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Organic Checkoff: Is it What’s for Dinner?

Imagine an ad campaign for organic food as ubiquitous as “Got Milk?,” “Pork. The Other White Meat,” and “Beef: It’s What’s for Dinner.” That’s the idea behind a proposed federal program that would collect money from organic producers and put it in a single pot for promotion and industry research for the whole organics sector. Read more

Does it Matter if You Buy Veggie Starts From Big Box Stores?

Every spring, vegetable seedlings sprout like so many weeds at retailer storefronts across the country. They crowd the entrance of nearly every grocery store, supercenter, and home improvement retailer, the basil smelling of sweet licorice, and the tomatoes of a tobacco-leaf pungency.

And while it’s likely a tomato start from your nearby Home Depot will produce tomatoes that taste the same as those from an organic, local tomato seedling, the growing processes behind the two, and sometimes the health of the seedlings they produce, can be quite different. Read more

Don’t Panic, Go Organic: The IPCC Report Should be a Wakeup Call for Climate-Smart Food

The just-released synthesis report on global warming from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has prompted some to start name-dropping Thomas Malthus. Malthus, you may remember, was the 19th Century British economist and demographer who warned that population growth would inevitably lead to global food shortages. In a New York Times article just days after the long-awaited report was released, reporter Eduardo Porter wrote that the IPCC “rolled straight into Malthus’s territory, providing its starkest warning yet about the challenge imposed by global warming on the world’s food supply.”

So should we be stockpiling Chef Boyardee and plowing down forests for farms to forestall famine? Not so fast. Read more

Got Organic Milk? New Study Says It’s Healthier

Remember that Stanford study last year that claimed organic foods were no more nutritious than their conventional counterparts? It made national headlines seeming to vindicate critics of organic farming practices and confirming to skeptics that organics are nothing more than a marketing scheme. I criticized that study when it appeared as did many others but it damaged the reputation of organic farming in the minds of many Americans. Read more

TCHO: Changing Chocolate

TCHO (pronounced “choh”—the “t” is silent), a phonetic spelling for the first syllable of chocolate, masterly mixes alchemy and artistry to produce award-winning organic, beyond fair trade chocolate from its Pier 17 headquarters along the San Francisco bay. Read more

Organic Pioneers Reflect on 40 Years of CCOF

At a number of farmers markets in California, California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF) signs are a familiar sight, assuring shoppers that the farm’s practices meet national organic standards. This year, CCOF celebrates its 40th anniversary, having grown from a small grassroots coalition of farmers to the largest organic certifier in the United States.

“A small group of people who are committed to making things better can do an amazing amount,” says Grant Brians of Heirloom Organic Gardens, who currently sits on CCOF’s board and is the only original CCOF member remaining. Other founding members include Jerry Thomas, who started Thomas Farm in 1971, and Warren Weber (pictured above on a horse-drawn plow) of Star Route Farms, the oldest continuously certified organic grower in California.

Organic standards have come a long way since the 1970s, thanks to the efforts of such pioneering farmers. Read more

Devils in the Details: What Was Left Out of the Organic Study

A comprehensive paper on the nutritional quality and safety of conventional versus organic food was published in the September 4, 2012 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine (Smith-Spangler et al., Vol. 157, Number 5: pages 349–369). The Stanford University Medical School team concluded that:

“The published literature lacks strong evidence that organic foods are significantly more nutritious than conventional foods.”

“Consumption of organic foods may reduce exposure to pesticide residues and antibiotic-resistant bacteria.”

Their analysis loosely supports these conclusions, but many devils lurk in the statistical details underlying this study’s findings. Read more

Eat Organic: It’s Good for Other People’s Health

I had barely drank my first cup of coffee when I heard the news yesterday morning on NPR—organic food, it turns out, may not be that much healthier for you than industrial food.

The NPR story was based on a new study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine which concluded, based on a review of existing studies, that there is no “strong evidence that organic foods are significantly more nutritious than conventional foods.” The study, written by researchers at the Stanford School of Medicine, also found that eating organic foods “may reduce exposure to pesticide residues and antibiotic-resistant bacteria.”

The interwebs were soon full of headlines talking down the benefits of organic foods. “Stanford Scientists Cast Doubt on Advantages of Organic Meat and Produce,” the NY Times announced, as reporter Kenneth Chang pointed out that pesticide residues on industrially grown fruits and vegetables are “almost always under the allowed safety limits.” CBS news, running the AP story on the Stanford study, informed readers: “Organic food hardly healthier, study suggests.” Read more

Kitchen Table Talks: Dairy Farmers Squeezed to Utter Extremes

Perhaps no one represented the American work ethic more than the dairy farmer. Early morning hours and hard physical labor, often conducted in solitude while ankle deep in muck. Families working together to get the job done. They have long proudly supplied a demand for their community, and like most farmers, are clearly not in it for the money.

Today however, the American dairy farmer also represents the frustration and economic hardship evident across our nation. Increasing volatility in the price of milk paid to farmers, higher feed costs, corporate consolidation in the supply chain, organic milk farms scaling up, and questionable government policies all have farmers shedding a few tears. The life is so unappealing that the number of American families remaining in milk farming has plummeted from roughly 165,000 20 years ago, to less than 50,000 today. Read more