Environment, Organic Policy and Regulations, What is Organic

This Holy Darkness Is a Call for Food Policy Change

Smoke and Haze fill the West Photo by Dave Hoefler on Unsplash

As I write, the entire west is burning up in historic conflagrations.  According to Meteorologist Daniel Swain, “Around 3.5 million acres have burned so far in California in 2020. That’s around 3.5% of the entire land area of the state and is approaching *double* the previous record for the greatest acreage burned during a single year.”

The air is laced with smoke and ash; the orange sun some days does not come forth. The darkness shrouds me, and the air places a heavy weight on my chest.

The earth is sending us a message in this holy darkness—flames sown by our sturdy two-legged species; we have ingenious brains but hold no reverence for the future.

We act like animals in fights for survival as we subjugate her with overconsumption. Burning fossil fuels, destroying ancient forests for cheap hamburgers, farming with chemicals that add to global emissions.

I believe it need not be so and that we can begin to make a difference.

First, we must realize that climate change poses an existential threat to the natural world and our very existence. The way we grow our food plays an important role in mitigating the changing climate—and that’s where it gets political.

Climate change is real and is being accelerated by human activity.

Extreme Weather Events are the Norm
Photo by NOAA.GOV

I don’t need the International Panel on Climate Change to tell me the global average temperature increased by 1.8°F from 1901 to 2016. Or that current trends indicate the planet is likely to warm 2.7 °F between 2030 and 2052 unless drastic mitigation steps are taken.

I can feel the effects of this temperature rise by the smoke in my lungs. The members of my community rendered homeless. The old-growth trees that stand no longer.

This warming is already having significant consequences for communities, economies, and ecosystems. My friends and family in my hometown of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, are living the climate change impacts, devastated by the unheard winds of Derecho.

A Civil Eats article illustrates the impact to Iowa farmers and how the USDA is actively pushing back on the climate narrative.

The extreme weather events of flooding, drought, extreme heat and wildfires, and hurricanes are in the news every day. As Bloomberg reported, “Human-caused climate change has made the world warmer than it used to be, and the consequences have started to show.”

Summer 2020 ranked as one of the hottest on record for U.S. NOAA.GOV

Organic agriculture provides a critical opportunity to mitigate climate change.

Photo by Kenan Kitchen on Unsplash

Organic production methods reduce emissions of carbon dioxide by avoiding fossil fuel-based fertilizers. The production, transport and use of fossil fuel-based fertilizers and pesticides are the main uses of energy in agriculture. They are significant contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, particularly carbon dioxide.

Organic production reduces emissions of nitrous oxide by avoiding soil applications of synthetic nitrogen.

Most importantly, organic production actually sequesters carbon in the soil, taking it out of the atmosphere and back into the ground, promoting healthy soils, healthy food and people.

The Organic Trade Association (OTA) has made organic a priority in the climate change fight.

The OTA’s Climate Change White Paper says, “Organic agriculture presents a growing opportunity to mitigate climate change while creating economic, environmental, and health benefits for all food system participants. Organic agriculture mitigates climate change by reducing direct and indirect sources of greenhouse gas emissions, acting as a carbon sink via soil carbon sequestration.

Organic agriculture helps adapt to climate change by promoting soil health, biodiversity and resilient agroecosystems. Public and private efforts to support organic as a climate mitigation tool exist, but we need stronger federal support to maximize benefits.

Their paper identifies specific recommendations to support organic farmers and encourage the transition to organic farming as a key strategy for climate change mitigation and adaptation in the agriculture sector.

Their policy recommendations include:

  • Elevating organic as a key voice in climate-smart agricultural policy;
  • Establishing a national program to support transitioning organic farmers by reducing financial risks, improving market infrastructure development and increasing access to land.
  • Developing a competitive grant program to provide technical services to organic and transitioning farmers to create better access to information about organic production methods that sequester greenhouse gases and improve crop yields.
  • Creating a federal Healthy Soils pilot program, based on existing programs at USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and the California Healthy Soils Initiative.
Organic Agriculture is a ray of light
Photo by Jake Gard

Vote for policy change like your life depends on it this November!

Barack Obama recently commented, “The fires across the West Coast are just the latest examples of the very real ways our changing climate is changing our communities. Protecting our planet is on the ballot. Vote like your life depends on it—because it does.”

In my recent blog post, Food is Political, I explain how you can support incumbent members of Congress and/or candidates who can be influential in protecting or promoting organic agriculture and trade in new legislation.

OTA’s Organic PAC supports candidates who share common beliefs about organic food and farming.

Want to be part of the conversation? I have an invitation for you.

I’m personally working to organize support from all who are interested in the future of organic food and farming.

By inviting you to a Virtual Conversation on Food, Agriculture, and Rural America, you can join me in supporting an important Biden fundraising event geared towards the food and agricultural coalition.

This Saturday, September 19th, speakers include former Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and Chef Jose Andres of World Central Kitchen.

I am deeply committed to doing what I can to ensure organic is front and center in conversations about the future of food and agriculture.

And to listen to the message of this holy darkness called climate change.  

Leonard Cohen once sang:

“There’s a lover in the story

But the story’s still the same

There’s a lullaby for suffering

And a paradox to blame

But it’s written in the scriptures

And it’s not some idle claim

You want it darker, we kill the flame”

Let’s kill the flame and change the way we do business before it gets any darker.

Will you join me?

Photo by Cullen Smith Unsplash

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