Thursday, March 8, 2012

... Organic Farming, Commerical Agriculture, Sustainable Food Systems...

What does it all mean?!

I follow lots of different folks on Twitter. Some are pro-organic no matter where it comes from. Some support local over anything, even if it's commercial agriculture (or Big Ag is what I usually call it), which usually means pesticides/herbicides/gmo/etc.
Others use a bullseye to decide what to support first (I'll get to my personal version later).

I stumbled upon a twitter conversation involving an organic farmer and a marketer/something who was/is attending a Farm Fair in Western Canada (I'm trying to be discreet. And I don't remember all the exact details and I'm not about to go searching for them).
She (the marketer) was someone who I thought supported local, organic, heritage foods. She did volunteer to help with the upcoming Slow Food National Conference Gala.
Her and the organic farmer (who's products I fully support) were in an argument about what will feed the world (that was the basis of it, as far as I could tell).

I was confused. I thought we were all on the same side.

But does eating LOCAL mean ONLY organic?

To some. Yeah.
Because the point is to create a sustainable food system that doesn't rely on oil and gas AS MUCH AS Big Ag.
Unless you're transporting/tilling/plowing/harvesting by hand with only horses for extra oomph, you're using fossil fuels.

To others, local trumps even the organic card. "Eat local BEFORE eating imported organic"

Now, I'm pretty sure that's not what the basis of their conversation (notice I don't say argument) was about.  I'm pretty sure she is/was pro GMO, pro Big Ag in all it's ways.  Which I didn't see coming...

So let's discuss "Feeding the World"
The two sides are: "Big Ag is not sustainable because it relies too heavily on oil and gas, gmo seeds harm humans and the environment, the farming practices strip the land of nutrients and therefore, the foods that grow there are less nutritious."
And, "Organics do not produce enough per acre. Commercial agriculture gets double the food that Organic does. Organic farming cannot solve world hunger."

Instead of going out and finding articles that support one side or the other (Let's not be silly, who ever funds them gets the results they were looking for, for both sides), how about we use a little -not so common- common sense.

- Peak oil is coming. Fossil fuels are a limited resource and the world is using it faster than we're finding it. There's no way around it, it's just a matter of time.
- No one truly knows the effects GMO's have on humans or our eco-systems. Just Label It
- We eat too much. (I dare you to argue me on that one.)
- We've developed empty calorie foods that trigger our most primal instincts: Sugar. Fat. Salt. Those industries drive Big Ag. (A big bag of potato chips costs between $3-$5. A bag 10lb of organic russet potatoes costs between $5-$10. You could make a lot of potato chips from that...)
- GMO seeds are sterile. They cannot be saved and planted again next year. Those farmers have to keep going back to the bio-tech company *cough MONSANTO cough* to buy more seed every year.
- Organic seeds, that are heritage - not hybrid, can be saved (only the best of the best, of course) to plant next year WITH NO COST TO THE FARMER! Hybrid seeds split back into their parents, who aren't always as great as the child they created.
- All organic farming is NOT created equal. No matter what certification the farm has... (Local organic farmer who invites you to visit their farm vs Wal-Mart organic farmer. Where would you shop?)
- A dollar spent at a locally owned shop/farm has greater re-circulation value back into the community than that same dollar spent on a comparable item (I refuse to say "same item") at a big box store.
- If the $ gov and citizens put into lawn care was put into lawn gardens, we wouldn't have any shortage of food or food education. It's hard to not know where your food comes from when you have to go outside to pick it everyday.
- We, as a culture, have a warped sense of time. We believe gardening/foraging/canning/preserving/etc takes "too much time" when in reality we're putting Entertainment (a secondary need. TV, bars/drinking/partying, etc) before Food (a primary need). Some will say they're too busy working (for $ to pay for food, shelter, healthcare, etc). Well, if we didn't build 3000sqft homes that we don't need on tiny city plots, we wouldn't need to work so much to pay for it (that home is a luxury, not shelter)
- If we all made an effort to live healthier lives (better food, good fitness, less negative stress - yes, there is healthy stress, etc) there would be far less pressure on our health care system. There would be more resources to put towards other causes (the things that we cannot prevent through diet, nutrition and lifestyle).

I could go on.
Yes, I'm a little bias.  I'm sure you could tell that.

Have I stated anything that doesn't make sense? 
I'm a big girl. I like conversation. I enjoy learning. I like to form my own opinions through my lifes experiences. I will listen to others opinions when they do so in a courteous and well thought out manner.
I will ignore those who drank the kool-aid, from either "side". Why? Because it's my blog (and my sanity) and I can do what I want too. (Yes, I just went there)

I didn't throw out any numbers or "stats" to confuse you. That's how I see it. That's what I take from all the information that I read/see/absorb through osmosis/hear everyday.

Can organic farming feed the world? save the world?
It's gonna have too.  But the organic farming of the future won't look like what we have today. Much of it is still too dependent on fossil fuels.

"What about bio-diesels? Can't that run machinery for organic farmers?"
Many of them are still made from food crops. When a world food shortage finally starts to hit "developed" nations, the governments will have a hard enough time keeping people calm without taking what little food is left to make fuels.
I watched all the episodes (that I could find) of a series called "Aftermath". If you find them online or on History Channel, watch them.  Much of it will make you sick to your stomach in a, "Humans with their big brains were visiting a living island called Earth and killed her in the name of progress..." kinda way.  It's the no natural predator thing.  Happens in nature all the time. Wolf population gets too big, kills off too many deer/elok/moose/rabbit/etc. Not enough food. Wolves die down. Prey populations explode due to not enough predators. They start to die off due to disease and starvation, not enough food to go around. Wolves feed off the weak and dieing, Predator population rises again.  And so on and so on.

Anyways, bio-diesels and Aftermath.
In Aftermath humans finally realize we need to use the NATURAL vast open desert-type land to build algae farms to make into bio-diesel (instead of using food crops like corn and wheat). 
Right now, most of the desert-type land is unnaturally irrigated using water pumped from 3 states away to make plants grow (I'm referring to the USA and California's and Nevada's use of the Colorado River. 3 states away may be a bit of an exaggeration... but you get the point)

So, I guess the next question is, "What is sustainable agriculture? If it's not organic farming or commercial farming, what's left?"

Food Forests.
Observing how nature grows it's food for the rest of the species on this planet and CHANGING our food culture to work together with that system.

It means no strawberries in January, unless you froze or canned them in summer.
If you want lettuce and spinach and other greens in the dead of winter, you better create a greenhouse. Spinach you can freeze very successfully, but it wouldn't be very good in a salad after that.
Instead of going to a supermarket for pre-packaged/cooked/breaded/processed chicken nuggets/strips/etc, you'll have to go to a farmer or butcher, buy a raw product from them and prepare it yourself OR raise your own chickens and prep them however you like before freezing or pressure canning.

Anyways. I've been at this for almost 2 hours now....  I'm tired. I saw that conversation on twitter today and had to get this off my chest.

As I've said before in this blog, I'm not perfect. My family isn't perfect. I don't know anyone who is.
But we all make choices...

Here's my bullseye when it comes to sourcing food for my family:

Home Grown/Home Raised/Self Foraged-Hunted-Trapped
Local: Organic/Free-Range (by my standards, which only comes from having a relationship with the farmer)
Western Canada: Organic/Free-Range
Canadian: Organic/Free-Range
Canadian: Non-organic (yes, I will choose to buy Canadian even if it's not organic before supporting imported goods)
Imported: Organic/Fair Trade
Imported: other

Coffee, chocolate, sugars, baking powder and soda, salt (Alberta does have a salt mine by ThreeHills and you can always make your own sea salt from one of Canada's 3 oceans), wine, beer, whiskey, grapes, TEA!, rice, the list can go on and on.

Remember, you have to make a choice about what you eat. That impacts who you support with your hard earned $.
But don't feel like you have to give up everything to save the planet. Maybe you only change one thing this month "I will not buy anything from a vending machine or fast food restaurant. I will pack a lunch and have healthy snacks available." 
Next month, you may decide to start spending half your grocery budget at the farmer's market.
The month after that, you do a meal plan for dinner 6 nights a week to stop ordering takeout so much.

And you keep building from there.

If you want resources to find CSA farms, quality farmers, community gardens, rescued fruit, etc PLEASE contact me directly or leave a comment.
If you want to tell me I'm full of shit, contact me directly or leave a comment.

But please, think about what part you play in our food system, our food CULTURE, and decide whether or not you're happy with it....

Please leave comments!  I want your opinions! Leave a link to your blog in the comments for myself and others to read what you have to say.

As Cam Mather said (I'm paraphrasing), "We are living a cruise ship and the power just went out. What do we do now? What is PlanB...."

Update: I know I said I wouldn't bring in articles, but I found/stumbled upon these ones this morning. More information to add the the mix of opinions... Use your brains Boys and Girls!

ARSAN: 17 Principles of Sustainable Foods
The Globe and Mail: Local Food = Ethical Food?

Here's a post from Simple Bites, 10 Steps for Sustainable Eating.
I couldn't have said it better myself.


  1. Well said. This is our first winter trying to keep to our own standards for what we can and cannot eat. (ie what grows in winter and what's in our freezer) I think next winter will be easier as our garden space is more than doubling and we've sourced out a lot more of our food locally now.

    It's not easy, and not always cheap, but it's always worth it.

    1. The great thing is, if you save your seeds and build a sustainable garden (perennials, heirloom seeds, fruit bearing bushes/trees), your cost goes down year after year. The startup is always the most expensive part (jars for canning, canning equipment, large chest freezer(s), cold room, etc)

      Thank you for the comment! :)

    2. Yup we will definitely be harvesting our own seeds this year. We've always had a garden we're just majorly expanding it this year. I actually managed to get all my canning gear on freecycle over the past couple of years so double score!

  2. Great post...

    With your permission, I'll be including your blog URL with this post highlighted in the bibliography I give to participants in the twice yearly Eat Local, Eat Whole, Eat Seasonal class I teach in Peace River (northern Alberta). The 2.5 hour evening class gives participants as much information as they can absorb to get them started, with all our local producers and contacts and my favourite resources.

    I've been an organic gardener for 37 years, a harvest preserving queen for 22 years but the shift to eating sustainably and growing/wild harvesting much of my diet is more recent - like 7 years ago. So exciting to see so many people interested and committed to living and eating sustainably. There is such satisfaction in doing for ourselves. And even more, I'm hopeful for the future of our world when I read and meet younger adults engaged in eating and living sustainably.