The National Organic Standards Board met in Denver last week. The room was packed with policy wonks, farmers and consumer advocates. Public comments are the main reason for these meetings. We all sat in a subterranean ballroom to agree to disagree and perhaps influence the board to make the right decisions in order to grow organic.
My three minute comments were applauded by some and likely criticized by others. Following is how I addressed the board:
In May I made my annual pilgrimage to the land of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal nation nestled within a rock-strewn forest in Connecticut. An unlikely tower rises up from the rolling foliage, Foxwoods Casino, a cathedral to craps, blackjack and slots. It’s also the lively venue for the annual UNFI New England Tabletop Show, a festive place for vendors to display their wares to hungry retailers ready for a bite and a deal! As I sampled my way through the booths, I was reminded time and again that organic has a long way to grow beyond 5% of food and 1% of agriculture. There are several foxes we must shoo out of the house if we are going to grow our organic flock. Continue reading
I have traveled to verdant areas of the country where the land sprouts red barns housing livestock and ancient well-oiled tractors. The farmers are sturdy, the roosters are colorful and all seems quite organic and pastoral. I have visited many such hardy salt-of- the-earth folk. I have trudged their furrows and bumped along in their four-by-fours, speaking about the price of broccoli and the forewarning of an early frost. Many do pledge to be organic, but when pressed, a few say that they are “beyond” and need not be certified—too much trouble, expense… and the paperwork, OY! Let’s be friendly and let thy neighborly-trust be our guide.
Organic certification isn’t an easy process, but indeed it guarantees that the organic regulations are being followed with verification, inspection, and yes, record keeping. Let’s take a dive into the sometimes-murky waters of certification. Continue reading
It’s a fact that 80-90% of all the corn and soybeans grown in the US are genetically modified to withstand heavy applications of herbicides. The exponential growth of GMO crops has produced a host of super weeds that have evolved to withstand the chemical onslaughts. To combat this cycle, more super-herbicides are applied each year to eliminate the super-weeds. Conventional farmers are now spraying more of these dangerous brews, cooked up by DuPont, Syngenta and Monsanto. The run off flows into our streams and watersheds and is affecting animal and human health. GMO crops have conquered the fields and now their bi-products compromise our water. I think about my family in the Midwest, living near this yearly toxic downpour. I wonder, should they drink the water? Continue reading
In my previous reflections on small and big organic, I neglected to mention that agricultural trends in general are not promising for small or large farmers. The USDA preliminary agricultural census for 2012 was released in late February and had disconcerting information about American agriculture. The census showed that the number of farmers is declining and that the average farmer is getting older. This led me to ponder these question: where will our new youthful organic farmers come from? How do we foster the next generation to take up organic production and flourish? Continue reading