Food is not always something that you put in your mouth and eat!

The summer has been busy on the farm and has kept me from my favorite pastime – writing! As I’ve been outside working I’ve conjured up all kinds of topics of discussion in our land of confusion called farming. I know, I keep intending to bring the subject of genetics into my next discussion but there are things that keep leading me astray.

A recent article in the New York Times, “Has Organic’ Been Oversized” written by Stephanie Strom on July 7th captured my attention and I’ve been thinking of little else.

What disturbed me the most was the admission by Alexis Baden-Mayer, political director at the Organic Consumers Association saying “I understand that there are very few 100 percent organic businesses left…”. If a consumers association readily admits what has been whispered among us farmers out here trying to the right thing I have to ask myself what’s the point in trying to produce under a label that has been bastardized like the rest of our food system. Is it any wonder that farmers and consumers are confused?

Becoming organic certified is an expensive and time consuming prospect for a farmer. In doing so, farmer’s intention is to produce food for consumers that is free of GMO’s, additives, chemicals, and the list goes on. Traditionally organic has had the implied meaning of food in its purist form.

In 1990 our government set into motion the Organics Food Production Act requiring the U.S Department of Agriculture to develop national standards for organically produced products and to assure consumers that agricultural products sold as organic meet consistent, uniform standards. A National Organic Standards Board was created to make recommendations in the development of organic standards and certification. The 15 member board was to be representative of interested parties: farmer/grower; handler/processor; retailer; consumer/public interest; environmentalist; scientist; and certifying agent. Okay, that sounds easy enough!

At the time organic products were a niche market being produced by farmers labeled as left over hippies and the production and sales didn’t put a dent into the mainstream food market. I distinctly remember in the mid 90’s meeting many of these so called “hippie farmers”. Being part of the industrialized food production world my mindset was not in the same mode as theirs and I wondered why in the world they would create so much more work for their selves on the farm when chemicals could take care of most of the work.

The organic markets began to develop and grow. By 2011 organic products demanded premium prices, consumers had become more aware of where their food was coming from and how it was being produced, and organic food was a $30 billion dollar industry. Consumers wanted better food without all of the junk.

Enter the “big boys” and let the bastardization party begin! Like Mr. Potter in the NY Times article I believe that the “so called organic food” needs to be challenged. I want to know where the protection is for the farmers who are doing all of the right things to be truly organic and where the protection is for the consumer to be totally assured that they are getting the real deal. According to the NY Times story – “Pure, locally produced ingredients from small family farms? Not so much anymore.”

Some believe that the organic standards are being watered down; green washed, and corrupted by corporate agribusiness giants who have entered the organic markets and are industrializing it. When I hear comments from the big boys saying that the demand is greater than the supply and that the demand requires the scale that only they can provide I say “look out”! Faux organics are here and confusion abounds.

This past year, I had reason to question organic and its relationship to raising chickens. I became aware of the fact that if I were to put 10,000 chickens into one of my chicken houses, feed certified organic feed, and allow them access to the outdoors, I could have an organic farm. I didn’t need to worry about the land around the chicken houses because no chemicals had been used over the past 3 years and I could easily fence in a “sun porch” for outside allowance and nothing said that the chickens actually had to go out.

In my mind organic was about much more than just what was fed to the chickens. 10,000 chickens crammed into a confinement house conjured up memories of the days of industrial production. What type of product would I be producing from animals living a miserable existence having only a look at the outdoors but never really experiencing it? The waste created from that many chickens would have to go somewhere.

A friend laughed at my irate comments over this and told me to go to the meeting of the National Organics Standards Board and express my thoughts. Then told me “come back and tell me if they heard you or if they even cared”. Something like – let me know how far you get. I knew it would be a waste of time. After reading the NY Times article and Mr. Potter saying he had done exactly as my friend suggested I do and got nothing but being allowed to speak for 3 minutes and then a “thank you”, I realize that this issue is much bigger. Assuring the integrity of organic food won’t come through government process it will only come from consumers knowing their farmer and seeing how their food is produced.

Comments on: "Land of Confusion – Part III Is It Organic?" (9)

  1. Great post, Carole, and very interesting about the organic chicken designation. I’ve always been leery of that — and it’s good to know I was right. Sticking with chickens from farmers I know.

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  2. Craig Watts said:

    The reason farmers and consumers are confused Carole is as you well know they are being straight up lied too. And our government who is supposed to be “protecting” against this type of fraud is enabling it to the 10th degree. Think I am gonna write on Land of Deception.

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  3. Sharon Carson said:

    Hi Carol ,,
    The standards have been bastardized from the beginning . Even “certified” Organic farms are allowed to use commercial chicken manures which are full of grains raised with GMO modification as well as herbicides and pesticides . This was “allowed even before the USDA got involved . I AM one of those “leftover” Hippies Though I have never considered myself “leftover! :). I really do not want to be affiliated with any certification program which is why I called my gardens Sharon’s Natural Gardens. Now I just grow for myself and a few friends . I do buy soy free “certfied” organic feed for my few hens But know it is just a bit above the commercial stuff and can’t grow my own feed. though I do grow my own OP corns . I enjoyed your posts as I was raised on a commercial chicken farm locally. I have never used chemicals here in 35 years and never used commercial manures in my gardens .

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  4. Talk about stirring up a hornets nest! You are one of the very few who have the courage and backbone to tackle food issues that most whisper about. Chutzpah is what it’s called in my world. Why is it that very few will stand up and speak out about how corporate agriculture takes over and ruins every aspect of our food production system? Organics is a joke because of the take over and mass production of supposedly organic foods. Our government is no better it caters to corporate agribusiness and changes the rules or make them vague to accomodate allowing for the ruin of organics. In the end money always talks!

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  5. Violette said:

    ~Know Your Farmer Know Your Food~ and~ From Farm to Table~ are the most trusted options when buying organic.

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  6. This is exactly what I wrote on my little old blog several weeks ago. I’m pleased to see that you have a light in your eyes that was not present when Food, Inc. was filmed. You look RADIANT, Carol; I think you are happy!

    Be blessed,

    Sheila aka: farmhousewife

    http://hope-farms.blogspot.com/2012/06/are-you-organic.html

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  7. Carole you are my hero! You were my hero when I saw you in Food Inc. and you have now elevated yourself to Super Hero!
    I have a hope that eventually our food system will sort itself out through the back door. In other words that the consumer will force the hands of industrial food conglomerates to do the right thing.
    Twenty years ago Vermont voted to label dairy products from cows given BGH. Monsanto threatened the state with a lawsuit and Vermont dropped labeling plans. However certain local dairies who were not using BGH decided to label their own milk products as being BGH free. It was genius as the non BGH label gave them a bit of cachet and they saw their sales increase.
    Fast forward to 2012, Vermont brought forth legislation that would make it mandatory to label GMO foods. Monsanto threatened lawsuit and we caved. In our governor’s defense we are still trying to pay for the devastation that Hurricane Irene cost our state.
    Hopefully the same thing will happen with GMOs. Coupled with the growing disenchantment farmers are experiencing with GMO crops. Superweeds, corn worms and ever increasing percentage of toxins in Roundup.
    Perhaps it might be too little to late as Pandora’s box has been left wide open with the widespread contamination of GMO seeds spread far and wide. I hope not.
    I am delighted you are out from under Perdue’s thumb and blogging. Previous poster was right you look great. In the movie you were tired, angry and haggard. You are glowing now my friend. Peace and admiration. Vivian Creigh

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  8. Jennifer Quinn said:

    I am so happy to learn about your farm in MD! I may pass it on the way to the beach & not even know! I love your blog & your decision to buck the system. Thank you! Do you allow visitors? I would love to show my four sons the way chickens should be raised. We talk about buying decisions and how the animals we eat (including eggs & dairy) are treated. And how can we buy your eggs, chickens?
    I want to support “back to the future farming”.

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  9. When I saw organic eggs at Costco in southern California, I knew it was too good to be true. They are selling 18 eggs for under $4 from Norco Farms in Ca. After reading the convincing egg carton I decided they were okay because it said, “organic, cage free, access to the outdoors.” When I got home I googled Norco organic eggs only to find out the truth from previous Norco employees who claimed the metal barns housed 40,000 hens, which lived in their own mess. Those hens only had an open barn door for 1 hour a day 😦 the eggs were covered in insects and blood before they reached my dinner table. If the hens got sick, the workers would swing them around by their necks and slam them into the wall to kill them. I was disgusted with the fact that these eggs could be called organic and it is sad that consumers who care about their food, their health and the well-being of animals can no longer trust an organic label, which is turning into another multi million dollar government business. I now only buy local eggs from a farmer in my city. I also only buy local organic produce as well, and I don’t even bother eating meat or chicken anymore.

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