I used to think that there was no value in organic food. What is organic, really? A label? Something more? Though I still think there are a lot of products masquerading as “organic” when they really are nothing of the sort, I am starting to see more value in the philosophy, even if I see no value in the typical suppliers.
Why did I change my mind? I found local farmers, many of them organic or with an organic philosophy. I went to help out on a farm and learned some of the growing techniques used to work with plants and the land without chemicals. I found sources of vegetables, beef, chicken, and pork within one hour of my home. I learned about companion planting. I also learned about the impact of commercial farming and chemical use.
Commercial farming’s primary goal is to get as much product out of a piece of land as possible, with as little input as possible. For fruits and vegetables, this means working the land hard until the nutrients are drained from the soil and then adding chemical fertilizers to add nutrients back to the soil, and working it more. The resulting produce contains fewer nutrients and often has less taste. It also means adding chemicals to repel bugs, weeds, and disease and add nutrients (chemical fertilizers) back into the soil; chemicals that find their way into the air and water supply, as well as into our bodies. Finally, seeds are developed to be resistant to the chemicals, at an often much higher cost than seeds to grow the originating plant, because now the seeds can be intellectual property. Seeds are also developed to provide more yield in a smaller space, while taking more nutrients from the soil to sustain this amped-up growth.
The effect is felt in North America, but it is especially strong in developing countries, where struggling farmers may not have access to sources of information not provided by seed and chemical manufacturers. Around the world, even in North America, farmers die of cancers related to chemical use. If it’s killing farmers, why would we want it in our foods?
For livestock, commercial farming often means keeping as many animals in as small a piece of land as possible, to minimize costs. Rather than allowing animals to roam and develop good immune systems, animals are kept in small spaces where disease spreads more easily, and antibiotics are given as a matter of course to keep the animals healthy, rather than as a treatment. You’ll hardly find a doctor willing to give you regular antibiotics to keep you healthy, but what your food eats you eat too, and that means regular antibiotic doses. All of these medications used cause bacteria to have to mutate to survive, resulting in new antibiotics being needed and the development of “superbugs” that can no longer be treated by the antibiotics we have.
By buying locally, I am supporting local farmers directly, without their profits being shared with stores and distributors. I pay in larger lump sums every few months, rather than weekly. I have access to multiple cuts of pastured, grass-fed Black Angus beef whenever I want, and can make amazing chicken, beef, and duck broths. If I want other parts of the animal, like bones or fat, for specific foods or projects, I can get them. I can grow most of my own food in the summer (or not, if I so choose), and if I don’t have enough to store for the winter, buy storage vegetables from a farmer over the winter months. I eat seasonally, which helps me feel connected to the land. This doesn’t mean I don’t still buy food from the grocery store, and it doesn’t mean I only buy organic food when I do. I do spend less there, and try to make better choices. It’s nice to always have healthy food around, rather than running out of the nutritious stuff and having nothing to eat but french fries.
Some people will say that eating organically makes them feel better. I don’t notice a huge difference in how I feel physically. For me, it’s about doing the right thing for my community, our health, the animals, and the land, as well as feeling connected to my environment. Someday I would love to keep birds rather than buying them, but until we move, bylaws prevent the ownership of livestock.
Do I think organic foods should have the high price tags they have? Not necessarily, but I have limited the additional costs by buying locally and growing my own. One study found that organic, companion planting techniques actually allowed *more* food to be grown on a plot of land than conventional commercial farming, despite all the technologies being employed. If true, this means that if we just took a step backward to more sustainable farming practices, we would help the environment, grow more food in available farmland around the world, reduce or eliminate clearcutting for farmland, and reduce chemical production and use. Unfortunately, the cost is increased labour (more jobs, but additional cost), and thus lower profits for farmers, seed, and chemical companies, though a slightly increased cost covers the farmers.
Being aware of the issues around farming and becoming more in touch with our food sources is the first step. Even if everyone only makes small changes in how they buy and grow their foods, the effect on our world can be huge.
What choices have you made to live a healthier lifestyle? How have your changes affected you? Comment below.