Organic as the Private School of Food? Big Organics, Affordability and Integrity (Video)


Image credit: OrganicNation

I've been thinking a lot about scale recently. "Small is Beautiful" has long been a rallying cry of the green movement—and yet in light of the massive challenges we face, I'm thinking we shouldn't turn our backs on "big" either. It's true, my post on more sustainable industrial monoculture was met with derision from some, and I'm not sure my follow up video of a green(er) megafarm will fare much better. But where does Big Organic fit into all of this? Is it a viable way to scale up greener farming, and reduce the costs for the population? Or just an attempt by industry to coopt a movement? While I was pondering all this, I came across a video by OrganicNation, in which they take a visit to Organic Valley's headquarters, and ask Ken Cook, the President of Environmental Working Group (EWG), whether Big Organic is the enemy, or whether it has a role to play in mainstreaming more sustainable food and farming.

Unsurprisingly, the answer from Cook was somewhat mixed. On the one hand, he warns against corporations trying to water down organic standards, or make life hard for small-scale and family farms to participate in the system. On the other hand, he quotes a friend who describes organics as "the private school of food"—nice if you can get it, and afford it, but currently not very accessible to most of the population. There is, he argues, a role for large-scale players to bring down the costs and make organic affordable for everyone.

This is, of course, not a debate that is new to TreeHugger. From Michael Pollan discussing organics at Wal-Mart to Kellogg's introducing organic cereal, there's a constant balancing act to be had between reaching a majority of the population with greener products, and diluting the movement to the point of meaninglessness.

No doubt it is a debate that will continue to rage for some time to come, and it's not one with an easy answer. I suspect the best course of action lies somewhere in the middle—we need the hardcore greens to keep pushing absolute best practice and trying to develop truly sustainable solutions, but in the meantime, if we can see even incremental progress in mainstream farming, or other industries, it buys us much needed time to get it right. As I've said before, we can't be deterministic about the future, but rather we can look for ways to shape progress in the direction we want it to go. Gardening is the best metaphor for everything. Even for farming.

More on Organics, Sustainability and Mainstreaming Greener Farming
Michael Pollan on Organics at Wal-Mart
Kellogg's Introduces Organic Cereal
Is Industrial Monoculture the Real Path to Sustainable Farming

Tags: Agriculture | Economics | Farming | United States

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