Insights by Goldie: Organic Change Makers’ manifesto

by Goldie Caughlan

This article was originally published in November 2006

Change Makers are individuals and organizations who, knowingly or not, bring about change by living the change they want.

It’s not our imagination; it’s real. A revolution concerning farming and food is sweeping through communities across the nation. That can cause discomfort and uncertainty, even as positive changes and attitudes are taking firm root. Change, after all, is an active and very organic process. The ongoing drama is a David vs. Goliath battle.

During the past three decades, organic and sustainable family farmers and ranchers were nurtured and supported by environmentally and health-conscious consumers. In turn, those growers became dedicated and efficient at producing and marketing high-quality organic foods, sometimes against all odds — especially as small, family-run operations.

Along the way, small, organic food companies, food co-ops, independent natural food retailers, farmers’ markets, chefs, nutritionists, physicians, environmentalists and, increasingly, enthusiastic agriculture scientists have added their collaborative support.

Organic has come out of the closet. There has been a tidal shift in the interest, awareness and attitudes among so-called mainstream consumers. Organic food is the strongest trend in U.S. agriculture in decades. It’s why supermarket chains such as Wal-Mart have scrambled to add organic food to their offering.

Some consumers and journalists, such as Michael Pollan (author of “Omnivore’s Dilemma”), are increasingly cautious, noting that the continued quality and integrity of authentic, organically grown foods are seriously threatened. It’s increasingly common for large organic companies to source organic ingredients from thousands of miles away, especially from China and South America.

Concerns include excessive energy used to ship organic products internationally when they could be produced domestically; lack of trust that foreign producers adhere to USDA organic and environmental product standards; and concern for workers’ rights and labor conditions in other countries. Concerns also are growing that cheap labor and prices for goods in foreign countries seriously weaken the economic future of sustainable and organic farmers in this country.

As more organic companies come under control of large industrial food corporations, it’s apparent that the product quality and business ethics of some organic producers must be more carefully monitored and scrutinized. These parent corporations have steeped for too long in an industrial model for extracting maximum short-term profits.

Perhaps as a consequence, consumer loyalties are shifting to more local and regional producers of quality food, even if the product sometimes is not certified organic. The consumer is deciding if the food is produced by a good steward of the land with no or low chemical inputs.

As more of us refuse to settle for the shoddy practices and inferior products of industrial food systems, we’ve shifted from being mere passive consumers. We’re part of a growing and active body of participants in the process. We’re becoming Change Makers, consciously acting on behalf of our own best interests and for the greater good.

To all producers — but especially the heavily corporate-controlled growers and manufacturers — we essentially issue a manifesto: Take notice. Our numbers and concerns are growing and we hold you accountable for your practices. We must be assured of your claims of sustainability, fair labor practices and organic integrity. We expect substance behind corporate branding and advertising.

Industrial agriculture and the industrial food manufacturing, packaging, processing and delivery systems for too long have treated the land, the farmers, the food and consumers with disrespect. We remind such producers that farmland, with farmers on the land —able to thrive and prosper — are a vital part of our lifestream. We reject the concept that food systems must be grossly inequitable and energy extractive, exploiting workers, the land and, ultimately, the health and well-being of all.

Not only is industrial and global agriculture heavily subsidized and chemically and energy dependent to maximize short-term gain, but also it’s increasingly a proponent of unsustainable genetically engineered crops, especially corn, soy, cotton and canola. Many more crops and varieties are in the biotech pipeline. Genetically engineered agriculture has demonstrated that it threatens the viability of sustainable and organic food production everywhere.

This is why we must become even more effective as Change Makers. After all, the most effective and powerful Change Makers are those who make a commitment not to compromise with what is just not right.

Also in this issue

Letters to the editor, November 2006

Notes from the Cellar, Big organic vs. local, Wild mushrooms, and more

News bites, November 2006

Superstores banned, Farmed salmon killing wild salmon, Wild salmon has more vitamin D, and more