The Bioponic Debate – Are There Bigger Fish to Fry?

I can smell it; spring is just around the corner. While some areas of the country are still under winter’s frigid grip, elongated English cucumbers are flourishing in shade houses near the Mexican border. Tantalizing heirloom tomatoes, curvaceous eggplant and thick zucchini are growing in various mediums of soil and soil-less technologies. They fill our winter plate. Innovative farmers have figured out how to maintain vigorous populations of microbes using natural fertilizers to cultivate food in containers and other soil-less conditions (sweepingly named Bioponics). For the time being, they can market their produce as certified organic if they follow the organic regulations. All this could change in 2017.

While the “to soil or not to soil” debate rages on, does the organic community not have bigger fish to fry? Continue reading

A Political Sea Change for the Good Food Movement

WaveIt’s been just a few weeks since our political world took a turn into uncharted seas. We had been progressing along swimmingly, making progress on the likes of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, local organic food hubs and vibrant conservation programs. We had the luxury of squabbling over the recommendations of the NOSB wrangling over every nuance of organic production. We took the National Organic Program for granted as an institutional “holy maceral” that would carry us someday into regulatory utopia.

All of that came to an abrupt halt last November when the new political tide rolled in. These uncharted waters are like nothing we have navigated before, and the good food movement should take heed and consider rowing with a united stroke if we are to remain afloat.  Continue reading

Peeling Back the Label: Organic, Natural, and Local

Boycott?Walking down a typical food aisle can be a daunting experience with a cacophony of seductive labels resounding from every shelf. These missives entice you to make purchases based on a feeling. Buying that product will make you feel healthier, sexier or perhaps insert a sense of pride that you are somehow protecting humankind and the environment. Food labels are powerful instruments that determine our purchasing habits unwittingly as we fill our baskets with hopes and emotions. With so many labels vying for our attention, it’s high time we peeled back the truth to see what’s really behind some of our most popular food labels. Continue reading

What’s at Stake at This Week’s National Organic Standards Board Meeting?

200px-National_Organic_ProgramThe election is behind us, and the next policy balloon destined to go off this week is in St. Louis, Missouri. I am here not to saunter under the Gateway Arch nor worry the corporate offices of Monsanto. I am here to attend the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) biannual meeting which provides an opportunity for organic stakeholders to give input on proposed recommendations and discussions. These meetings can decide the fate of organic farming and manufacturing for many years to come. Indeed the very future of organic is held in the hands of the 15 individuals on the board.

So it’s important to show up. Continue reading

Is The Organic Movement a Democracy?

shutterstock_283999568It has been an interesting few months. The national election hasn’t been the only campaign I’ve been engaged in. Seems that when I ask questions that aren’t perfectly in accord with the views of others, a cascade of misinformation is scattered about the internet. I ask you to consider the idea of an organic Democracy where free speech can create vigorous healthy dialogue.

When I write, I write for the entire community, not just one side. Sometimes I reiterate concerns or points of view that others have expressed. The vision of my blog is to stimulate dialogue and to bring forth the issues of the day so they can be discussed and carefully weighed.

In a recent blog, I posed questions that have been asked by organic seed breeders and other informed stakeholders. The concern they have voiced is that the NOSB may ban some seed breeding methods before we can understand their possible benefits and risks. If you take a moment to carefully read the Organic Matters blog post, you’ll note that I state that these GMO technologies “need more investigation and discussion,” that they “must be explored and challenged” and that “they do not belong in organic production.”

Yet the headlines declared:

“Now Gene Editing Techniques are Being Promoted to be Included in Organic Standards by OTA / UNFI” 

“OTA board member and UNFI lobbyist Melody Meyer wrote about allowing “gene editing” – a new form of genetic engineering – into organic standards – a clear sign that the OTA and the corporate paymasters at UNFI want to include these new techniques over the objections of virtually all organic farmers and consumers.”

Asking questions is not an indication of support. Sometimes difficult conversations need to be had, and it is because of public suppression that many in our community are afraid to speak up.

I hope the organic community can become comfortable with individuals initiating these complex conversations in the future.

Here is what you need to know regarding the latest kerfuffle:

  • UNFI is unequivocally opposed to GMOs in organic, and we are not advocating for new gene-editing or any other GMO technologies to be allowed in organic.
  • We interpret the organic regulations to prohibit gene editing as an excluded method.
  • Most of these new techniques are not in the NOP regulations definition which is creating uncertainty and discussion in the organic business community.
  • The work of the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) is important, and our comments to the NOSB must be focused on getting clarification to remove the uncertainty in the marketplace.

After 40 years of working hard and serving the organic movement, I care deeply about organic. This is the very reason I am willing to be the one who serves forth some of the most difficult subjects.

Elaborating on a point of view should not automatically make the author a turncoat, or one who embraces that specific point of view. A thoughtful author only intends to stimulate stakeholders to weigh the opportunities and risks so that the right outcomes are achieved.

Once again, dear reader, I ask you tough questions:

What kind of movement do we have if no one can bring forward controversial subjects?

Do we tolerate an environment where differing voices are censored??

Would the organic community be better served by ceasing the internal firing and instead take aim at conventional toxic-laden agriculture?

Should we as a community agree to sometimes disagree and work towards a solution?

How do we move forward as a democratic movement that includes free speech, innovation and sometimes dissenting voices?

Putting those questions aside I pledge to you – I will not be dissuaded from unearthing thorny topics. I will not cease to give voice to those who are afraid to be heard. I promise to always serve the organic community with all its intricacies and foibles.

What burning questions do you have about organic food and farming that you want to explore? Let’s lean in together and make this a safe place for civic discourse.

Speak up