‘Organic’ Loses Its Freshness

‘Organic’ Loses Its Freshness: Until recently, organic practices were sneered at by those in academia, in government and in chemical agribusiness — now called ‘conventional agriculture.’ Thanks to a fast-growing demand for organic food, the sneers are now reserved for those who practice organics on a small scale. Long accustomed to being marginalized, unsubsidized and told to ‘get big or get out,’ small organic growers stubbornly plug away at their work, but the ‘O’ word that once gave them a special niche now means something entirely different. Currently it is used to lend credibility to ‘industrial organic’ food produced on large, factory-style farms, and while its newfound popularity may have brought some of those do’s and don’ts into the mainstream, I think more of agribusiness has rubbed off on organics than vice versa.

The meaning of the organic label rests on a shifting balance between what the corporate lobbies want and what the watchdogs can prevent. Most organic brands are now niche labels of larger food companies that have no interest in the finer, more holistic aspects of the grower’s craft. And many who practice that craft are scratching their heads and asking, ‘What can I call my product instead?’

Barbara Damrosch has written a good piece laying out the changes that have occurred in the Organic Foods area. And her main point is very salient, buy fresh, locally grown, organic preferably, food produced by someone you know. Once the relationship between producer and consumer has been re-established, both will benefit.

My grandfather was an early convert to the J I Rodale school of gardening. By the time of his retirement he was gardening almost an acre organically. I grew up reading Organic Farming & Gardening, and for years I kept a stack of back issues for reference. I have watched as “Organic” has gone from “health food” to mainstream supermarket fare. Unfortunately, the definition of the word HAS been legislated into oblivion by the Corporate Ag group.

Maybe we need a new word. Europe seems to favor “biological” (as in the French “biologique”). It evokes the plant sciences more than it does the chemistry lab. Some committed growers describe what they grow as “beyond organic.” Others have proposed “real food,” “authentic food” or “food with the farmer’s face on it.” One I know sends his produce out with the trademarked slogan “Earth Passionate Agrarianism” and the tag line “Taking Organic Seriously.”

This all relates back to “know your farmer”, if you know your farmer, and trust him or her, chances are your food will be produced in a manner that you approve of… If not you will go somewhere else to buy your food. Since you are familiar with both your farmer and his farm, you will be aware of the general health of his farm and able to trust the products he is selling.