A few weeks ago, a large post card-like mailing was sent to me addressed to both my name and farm name. On the front of the mailing, in large letters, was written, “I’m Organic”. It had been sent by a group called “United for More Organic”. And that was as far as I read on the mailing, setting it aside to view later…
Later that same day, I received an e-mail from “United for More Organic” with a heading of “Organic growth - it’s for the benefit of future generations”. Upon opening the e-mail, I was assaulted by a large black and white photo of an infant with “I’m Organic” typed over the image. As I read down the e-mail, it appeared to be an attempt to unify organic farmers, I guess, to empower us. There were questions posed and answered: “Why? To grow organic through a cooperative research and promotion program… What? After gathering input from hundreds of people at dozens of meetings, a framework of options for a potential program is ready for your detailed feedback... How? Sign up for the More Organic Newsletter… Why else? Win a free Ipad Mini – the first 1,000 to subscribe are entered in a raffle… Who? The Organic Trade Association, North America’s leading voice for the organic sector representing over 6,500 businesses, is facilitating the discussion but YOU own the conversation…”
Wow! What the heck was all that? I’ll get back to it…
Organic. I have been attempting to explain this situation for quite some time. And I will quite readily admit… it is by no means easy!
When I first ventured into the “organic” farming situation, the term “organic” was not yet commandeered by the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture). At that time, there were many different agencies that would certify whether a farm was “organic” or not. It was a loose contingent of, for the most part, EXTREMELY well meaning agencies that simply had no control over the national/international situation that arose around the rapidly growing interest in “organic” produce. As a result, the USDA commandeered the term “organic” so as to make it a universal term with guidelines, etc., which in theory is a VERY good thing.
What is “organic”? Those of us who are “certified organic” use no chemicals whatsoever in our farming practices. That is probably the easiest explanation on what is a rather complex situation. Within the rules of organic farming… and I will keep this somewhat easy by sticking with vegetables… stewardship is a main point of focus. Beyond merely not using non-natural approaches, additives, etc., the organic farmer MUST farm in such a fashion as to IMPROVE the health of the soil in which those vegetables are raised.
Unfortunately, this is not the end of the discussion in regard to what is “organic”. Some other foreign substances that are used in vegetable farming can also be used in “organic” vegetable farming as well. What is allowed is determined by the National Organic Standards Board, which has fifteen members that decide on whether substances should be allowed or restricted in regard to organic farming. One such item is row cover, which is allowed in organic production for no synthetic residue results from usage of the product. One item that is not allowed is glyphosate, or Round UP, which is absolutely a synthetic chemical.
These two examples are rather clear cut ones, but there are many others that are not so clear cut. Some allowed organic sprays are derived from plants but are not necessarily the safest product to use. Controversy has arisen over some of these items over the years. And while I know of the controversy, I do not know about the details. From my own organic farmer point of view, I do not use anything that is even remotely questionable. There are no pesticides, for example, used at all, whether allowed for organic farming or not. We hunt and squish the pests, or cover the rows with row covers.
Now, back to the history of “organics”. Once the National Organic Program went into effect, the integrity of the program was immediately attacked in a multifarious array by large agricultural companies. Either they wanted to weaken the NOP, or they wanted a HUGE portion of the pie. And this point is where this entry has been heading. Whereas organic farming on its basic level is absolutely pure and honest, once the greed of BIG AGRICULTURE gets involved muddy tracks are left everywhere. Since its inception in 2002, there has been a constant assault on the integrity of the NOP to allow non-natural substances into organics. The reason behind this is to make things easier on BIG AGRICULTURE. Instead of adhering to the honesty of natural farming, it is more important to make it easier for large corporations to … swindle the consumer.
Once again, I have not paid all that much attention to the particular details of these constant fights because they simply do not affect my operation. Any outside source that is used at the farm is very minimal, and absolutely not questionable in the safety of its use. That said, I AM aware of the constant attempt at infiltration by BIG AGRICULTURE.
This awareness led to an immediate “red flag” to appear in my thoughts when I first read through that initial “I’m Organic” e-mail. Why was it so important for me to sign up for the More Organic Newsletter that they were raffling an Ipad Mini? One thing to understand about us legitimate organic farmers is… we are by no means wealthy! To offer a prize as an incentive to merely sign up for a newsletter is absurd… And then, every subsequent week, I received another large post card-like mailing with “I’m Organic” in large type on the front, along with an e-mail for the same… Apparently, someone or something behind this “I’m Organic” campaign had money to burn, so to speak…
As I have stated, I am not too informed on a lot of the entities involved in the constant fight over the “organic” situation. I am aware of some of the “watch dog” groups that have the integrity of the NOP at heart, such as The Cornucopia Institute. I was not aware of exactly who The Organic Trade Association was, or is rather. So I investigated a little…
Most things you might find while searching The Organic Trade Association on the internet read very admirably in respect to their approach to the integrity of organic food production. They are friendly to the environment. They are friendly to the health benefits of organic food production, etc. However, these self-aggrandized traits are only skin deep.
The Organic Trade Association was largely responsible for swindling the allowance of synthetic and non-agricultural additives into foods labeled “organic” as approved by the NOP and ultimately the USDA. Such nasty ingredients as carageenan is a perfect example of a non-organic ingredient now allowed in organic processing, which should have ABSOLUTELY no place in “organics” whatsoever.
But that is how the system works. And once again, I am on the outside of that conflict. I am a local organic producer that has no use or means to use such synthetic additives. My farm grows absolutely naturally grown organic produce that is sold to my neighbors. It is as healthy as it gets. But, unfortunately, through the mailings of this “I’m Organic” organization, I have been accosted by an outside source that has forced me to address the issue of how tainted the system can become.
I will pause here to state that I am dedicated to “organic” farming on a much larger scale than the fact that my own farming practices are absolutely organic. I truly desire for the NOP to be able to fight, and resist the incredible pressure of BIG AGRICULTURE, but… I have REAL farming to do! I do trust the integrity of, say, Mark Kastel of the Cornucopia Institute, who is constantly vigilant on the activities of the nefarious groups attempting to undermine the integrity of “organics”.
That said, this “I’m Organic” assault has me wondering quite a lot about what is behind it. Why is it so important that I sign on to the newsletter, that in so doing, I am entered in a raffle for an Ipad Mini. With all of the years of hard labor working to produce organic vegetables, does a chance of winning an Ipad Mini really sound all that enticing? What after all is an Ipad Mini? (I must remind the reader I am a farmer, hands in dirt,etc…) If an open conversation was really what all of the “I’m Organic” is about, why has “a framework of options for a potential program is ready for your detailed feedback” the point from which I must start my “conversation”? For it was asserted that the conversation is “YOURS”?
I am skeptical. I have always been skeptical. As for this case of “I’m Organic”, as skeptical as I am on those entities controlled by BIG AGRICULTURE, I almost feel like I am entering an arena of hysteria akin to alien abduction, or something equally as ludicrous. But the nefarious group here is BIG AGRICULTURE… If I were to sign on to the More Organic Newsletter, would all my efforts as a LOCAL organic farmer then be lumped into a larger cauldron of money-grubbing, that is greed oriented, powers ultimately out to undermine the integrity… OF THOSE OF US WHO HAVE WORKED SO HARD FOR SO LONG DESPITE THOSE NEFARIOUS HUGE COMPANIES THAT DO NOT GIVE A DAMN FOR ANYTHING BUT MORE MONEY???
Eesh! Humans and their greed are quite tiresome, INDEED!!! I will sum up this entry simply by stating… I will return to the organic dirt of the farm tomorrow, and as the rain falls… I guess the mud tomorrow, to continue the labor that produces the fresh, local, organic produce that my farm offers. I will not join this “I’m Organic” group. I KNOW I am organic, I am just not convinced that they are…