Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Jen answers Parade's question about organics

This past Sunday’s Parade Magazine included a short column called “The Problem With Organic Food.” The premise of the article is that the US doesn’t raise enough organic food to meet demand of the rapidly growing organic food market. To meet consumer demand, many organic food companies must source raw products from outside the U.S. While this is true, the article got under my skin because it talked about a problem without defining it, and it included no suggestion of a solution whatsoever. At Farm Aid, we never just talk about a problem…it’s always “OK, here’s the problem; now what are we going to do about it?”

To its credit, the column in Parade raises a critical question: Given an abundance of fertile land and the best food producers in the world, why can’t we produce enough organic food in the United States to meet consumer demand? The answer leads to the solution: There simply aren’t enough US organic farmers to supply the demand. The solution? We need to get more organic farmers up and running in the U.S. We can do this by helping current conventional farmers transition to organic methods and we can put new farmers on the land.

The good news is that this work is being done all over the United States by dozens of organizations funded by Farm Aid. And at Farm Aid, we are building our own capacity to reach out to and connect many more family farmers to the resources and support they need to take advantage of this growing domestic market.

It’s shameful that we have to import organic dairy products from New Zealand, for instance, to meet US demand. Shipping food products that could be sourced domestically halfway around the world, with all the attendant environmental impacts, makes no sense.

Farm Aid’s vision is to put many more farmers on the land to grow the food we need and desire. While it may seem like a simple action, supporting local organic producers, and encouraging retailers and processors to do the same, is a practical way each of us can help build the supply of domestically-grown organic food.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous11:43 AM

    It all comes down to supply and demand. Every person who takes a job is an entrepreneur, marketing the human competence with which they are endowed. They are sole-source suppliers of human competence. The question is, can their unique endowment supply what the consumer demands? Some consumers of human competence demand specialized training. Some simply demand know-how, organic farming know-how, for example, which can be independently studied and put into practice. In the industrial revolution (1850), energy slaves, machines, began to accomplish a quantity of work equal to large numbers of people who made their living in cottage industries. The cottage industries could not compete, farming food and fiber and processing and manufacturing what they grew in their homes and villages. Now (2007), the industrial revolution has abandoned many of those it employed in the United States, taking the companies to cheaper labor markets in Mexico, where 10% have abandoned workers by moving further south, and to India, where they have abandoned workers to move on to China. The largest migration in human history, 200 million people, left China's agrarian country life in the last 20 years of the 20th century, to work in the industrialized cities. It is practical for those who lose their economic connection through those abandoned industries to resume cottage industry, farming being the first and most effective, because it can render them more self-sufficient in supplying their own food demands, enabling physical survival. Farming can supply them with excess product for barter or sale, earning capital, which can be exchanged for everything they can not supply to themselves. Small-scale farming may be a practical adaptation for the poor, if they have access to land, or are creative enough, or enabled by helpers, to make use of what they do have to progress toward greater land access. Organic farming, rejecting the low-quality decision made by those who did not study and do not care about the downside of chemically enhanced farming, the debilitation of the web of life, man of course included, is ideally suited for this adaptation. Many farmers, drenching themselves in chemicals as they drench their food-bearing land, find their productivity records showing little or no difference from the records before such costly poisons came to market, recommended by companies and government agents. Some rain-forest dwellers harvest as much as 200 tons of food and other materials from an acre of living forest. How practical is a semi-return to hunter, gatherer, farmer lifestyle? As the Earth goes through its cycles, self-sufficiency is a survival strategy. Organic farming, independent of other sources to the greatest degree possible, is an adaptive solution from which any entrepreneur can benefit. The organic farmer is an entrepreneurial asset to the community, a natural asset to the Earth, to the eco-system where we and our progeny must make our living.