In defense of organic agriculture

CSA vegetables
CC BY 2.0 Charles Smith

In an article called “Organic Shmorganic: Conventional fruits and vegetables are perfectly healthy for kids,” writer Melinda Wenner Moyer suggests that organic produce is overrated. Parents shouldn’t obsess so much over whether an apple has synthetic pesticides on it and focus on making sure their kid is eating fruit.

While I agree with Moyer that kids need to consume larger quantities of fresh vegetables and fruits, I don’t think she’s right to dismiss organic agriculture so quickly. Yes, eating any apple is better than none, and I sometimes buy produce for my kids that is not certified organic, but if Moyer views all food production through the narrow lens of “natural pesticides vs. synthetic pesticides,” that’s overly reductive.

Maybe organic farming isn’t as perfect as we’d like to think, but at least it embodies a philosophy about agriculture that’s refreshing in today’s world of giant chemical-soaked mono-crops. When I think of organic farming, I think of the small-scale, family-run farms I’ve encountered since moving to southwestern Ontario. (I do not buy imported organic produce from California because I think that the environmental cost of importing fresh foods from that distance offsets whatever benefits they had by being organic.)

The farmers I’ve met through the organic CSA (community shared agriculture) program over the past three years are people who care deeply about the earth. Their priority is always to build up the soil’s health. In contrast to Moyer’s claim, these farmers do not use toxic ‘natural’ pesticides such as Rotenone, but rather fight insects using tea extracts, mulch, crop rotation and careful selection.

While individual health is an important point to consider when debating organic vs. conventional produce, “it’s only part of the wider, more appropriate perspective that needs to be taken" (TreeHugger). Organic farming has benefits that reach beyond consumers’ health. Organic farms are better for the water system, with less toxic runoff. They have better carbon sequestration in the soil and better drought resilience. They often treat workers better and offer educational internships; sell directly to CSA members, aiding the local economy; choose diverse crops with natural defenses against pests; and segregate those crop ‘families’ to prevent potential infestations.

Not least of all, organic farmers aren’t killing off the bees with toxic neonicotinoid pesticides. Bumblebees and monarch butterflies have virtually disappeared and last summer was eerily silent, lacking the buzzing of important pollinators. Interestingly, Moyer’s article stayed silent on this devastating issue.

I don’t think of feeding my kids as an act of filling them with nutrients, though that’s part of it. Instead, I want to expose them to a world of food production in which the field-to-table process matters greatly. I want to show them where the vegetables they eat come from, and introduce them to the hardworking people who grow them. I want to spend my grocery dollars showing support for an industry that cares about the planet, and the local organic farming scene is where it’s at.

Tags: Food Miles | Food Safety | Food Security | Fruits & Vegetables | Kids | Organic Agriculture | Pesticides

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