Wednesday, January 12, 2011

An Ugly But Real Look into Organic Farming

Part 1 of 2.

I spent the whole day at a Pesticide conference, today. In a room of almost one thousand men, I counted four women. What the heck was I doing there? My father-in-law has to go once a year to these events to keep his license to buy pesticides, and I asked if I could come along. I wanted an inside scoop on these companies, and was hoping to come away with a greater knowledge of their products and applications (and, yes... perhaps a little ammunition).

While I wasn't able to dig up much dirt on the pesticide companies or big agribusiness growers, my eyes were opened wide to the reality in the fields of "organic farming."

Tale after tale (at the lunch tables in casual conversation with real "organic farmers") of guys skirting regulations, finding loopholes, mocking protocols, and freely admitting that there's a way around a lot of rules. The "organic" apples you pay an extra $3 a pound for may have a lot more exposure to toxic chemicals than you think.

A few more eye openers:

1. One thing that I didn't realize, but probably should have:  "organic" does not mean "no chemical" or "no spray." In fact, "organic" fruits and vegetables are allowed more spraying than "conventional," because the permitted chemicals are not strong enough actually to kill pests and prevent diseases. To compensate for the abysmal effectiveness, additional sprayings of the weaker chemicals are permitted.

2. The same chemical companies that make the organic sprays are making the "conventional" pesticides. I don't know why I assumed they were two separate entities, but it seems to me the equivalent of Coke making Pepsi, or sugar manufacturers making diabetic supplies. How can one company pour research and investments into two diametrically opposed ventures? Is it a conflict of interests?

3. A lot of the organic farmers are in it simply for the money (although the farmers themselves really aren't making as much money as the fruit and vegetable packing companies are), and do not espouse the same principles as the consumers who pay through the teeth for their product. What this means is, they're not really interested in making sure that your food is free of chemical toxins, your streams are free of pollutants, that their practices are sustainable and build up the soil rather than depleting it. So if they can get away with using a few more pesticides, using contaminated equipment, skirting regulations and getting an edge, they're going to do it.

I'm not saying they're bad guys; it's tough to make a living in farming!!

But I am saying that based upon what I saw today, I would say that it's not worth it to pay extra money and trust implicitly in the government's ability to regulate, legislate, and monitor the "organic" label, because abuses are widescale.

So what is a person to do?

1. If you can grow it yourself, then do. This is the only way, truly, to know what's going into your food. If you're not the gardening type, go in with a few friends and offer to pay for seeds and help preserve the harvest (canning, pickling, lacto-fermenting, freezing, etc.).

2. Build up a rapport with a local farmer or hobby farmer at the farmer's market: ask questions. People selling at a farmer's market are a lot more likely to share your ideas on these sorts of things than the mass-scale farmers who sell to grocers. Plus, you're supporting the local guy.

Hm... I guess it's time for me to go peruse those seed catalogs again.

To be continued tomorrow.

1 comment:

Armyofseven said...

I've been starting to have some incklings along these lines, too. Tragical. :-( And we are not very good garden growers here. Time to remedy that, eh?

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