Brisbane Local Food

Growing local

'Organic' is a question of production and ecology

Many folk may have heard about the Stanford study that concluded that organic foods were no safer or healthier than conventional alternatives.

 As one commentator has asked: is that really the case? 

"The authors of the Stanford study inexplicably omitted certain nutrients from their comparison that have already been shown to be more concentrated in organic foods, such as vitamin C, polyphenols, and flavonoids. There are also several other studies showing higher content of various nutrients in organic foods. (And this doesn’t even consider the decreased exposure to pesticides and antibiotic-resistant bacteria when eating organic foods.) 

However I think the clincher lies elsewhere, because he goes on:

But when it comes to nutrient content, the biggest difference of all is not whether a food is organic or not, but how long it has been out of the ground before it is eaten. That’s why local foods are, on average, much more nutritious than foods that have been shipped across the country.

One of the co-author's of the study,Dena Bravata, makes another salient point when she argues,

“If you look beyond health effects, there are plenty of other reasons to buy organic instead of conventional,” noted Bravata. She listed taste preferences and concerns about the effects of conventional farming practices on the environment and animal welfare as some of the reasons people choose organic products.

My take on the issue isn't so much about consumption as I think it is idealisation to presume that you can eat foods -- or even just exist -- in this society without taking in a pollutant cocktail every day. Toxic substances are so pervasive that there is no way that you can live pure and free of them.

Better to change the society than kid yourself that you can protect your gut, skin and lungs from its impact by customising your individual choices. 

However,for me, the key argument supporting 'organic' is not in the shop but how it is grown as I'm convinced that industrial farming habits -- reliant on pesticides, seed technology and petroleum based fertilisers -- are unsustainable . It's a question of production and ecology -- as contemporary farming practices are  so brutal to the environment.

So I guess I'm a little out of step with many urban veg growers as I value the 'growing local' more than I do the 'organic'. That doesn't mean that I use spays and chemical mix fertilisers.

I  grow 'organic' primarily because I respect my soil  and value its sustainability.It's also cheaper in way of inputs despite the fact that my harvest may be less than conventional methods...and it's always fresher. Always!

Indeed as  the slow food movement has pointed out, just because a foodstuff is labelled 'organic' it doesn't necessarily follow that it was farmed sustainably.

Although Slow Food supports the principles behind organic agriculture, such as promoting methods that have a low impact on the environment and reducing the use of pesticides, it also argues that organic agriculture, when practiced extensively, is similar to conventional monoculture cropping. Organic certification alone should therefore not be considered a sure sign that a product is grown sustainably. Most of the Slow Food Presidia practice organic techniques, however very few are officially certified on account of the high costs of certification.

So things may not be as they seem...

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Comment by Susan on June 25, 2014 at 17:06

"And instead of Use By dates -- demand the date the produce was picked."  I really like this idea.  I have been shopping at the Chandler markets every Sunday morning for 2 years now.  It is a pain sometimes, but worth it.  I buy a broccoli from there and it can still be in fridge 2 weeks later and all good.  Buy a broccoli from woolies and you're lucky if at the end of the week you can use it.  I have some stalls that I buy from regularly because their stuff is good and fresh, and others I avoid like the plague because their stuff is as dodgy as woolies.  I am hoping to get to the stage with our garden produce that I can drop the Weekly fruit and veg run to a fortnightly one; but with 3 kids who love their fruit, I don't know if we'll get to that.

Comment by Dave Riley on June 25, 2014 at 13:34

I think you take a hit in production but not in all cases as these figures on productivity affirm.

But as I say 'organic' ain't everything...but in Australian conditions the key quotient I think is water. As the piece points out:

A 2003 study found that during drought years, organic farms can have yields 20-40% higher than conventional farms.[91] Organic farms are more profitable in the drier states of the United States, likely due to their superior drought performance

And the same thing occurs in live stock grazing -- such as via Holistic Management. It's all about fostering the soil & not bullying it...so long as you defer to sustainability. And I think the ongoing Rodale study confirms this. Its' not so much any annual  figures but productivity and sustainability over decades.

I don't think we are very far ahead healthwise if we are told to celebrate Woolworths flogging off organic produce that is old. But of course an organic producer is isolated and needs to access a national market with his or her niche product. So it's a complicated situation...that maybe fosters small scale methods.  But if you have a contract to supply Woolworths with,say, organic cucumbers -- all that is asked is certification -- and the farming methods in terms of mix or sustainability don't enter the exchange.

Maybe we would be better served with 'food miles' labels? And instead of Use By dates -- demand the date the produce was picked.

At the Caboolture Markets one guy was selling a massive array of 'no sprays' produce from the Warwick district and he had a very loyal client base. Myself included. It wasn't too expensive and it was often heirloom. But tragically he had a car accident en route and he no longer visits. I hope he recovers  fully. But the Caboolture Markets do serve as a growers' hub -- even if the produce isn't often organic.

But you do get plenty of 'no sprays' signs emanating from the district and as far afield as Gympie and Warwick...or the Downs. ..all with  'easy' access to Caboolture although its' some drive on a weekend and most of these bods prefer to sell their wares on Saturday and Sunday rather than the one event to warrant the travel time. So we have recruited a seller to our monthly Sunday markets here in Beachmere.

But consider the burden of not only growing the food but having to also transport and sell it in order to return an income....

Comment by Elaine de Saxe on June 25, 2014 at 12:34

Good points, Dave.

When the local organic shop stocks packages from e.g. USA, I wonder why anyone would bother.

'Local' and 'fresh' are my two watchwords. Farmer's Markets although few and far away from where I live are probably an ideal way to shop. Being both local and fresh. Although many would still be conventional.

Fortunately there has been a guy selling local produce by the side of DBay Road recently. It's all conventional but it is fresh and lasts well.

Although I cannot see why farmers would not want to go organic, at the end of the day they still do monocultures of hybrid seedlings. I see the same products at the organic shop - eg huge heads of Broccoli, indistinguishable from the ones at the supermarket. Except for the taste and keeping qualities - both are exceptional.

Ditto with livestock - no farmer probably can afford nowadays to use heritage chook breeds for meat and eggs. The product although probably better from an animal-welfare pov tastes no better.

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