The world premier of the Evolution of Organic (see our previous post on this film here and here) is finally upon us! You can catch the event at the opening Night of Green Film Fest 2017 on April 20 at the Castro Theatre. Schedule as follows:
6:00pm :: Opening Night Reception with Mark Kitchell and Festival filmmakers 7:30pm :: Evolution of Organic(Mark Kitchell, USA, 2017, 82 mins)
As the Film Fest surmises, “[The Evolution of Organic] started with a motley crew of back-to-the-landers rejecting industrial farming. It went on to spawn a renewed connection with our food and land. Filmmaker Mark Kitchell(Berkeley in the Sixties; A Fierce Green Fire)presents a celebration of Californian organic farming told by the people that started it all thru to a new generation who continue to reinvent the food system.”
The film will be followed by a discussion with filmmaker Mark Kitchell and special guests. Buy tickets here!
Outside right now, in central Massachusetts, it’s 5 degrees Fahrenheit. There’s a thin crust of fresh snow on the ground, and the trees are brown and bare. But in the flood of seed catalogues that have been flowing into the farmhouse mailbox over the past few months, it’s summer. Peas are fat in the pod, the lettuce is in full flush, and eggplants hang heavy, shiny, and purple. All the grass is green. There are flowers everywhere.
It’s into this imagination land of color and warmth that we’ve been burrowing throughout the coldest season as we attempt to tease out a concrete organic crop plan from this fantasy of perfect bounty. But as with any fantasy, there are limitations to this one’s ability to deliver on it’s promise: our land is not perfect land, our soils are not perfect soils, we are not perfect growers, and the weather, inevitably, will not behave perfectly for our purposes.
Even more than the obvious disparities, however, these catalogues are limited in that they bely the true nature of their industry. Abundance, diversity, and choice: this is what we hope to achieve in the crop plan for this farm’s organic vegetable CSA, and that is what the seed catalogues are selling us. But the reality of the seed industry is not that. The reality of the seed industry is this:
Consolidation is the name of the game when it comes to seed, and nothing suppresses abundant diversity and choice like the concentration of research funding and intellectual property rights into the hands of just a few. Despite the existence of a select number of seed companies that cater to the needs of small-scale, diversified, and/or organic farmers, and despite the considerable (and still growing) market for organic seed, the actual supply of attainable organic genetics is quite small. And without sufficient organic seed, the hardiness of organic agriculture starts to look—well, considerably less hardy.
According to the Organic Seed Alliance’s 2016 report, most organic farmers still rely on conventional seed because they can’t find organic versions of the varieties they need […] The result for farmers is not simply compromised principles and reliance on regulatory exemptions, but a reservoir of organic germplasm whose quality, in addition to scale, is inadequate to their needs.
The reasoning here is partly ideological, partly regulatory, and partly (the biggest part) due to the nature of seed, explains Tyson Neukirch, former head grower at the Farm School. Growing with organic seed means supporting the growth of the organic seed industry—an act of solidarity as well as self-interest. Increased demand ought to lead to increased supply of organic seed, and increased supply enables organic farmers to better comply with organic certifiers who are becoming more stringent with their requirement that organic-certified farmers use organic seed unless, as the USDA National Organic Program puts it, “an equivalent organically produced variety is not commercially available.”
The latest post in our ongoing discussion about the inclusion of hydroponics in the National Organic Production standards comes from Helen Lee, a sustainability specialist, consulting and promoting local and sustainable businesses who currently works as a brand ambassador for a maple water company and holds a Master of Science degree in Sustainable Food Systems from Green Mountain College in Vermont. While her opinions diverge from the Greenhorns’ stance that hydroponics should not be included in organic, we’ve reprinted her submission here today on account of its well-researched facts and the spirit of lively debate. Also, of note, another nuanced opinion in favor of hydroponic inclusion comes from Food Hub manager Michael Powell and appears in the comments section here.
I respectfully and wholeheartedly disagree with Matthew Hoffman’s opinion. I have recently obtained my MS in Sustainable Food Systems and, at Green Mountain College, I studied with one of the people who helped write the original NOP standards.
Hydroponics is neither the ultimate nor the hackneyed solution to solving our current food system crises. A better question to pose would be, “when and how do hydroponic systems fit into a sustainable food system?”
It is a fallacy to think that any system, hydroponic or otherwise, can ever be fully removed from its surrounding environment or from the rest of the supply chain. From the construction materials used to the resources utilized in production and distribution, everything is ultimately connected. There can be no one ultimate solution in such an interconnected ecosystem. Furthermore, it is misguided to think the NOP standards specifically focus on soil health or that all organic certifications are equal. Continue reading →
Want the skills to manage your own farm? The Organic Farm School on Widbey Island in Washington State offers aspiring farmers a practical education in how to start and manage a small scale organic farm.
They still have a few openings left for 2017 and accept Americorps awards and/or offer need-based scholarships towards tuition.
Our full-time, 8-month long experiential farmer training program is for aspiring farmers seeking to learn and practice the technical and business skills needed to run a small-scale, organic, commercial farm. Through cooperatively managing the school’s ten-acre farm and attending weekly lectures, discussions, and demonstrations on topics including organic crop production, soil science, business planning, and direct marketing, students will acquire a thorough education in organic small farm management. Student are mentored through the creation a personal farm business plan and regular field trips to regional farms allow participants to see a variety of farming styles and talk to experienced producers.
Through management of the student farm, participants develop their practical farm skills including planning, tillage, greenhouse propagation, weeding, harvesting, marketing, record-keeping, and more. Students also learn to operate tractors, make compost, and manage the farm’s livestock. With the skills and knowledge gained and a business plan in hand, program graduates are ready to start and/or manage their own small organic farm. Find out more and apply at www.organicfarmschool.org.
Evolution of Organic, according to its filmmakers, “brings us the story of organic agriculture, told by those who built the movement. A motley crew of back-to-the-landers, spiritual seekers and farmers’ sons and daughters rejected chemical industrial farming and set out to explore organic alternatives. It’s a heartfelt journey of change – from a small band of rebels to a cultural transformation in the way we grow and eat food. By now organic has gone mainstream – split into an industry oriented toward bringing organic to all people, and a movement that has realized a vision of sustainable agriculture. As interviewee Kelly Mulville says, “Creating health in the soil creates health in the ecosystem creates health in the atmosphere – and it all cycles around.””
All that, and Severine makes a cameo!
This year’s EcoFarm Conference, which also features incredible speakers, farmer mixers, and even dancing, takes place January 25-28 at the Asilomar Conference Grounds. Online registration is now closed but onsite walk-in registration begins Wed, Jan 25 – Sat, Jan 28 starting at 7am.
This recent submission to our series on whether or not hydroponics should be considered organic comes from Joanna Storie, a Doctoral candidate in the Department of Landscape Architecture at the Institute of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences of Estonian University of Life Sciences. She takes a similar stance on hydroponics to our last contributor, adding that hydroponics are not sustainable agriculture in that they divert attention from strengthening rural economies and reinforce urban ways of being that divorce people further from the land.
In your recent blog you asked the question on whether hydroponics is organic or not and I have to agree that it is not. The following statement sums it up for me:
“Hydroponics may be a fine way to grow food and it might be an important part of how cities feed themselves in the future, but it’s no more a form of sustainable agriculture than producing wood fiber in a laboratory is a form of sustainable forest management.”
It also worries me that Hydoponics divorce people even further from the idea of stewardship of the land– which is something that makes the urban areas increasingly vulnerable, because– even if they can produce food in the cities using hydroponic techniques– this will not be the sum total of their food supply.
Recently I submitted an abstract for a conference, which took the position against urban-centric ways of structuring our society, arguing that “rural social networks need to be seen as inherently valuable to the resilience of the whole region.”
I think the hydroponics fits into the urban 24/7 mindset, which values cheap food and devalues rural social network, thus exacerbating the situation of removing people further from the knowledge of healthy food and healthy environments.
Last week we asked the Greenhorns network what you think about the vertical farm. A perennially contentious idea, are hydroponics the way to the future or are they a hackneyed and ultimately artificial solution to the current crises of our food systems. The following submission on hydroponics comes from Matthew Hoffman, a Fulbright Scholar, Norwegian Centre for Rural Research, who argues vehemently that hydroponic farming be removed from organic certification. Send us your opinions at firstname.lastname@example.org!
The farmers market in Jack London Square in Oakland, California was a bustling scene when I worked there in the late 1990s, and my customers liked to tell me how devoted they were to organic agriculture.
I remember one devotee in particular. Her tote bag bulged with produce and her brow wrinkled beneath the brim of her floppy hat as she stopped one day to study the sign above my new display of organic flowers. At length she turned to me and said, “How can flowers be organic?”
This was not the first time that I realized a devoted customer had no idea what organic meant. So I explained to her about how organic farmers take care of the land, maintaining healthy soil and a healthy environment for plants to grow in without the use of synthetic chemicals—and how organic practices apply just the same to flowers and fields of grass as to lettuces and bell peppers.
She nodded thoughtfully and seemed to appreciate this explanation, but then she frowned again and asked, “What does it matter if you’re not eating them?” Continue reading →
From the regional organic farmer associations to the Organic Trade Association to NYFC to your humble Greenhorns here, there sure are a lot of associations composed of or supposedly representing farmers. So maybe you’re asking, do we really need another one?
Well, first thing to consider here is that there is actually no national organization that represents only organic farmers. The second thing to consider might be the recent failures to pass adequate GMO labeling legislation in congress. We’re wondering if the entry of another national player might change the field of agricultural policy. Does this mark a shift in the organic/sustainable ag movement in which organic farmers more seriously set their sights on federal policy?
“We have a tremendous opportunity to bring organic farmers’ voices and their experience with agriculture to policymakers in Washington, D.C.,” said Kucinich. “Policymakers have not yet grasped the significance of organic agriculture for resilient, reliable, non-toxic food production, and its ability to mitigate climate change while restoring our nation’s soil health. We have an opportunity to benefit organic farmers, while positively impacting our nation’s health and mitigating our climate crisis.”
Peppered with priceless footage of the origins of the organic movement, this film delves head-first into where we came from and where we’re going. Our favorite quote from the trailer? “Organic can get better.” Spoiler alert: the Greenhorns are in this film. Fund them here!
An updated version of Dr. Phillip H. Howard’s Who Owns Organic info graphic is now available here. When Howard, who is an associate professor at Michigan State University, first made the info graphic is 2012, a number of independent organic brands had been acquired by larger food corporations. Howard updated the chart because, as he writes, “A second wave of acquisitions has been occurring since 2012. Few companies identify these ownership ties on product labels.”
For those of you out there who try to be as social responsible as possible with your dollars, information like this may be overwhelming and, perhaps disempowering– but there’s a small silver lining in this story. For your sake, we’d like to note that Howard has a different chart showing major independent organic food brands and their subsidiaries. You can still feel good about supporting these guys!
Read this 2008 study on the University of Nebraska’s Digital Commons. The study publishes research supported by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), National Water-Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Program done in 2003 and 2004, which found statistically significant levels of herbicides and insecticides in rainwater in Maryland, Indiana, Nebraska, and California. We’d like to know how these levels are changing over time as high pesticides continue to be sprayed around the country.
The Gazette, and Iowa City newspaper, recently published a story mentioning the “struggling farm economy” being the cause of the cancellation of a $90,000,000 Monsanto seed corn plant. The story can be found here, but one must ask the question: Is consumer awareness prohibiting the expansion of these GMO giants? Keep putting your money where your ethics are, dear shoppers.
As a supplement, take a look at the USDA’s Economic Research Service and you’ll see that the value of net production per acre for organic is nearly three times that of conventional.
Organic: $366.27 (Yield: 121 bushels per acre)
Conventional: $139.05 (Yield: 159 bushels per acre)
You have probably noticed that there’s a lot of bad news going around these days, and I don’t know about you, but sometimes I just need to watch a feel-good video on the internet. Which brings me to today’s installment ofCalifornians just do the coolest things!(The link reroutes you to an episode of old TV treasure, California’s Lost Gold.)
Check out that sweet video, and if you’re interested more, stop on by the website of La Ronna Jojoba Co. Larry and Donna Charpied have been growing jojoba as an alternative to whale oil for 30 years, and their story is fabulous: it’s the kind of story you’d expect from organic farmers: the bucking of “conventional” wisdom and an awesome stubborn doggedness to grow in a way that doesn’t drain the precious resources of the local ecosystem.
If I’m going to spend extra on organic produce and products, they better well be fully organic. We’re talking pesticide-free, earth-friendly, non-synthetic organic here. If I get a product labeled organic that doesn’t meet those standards, I’m going to feel cheated.
And, as of today, I could sue. In an opinion released today, the California Supreme Court ruled that consumers can sue over “misrepresentations in labeling,” when products are misleadingly labeled as organic.
Organic or Just Sort of Organic?
The California Supreme Court’s ruling came after Herby Thyme Farms, one of the largest herb growers in California, was accused of mixing organic and conventionally grown herbs in the same package and selling them under a “fresh organic” label.
A class action against the growers alleged that consumers were lead to believe that the herbs were 100 percent organic when they were not — and they paid a premium for that organic designation. Lead plaintiff Michelle Quesada sued Herb Thyme under California’s unfair competition and false advertising laws.
“E.P.A. can no longer be confident that Enlist Duo will not cause risks of concern to nontarget organisms, including those listed as endangered, when used according to the approved label,” the agency said in its filing to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco.