We’re already seeing it as the premiums growers used to get are disappearing, and the produce shelves are becoming dominated by strictly organic produce and commodity prices. Where I come from we call that commodification. If organic is no longer value-added, then the cost of the paperwork and expensive production techniques cease to make sense, except to those that controlled the process: i.e., large agribusiness.
For a farmer like myself, who is admittedly not organic and doesn’t really want to be, we need to figure out what the next steps are. I originally started this blog to debunk the whole idea that organic was the end all, beat all to food production. Let’s explore the concept of what’s Beyond Organic?
Last week I was in Manhattan and I visited several stores to see what was on the shelves. Many of the supermarkets have made a verbal commitment to local. Some have even been leaders and exemplary businesses over the years. But lately most have started to act more like trend-surfers than businesses with missions beyond pure profit. For example, my visit revealed very few local apples or cider on their shelves. There was plenty of west coast organic apples and gobs of overpriced fruit drinks and waters. But where was the local? Remember New York is the second leading apple producing state in the US and apples store great through the winter, so availability isn’t the issue. For us growers, especially here on the east coast, there is very little incentive to enter the organic market as we see prices shrink and a diminishing commitment to local after “the season.”
I’ve set my sights on implementing a production system that takes us beyond organic and allows us to compete in a way that can’t be taken away from us. I don’t know what that system is going to look like exactly, but more than likely it will be a combination of many different styles of production that will include traditional, organic, biodynamic, and whatever else I can beg, borrow, and steal from the myriad styles that are out there. Twenty years ago I wouldn’t have done this, but back then it all meant something. We’re now looking to redefine a method of ecological growing that means something to the trade and the consumer, and the only way to do that without having it co-opted by the big guys is to develop in concert with the fact that we are local. Nobody can co-opt our geography, especially if we define the concept of what local means first.
In the early 1990s there was an attempt by a researcher at Cornell to develop something called the Environmental Impact Quotient (EIQ). It was underdeveloped and never successful, but it always struck me that what we really needed to do with our production systems is to develop an algorithm for calculating a whole-farm EIQ.
Production systems have to be analyzed by more than just what we spray or fertilize our plants with. We live in a complex world and it shouldn’t be a bad thing to utilize technology and science as well as certain pagan rituals in how we grow crops. The goal should be to have the least negative impact on the land, communities, and regional food systems as possible.