In the past two decades, the number of organic farms in Canada has more than doubled (source: Canadian Organic Growers). The increasing interest in organic foods has lead to organic food aisles in major grocery stores and even independent stores specializing in organic goods.
So why organic? The first thought to come to most people is that it is healthier due to the minimal use of pesticides and synthetic chemicals used in production. However, that is only one facet of what organic means. Defined by the Canadian Organic Standards (COS), the general principles of organic production are to:
- Protect the environment, minimize soil degradation and erosion, decrease pollution, optimize biological productivity and promote a sound state of health.
- Maintain long-term soil fertility by optimizing conditions for biological activity within the soil.
- Maintain biological diversity within the system.
- Recycle materials and resources to the greatest extent possible within the enterprise.
- Provide attentive care that promotes the health and meets the behavioural needs of livestock.
- Prepare organic products, emphasizing careful processing, and handling methods in order to maintain the organic integrity and vital qualities of the products at all stages of production
- Rely on renewable resources in locally organized agricultural systems.
CAN/CGSB - 32.310 -2006. Amended Oct. 2008
Organic foods are beneficial for the environment. It is a conscious form of production, producing within the natural limits of nature. It takes into account the environmental impact of every step of the process, minimizing soil erosion and the pollution of ground water and decreasing green house gas emissions by eliminating the use of conventional soil fertilizers.
Let’s look at the issue of soil fertilizers alone. According to Chris Goodall’s How to Live a Low Carbon Life, fertilizer manufacture and transport accounted for 9 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents per year in the UK. As fertilizer breaks down after it is used, nitrous oxide is produced (a potent global warming gas), leading to another 27 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents per year. Compare this to 7 million tonnes created through road transport (of food), 11 million tons through food manufacturing, and 8 million from the operation of retail stores. In fact, the breakdown of soil fertilizers is the single most significant source of green house gases in the food production chain. Organic production methods avoid synthetic fertilizers (in favour of natural fertilizers) reducing green house gas emissions.
There is the notion that organic food is 'yuppie food', or that is only affordable for wealthy upper middle class families. Although generally, organic food is more expensive than its conventional counterpart, it is affordable for most Canadians. Buying into a CSA (community-shared agriculture) is one of the most convenient and affordable ways of accessing local, organic produce (and helping out local farmers). Joining an organic CSA means fresh, local produce usually delivered to your door or a nearby location on a set schedule. Other non-profit organizations like FoodShare Toronto are working to make fresh, organic foods available to people on a limited income.
Each one of us is responsible for the environmental state of the Earth. Making sustainable choices in everyday decisions like the food we eat is a step forward in creating a world where our natural resources can be enjoyed by future generations.