It kinda seems like going organic has taken the back burner to buzzwords like local, humanely raised, and fair trade. While all of these things are definitely what I want food to be, after reading Maria Rodale’s Organic Manifesto, I must stress to you that going organic has to be at the forefront of the food movement along with these other changes.
While I did not agree with everything Rodale wrote—like a lot of food movement leaders, she is super zealous and biased—her words left a major impression on me in terms of the necessity of going organic to halting climate change and regaining and preserving public health.
Before I get into the take-aways from the book, I should explain the difference between chemical and organic farming for those who are unfamiliar. Chemical, or “conventional” farming, the current paradigm that dominates 99% of the earth’s farmland, is more or less an attempt to control nature. Single farms typically grow one crop, most often a commodity crop like corn or soy, in what is called a monoculture. Synthetic fertilizers, chock full of the exact ratio of nutrients that will allegedly promote rapid growth, replace natural soil. Making this fertilizer uses an enormous amount of fossil fuel, and thus is responsible for the emission of lots of greenhouse gases. Synthetic herbicides and pesticides are also used heavily on conventional crops, especially genetically modified herbicide resistant crops. In conventional livestock breeding, animals are typically fed growth hormones and antibiotics. All this to supposedly ensure the highest yield of food possible. Organic farming, on the other hand, is an attempt to work alongside nature to grow food. No synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, or genetically modified organisms are involved. Fertilizer is made from the composting of livestock manure and plant matter unused from the last harvest. A variety of crops are planted and animals raised on the same farm and different crops are rotated year to year on each field. I completely acknowledge that the way I described the two painted organic farming in a much better light, but once you know the facts it is hard to argue that it is better for any reason than to make money for shareholders of chemical companies.
Now, here are the main points Rodale wants readers of her book to spread around, with my commentary:
- Chemicals are not necessary to grow food. I think this is obvious given the variety of organic foods that are available today.
- Agricultural chemicals poison our food, soil, water, and air. The exact human health consequences of the pollution are very difficult to pinpoint, but the evidence that people who live near farms have much higher rates of a variety of health problems is quite damning. And scientists have found evidence that pesticides such as glyphosate can be carcinogenic.
- Agricultural chemicals destroy the soil’s natural potential to sequester carbon, meaning that switching to organic farming could prevent the accumulation of a huge amounts of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and do a ton to mitigate climate change.
- Organic foods are healthier in that the prevalence of chemical farming is ensuring the progression of global warming and all of the public health problems that go with it, including the eventual suffocation of the human race—sorry that statement was so blunt but I definitely agree with Rodale on this one.
- Organic foods are safer. This goes along with the absence of potentially toxic chemicals thing, but it’s also really important to think about the implications for antibiotic resistance, to which chemical farming is contributing horrifically.
- Organic farming over time is actually more productive than chemical farming. Organic farms experience less soil erosion and the crops’ roots are deeper, so that when weather is not ideal organic farms exhibit higher yields than conventional farms.
- We can and must feed the world through organic farming. If we continue to spread chemical farming to developing countries, it will accelerate the collapse of our environment.
- Organic is more important than local in terms of carbon emissions. Local organic farming is ideal, but there is no reason we should stop trading internationally for foods we cannot grow here. Furthermore, fair trade with farmers in the global south will help them out of poverty.
- Organic farming increases and protects biodiversity. The toxic chemicals have threatened many species’ abilities to reproduce and survive, plant and animal.
- Growing organic is not going backward. This is a common misconception; modern organic farming can use the best of modern technology to work with nature instead of trying to beat it.
- Chemical farming eliminates jobs. Chemicals enable farmers to cultivate more land with less labor. Not only that, but a job on such a farm is inherently unsafe because of the toxic chemicals. You should see the masks conventional strawberry pickers wear.
- Government subsidies are the reason for the low prices of chemically grown foods. Without these subsidies, conventional foods would be much more expensive because of how much it costs to produce the chemicals. So as I wrote about in my last post, conventional foods end up being artificially cheap up front and costing us much more in the long run.
- It’s not too late to change. It is possible to regenerate our chemically destroyed soil with organic cultivation, and any mitigation of climate change and pollution extends the time we have on this earth.