Is Organic So…Organic?

A couple weeks ago I wrote a blog titled, “Don’t Just Buy Into The Labels – Buy Into The Principle”.  The gist of my blog was that labels are designed to support  a principle, but it is the principal that we should strive for, not the label.   After all, FSC is just a label.  But the organization that label stands for, the Forest Stewardship Council, is a group of truly eco-conscious people and sub-organizations that strive to promote sustainable forestry practices.  This is not to say the label is invaluable.  When it comes to forestry labels FSC is the only one that matters.  In fact, it makes the choice of buying wood for concerned consumers easier.   Others labels, such as SFI (Sustainable Forestry Initiative) are worthless to the principle I just spoke of when you know what the label really stands for.  SFI is funded and appointed by  large timber industry companies,  and it’s codes are written by the same groups with lax rules that do little to improve forestry practices.  The real purpose of such labels is to dilute the value of the FSC label and its related products by deceiving you to believe the two are equal.  They are not.  Companies like Eco Timber strive to support the principle; the label is simply the result of that ethos. 

Once again, they key is education.  That’s just what I received when I listened to Andre Cantelmo of Heron Pond farm in South Hampton, NH discuss non-certified organic farming versus organic farming.  Most (not all) of the crops at Heron Pond farm are not certified organic, yet I will happily choose his vegetables and fruits over other organic farmers if he has what I need because I am confident that Andre and his crew  incorporate practices that are true to the principle of healthy sustainable farming, not to a label such as USDA certified organic.   Now, I can hear the calls of objection, so let me be clear; I do eat organic food because I do subscribe to the principles of organic farming.  But as Andre pointed out, there are deep flaws in the organic farming industry, often flaws that have to do with the label and the certification system, so it’s worthwhile to understand the label “organic” a bit more. 

One example is the use of copper sulfate spray on crops.  While this anti-fungal is “certified organic”, it is typically used as a regular, preventative treatment to crops throughout the growing season, rather than just being used on a case by case need.  Additionally, the copper sulfate spray, though non toxic for the consumer (it dissipates or washes off easily by water and time, and is harmless in produce levels) is derived from highly concentrated batches that are not healthy to the applicator, nor the family the farmer brings it home to on his body.  Instead, Andre uses a natural anti-fungal only when necessary. Because the natural active ingredient is carried on petroleum derived molecular chain, it is not certified organic.  Do the math and you have to wonder which is better for a) the consumer, and b) the farmer, and c) the environment: multiple copper sulfate treatments throughout the growing season or spot application, when necessary, of the treatment that is not certified organic.  Remember, the anti-fungal is natural; its the petroleum carrier that is not.

One last example: at Heron Pond Farm, the highly educated partnership has a carefully managed drainage plan to avoid polluting streams and aquifers with farming run-off, whether it’s natural fertilizers or just silt.  Andre and his crew have carefully mapped the terrain and devised systems to minimize the impact on theirs and the surrounding land.  Other farms with organic certification follow the organic system flawlessly for that label, but do nothing to manage soil, erosion, drainage, etc.  Hmm?

All of this points to one simple principle about sustainability.  Educate yourself on the principle, not just the labels.  Then ask questions.  Ask questions at your green building supply or paint shop.  Ask questions at your favorite restaurant.  Ask questions at the farmers market.  And if you see the people at Heron Pond Farm, don’t walk away just because they aren’t organic.  Ask them questions, too.  They’re food is delicious, safe and sustainable.

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