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  Organic? More than Chemical-Free!
By Tom Manley - President of Homestead Organics

The most popular question I hear at the trade shows and over the

telephone is: "What does it take to be organic?" Agriculture is

complicated enough already, but digging into the concepts of organic

agriculture deserves years of study and practice. During a brief

conversation at our busy booth during the Ottawa Farm Show, I could

only cover the basic rule: the land must be chemical free for the last

three years and continue likewise during the production of organic


Such a summary does not properly serve the objectives of organic food

and organic agriculture. Even the standards for organic production tend

to limit themselves to chemical free farming and the inherent

requirements to succeed without synthetic inputs: crop rotations, soil

life, environmental protection, and the absence of chemicals in food

processing. But organic means much more. To keep a long story short,

organic food is NEAR, NAKED AND NATURAL!

Food is NEAR when local people eat local food. I think all farmers

would like to see their produce eaten locally, but organically minded

people would make a special effort. The average food molecule in North

America allegedly travels about 1500 miles. Imagine the cost and

resources spent on moving food from the farm to a distant processor,

then to an even more distant wholesaler and distributor, and back to

your home town on the retailer's shelf. It requires significant fossil

fuels, pollution, subsidized transportation, and spoilage to cover the

distance. The economic imperative of long-distance food is economy of

scale; the economic imperative of organic food is a direct

producer-consumer relationship. The direct contact maximizes freshness

and quality, improves mutual understanding, gives power to consumers

and producers instead of the large food processors and provides a

better price to both parties.

Food is NAKED when it is not over packaged. When a significant portion

of the sale price of a food item goes to packaging, handling,

advertising (besides the transportation and distribution mentioned

above), then the farmer ends up with a survival income and the consumer

complains about the cost of food. Over-packaging also increases garbage

disposal costs and space. Recently, studies have shown that some

plastic bags and plastic lined cans are releasing dangerous toxins into

our food.

Finally, food is NATURAL when it is not overly processed. Home cooking

is the solution to healthy nutrition, good tasting food, and a lower

cost of food. We spend so much time working out of the home, for

someone else on a stressful job, only to use our salary to pay someone

else to cook for us in the form of convenience restaurants, canned and

frozen foods, packaged foods. Processing destroys several nutritional

qualities of food; hence our processed food has been fortified in many

ways to replace lost minerals and vitamins. Secondly, natural food is

also whole food for the same reason that whole wheat bread is

preferable to white bread. Finally, the notion of natural food comes

back to the main technical requirement of organics: chemical-free

production and processing.

These notions of organic food are strangers to no one. We view

advertising every day where some multinational food corporation is

proposing so-called wholesome, natural, home-cooked food that has

travelling thousands of miles, was processed many times, was packaged

in tins and repackaged in cartons and over packaged in bulk lots and

sold through several intermediaries.

While organic standards focus on production and processing methods to

protect the environment and avoid toxic inputs, they pay little

attention to marketing and distribution methods, transportation

distances, and nutritional content. It is up to organic enthusiast to

minimize the distance between the consumer and the producer, to

maintain the nutritional integrity of the food, and reduce the amount

of resources consumed in the production of food.



Eastern Ontario AgriNews is published on the third Monday of each month. The printed version is distributed free by postal mail to farms in Eastern Ontario, Canada.

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