What is organic agriculture?
"Organic farming is an agricultural production system that promotes and enhances biological diversity. It is based on minimal use of off-farm inputs and on management practices that restore, maintain and enhance ecological harmony" ~ Certified Organic Associations of British Columbia
#1. Organic farm practices rebuild the soil
Organic farming is about being sustainable. Restoring and sustaining the soil is accomplished by composting, crop rotations and green manure crops. Simply removing agrochemicals does not make a farm into an organic farm. Organic practices promote the essential soil organisms which are important to building healthy soil. Radically different than just adding soil nutrients as is done in conventional farming. Healthier soils mean healthier plants which don't need synthetic pesticides to protect them. The practice of adding synthetic fertilizers, as used by conventional farming, has resulted in the soils being depleted of essential nutrients. Scientists were worried about soil depletion in the 1930's. Imagine what an aditional 85 years of such practices has done to it?
#2 Avoids The Use of Agricultural Toxins
Not only does avoiding the use of synthetic pesticides, fungicides and chemical fertilizers minimizes pollution it protects our health. Ingesting the residues of agrotoxins has been shown to have long term health effects for us humans. This is one of the main reasons why many of us turn to organic food in the first place. We have become aware of the links between what we ingest and our health.
#3 Healthy Living for Animals
Animals raised on organic farms must have access to pasture and shelter. They must be housed in non crowded barns and corrals. They must be able to stand-up, lie down stretch and move comfortably and engage in normal social behaviour with others of their species. Rather than relying on antibiotics to prevent disease organic farmers find that by providing healthy living environments their herds have fewer health problems. In otherwords they must have a happy animal life. Having non medicated animal products is healthier for us as well.
#4 It Saves Energy
The single largest energy use in agriculture is in the creation of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer. Organic farming reduces the greenhouse gas emissions by using compost and other ecological approaches to fertilization.
#5 Use of seeds that are reproducable
Organic seed are often from a wide varitety of heirloom seeds which are open-pollinating rather than hybrid or GMO. This means we can collect the seeds and we will get the same product as the parent plant. We need this biodiversity to insure we have seeds that can grow in different temperatures and climates as we face climate change.
#6 Organic farming promotes buy and eat local
Organic farmers are heavily reliant on Farmer's Markets for marketing and distributing their produce. Local production for local consumption reduces the environmental effects of transportation of food. It reduces fossil fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.
#7 Reduces our cost for organic and improves our health
Buying locally grown and in season produce makes organics more affordable for more people. Purchasing and eating freshly picked fruits and vegetables when they are ripe increases the nutrient content. Cheaper in season organic food can be preserved to eat when out of season results in higher prices.
#8 Organics improves the economics of the region
Organic farming is labour intensive which means more work for more people. Organic farming provides jobs and purchasing locally keeps the money in the community.
The biggest reason that many people don't chose organics is the cost. Organic food costs about 30-40% more than conventional produce. This has to do with several factors.
First there are larger costs due to extra labour and for the certification process for organic farmers. And there is less demand so less organic production and higher purchase prices.
Secondly, what is often not taken into consideration is that the prices for conventional produce does not reflect their true costs. The conventional food system is often subsidized by national support programs which artificially lowers the price.
Further, what we also often do not consider is the cost to the environment by conventional farming methods. Chemicals end up in our soil, water and air causing environmental damage.
Lastly, the amount of produce that comes from third world countries that have cheap labour and farming costs allows us pay a lower price at the till but they are transported long distances adding pollution to the environment.
What Can You Do?
We speak with our dollars.
If we want a food system that reduces environmental damage then we need to support it.
Sometimes we feel we are only one and what we do will not make a difference. We are not alone. Others feel and think the same way and if enough people demand organics the more the farmers will grow and the cheaper the prices will become.
Stop supporting a system that is destroying our environment and is promoting genetically modified production. This is not the answer to the world food problems.
Start small. Go to a Farmer's Market, purchase some organic vegetables and fruit in season.
Download the list called Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen and find out which ones have the most persticide residues. Start by buying those organically. Buy extra and freeze it or preserve it for out of season use.
"Farming cannot take place except in Nature; therefore if Nature does not thrive, farming cannot thrive. But we know that. Nature includes us. It is not a place into which we reach from some safe standpoint outside it. We are in it and a part of it while we use it. If it does not thrive, we cannot thrive. The appropriate measure of farming then is the world's health and our health, and this is inescapably one measure." ~Wendell Berry