Tuesday, February 17, 2009

When Organic Becomes Conventional

A farming friend called me from the Midwest Organic Conference last week and we've talked several times since about plans for spring. He posed an interesting question. Even as more and more organic produce is being delivered to market he's noticed a loss of flavor and quality. He asked me what I thought the reason might be.

AHA! Says I, having already read a great book on the topic.

In, "The End of Food", Thomas F. Pawlick (a Canadian) documents the decline in the nutritional value and quality of North American food since the early 1960's.

For decades the food industry has been developing varieties that ship well, hold on the shelf a long time, look attractive in the market and / or process well. Few growers select variety for taste or nutrition. In fact, the documentary evidence presented by Pawlick proves that flavor and nutrition have been bred out of your food.

Now that organic is becoming conventional, organic farms are choosing the same commercial hybrid varieties for shipping and processing. You get fewer varieties and your choices don't taste very good. Hybrids developed to produce square tomatoes or peaches that look ripe - but feel like tennis balls - are not good food even if they are organic.

I was once asked by a market visitor on PEI if organic produce really tasted better. I said, "no". But fresh food tastes better and the food we sell is fresher than anything that took a week to reach the local shelf. Today I'm suggesting that freshness plus the varieties we plant for flavor and quality make local and organic produce taste better on PEI.
"Organic" is just the method by which food is grown. Our conversation needs to keep moving ahead to discuss terms like "local" and "sustainable" - words that also define soil, air, water, the community we feed, the seeds we plant and the hands that tend our fields.

It has become clear to me that "organic" alone is not the answer.

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