Environment, Organic Policy and Regulations, What is Organic

What is our narrative?

The world in our handsI am attending the Sustainable Ag and Food Systems Funders (SASFS) conference in Denver this week and a provocative subject was raised about the dominant story we harken to regarding our agricultural system. The message is everywhere: in subway stations, at the baseball game and of course on television. “How do we feed the world? We feed the world only through more technology, greater concentration and the exploitation of resources.”  But in truth, are these strategies really serving us? How do WE feed the world when our agricultural system has created food deserts, obesity, and the decline of the family farm, degradation of our soils and waters, and exploitation of our animals? Should not the narrative first be how do we feed OURSELVES?

I went into the session thinking it was about finding the narrative for my own UNFI Foundation supporting organic and sustainable food systems. I soon realized this was a dialogue about finding the voice of the community I was in, a voice that resonated deep from many different sources. There were foundations with different missions concerning access to land and protecting the family farm. There were protectors of animal welfare, activists for social justice as well as fight against urban hunger. They spoke of how the industrial food system had impoverished the rural communities while providing fast junk food to the urban disenfranchised. I learned that there used to be 23,000 hog producers in Missouri reduced now to less than 2100, a 91% loss of family farmers since 1985! I was awed at the work to teach young school children to grow food and how to transform that fresh produce into a meal for the first time. I discovered the struggle of farm workers’ rights and earning a living wage. I wondered at the tenacity that was needed to change policy on a local and national level.

The issues were many and varied, but the base cause seemed to originate from the fact that our food system had become mechanized, industrialized, dehumanized and reorganized to support the corporate welfare of a few.

The impact of industrial farming is relatively new, having developed in the last 70 years, a mere blip in the extended history of agriculture. Prior to this concentration of “modern” agriculture into the hands of a few corporations, farmers saved their seeds and fed their families throughout the generations with those seeds and time honored traditions. Millennium of Agrarians had learned to build the soil and produce better yields through strategies that integrated biodiversity of animal husbandry and crop rotation.

I chance to say this new type of industrial agriculture isn’t modern at all but a development of the notion that we can conquer nature rather than be in harmony with her. Modern agriculture has not yet been conceived in its fullest sense. We are still developing a future dependent on what we can envision.

We came together to deliberate  the popular narrative being put forward by this corporate system and realized that sometimes we used its very language. We must feed the world through organic and sustainable agriculture. Well, by golly, perhaps feeding ourselves while creating a harmonious environment is really our message.  We need to speak about the vision and what we can create rather than what we are against. We must engage the youth and young parents to help us recreate that vision and help us frame the dialogue.

That vision includes fertile living soil and streams free of chemicals. It’s a place where family farmers can make a sound living, plant a diversity of crops and create habitats for our pollinators. Researchers are working on real solutions for organic techniques and new plant breeds owned by everyone. Access to farmland is easy for young beginning farmers and transition to organic is rewarded. What we want is a world where the people own the seeds and new technologies are tested for safety before they are used in food production. This vision allows animals to live their lives with enough space and fresh air to live as they were intended.

It is time we all sat down and developed a new narrative on how to change the food system we have erroneously built and believed in. It is destroying our health, our rivers and soils, our biodiversity and our human integrity.  What is this narrative that will take us into a new food future? Will you join in and help create it? We need your voice.


19 thoughts on “What is our narrative?”

  1. “What is our narrative?: Just put some FUN in The Organic Good Food STORY!

    My Good Food Friends –

    I ABSOLUTELY agree with Melody’s comment: “We need to speak about the vision and what we can create rather than what we are against.”

    As I think about the future of Organic Good Foods, the reason Organics are stalled at a paltry 4%+/- Market Share after 25 years, is because The Organic Community, as a whole, has been telling virtually the same old story for those 25 years. The general public perceives the Organic Industry, and its spokespeople, to always seem to be against something, always angry, anti-this, anti-that, never seem to just be HAPPY.

    Many in the Organic Industry have called or written me, saying a better narrative is needed. I couldn’t agree more. That’s why I wrote “An open letter to the Organic Industry: Let’s sell FUN, not FRUMP!” and “An Open Letter to the Organic Community: What WERE You THINKING?” http://tinyurl.com/q4z9zdx to a chorus of rave reviews!

    TELL & SELL what makes the consumer FEEL GOOD when making the purchase, ‘cause I KNOW the eater is going to feel REAL GOOD after ENJOYING their Organic Good Food!

    The Organic Industry is always fighting something, forcing its consumers to be involved in a movement, to be issues oriented, to have to ‘take sides’, to consider their food purchase to be a political statement, when all the average consumer wants is to simply make a choice that reflects to them a positive, happy, trouble-free lifestyle in this World of trouble all ‘round. The public is tired of being lectured.

    And as a recent example of that tiring approach, the following are “quotes” right out of a cover article a couple of years ago in the ORGANIC PROCESSING Magazine: “ORGANIC for Everyone!” by Kat Schuett, Editorial Director, and Steven Hoffman, Former Director, The Organic Center.

    “How do we help consumers vote with their dollars to support the organic movement.”

    “A set of values that leads people to support the organic movement with their own actions, from pushing for political initiatives to supporting organic in the checkout lane.”

    “In thinking outside the box, Cooper, “The Renegade Lunch Lady,” suggested that Organic Valley put a ‘milk bag’ in the BOX!” (I’m not making this up, you know.)

    “Raise awareness about issues of food justice.”

    “Leading people to more deeply understand the connections between the soil and food.”

    WOW, how EXCITING, huh! Would YOU go ‘round the block to get some of that? And NOT once was a SMILE even mentioned!

    Continuing, “Reaching these consumers requires educational efforts to help them understand why organic is sometimes more expensive,” and “In cases where organic is more expensive, we acknowledge this and use it as a chance to educate consumers on why it costs more to produce organic food.”

    All I hear at Trade Shows and Conferences, and read in magazines, is the ‘need to educate’. But research from the Hartman Group found that when consumers were asked why they didn’t buy more organic, the reason most often cited was that organic was too expensive and they really didn’t understand what Organic means. After 25 years, that educatin’ thing hasn’t worked, has it.

    But, SELLING like everyone else seems to be ‘beneath’ the Organic Community. There is nothing inherently wrong with SELLING! Look at OUR PRODUCT, FULL of PRIDE, HOPE, HEALTH! So, what could be so wrong in SELLING MORE of IT?

    ‘Organics’ should be SELLING an up-with-life feeling. After all, Organic Good Food is the LIFE of the party!

    Put some FUN in The Organic Good Food STORY! FUN is hard to ignore. Show some CHEERINESS and HAPPINESS ‘cause that’s where everyone kinda WANTS to be, NOT over there in a harsh, limited little world with LESS CHEER, LESS HAPPINESS & LESS FUN!

    And remember, the MORE Organic Good Foods that are sold, displacing that non-organic stuff, the BETTER OFF are PEOPLE & PLANET! Now, THERE’S the WIN!

    To Your Health!
    Dennis L. Weaver, MBA, GFG
    Change Your Food – Change Your Life!™
    CELEBRATING Organic Good Foods!
    – & –
    National Columnist/Opinion Piece Writer
    On the HOME Front Page

  2. Melody, thanks for the good and important post. Key parts of the narrative in roughly descending order of importance from my vantage point are –

    1. “We” cannot and should not try to feed the world, that challenge can only be met by the people living in all regions, with some help from both trade and food aid.
    2. People are food insecure because they are poor and/or marginalized, or are cut off from otherwise accessible food by natural disasters, poor infrastructure, conflict, or graft/extortion.
    3. The low-hanging fruit in advancing food security is reducing losses of food/animals to pests/diseases, losses in storage, and waste at the consumer level. In both the developed and developing world, waste approaches 50% of total production — cutting it by one-half would go a long-way to solving the problem.
    4. It is far more important to shift WHAT is produced to nutrient dense, high-yield foodstuffs that people eat directly, and away from grains to be fed to animals or used for biofuels/HFCS, oils, than it is to increase production proportionally of what farmers now grow worldwide.
    5. Livestock and dairy must shift from inefficient converters of grains to more efficient species and systems, and the percent of animal products dependent on grain must fall and the percent dependent on grass, forages, and waste materials must increase.
    6. Control over plant breeding and germplasm must return to the public sector and farmers, so that nutritional quality, diversity and resilience can once again become dominant objectives in breeding programs, as opposed to maximizing shareholder profits as increasingly now the case.
    7. Increasing yields via sustainable intensification in regions where average yields are 50% or less of the yields that can be supported without excessive reliance on energy inputs or soil and water degradation.

    Hopefully others will reply and add their ideas/perspective, and in future posts, you can help the community make some first steps toward the badly needed narrative you capably describe above.

    1. Thank you Chuck,
      This is an excellent continuation of the dialogue. We need more people to chime in so that we create a new paradigm in agriculture!

  3. My Good Food Friends –

    FIRST of all, how about a “Thank You” to Melody for asking the question: “What is our narrative? It is time we all sat down and developed a new narrative on how to change the food system that (has been) erroneously built and believed in (by others).”

    Her question is a brave ‘questioning’. It should have been asked years ago and now maybe it’ll break us out of our shell. I genuinely hope it leads to a good, robust discussion.

    It already has drawn this second comment form me:

    The narrative has to be redirected to, and focused on, the Consumer. We spend way too much time talking to ourselves!

    ONLY DEMAND for better food, REAL FOOD, Organic Good Food can change the non-organic chemicalized ‘food’ system. And right now there is minimal demand for Organic Good Food as it’s current Market Share is but a paltry 4+/-%, and a mere 1% at the Farm Gate.

    Trying to force ‘food’ system change from the bottom up without Market Demand for its end product is only wishful thinking.

    Without Organic Good Food SALES (Marketplace DEMAND) leading the way, a food system that doesn’t bespoil the environment and our health will remain but an imaginary dream.

    We can wring our hands, toss and turn, stay up late at night and whine about the horrors of the industrial food system and complain forever about all of its shortcomings, but that doesn’t CHANGE the ‘food system’. Nor will letters, petitions, phone calls and protests.

    But, SELLING more Organic Good Food will naturally change the system, improve our health, clean our rivers, build rich and fertile soil, sequester carbon and honor the heritage of seed.

    To Your Health!
    Dennis L. Weaver, MBA, GFG
    Change Your Food – Change Your Life!™
    CELEBRATING Organic Good Foods with

  4. My name is Danielle and I work with the RegenerativeCommunity.net Initiative. One section of our website is a Blog where we republish relevant articles that we love from web-wide.

    Is there any chance we could use this on our blog? We would, of course, completely credit you. You will see that we have other guest blogs of this nature, as well.

    Thank you for your consideration!

  5. You can definitely see your skills in the article you write.

    The world hopes for even more passionate writers
    like you who aren’t afraid to mention how they believe. Always go after your heart.

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