The paperwork and intrusive inspections are prohibitive and cumbersome. On top of that the government charges a special, unique premium on the use of the word Organics: a tax that funds the self perpetuating “Organics” bureaucracy. Whereas chemical farmers don’t pay anything extra for having their chemicals float downstream, Organic farmers face an additional tax for the use of the word “Organics” and the privilege of having invasive inspections and paperwork.. This should be reversed.
Now that “Organics” have been co-opted by conventional farming and political appointments, organics and the use of the word Organics has become a tool of power in the hands of established power over small farmers. 
It is time to develop a new meaningful  marketing tool for the idea of “Organics”, that emphasizes the bioregional character of the market, the no usage of chemicals, and the small scale character the farmers and processors. Maybe we can use the word “Bio”- denoting both Bio-logical and Bio-regional and Bio-beneficial -- supporting life. That is just my suggestion. 
For now let’s forget about “Organics”: what is so great about about a grape grown in Argentina, flown over here to be sold at the Whole Foods as organic and compete with a grape that is grown right here, and destroy our own market ??  That is in a nutshell what has happened to the word “Organics” when touched by globalism and corporate agriculture: it has become the wrong ideology. When people buy “Organic” in a store, they think they are doing something ‘good’, whereas in fact they are doing nothing but underwrite a government perpetuated deception.
 We should create marketing tools that set us apart from let’s say ‘Whole Foods’: it is time to come up with a new own concept that covers the original meaning of “Organics”:  Small local family farmers that market locally and grow without the use of chemicals. “Organics” as it has evolved, as a government regulated word, which encumbers and impedes small farming by taking its market away, now just confuses the real agricultural and social and economic problems that we face together.

Enjoy this small video of the Cloud Cliff Bread made with organic flour grown in the Rio-Grande Bio-Region. Here organics still means more than bread --it is an economic program for small family farmers.

1 comment: