We’re pleased to welcome Eliot Coleman to Colorado as one of the speakers for Slow Money Harvest Weekend, September 19-20.
Long time supporters of organic farming need to realize that the ground is shifting under their feet. Rapidly. Ever since the USDA (and by association the industrial food lobbyists) was given control of the word, the integrity of the “USDA Certified Organic” label has been on a predictable descent to irrelevance. The organic community initially insisted on integrity and thought they had achieved it. Unfortunately, they permitted the foxes to manage the hen house. We now have 4000 cow dairies with no real access to grazing and 1000 acre vegetable fields fed on “soluble organic” fertilizers of suspicious provenance. But, even more dismaying (I can hear the death knell of organic integrity ringing in the distance), we also have, although few are aware of it, organic hydroponics.
How can that be? There isn’t any soil in hydroponic production. How can it be organic? One of the appeals of organically grown food is based on the high nutrient status of plants grown in a biologically active fertile soil with all its known and unknown benefits. Well, that is what most people think organic production is all about because the original government definition of “organic” stressed “soil biological activity” as one of the processes enhanced by organic practices. Dismayingly, the USDA rewrote that definition in 2002 to remove any reference to the word “soil.” And the trend is straight downhill from that point on. Big money is presently being invested in “vegetable factories” and “vertical farms” where production is hermetically sealed in huge warehouses filled with LED lights and nutrient pumps. That frightening picture is the future of “organic” as defined by the USDA.
Despite the strenuous objection of the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), which was supposed to set standards, the director of the National Organic Program (NOP), Miles McEvoy, has unilaterally declared the legality of organic hydroponics. And many of the organic certifying agencies jumped right on the bandwagon and have been certifying hydroponic operations. Come on folks, you are not in charge of organics anymore. The bureaucrats and the lobbyists have taken over. What will you do when the produce from “vegetable factories” set up in old warehouses in Maine cities and certified by some other agency, begin putting your local growers out of business?
I read the handwriting on the wall back in the 90s when the USDA first got involved. That is why I have never certified. I saw no future in battling the inevitable – the cheapening of standards and increasing influence of industrial food. I argued that we should find a new word or phrase to represent the true organic standards and protect it. The time has come to start certifying real food under a new label. We all know what the real standards are and we need to demand them. The first battle has been lost and, if you don’t take action, I am afraid you could lose the war.