Monday, April 18, 2016

O is for Organic- #AtoZChallenge

What do you think when you hear the word "organic"? Piles of gleaming fresh fruit and veg, free from pesticide sprays and other toxic junk? Meat with a sticker claiming clean and humane origins? Food that's actually healthy to eat, with plenty of nutrients? Well, I'm afraid I may have to burst your bubble about it- today, O is for Organic... and why it's not all it's cracked up to be.

So what's the deal? Organic food is supposed to be good for us, right? Ideally, yes. Done right, organic food is supposed to eliminate the use of toxic sprays that drench our food and soak into the soil, damaging and killing the soil life and food chain in general. It is supposed to see that our produce isn't coated with waxes or preservatives, and that our meat isn't laden antibiotics and growth hormones. Poultry is free range, cows and sheep are grass fed, etc. Judged by those standards, there are lots of farmers who fall into the category of "organic".

Unfortunately, many of those worthy farmers won't be able to become "certified organic". When the USDA first started granting farmers with organic certification in 2003, the annual fees totaled about $200. By 2013, fees had gone up 350%- that's $900 annually just in forms. Any sustainable farmer knows that diversification is key to a good organic system, but for each organic product separate forms have to be filled out, and as a result the farmers are flooded with paperwork.

Cost isn't just an issue for the farmers- because they have to pay those fees, as well as cope with the smaller crop yield, the time spent with weed and pest control that falls within the organic method, the greater chance of crop spoilage, etc, those costs are passed on to the consumer, which means we are buying organic produce for exorbitant costs. That's not all either- the Department of Agriculture is pretty shady when it comes to what qualifies as organic.

Did you know that the chicken you can buy is considered organic if the birds are fed organic grain and are cage-free... but that they can be confined to a building, and the USDA doesn’t say how long they have to be outside? In fact, not only can organic produce be grown be imported from other countries (adding all those fossil fuel miles) but it can also be treated with a number of synthetic substances, including a type of copper sulfate product used for fungal infections, which is known to be highly toxic to humans, fish and insects. Yum- serve me some of that!

Boiled down to the bones, it looks an awful lot like Department of Agriculture is trying to create loop holes for big agribusiness. This isn't improved when you consider that the USDA and it's associated boards and committees in charge of regulating the organic standards are left wide open to political and corporate manipulation through their members. Follow the money, as they say.

Personally, I feel that organic certification is a waste of time and money for our already beleaguered farmers, and a waste of money for us as consumers. It doesn't seem fair to me that the farmers, the ones spending all that money and time to provide us with better food, are getting hit with these ridiculous fees and stacks of papers. Doesn't it make more sense to leave them alone, and instead charge those using conventional farming methods all the fees for using the stuff that they do?

The more I study the organic food issue, the more I'm pushed towards wanting to grow my own food- at least then I know that it's truly organic and local. I can then control what goes onto my garden, what I'm feeding my chickens, where my eggs come from, etc. Anything I don't grow myself, I try to source from local providers.

If you can't grow your own food, the least you can do is research, research, research. Check out your local farmers and see what they provide for fresh produce, meat and dairy. If you are game to grow your own, maybe try to get your neighbors in on it- lots of people growing different things and trading/bartering means that you are encouraging community support and sustainability through local food production. It cuts down on toxins your food, and cuts down on gas miles too- no gas is burned if you can walk to your neighbors for tomatoes or melons!

I hope this post helped to make you aware of the issues associated with being certified "organic", and i hope I've encouraged you to investigated your local food resources. I'll see you tomorrow with another blog

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