You care about your health. You care about the animals. You
care about the planet. This is why you buy organic food.
here's another component to care about: the small, local farmer. Why?
Simplified, if you don’t support local farmers, you support
industrialized, mass production
Even if you
buy organic or veggie or local – and even if you avoid eating animal foods - as
long as you buy in big supermarkets, you are (in most of the cases) knowingly
or unknowingly supporting the food industry. Organic shops are already a
better choice, since the products they carry are more likely to come from
producers living the organic philosophy, producing on smaller
scales and/or applying higher quality standards (e.g. demeter
certifications). Still many products sold in bio shops are (industrially)
processed and not necessarily healthy.
Organic and mass production just don’t go together.
farm is an integrated one, meaning that animals fertilize the ground for the
plants, that then feed the same animals, the farmer, his family and the
customers. On such a farm, no fertilizers or animal foods have to be bought
from third parties. However, such farm
practices are only possible on a small scale. There is a limit to the
number of acres a farmer can work just with his hands, the animals and small
machinery and without having to rely on heavy machines wasting a lot of
petrol/gas. Of course produce from small scale farming could still be
marketed in supermarkets. However, a decentralized system would be
required, allowing the marketing of produce from different farms under the same
soon as “mass production” enters the equation - even
if it is organic mass production, sustainable farming practices have to be
more or less compromised. A product sold in big supermarket chains is
almost per definition produced in masses. Supermarkets usually prefer
working with only one or two suppliers in order to keep the purchase price low
and the dependency of the farmer on them high. As a consequence, more animals need
to be held on less ground, increasing CO2 emissions (unless grazing is managed "holistically"). While still grazing
for some part of their lives, they are then finished on subsidized soy and corn
bought from a third party provider, to make them fatten quicker - at the cost
of meat quality. Since they don’t grass the same fields where crops are grown,
plant fertilizer has to be bought. The most yielding plants are chosen and
grown in big quantities (monocultures) – often in foreign countries where there
is more space and labor is cheaper. Monoculturing reduces biodiversity and
increases the risk of plant disease and thus harvest failure, so pesticides are
needed, to avoid plant disease. The soil is getting depleted from monoculturing
as well, increasing the need for fertilizers. The farm can no longer be run by
the farmer, the animals and small machines, but as many processes as possible
have to be taken over by big machines, using a lot of petrol. In organic mass
production, there are still some slight differences as opposed to conventional
mass production (e.g. the limited usage of antibiotics, somewhat less animals
per square meter...) but don't fool yourself - it is still a factory-like kind
If we support small, local farmers, we save biodiversity, local
production and integrated farming practices.
Even the organic and/or veggie sector will be owned by
multinational food industries
You might not
buy Coca Cola, Kellogg’s or Nestle, still you never know if eventually you end
up supporting them anyway, since those companies are also starting to embrace
the organic and/or veggie segments by launching new products and/or acquiring
companies. Did you know for example, that Alpro Soy is owned by Dean Food
– a big (conventional) dairy producer / processor? Or did you realize how many
“industry” foods you can find in the organic section of the supermarket or even
in the organic shop? It's the same colorful boxes of cereals, powder soups,
sweets and candy as in the “conventional” section - maybe without all the
chemical additives, but far from being a healthy, natural farm produce.
Once there are
no more small, local farmers (and their number has been declining year after
year since the beginning of the 19th century under the pressure of bigger and
bigger industry farms), there will only be industry left and there can be no
doubt that “organic” will then also be owned by them – it is already happening!
Unfortunately, industry usually means centralization, economies of scale and
cost cutting, all of which are usually not very sustainable as we saw above.
industry does not have to mean all that. It is possible to have good small
scale farm products in stores! For example, some organic
distributors commercialize demeter certified grains in a
decentralized system, meaning that the products are collected from different
farms and marketed under the same brand. Of course this kind of quality and distribution
system implies a higher price.
So if we still
want the convenience of the supermarkets / organic shops at every corner, but
at the same time have really sustainable products, we have to be willing to pay
for that. And I say "willing", because often the money is there, but
the priorities are more on the TV or iPhone side than on food. So we cannot
just blame “the industry”. They produce in the way they do because we – the
consumers – want food to be as cheap as possible, available 24/7/7. If we showed
them that we prefer buying at local, organic farms and/or higher quality
produce, the industry might find a way to support decentralized, local
production in small quantities.
If we support small, local farmers, we keep an alternative to
the industry and/or we might even make the industry change the way it functions.
Organic is not = organic
realistic: Supermarkets don’t sell you organic because they want you to be
healthier or to improve the quality of life of the animals or to save the planet.
They sell it to you, because it is a profitable, fast growing market segment.
Money can be made, so be assured that black sheep will try to cheat on you,
selling you something “organic” which might in reality not be what you had in
mind. This is why the EU had to regulate the market and define minimum quality
criteria. However, those criteria are not always black or white. There is a lot
of grey and some profit-orientated companies will stretch the law as much as
they can. You would be surprised what is still possible under the “organic”
umbrella! Often it is the same “factory-like” sort of production and not the
idealistic farm that you might then be presented in advertising.. Even if you
buy your food in an organic shop, you cannot always be sure what you get and
how this food has been grown.
On the other
hand, a local farmer will be happy to show you his farm and you can convince
yourself, that everything is done in the way that you want it to be. The farmer
does not even have to be certified organic then! Should there be any problem
with your food, you know who to turn to. You know the farmer, and he also knows
you. So for him, the customer is no longer an anonymous figure and his sense of
responsibility for your wellbeing increases.
If we support small, local farmers, we know our food!
Organic is not necessarily sustainable
from the supermarket or the organic shop does not necessarily have to be grown
locally nor does it necessarily respect seasonality. You can find tomatoes from
Israel, apples from Australia, strawberries from China etc. – all year round
and all organic. How friendly to the environment are bagged salad greens
shipped from New Zealand or tomatoes grown in the Mexican desert with a lot of
water? And even if the tomatoes come from the Netherlands, you still don’t know
if they have not been grown in a big greenhouse, wasting a lot of energy to
grow them at a time of year they would never grow naturally. Then you would
actually do better choosing the tomatoe from Italy, where it was at least grown
in the sun.
A small, local
farmer on the other hand, only grows what can be grown at this time of year. He
prefers “short circuit selling”, either via a shop on his farm, co-ops
(purchase groups of consumers) or on the markets. This has the additional
advantage for you, that your food will usually be fresher and thus contain more
nutrients and/or flavor.
I am not
suggesting to never ever buy imported products. In the end I also offer some in
my shop. They add to diversity in the end. However, most of our food should be
fresh, local and seasonal.
If we support small, local farmers, we reduce our CO2 footprint.
Organic or not – the current system provokes a lot of waste
supermarket system makes it necessary to always keep a sufficient stock of
everything. Furthermore, products have to fulfill certain criteria in order to
be accepted by the supermarket at all. A curvy cucumber will be rejected as
well as too big or too small potatoes. Between production, wholesale,
supermarket and consumer it is estimated that about 30-50% of all food produced
ends up in the garbage! Well in such a system we could not feed the world
organically – that is for sure!
A small, local
farmer on the other hand, will try to adjust his production to the demand and
sell as much of his produce as possible. Overproduction just for receiving more
subsidies is not on his agenda. In some cases he even has sold everything
beforehand (solidarity purchase systems or pre-ordering). Produce is not thrown
away because of a strange shape or size. Damaged produce might still be used to
make juice, marmalade, animal food etc. All in all, waste is much less and we
can feed more people with the same production quantity.
If we support small, local farmers, we help to reduce waste and
thus save resources.
Support of local economy and sense of community
bought only one day per week at small, local farmers, we would need many more
farmers again to meet that demand. In the beginning of the 19th century the
majority of the population was farmer, while nowadays it is about 2-12% of the
population. Buying local can thus have a very positive impact on local economy
and unemployment quotas.
bought only one day per week at small, local farmers, this might also foster a
new sense of community in a region.
your small, local farmer means supporting:
- Sustainable integrated farming
- Conservation of biodiversity
- Improved animal welfare
(industrially) unprocessed and thus healthier foods
and seasonal production and commercialization
- Waste reduction and resource saving
products (higher sense of responsibility of the producer towards his
of community in a region
- Local economy