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Bringing Organic Back {Week 11 CSA}

Updated: Aug 13, 2022

Our desire to farm emerged largely from our concerns about the liberal use of toxic chemicals in food production. Farming organically was a given, but we knew even then that it was just the beginning. As many in the Regenerative Ag movement say, “organic is now the floor, not the ceiling.”

It wasn’t always this way. In response to the Green Revolution of the 60’s, where excess WW2 war chemicals were repurposed and sold to farmers as their “dream come true,” a grassroots effort emerged among farmers resisting this shiny new approach, despite enormous pressure and incentives to conform. The National Organic Program, which governs organic certifications via the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), was born from this movement, unanimously calling for recognition and certification of farms focusing on “feeding the soil, not the plant.”

In 1995, the movement achieved a major goal when the National Organic Standards Board (the USDA’s advisory panel) defined organic as “an ecological production management system that promotes and enhances biodiversity, biological cycles, and soil biological activity. It is based on minimal use of off-farm inputs and on management practices that restore, maintain, and enhance ecological harmony.” The term was thus regulated, resulting in the organic certifications we rely on today.

It’d be nice if the story stopped there, but keep in mind that there was (and is) immense industry opposition to this small grassroots movement, as it directly undermines consumer appeal of conventional chemical-laden systems. As the market for certified organic produce rapidly grew in the decades to follow, this opposition only grew stronger, louder, and better funded. The lobbying efforts of Big Ag are one of the largest in Washington, outspending even the defense industry. Since 1995, their efforts (and capital) have whittled away the core intent of the National Organic Program: to focus on soil health and minimal external inputs.

The result? Currently, “farms” better defined as confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) can be certified organic, despite a complete dependence on external inputs and gross mistreatment of their livestock—who often don’t touch soil once in their lifetime. Large-scale hydroponic and aquaponic growing systems can also be certified organic, despite their heavy dependence on external inputs and not growing in soil at all (and even when spraying the soil below their systems with toxic herbicides like RoundUp). Beyond these deviations are an ever-growing list of contentious inputs being added to the “organic approved” list.

Hands in the soil, hearts to the sky.

Organic farmers have long understood that healthy soil creates nutritious food, healthy people, and a healthy environment, but the Certified Organic label no longer guarantees transparency. The political tug of war continues on, but many of us organic farmers care less about what the USDA is yielding to and more about how educated our community is. It’s why we promote buying local and getting to know your farmers. It’s also why we’re so passionate about regenerative farming, as we believe it’s a bridge towards lost ancestral wisdom about symbiotic relations with the land, going well beyond the current organic standards.

At Prema, we have our organic certification (through CCOF) to quickly inform new shoppers about our priorities right from the start, but we knew it wasn't enough. We became certified by the