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Going Real Organic {Week 4 CSA}

The pervading belief that 'organic' is just a marketing tactic is a valid one, albeit limited. The unfortunate reality is that 'organic' is more often a brand than a practice.

But that's not where it began. The push to establish a label certifying farm products as "organic" was a laborious grassroots effort, led by farmers who were committed to healthy soil and pastured animals raised humanely. It culminated in the Organic Food Production Act in the 1990 Farm Bill which established the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB). This was a huge victory for organic farmers, as the organic label immediately began to raise awareness about the merits of farming in harmony with the soil and honoring the natural diets of livestock.

Fast forward to 2017, when organic sales had topped 47 billion in the US. As consumer interest had gradually risen over the previous three decades, Big Ag's interest followed closely behind it. The problem is that many of these mega-farms quickly undercut the original premises of organic farming and have wielded unfair influence on the NOSB to dilute the meaning and intent of the organic label.

The most blatant departure from those original guiding principles came just four years ago, when the NOSB voted 8-7 to allow produce labeled as organic to be grown in soilless operations, such as hydroponic or aquaponic systems. One of the most critical tenants of the organic movement is soil health and fertility. This focus recognizes our nascent understanding of soil science, and specifically acknowledges that isolated nutrients produced or derived by humans fail to capture the depth of activity and nutrition provided by living soils. Consider that we call ascorbic acid Vitamin C, or C. Alpha tocopherol Vitamin E, and so on, when in reality our best research suggests that vitamins are not just individual molecular compounds. Instead, they are “a working process consisting of the nutrient, enzymes, coenzymes, antioxidants, and trace minerals activators," according to Dr. Royal Lee, the late nutritional researcher who pioneered our current understanding of whole food vitamins. While conventional farming methods deplete the soil's ability to fix nutrients, resulting in nutritionally depleted foods, container methods of growing that rely on isolated nutrients cannot be held to much higher expectations. Neither account for the soil's complexity and nourishing capacity, nor do either address the potential that ecological soil management has for sequestering carbon.

Even more alarming is that these soilless growing operations can spray anything on the ground beneath and surrounding their plants, since they grow in containers. So, "organic" blueberries, grown in various 'mediums' in pots and delivered a steady dose of isolated nutrients, can be surrounded by glyphosate-laden soil and air, but maintain their USDA organic status. Beyond the glaring question of contamination on the leaves and fruits of these products lies the inquiry into the producers' intent. Because what would a grower be after with their organic label if they weren't actually concerned about the use of carcinogenic inputs in their operation? The answer is profit.

And it continues to be the answer across many large producers with "organic" products. The organic label has been devastated so severely by Big Ag lobbying that now even CAFOs (confined animal feeding operations) allowing just a square foot per three hens, or 15,000 dairy cows on a feed lot, can get away with the organic label, despite no access to pasture or humane conditions for the animals. This was another original tenant of the 1990 Act. Now, it's completely gone.

The consequence of this direction for organics isn't just bad for the consumer, it's bad for the small farms who are doing organic farming the way it was intended. Hydro and aquaponic farms are inherently large operations by way of their significant investment requirements. Their economies of scale continue to undercut soil-based farmers of popular products like tomatoes, berries, and lettuce. With the rapid rise of this container-growing industry, it's hard to avoid these products when shopping—especially since they are not labeled as anything other than organic. Meanwhile, small organic farms who rely on wholesale accounts are going out of business as cheaper "organic" container producers take their place. As Alice Water's said,“If something is cheap, someone is losing out somewhere.” When the NOSB voted in 2017 to continue allowing these contentious deviations from the original meaning of organic, a movement began among many of the original pioneers of the 1990 Act to reclaim it. They began the Real Organic Project shortly after that vote and have been endeavoring to add an additional label to farms they directly certify as using truly organic practices. While the industry exploits their brainchild for its benefit, these farmers are busy certifying farms themselves (in between peak seasons!). It's a tireless group leading the charge and an honorable mission — one we're proud to be a part of. We became certified by the Real Organic Project in 2020. You'll often hear us say that the USDA organic label is the floor, not the ceiling. This isn't the case with the Real Organic Project label. They're certifying stewards of the earth. Farmers who understand that good food cannot come from poor soil management or poor treatment of livestock. The result is that products with the Real Organic Project label will consistently taste better, last longer, and be more nutritious for you. It's common sense, even if not commonly recognized: nourish the land and it will nourish you.

Keep an eye out for more products boasting this label.

Inside Your Box This Week

Hakurei Turnips

Tokyo Bekana


Curly Kale

Bok Choy






Recipes Worth Trying...

{click images to go to recipe}


For supporting our small organic farm.

For helping pave a way forward for regenerative agriculture.

For investing in young farmers.

For buying local.

We're honored to nourish you!


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