People are sometimes surprised to learn that I don’t buy organic food at the grocery store. As someone who vigorously champions for things like chemical-free gardens, home births, and the right to buy raw milk legally, it only makes sense that everything in my cabinet would have an organic label slapped on it.
The problem is that I don’t really trust the federal government. As it is, they’ve allowed huge agricultural corporations to lobby for organic standards that still manage to favor big business. Let’s take for example, “free range” chicken, a label which conjures up images of sweet chicks pecking about an idyllic countryside. Ha.
The only requirement to use the term “free range” is that the chicken must have been allowed access to the outside. That’s it. You can still stuff 20,000 chickens in a small warehouse, as long as somewhere a door is open that will allow them to go out if they so choose.
Recently, I helped a friend in their garden. They had used some sort of certified organic insecticide powder that was sprinkled all over the plants. It smelled horribly and it took me days to scrub the scent from my skin.
Even if what you buy at the grocery truly is organic, if it was purchased from a huge farm 500 miles away, isn’t it defeating the purpose of eating sustainably anyway? Just with the fuel expended to get it to you?
Because of all this, I believe pretty wholeheartedly that the only way to eat organically is to grow what you eat and to build relationships with local farmers who you know are passionate about organic, sustainable farming practices.
Even when I go to a farmers market, I am really hesitant to buy food. I want to see where it was grown. I want to know its story. I just don’t trust a fancy label and a great display of pretty potatoes in a basket. Even though I know that many farmers markets vet their producers, I still want to see it for myself.
I’ve noticed that a lot of farms don’t open their operations up for visits. I understand that farming is a busy, demanding lifestyle and who has time to schlep a bunch of hippie customers around and indulge their curiosities? The other part of me wonders what they are hiding. Is it the truck they haul vegetables in from South Carolina on? Is it animals that aren’t well cared for? Workers that aren’t adequately provided for (or legally documented)?
If you want me to eat your organic food (and pay a substantial premium for that), then I want to talk to you about sustainability. I want to hear that you are truly passionate about conserving the environment for future generations, not just meeting the letter of the organic law as outlined by the USDA. I don’t want to pay for food that has come as close to the organic line as it can without crossing over—I want food that goes above and beyond what the federal government says is acceptable.
I hope to use this blog as an excuse to visit some Kentucky farms that are walking the sustainable walk. Folks who are passionate about food safety, a clean environment, and building an infrastructure so that our kids will still have real, working farms around when they grow up. Look for my first farm visit post coming soon…