Do you ever wonder that it all means? Our world is full of so much information that it's sometimes hard to keep it all straight.
For anyone who has read about or visited Canteen Destiny before, you will know that the organization is based off of a beautiful organic farm, called Our Father's Farm (www.ourfathersfarm.com). What you may not know, is how exactly an organic farm differs from any other old farm, or how organic food in the stores is different than non-organic food, or why it's more expensive, and why people buy it. If you are confident in your grasp on the answer to those question, you don't have to keep reading. If you're not, here's the sparknotes version.
You've probably heard a lot of different terms thrown around these day to do with farming and food, so let me give you a quick overview of the types of methods used in farming and what they are, then we'll get back to the whole organic thing. Here's a list of the most common, non-traditional forms of food production:
-Free range/pasture fed
-Integrated pest management
Now I'll just give you a quick little snippet about each, with the goal of being able to make informed choices about food when you see it labeled as having employed these various farming methods.
Permaculture: ("Permanent" + "culture") The idea behind permaculture is that we observe and mimic the natural way that things grow and produce yields. There are 3 ethical principles that guide permaculture design: 1) care of the earth, 2) care of people, and 3) fair share. There are also 12 design principles of permaculture that guide the development of a permaculture garden, though obviously the individual techniques will vary according to climate, the types of plants, etc. They are as follows (taken from www.permacultureprinciples.com):
1) Observe and interact
2) Catch and store energy
3) Obtain a yield
4) Apply self-regulation and accept feedback
5) Use and value renewable resources and services
6) Produce no waste
7) Design from patterns to details
8) Integrate, rather than segregate
9) Use small and slow solutions
10) Use and value diversity
11) Use edges and value the marginal
12) Creatively use and respond to change
Antibiotic Free: This is really a sub-class of other methods of farming. Organic, permaculture, free range--pretty much any alternative methods of farming stay away from the use of antibiotics and added hormones in meat, vegetables, and honey. Health Canada has set a level of antibiotics and hormones that can be present in foods that they consider to be healthy, but many believe there are also detrimental effects, which is why antibiotic free foods are exactly as they sound; grown without the addition of antibiotics or hormones. One of the biggest problems with antibiotics in food is that it can contribute to antibiotic resistance developing in humans. Likewise, hormones in food can cause an imbalance in the circulating hormones of the human eating it. Of course, in both cases, more research needs to be done to be truly conclusive one way or another. As a precaution, it is generally more healthy to avoid antibiotic and hormone infused foods. Also, if hormones and antibiotics are not used, it would generally be fairly safe to assume that it is a healthy, nutritious product that you are eating, since no antibiotics were used to ward off sickness (of course, it can be used preemptively, so maybe no animals were sick, but maybe they were--you never really know unless you're buying from natural, local sources) and no hormones sped the growth process, making them more natural and wholesome.
Free range/pasture fed: again, this one is pretty much what it sounds like and can be employed by many different types of farms. Rather than feeding animals corn, oats, grains, or any type of processed and probably genetically modified feeds, the animals are allowed to graze and eat whatever fresh weeds, grass, and other plants, insects, worms, and seeds are available to them. Many places have rules set in place for what free range looks like, which also leads to better treatment of animals, as they usually include a minimum space requirement per animal, field rotations specifications, and the amount of time they must spend outdoors. This means that they don't spend their whole life crammed into a barn or living in mounds of filth or with a nutritionally depleted food source.
Biodynamic: Biodynamic agriculture is very similar to organic farming in its use of natural fertilizers, composting, crop rotation etc. It differs in that it includes more esoteric concepts drawn from the work of Rudolf Steiner. Where it differs from organic agriculture is that it sometimes incorporates things such as astrological sowing, the use of herbal and mineral additives in ways that seem more mystical than agronomic, and a spiritual dimension of the relationship between man, earth, and animal and their vital life spirits, that is beyond a natural understanding. It's a holistic view including an ethical dimension.
Integrated pest management: Once again, as with free-range and antibiotic free, integrated pest management (IPM) is a method used within several different types of agriculture. It is basically a natural alternative to traditional pesticides for keeping away insects and other pests. It can take many forms, depending on the crop and the type of pest. The "integrated" component of the name nods towards it being a full system of managing crop disease and pest activity, rather than a simple application of a chemical at certain times of the year.
And back to organic...
When thinking about organic farming, usually people think of it as simply being the decision not to use chemical fertilizers, GMO's, growth hormones, etc. However it much more than that; it is an entire view and attitude toward the earth and how we treat it, and how we grow the food we need with the most nutrition and least harm possible. The Canadian Organic Standards include the following general principles (taken from the Government of Ontario):
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
Some other methods that organic farming employs are crop rotation and crop cover, preventative natural pest control, the use of manure and compost, recycling of nutrients and minerals, all of which also encourages balanced host/predator relationships. They do not use genetically modified organisms, and all fertilizers and other pest management products must be approved by the Permitted Substances List. Though some things are easier to grow in an organic manner than others, virtually all crops can be produced via organic farming.
Hopefully this has been a helpful foray into the world of organic agriculture! Keep an eye out for part II, which will cover about more about the economic impact of organic gardening, supply some more technical definitions, and look at why it is so important.
See you next time.