{food policy} Why Do You Grow Clean Food?

There has been a lot of discussion, and media hype, about the Stanford University School of Medicine Meta Analysis published in the Annals of Internal Medicine on September 4th, on whether organic food is more nutritious than conventionally grown food. (Definition Note: A Meta Analysis focuses on contrasting and combining results from different studies, in the hope of identifying patterns among study results, sources of disagreement among those results, or other interesting relationships that may come to light in the context of multiple studies)

If you read this blog, you already know that there  is WAY MORE to the Organic v. Conventional story than the absurdly short sided question: “is it more nutritious?” No. I really don’t expect my organic strawberry to have any additional vitamins or minerals (maybe some due to fabulous soil) but I do expect it to be free of synthetic chemicals and have been grown in a way that is harmonious with the environment.

Growing ‘clean food’, free of synthetic pesticides, herbicides and another other chemical-additive (or antibiotic if we’re speaking of animal-raising) is a tough business. You are fighting the wind, rain, lack of rain, heat, frosts, the bugs, soil issues, and general nonsense without the additional aids that many farmers have come to rely on to guarantee a sizeable yield. Its a tough never-ending job that a growing number of people are taking on. Remember folks, they don’t have to do this, they CHOOSE the hard, long but hopefully rewarding path of growing clean food for their communities. If there was ever a time to thank a farmer, its now.

Therefore, I wanted to give our local hardworking farmers, who so happen to all run a CSA Program, a platform to express their thoughts on the Stanford study.

{DENISON FARM: JUSTINE & BRIAN}

I believe that the personal, individual stories that are shared among my customers and CSA Members alike have been so poignant with regard to the conventional vs. organic issue that continues to erupt. The stories from our members who have joined our CSA for health reasons, specifically cancer, are numerous. I rejoice each time I hear “my cancer is in remission now” or “My Oncologist has recommended I eat as organically as I can”. Our own story began in Maine where we grew 110 acres of vegetables conventionally for 15 years. Brian suffered the most, for he was the one who was exposed to the fertilizers and the synthetic sprays. And though he protected himself well, he displayed symptoms that stymied many a doctor. With years of alternative treatments, Brian has regained about 80% of his energy and stamina. Many symptoms still plague him, but we are all much healthier and very grateful that we can provide for ourselves and for more than 500 families in this Capital region delicious, healthy, local, and organic produce.

    But I would be remiss if I omitted two additional facts – the flora and fauna that are this farm and the incredible staff who help us in all of our tasks. The soil, the living organisms in the soil, the wildlife who fly, buzz, swim, and bed down at night in the woods are abundant and flourishing. And finally, with tremendous importance, is our awesome farm crew. Their hands, which pull weeds, dig for carrots and potatoes, transplant and plant seed after seed, seedling after seedling are entering clean and living soil. Their well being along with all those for whom we can provide organic produce is what matters.”


{QUINCY FARM: LUKE & CARA} 

Imagine a study suggesting that you’d live just as long and save a nickel besides if you would only beat your dog instead of loving him, and feed him poison instead of food. Having chosen to own a dog, I’ve taken on the responsibility of caring for him and treating him well.  In choosing to be farmers and care for our little piece of ground, we have those same responsibilities.  We farm the way we do because it runs against my conscience to do otherwise, and as steward of this land I feel a moral obligation to build its health instead of weaken it.  My moral compass is guided by what I know and feel is right–not by a research study, however prestigious–and this leads us to farm in a way that builds the health of the soil, flora, fauna, and community we exist in rather than rape it with destructive farming practices and chemical poisons.  I consider it a wonderful side effect that we’re providing healthy, fresh food to thousands of people in the process, and in a way that is safe and healthy for my family and the employees who work alongside us.  I happen to believe our food IS healthier, because our plants and soil are healthier, but that’s not why I farm this way.”


{KILPATRICK FAMILY FARM: MICHAEL}

Many of you saw the article on NPR and other places last week that talked about a new Stanford meta-study stating that organic food was not necessarily better for you, or more specifically, more nutritional. Michael Pollan had a great response here.

We could get into the specifics of the study, what exactly is a meta-study, who funded it, the fact that the longest study was only 2 years long, etc., but even if we were to make the premise that organic food is not more nutritional for you, is it still worth buying organic, and especially local organic food?

Studies show organic farming makes our farmers more profitable. For a wholesale farmer that makes 6-8% of the retail value of the crop, every little bit helps. And now if we were to add in local food being direct-marketed, the farmer receives 80-100 % of the retail dollar. And if we want to keep our farmers farming, making the right decisions about your food, we must be willing to pay them well.

Organic farming keeps our farmers and their families healthier. Even if the residue on your food is not dangerous (which the study tried to imply) chemicals come in little jugs, super concentrated. Most of them require farmers to wear a moonsuit to mix and apply. Anything with a label stating “seek a physician immediately if product contacts your skin” frankly scares me. And I know fellow farmers who got so sick from the chemicals they had to quit farming. And think of the farmers’ families?

Organic farming keeps our environment healthier. Think of the dead zones in the Gulf, the Chesapeake Bay, and the Great Lakes. The raping of the soils in America, in that for every bushel of grain produced, a bushel of soil is lost. The ravaging effects that DDT had on the US bird population for several decades. The moonscape created in every farmer’s field after the fungicides, herbicides, and pesticides kill off all life.

What is the true cost of (un)conventional food? And when we sit and start to figure out what the (un)conventional ag system has cost us we realize the looming national debt that it has created. Did you know that the US government has set aside 1 billion dollars to clean up the Chesapeake Bay? And that that money is coming straight from you, the taxpayer? What about the dams in the west to create arable land out of desert; just where do those billions come from? And if we start adding in the staggering human and monetary cost that two wars have cost us so that we can keep a steady supply of cheap oil? This oil is used to make synthetic fertilizers, run massive machinery on farms and keep food trucks racing across the US.

There. Four reasons we need to keep our food system pointed in an organic, local and sustainable direction. I could of come up with a dozen more, talking about carbon sequestration, and the secret life of the soil food web. But here’s a start, which should dash the industry’s hope of wooing you back to buying from them.”

{R’EISEN SHINE FARM: EJAY & KIM}

We’ve heard a lot of chatter recently about studies questioning the ‘value’ of organic produce. This ‘value’ is specifically in reference to the cost of certified organic products in comparison with conventional products with respect to their nutritional content. Headlines have read things like: “Is organic produce really worth the cost?” or “No difference between organic and conventional produce, experts say”. But the value of any produce doesn’t just reside in a simple breakdown of vitamins and minerals. One has to consider the freshness of the produce, the residue from pesticides, the importance of biodiversity, the fossil fuel consumption… the list goes on. 

We are not a certified anything farm, we are a small, diversified farm dedicated to sustainability, and we rely on mostly best-organic practices. There are many folks with more expertise who can address the realities of yield size, the risks of pesticides and fertilizers and so many other factors with the data to back it up. We read these things, we analyze what the mean for us, and we try to make informed decisions.
But when it comes down to it, we make decisions based on what we know best. We know, for example, that we can’t hire anyone to work in our fields. So that means that anything we use we will personally be completely exposed to. We do not want to be exposed to anything that poses an unnecessary health risk (nor would we put anyone else in that position even if we could hire) which rules out a heck of a lot of pest control and fertilizer products used conventionally, and in larger organic operations too. We don’t have the equipment necessary or the funds to buy any of those big products anyway.
We find it really disconcerting when ‘nutritious’ and ‘healthy’ are used interchangeably in the reporting of these types of studies. These words are not the synonyms. We do not have nutritional break downs for our produce, but we believe in the experiential health of everything we grow. What does this mean? Well, one example is an adorable family we count as customers. They ride their bikes nearly every week to pick up their vegetables, and then often have breakfast together at the bakery. We could argue that this is a really healthy practice, over a rushed trip to a super-market after work grabbing convenience foods or even conventional produce. A family trip to go get the veggies shouldn’t be novel, but it is.
We also grow a lot of heirloom veggies, which probably have the same nutritional value as the the more standard varities- but they have so much more flavor and come in all kinds of colors.

Current conventional farming often uses only one or two varieties of seed for each crop. It relies on the ‘sure bet’ of production, which again, experts can elaborate on risks/benefits far more eloquently. Aside from our desire to preserve biodiversity, the difference in heirloom produce can encourage many people to actually eat more of healthy foods (a great example is bright purple cauliflower, a big hit with the kids). We’d put up our heirloom tomato salad against a conventional tomato salad any day. The nutritional value may be the same, but there is no comparison in taste. And if we can get people to eat more veggies, we want to do that. If eating veggies is a chore, you’re doing it wrong. They are supposed to taste good!

We don’t think it’s healthy for people to completely get stuck in auto-pilot when they shop for produce.
The disconnect that happens when people never consider where their produce comes from, or the folks who grow it is really disconcerting. Food is not optional, it’s necessary. Unfortunately, the current conventional farming model lends itself to disregard for something so vital. Everything is available– regardless of the season–stacked on the shelf–shipped from god-knows-where–4 days ago. 

We believe that small, organically minded farms provide healthier food through engaging customers on a personal level and allowing them to develop relationships. They can ask questions on preparation and the growing process, try new recipes and build community. We can bring the humanness, the mindfulness, back to eating. 

We understand what it means to be on a tight budget. We make less as a family then many others. So we know that organic produce gets a reputation for being a luxury for the elite. But we don’t hear so much about why organic produce is more expensive, how subsidies support conventional agriculture, and tax payers foot the bill. We don’t know many people who really understand the implications of the farm bill in congress. 

We also don’t hear so much about what we can do as community members to help folks afford all healthy food or how to create accessible avenues regardless of socioeconomic status. There is a clear relationship between social justice and the food movement. We are dedicated to finding ways to help people get our produce without burdening them financially. We’re not convinced that the conventional farming model is especially successful so far at making that happen, or that it will suddenly make it possible for everyone to eat well. 

Produce doesn’t magically appear from the sky (but man, somedays do we wish it did).What about the importance of paying a fair amount for the hard work of farming, whether you are a hired farm hand or the owner of an operation? The health of any produce should also be evaluated in terms of the health of those growing it.
We are happy that at the very least, there is an interest in making informed food decisions. But it is critical to not only think about farm products in terms of conventional vs. organic- or make split decisions based on a mere slice of a much, much bigger (apple) pie. Choosing what produce you buy, and from whom is no longer easy- that’s a good thing. All of those veggies may build your body in similar ways, but you deserve to make truly healthy decisions. And that information isn’t going to come down from any one study.

{FURTHER READING}

+++

Author’s Note: *I titled the post with the words “clean food” instead of saying organically, because many of these farmers are not ‘certified organic’ but Certified Naturally Grown or in the middle of that certification or have chosen not to become certified at all due to the costs.
About these ads

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Categories: Farming, Food Politics

Author:Christina

Finding her true calling, connecting people to their local foodshed, Christina is the Editor & Founder of From Scratch Club and a proud CSA Member & Market Crew member of Kilpatrick Family Farm. At the homestead, she is the Chef de Cuisine, Master Baker & Head Food Preservationist to her husband Charles and their 2 year old son, Miles Jae. Although always a supporter of local, sustainable, humane and whole foods, Chris is now on a serious mission to bring those principles into her kitchen due to Miles Jae’s multiple food allergy diagnosis, asthma and the rare disease, EE. All of her recipes are dairy, soy, tree nuts, peanuts, gluten/wheat, pea, corn & sesame free.

Join The {from scratch} Community!

Subscribe to our RSS feed and social profiles to receive blog updates, food swap information and other events. Join our public FLICKR group to share photos of your 'from scratch' endeavors!

3 Comments on “{food policy} Why Do You Grow Clean Food?”

  1. July 29, 2013 at 11:36 am #

    Nice read here! Similar discussion can be found about GMOs and Monsanto controversies in 68anda6pack.com.

  2. September 26, 2013 at 5:19 am #

    Admiring the commitment you put into your blog and detiled information you provide.
    It’s nice to come across a blog every once in a while that isn’t the ame outdated rehashed material.
    Wonderful read! I’ve saved your site and I’m including youur RSS feeds to myy Google
    account.

    • September 26, 2013 at 6:55 am #

      Thank you Shelli! We try our best to put engaging original work on FSC!

Start a conversation --> We love feedback!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: