Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The REAL Stewards of the Earth -- an Opinion

Have you been watching the ABC World News Tonight’s 3-part series on organic food? It’s been two days of broadcasts so far, and I’m seeing the usual distortions, but nothing new. I went to the Broadcast Plus section of their website to look a little further into the subject and I found myself in an interesting conversation.

ABC provided a few links to 'find organic food in your area', so I checked them out. One of the links was to an “online community” which can put you in touch with organics in your area, so naturally, I tried to find Timber Creek. But we weren’t there. I emailed the webmaster (in California where this group is based) and told him about TCF. I asked him if he could include us in his database. But he said “NO”. His reason was that his organization only promotes family farms “that sell to their local communities and the businesses that support them.” (Interestingly, I could purchase organic and 'natural' foods from this website, and have it shipped across the country to me.)

So, I asked him: “How come I can buy organic food from you online (you’re in California and I’m in Illinois)? Isn’t that the same thing that TCF does?”

I’ll quote his answer directly:

“Our goals are:

#1: Family farms
#2: Buy Local
#3: Organic food that order.

90% of the work we do is though our directory, where people find local sources of family-farm grown foods. We have a catalog where we sell products from family farms via mail order, which is how we support the project.”

Now, I didn’t write back to him, but I’m hearing this unusual argument a lot lately. The argument goes something like this:

“The most important thing we can do is to support the ‘little guys’ {farms} who are struggling to stay afloat. We all wish that we could just go down to the corner farm and buy our fruits and veggies, but since we can’t, we have to protect these guys as best we can, from being absorbed into the giant factory farms. And, locally grown food is better for you, anyway. If the food is Organic, well, that’s just a plus.”

Fair enough, I guess……but to me, that's exactly backwards:

If I’m spending my money at your farm to help keep your business afloat, don’t I have a say in what quality of food I’m buying from you? Yes, family farms have a unique struggle, and eating locally grown food is the ideal, but if your food could be slowly poisoning me and my family, why is helping your farm so important? The terms “locally grown” and “organic” are not mutually exclusive.

There are a lot of seemingly unsolvable issues in the organic world. Transportation over long distances seems counterproductive, yet if the farms in my area are only growing food with the full compliment of pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, antibiotics, recombinant growth hormones, and such, I’m going to look elsewhere. Plenty of us don’t even know where the nearest farm would be – but many of us know better than to read the words “locally grown” without asking the far more important question: “is it clean?” All food is locally grown to someone – that doesn’t make it better for you.

The way I see it, there is nothing wrong with helping a farmer who lives somewhere other than my neighborhood, if he’s the one who will bring me the clean, organic food that I want. That organic farmer's success makes it easier for my neighbor the farmer to transition to organic, if that's what he wants to do. These far-flung farmers who, year after year, demonstrate their commitment to the future of the planet and my family’s health; help other farmers in the long run, too -- they're the real stewards of the earth. Not everyone cares about the quality of the food that they eat, but if you do, there is a farmer out there who is upholding the organic standards for YOU.


... P.S. The lovely family farm in the picture above is the storefront of Roseland Organic Farms -- the USDA Certified Organic Farm in Niles, Michigan where we get our grassfed beef.


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