When shopping for food we can use the acronym LOAF to help us cook and eat in a way that is kinder to our planet. This month, let’s look at the O which stands for ‘organic’.
Organic farming tries to work with nature rather than against it. It avoids the use of synthetic inputs, using natural methods, such as crop rotation, green manure, compost and biological pest control.
In the Genesis story Adam was created from the soil of the earth. We are earthly beings, dependent the biodiversity of the planet, including the millions of creatures that live in the soil.
Before the industrial revolution, farming followed organic principles. The serious side-effects of modern farming initiated Rudolf Steiner’s biodynamic agriculture in Europe in the 1920s, and then the organic movement in England in the 1940s through the work of Albert Howard and Eve Balfour.
Organic agriculture reduces soil erosion – this matters because we are loosing top soil ten times faster than we are replacing it – and produces fewer climate damaging emissions. In fact, well managed, no-till organic farming can absorb more greenhouse gases than it releases, one of the very few human activities that actually reduces climate-change. Local pollution of excess nutrients leaching into rivers and lakes is also much reduced with organic methods. Biodiversity is, not unsurprisingly, improved, with 30% more species inhabiting organic farms. Some of these species, especially the beneficial soil microbes and fungi will be important in ensuring good crop yields.
And if you care about the conditions that animals are kept in, organic farming is the best scheme for animal welfare.
In The Gift of Good Land, Wendell Berry says, “An organic farm, properly speaking, is not one that uses certain methods and substances and avoids others; it is a farm whose structure is formed in imitation of the structure of a natural system that has the integrity, the independence and the benign dependence of an organism”
But what about the cost? Organic produce does tend to cost more, doesn’t it? Is it worth the extra money? Only you can decide that. In our household we tend to buy organic milk, meat (the cost stops my husband eating too much of it!), dried basic food-stuffs and a fair amount of fruit and veg. And, if there is a conflict between the ‘L’ and the ‘O’ of the LOAF principles, we always go for the local, rather than for the organic option, which will also tend to be the cheaper.