|Toki Oshima illustration|
You know what really matters when mention of the ECB in the mainstream media makes you think, first and foremost, “European corn borer!” and not the far less important – to our community – European Central Bank. What matters to us is growing food, flowers, trees, herbs and fibers in quality, living, carbon-sequestering soil, without synthetic pesticides and fertilizers and with attention to the social, economic and environmental strengths of our communities (and, by extension, of the world).
Consumers matter to this movement. According to the Organic Trade Association’s 2017 Organic Industry Survey, sales of organic products reached $47 billion in 2016, an increase of 8.4 percent over 2015 (compared with an increase in overall food sales of 0.6 percent during that time). The $43 billion spent on organic food represents 5.3 percent of U.S. food sales – and demand for organic outstrips supply.
Local organic farms matter to this movement. They produce the crops that we trust. A December 2016 report entitled “Human health implications of organic food and organic agriculture” by the European Parliamentary Research Service states, “Organic farming largely relies on preventive measures for plant protection, therefore the use of
pesticides is low and potential risks to human health are largely avoided. A small number of pesticides are approved as curative measures but, with some exceptions, these are generally of low toxicological concern. Overall, consumption of organic food substantially decreases the consumer’s dietary pesticide exposure, as well as acute and chronic risks from such exposure.”
The growing demand for organic, coupled with higher price premiums, has led to some problems with “big organic” that have in turn led to mistrust – of store-brand “organic” milk coming from large dairies out West with little apparent access to pasture; of conventional grain imported from Turkey and conveniently (for someone’s pocketbook) being mislabeled as organic by the time it reached the United States; of huge chicken houses where animals lack access to outdoor pasture; of “organic” produce grown hydroponically rather than in living soil.
The Cornucopia Institute and The Washington Post have done a good job of highlighting some of these issues, and Chris Grigsby, director of MOFGA Certification Services LLC, addresses them in this issue of The MOF&G. Clearly, at the national level, we need better oversight of organic, faster responses to complaints, greater penalties for fraud, and more support for all the local farmers who are or would like to transition to organic to help meet consumers’ demands legitimately and locally. That should include more money for organic research and for oversight of organic by the USDA National Organic Program (NOP); continued input to the NOP from the broad-based National Organic Standards Board, which advises the NOP and welcomes citizen input; and transparency in all discussions about the NOP and organic.
As Eric Sideman, MOFGA’s organic crop specialist, explained in his fall 2016 column in The MOF&G, organic standards from the start were not just about what was prohibited, but what was required: “on-farm practices and use of materials that fostered soil health by managing crop residue, using livestock manures, composting, cover cropping and adding natural rock powders … organic regulations were written with the understanding that the foundation of organic farming is soil management.” The pioneers of organic farming “recognized that the soil is a complex system of countless biological interactions and that ordinary practices of crop production weaken these interactions and lead to loss of soil fertility and health,” wrote Sideman.
We continue to learn about those interactions. For example, plants may respond to insect attacks by producing secondary compounds such as flavonoids to fight those pests, and those compounds may enhance human health. Plants and fungi communicate about water and nutrient needs. When we feed the soil (the microbial life in the soil), we feed our own health (including the microbial life of our bodies). Roberta Bailey writes eloquently about this in her Harvest Kitchen column in this paper.
This is a point that factory “organic” farmers don’t seem (or want) to get. As organic activist Alan Lewis says, they want to “feed the corporation, not the soil.” (See https://www.keepthesoilinorganic.org/coalition-declares-war-on-nosb)
Those factory farms have powerful voices. At the Farmers Rally in Vermont last year, Congresswoman Chellie Pingree said, “There are 1,200 lobbyists on Capitol Hill who work for the agriculture and food processing industry. They spend about $350 million a year on forming opinions in Washington. And that’s more than the defense industry. So don’t underestimate their power … They would like to change a lot of things and water down the organic brand, and the consumers will be completely confused. This is critically important.” (Quoted in a July 20, 2017, email newsletter from Vermont certified organic farmer Dave Chapman.)
This is where MOFGA matters, again. Knowing our MOFGA-certified organic farmers by shopping locally is key to getting the products we want, grown according to standards that have not been watered down. Wherever you live, supporting your local farmers and their farms is at the heart of organic. The slogan “think globally, act locally” works. Think globally but feed your local soil with your food choice.
Way back when, The Turtles sang, “A little ray of sunshine. A little bit of soul. Add just a touch of magic …” Of course they were talking about “you baby,” but as MOFGA’s Common Ground Country Fair rolls around, I think of the 2,000 volunteers who make that event happen; of MOFGA’s 500-plus certified organic producers who deliver healthful goods; of all our dedicated members – all adding up to a big burst of sunshine and a whole lot of organic soul. Thanks to all of you!
Now back to the ECB: Eric Sideman has some advice in this MOF&G for fall garden maintenance to help keep the borer – not the bank – at bay. Enjoy!