Friday, February 15, 2008

Organic Stuff Is Good

Originally I wrote this for All Kinds Of Yum and decided to retread it here. Double Credit - Sweet!

Being a friend of Tannaz means reading about food. Sometimes I try to give her suggestions about articles to write, mostly because I want her to cook for me. But she threw me for a loop when I told her about Blog Action Day.

You see, this was a one-way facet of our relationship, and I was happy to continue in that vein, but this time she asked if I wanted to be her second guest blogger. Realizing that saying no was tantamount to self-induced exile from Persia (in the cuisine sense at least), I set about trying to figure out an appropriate post. The conclusion is a short list of reasons why there is such a big fuss over local organic farming. This post is by no means inclusive -- if anyone has more specific info, or differing opinions, I would be very interested in hearing about it.

I think there are a lot of misconceptions about organic farming, both local and far, but there are a few simple reasons why it is such an attractive alternative to our current food system:

Close Food vs. Far Food

Transportation costs. This is a fairly easy one, just think of the salad you ate today: was the lettuce grown in a huge corporate farm in Salinas or a small farm in Corona? The distance between these to locations is roughly 350 miles. It is not hard to imagine further distances, especially when food is imported to (and from) other countries. Transportation uses energy, which contributes to air pollution and other bad ecological problems.

Locally adapted varieties. Most corporate farms use the same varieties that maximize yields. Losing local varieties decreases genetic diversity, which could result in losing important beneficial traits between varieties. From a taste perspective, this means the homogenization of fruits and vegetables (imagine if there were only one kind of apple?).

Organic vs. Non-organic

Pesticides. Organic farming, especially polyculture, reduces the needs for pesticides. Also, there is the energy cost to produce the pesticides (especially nitrogen, which must go through an intense heating process).

Sustainable Agriculture. Organic farming usually implies (although this is not universally true) more sustainable agriculture practices. Farms and soil are better taken care of in order to decrease the effects of soil erosion, and degradation of soil health. One popular method of sustainable agriculture is to rotate different crops; planting crops for sale on the market and other crops that naturally replenish nutrients in the soil. Polyculture takes it another step forward by planting complementary crops at the same time.

Farming Techniques. Another exciting benefit of small organic farms is that they are able to experiment with farming techniques on a smaller scale that might not be feasible on a larger farm. Polyculture is one example, but other methods include planting more trees to increase soil stability and shade, and to provide a habitat for birds.


A major reason that people do not consume as much local organic produce is that the prevailing wisdom is that is much more expensive than “regular” produce. In a sense this is true; if your local supermarkets stocks organics they are typically about 10% more expensive than the same non-organic varieties. Farm subsidies artificially keep our food costs down, and until the subsidies are the same for the small farmer as they are for the large, then it will be harder for local organics to achieve the same price performance.

So what’s the takeaway? Our food system is not built for everyone to start buying 100% organic food at their local Farmer’s Market. But the next time you’re at Ralphs or Whole Foods, notice that they have a lot of organic options. The more you buy, the more they sell, and more will be available in the future. And if you’re at a Farmer’s Market, you don’t have to insist on organic. By supporting local farmers you are helping decrease the energy cost of agriculture. The best of both worlds is buying local organic produce. But you know what’s even better? Getting Tannaz to cook it for you.

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