“Organic is about a belief in a biological approach to how we grow food.”
Understanding that nature is not a factory, and that conventional farming is the result of a societal preoccupation with both efficiency and the novelty of technology, is key to this principle. Understanding that farming is meant to be organic, it’s designed to be non-toxic, and it is possible to grow food at scale, in a natural way. We’ve grown food for thousands of years without toxins, we don’t need them now.
When we “Choose Organic”, ultimately, we support farmers with not only integrity but a common belief in the harmony of nature. We see a connection between our healthy body and a healthy planet – if we do not ingest fertilizers and pesticides, why should we spray them?
If the essence of farming is about soil, healthy food is about healthy soil. Conventional farming sacrifices the beneficial biology native to our soil in service of the bottom line and a higher yield. Every single time we spray the land, we’re killing the organisms that are essential to its health. While farming organically does not necessarily build healthy soil, it is certainly the first step.
The word “organic” only had to start being used a few years ago. Prior to that, everything was holistic, it was always in alignment with nature. Historically, our farming methods used animals to manage the soil without the use of pesticides or other man-made interference.
“Choose Organic” is absolutely not a deep dive into sustainable agriculture. We purposefully put it near the beginning because understanding what organic is and isn’t is really an integral starting point. So what is organic? Organic does not include a Genetically Modified Organism at any point in the process; it does not use synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, chemical additives, or non-organic herbicides; and it does not use sewage sludge. So if that is organic, that means its counterpoint, “Conventional Agriculture”, does include genetically modified organisms, fertilizers, and sewage sludge as part of its process.
“Conventional is one of the greatest marketing schemes we’ve ever seen.”
Our regenerative food future starts with a foundation of organic practices, one where we don’t have to choose between conventional and organic; from a place where organic is the standard and small-scale farmers have the opportunity for economic viability, resulting in multiple small farms in a community.
Ideally, this future separates the purchase of produce and commodities. In other words, supermarkets sell organic food and farms will sell produce. The acts of gathering and consumption will shift toward something more special, sacred, specific, and purposeful. Ideally, this shift to a foundation of organic and separated points of purchase will happen not only on a retail level, but with restaurants and hotels as well. Restaurants, chefs, and the commercial industry as a whole have higher purchasing power than individuals, meaning their sourcing choices potentially create greater economic viability for the farmer.
The draw of a more organic, old-world approach, celebrating craft and art, has been growing since the 1970s. Seeing the rise in vibrancy and accessibility of farmers markets, of consumer interest in sourcing and production, and the commitment of chefs to sourcing transparency, all points to organic becoming a mainstream expectation.
“You shouldn’t buy your dry goods, produce, and toilet paper in the same space.”
The belief that our food can, and should, be grown at any time of the year, anywhere in the world, and shipped wherever we want it, has led to our current state of disconnection. The next step, once organic is the new standard for production, is to shift the equations we use to think about food. Meaning: tomatoes do not have to be part of every salad, bananas and pineapples do not need to be purchased in December, and we do not have to have a fear of variety in our diets. Just because it’s edible doesn’t mean that’s how nature intended it.
When considering ecological agriculture, organic means that we’re working toxin-free. It does not mean we’re actually farming in a holistic, ecological manner. Again, it just means we’re toxin-free. But that’s the first step to a healthy food system. We have to get the toxins out of our food and our soil before we can really start regenerating our planet. Once the toxins are out, we can start to integrate deeper and more meaningful practices.
UC Santa Cruz is the heart and center of the sustainable agriculture movement on the West Coast, and Allan Chadwick, an early organic gardener from England, brought a host of really important ideas and garden techniques to Santa Cruz in the mid 1960s. Starting an organic garden on a South-facing slope full of poison oak and brambles, he transformed it into one of the most important organic gardens in America. It became the classroom for thousands of the leading organic farmers in the world, and it still sits as a four-acre model for how to grow food with integrity, moving far beyond just non-toxic production.
Gardens like that are what inspired The Ecology Center to be a point of conversation in Southern California. We believe offering tactile visuals for the community to interact with is key in the shift toward organic as our primary practice of agriculture.
“How you share your message is just as important as your message.”
Unfortunately, Orange County doesn’t have many examples of great organic agriculture in our backyard. However, The Ecology Center is located on one of the only certified organic farms in Orange County and George Kibby, our neighbor, has been farming 26 acres in San Juan Capistrano with his wife, Rebecca, for the past 20 years. They’ve built a community around organic food – from a thriving farm stand to a beautiful CSA program full of delicious seasonal produce grown on site. George’s commitment to organics is unwavering because he, like us, knows it is the absolute building block of healthy agriculture.
Simply distilled: to grow healthy food, we have to have healthy soil and healthy soil is not full of toxins.