I am a huge proponent of organics! For as long as I can remember, organic food has been a staple of my life, and a cause I believe in and fight for passionately. Certified organic agriculture has an enormous positive impact on personal and public health, local communities, farm workers and their families (who bear the brunt of exposure to toxic pesticides and caustic fertilizers), and the global environment.
We hear about toxic exposures heightening risk of cancer, birth defects, reproductive harm, learning disabilities, obesity, autism, and other major health issues. Why consume anything grown in the mess that is today’s conventional food system? Why eat crops that have been treated with synthetic pesticides and herbicides? We have another choice: organic. Grown in a healthy way, organic food has higher nutritional content with more vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Not only do I think it tastes better, but it is actually better for our bodies—and for land and water too!
Organic means no toxic or synthetic pesticides, genetic engineering, artificial fertilizers, flavors, colors or otherwise, antibiotics or synthetic growth hormones, preservatives, sewer sludge—and that is but a small piece of the rigorous standards. The heavily regulated and strictly monitored organic food system carries weight, meeting state, federal, and international safety requirements. Companies must submit a detailed plan which allows for traceability, go through the USDA-designed certification process for every step of the chain, handle land without prohibited items for at least three years, and undergo ongoing monitoring by the National Organic Program. All are subject to announced and unannounced third-party inspections to ensure integrity of the soil, production, handling, and processing.
Restorative practices promote biodiversity, enhance the health of plants and animals, and restore and maintain soil and natural cycles. Soil health is paramount; compost, manure and organic materials build up the matter and prevent the leaching of toxins into groundwater, land, and surrounding bodies of water improving safety and quality. Organic farmers often employ crop rotation and cover crops and introduce beneficial insects (and critical pollinators!) to the ecosystem, which help to control pests and weeds and further replenish soil nutrients so that it can more effectively sequester carbon to help fight climate change.
To feature the USDA organic seal, products must contain a minimum of 95% exclusively organic ingredients. That certification is what consumers should seek out on food labels and product packaging. “Natural” means nothing; it’s an entirely unregulated word. So-called “natural” products are often ridden with artificial and genetically engineered ingredients, as well as pesticides, hormones and antibiotics. I don’t eat meat or animal products (and am a steadfast proponent of a plant-based diet), but those issues become particularly potent in talking about consumption of dairy products, eggs, and meats. Use of antibiotics in agriculture has been linked to antibiotic-resistant disease, declared a global epidemic by the World Health Organization. Also, amid the ongoing debate about GMOs and the lack of mandatory labeling (which you can address by joining the growing movement to Just Label It on the federal level), you can rest assured knowing that organic always means GMO-free.
In discussing a gold standard for food today, our organization, Turning Green (TG), uses the acronym FLOSN: fresh, local, organic, seasonal, non-GMO. That has become the basis for our school food program, The Conscious Kitchen, which serves cooked-from-scratch FLOSN breakfast and lunch each day to the entire student body, faculty, and staff at a public elementary school in Marin City, California close to TG headquarters. In a district where 95% of students qualify for government-subsidized, free or reduced-cost meals, many said it was impossible to serve real food that met nutritional and budgetary guidelines, let alone certified organic food made onsite with farm-fresh ingredients from local purveyors. TG launched the pilot program in August 2013, striving to create a proof-of-concept model for successful organic food programs in schools, which could be replicated. Combined with a complementary hands-on garden and nutrition curriculum, The Conscious Kitchen is just that: we nourish the next generation with organic food that tastes good, while also educating youth about the benefits of a food system that values the health of people and planet—plus student food waste has dropped dramatically, as have discipline and attendance issues!
Organic is not a niche market: US consumer sales of organic products top $39 billion, and 51% of families are buying more organic products than a year ago according to the Organic Trade Association (OTA). Farmers see a clear future as well: In addition to the 16,000+ certified organic farms and ranches in the US (representing millions of acres), 3,000 farms are currently transitioning to organic— including a number of young farmers (26% of organic farmers are under 45 years old). Small organic farms are indispensable in preserving the dwindling supply of heirloom seeds as well!
I am inspired by the energy and passion around this issue. Organics are clearly on the rise, with sustained double-digit market growth as well as increased awareness and accessibility, which I see firsthand in my conversations with people from every walk of life. Buy from your local organic farmers at markets and coops, continue to purchase from brands and retailers that have pioneered this industry, and support big businesses that are taking organics to an even wider audience. Organic matters!
Want more? Check out the amazing work of the Organic Trade Association (OTA) and Environmental Working Group (EWG) and read The Organic Center‘s dozen reasons that we should all go organic, Dr. Jessica Shade’s eight man benefits, and Only Organic’s top ten! The benefits of organic are countless. Eat well, take care of your health, sustain the earth, and join the growing movement!