Filed under: Business + Politics, Food + Health | Tags: farm bill, kansas city center for urban agriculture, michael pollan, organic, Wal-Mart
Workers package Earthbound Farms lettuce for shipment.
The organic movement was started as an alternative to commercial agriculture, an alternative to the homogenization of our food crops, to free market domination by corporations, as a way to beat the Man – right? As organics becomes more popular, it also becomes more mainstream and commercialized. Now we are in a sort of tug-o-war: should organic products keep growing, or will this type of unlimited growth compromise the original values behind the organic movement? Using my not-so foolproof Oreo science in Part 1, it’s clear that the commercialization of the organic movement is a complicated issue, complete with blind turns and detours.
One thing is clear: Wal-Mart’s ability to determine market prices for organic products does not sit so well with many farmers who run smaller organic operations. For many farms, including the two-acre plot run by the Kansas City Center for Urban Agriculture (KCCUA), the price premium consumers pay for their organic produce is reflective of the labor premium they put into the production. These small, intensively managed operations allows for a stunningly diverse harvest from a surprisingly small area; a stark contrast with the expansive fields of lettuce managed by Earthbound Farms.
Volunteers working at KCCUA.
Many consumers, including UC Berkley’s renowned food journalist Michael Pollan, are worried that as organics gets bigger, its original values will disappear, and that “going organic” will be nothing but a passing fad. Already, lobbies for large companies have worked to allow synthetic substances into organic processed foods (like my Oreos).
To lower prices, imported organic produce shipments from China could continue to increase. The environmental costs of food transportation are astronomical, so the benefits of converting tracts of land to organic production methods are arguably outweighed with the amount of fuel burned to ship the food across the Pacific Ocean. Unfortunately, organic foods produced on a small scale for local consumption are not likely to get any cheaper. The truth of the matter is that the cost of most foods on the grocery shelves is artificial: government subsidy handouts to large farms mean low prices on the shelf. The high costs to the environment and to us as taxpayers, who provide the money for the subsidies, are not represented by the totals on our receipts.
So is the organic movement standing on its last leg? Will Wal-Mart – and other marketplace giants – succeed in devaluing ‘organic’? If you have an opinion, make your voice heard as Congress continues to reformulate the Farm Bill, an incredibly important piece of legislation that determines the placement of those subsidies funded by our tax dollars. You can also head to the Downtown Lawrence Farmer’s Market, where you can meet and greet with the farmers as you buy your produce. We don’t have to sit back and watch the clock, your voice will help decide if the organic movement answers the grim reaper’s knock on the door.
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