Green Eyes On: When Organic Pays


Getty Images, Somos/Veer

Last week, I attended the Natural Products Expo West trade show in Anaheim, Calif. Expo West is a massive showcase of natural foods, cosmetics, baby products, pet food, supplements, and fashion. Grazing the floor there you can sample everything from acai juice to natural hair color. It is a spectacular show and, although numbers this year haven't been released yet, I'm guessing it was attended by close to fifty thousand people over three days.

On Friday night after the show, I hosted the annual fundraiser dinner for the Organic Center, which is held each year during the Expo West show. The Organic Center is a non-profit organization that provides peer-reviewed scientific studies on organic food and agriculture. (Their most recent report, "Simplifying the Pesticide Risk Equation: The Organic Option," addresses consumer issues, pesticide exposure, and health.) As I climbed up on the stage Friday night to host dinner, I was immediately struck by the magnitude of the people in the room. The who's-who of the organic industry were all there.

The audience included not only extremely successful men, such as Walter Robb, founding board member of the Organic Center and co-president and COO of Whole Foods, but also esteemed scientists such as Dr. Charles Benbrook, who is chief scientist of the Organic Center, and newbie natural-health entrepreneurs were all wrapped up in the walls of the Anaheim Marriott Hotel's main ballroom. These people are some of my favorites. People who have done incredible things and then sent the ladder back down to help up the next generation of pioneers, founding companies to promote health, corporate responsibility and social causes.

As we began the fundraising section of the dinner, these people reached deep into their pockets and opened their wallets in the name of organic research and support. "I'll give $10,000 to the Organic Center," said one. "I'm prepared to give $50,000 for the Organic Center," said another. The dollars quickly mounted. Smaller businesses and individuals bellied up as well, giving anything from a thousand dollars on up. At the end of the night we had raised somewhere between $600,000 and $700,00 for organic research and education. It was an extremely literal example of when organic "pays."

But as I think about it more, I realize that when organic really pays is when this money—the very money we raised the other night—goes to fund new research that then gets into the hands of the people who really need it, such as a mom who learns that feeding their children organic foods can reduce their dietary pesticide exposure by 97 percent, and then makes the immediate switch to organic baby food. Or, people who learn that of the 11 most important nutrients, organic foods contain, on average, 25 percent higher concentrations of these nutrients, and then switch to organics in order to feed their bodies more nutrient-dense foods. How about the farmer who learns that even very low levels of organophosphate insecticides can disrupt developing brains and nervous systems, and then immediately stops spraying his crops for the sake of the health of his grandbabies growing up in a house across the field. Or a diabetes sufferer who learns that eating vegetables rich in fiber, antioxidants, and magnesium could lead to a 28 percent lower risk of Type-2 diabetes, and then starts serving his children more vegetables, so they don't have to suffer the way mom and dad did.

Organic pays when people who have been fired up about the organic industry—and what it could mean to a generation of nutrient-deficient people—open up their wallets in the name of research and education. But organic really pays when that research and education, funded by the people who care so much about it, gets into the hands and minds of the people who really need it: average, everyday consumers. Organic pays when it saves lives. Organic pays when it keeps people out of doctors' offices. Organic pays when it leads to healthy kids leading healthy lives and growing up to be productive adults, completing the circle. I'm proud of everyone at that dinner who helped to make organics pay.

Sara Snow is Planet Green's lifestyle expert. Her Green Eyes OnGreen Eyes On column appears regularly on TreeHugger.

Tags: Agriculture | Farming | Fruits & Vegetables | Sara Snow