What exactly is ‘Organic’ produce?

Organic farming recognises the direct connection between our health and the food we eat.

organic farming
Strict regulations, known as ‘standards’, define what organic farmers can and cannot do – and place a strong emphasis on the protection of wildlife and the environment. In organic farming:

  • pesticides are severely restricted – instead organic farmers develop nutrient-rich soil to grow strong healthy crops and encourage wildlife to help control pests and disease
  • artificial chemical fertilisers are prohibited – instead organic farmers develop a healthy, fertile soil by growing and rotating a mixture of crops using clover to fix nitrogen from the atmosphere
  • animal cruelty is prohibited and a truly free-range life for farm animals is guaranteed
  • the routine use of drugs, antibiotics and wormers is disallowed –  instead the farmer will use preventative methods, like moving animals to fresh pasture and keeping smaller herd size
  • genetically modified (GM) crops and ingredients are banned under organic standards

How is organic farming different?

Why does it sometimes cost more?

As the costs of farming with oil-based fertilisers and chemicals increase, the price gap between organic and non-organic is closing. Where there is a price difference, you are paying for the special care organic farmers place on protecting the environment and improving animal welfare.

Five reasons to choose organic

Organic is great for your well-being and the environment, is kind to animals and wildlife and allows us make a big difference – simply through the way we shop.

1. Your well-being

Hydrogenated fats and controversial additives including aspartame, tartrazine, MSG are banned under organic standards.

2. The environment

Organic farming releases less greenhouse gases than non-organic farming – choosing organic, local and seasonal food can significantly reduce your carbon footprint

3. Animal welfare

Organic standards insist that animals are given plenty of space and fresh air to thrive and grow – guaranteeing a truly free-range life

4. Protecting wildlife

Organic farms and havens for wildlife and provide homes for bees, birds and butterflies. In fact, the UK Government’s own advisors found that plant, insect and bird life is up to 50% greater on organic farms.

5. GM-free

Genetically modified crops and ingredients are banned under organic standards. You may be surprised to know that over a million tonnes of GM crops are imported each year to feed non-organic livestock which produce pork, bacon, milk, cheese and other dairy products.

organic gardening

Section of my (slightly untidy!) organic vegetable patch

Somewhat controversial in some circles (especially in old-school agricultural boards), organic farming is becoming more prominent.  Organic farming is, in a sense, a return to the principles of sustainable, subsistence farming before fossil fuels and their by-products became dominant.  Subsistence farming is the practice of growing crops and raising livestock for one’s self and family.  However, commercial organic farming is indeed possible-  but the mindset of the farmer requires a shift.  All inputs need to be carefully considered (does this action harm the environment? what is the best way to limit damage to the environment? what is the healthiest option? will this action be sustainable year after year?).  Having been brought up on a farm, I know that sometimes the eco-friendly options are more difficult but they pay off in the long term.  Farmers who plant crops in rows up and down gradients without contours in place lose topsoil and their inputs become more costly over the seasons.  Excessive use of pesticides to wipe out one pest, often results in a plague of another pest- the natural species balance is upset and a vicious circle can ensue.  Natural pest control should be used whenever possible.  In the future ALL farming activities will by necessity, have to follow organic principles.  In the short-term, concentrated, processed fertilizer can keep crops producing, but in the long term, the soil becomes impoverished and the natural ratios of nutrients is altered.  When the ratios of different nutrients in the soil are changed, plants cannot assimilate them, no matter how much fertilizer you apply.
Sometimes it may be difficult to know whether a product is in fact truly ‘organic’.  Most countries have bodies that issue organic certification; if in doubt, look for the certification symbol and contact the organisation to check whether the producer is registered and certified.  However, some smaller producers are not registered with any certification boards; in this case, perhaps a visit to their operation would be enlightening (are their chickens really free-ranging?).  Either way, most producers  (big or small) wouldn’t risk their reputations and income by making false claims.  See a related post: Sustainable Eating.
Growing an organic vegetable patch is not difficult.  If possible, water the plants with rainwater instead of chlorinated municipal water- otherwise all your efforts to be organic will be for naught!  Rain water can be collected off your roof and stored in rain barrels and water tanks or more sophisticated (and automated) water systems such as Water Rhapsody’s Grand Opus rainwater harvesting system can be installed (see product demo).

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