Don’t panic, it’s organic

FOOD FOR THOUGHT - Chit U. Juan - The Philippine Star

I was at a congress in Berlin recently to celebrate the anniversary of Naturland, the biggest association of organic farmers – from 60 countries and numbering a few hundred thousands, among millions around the world. For the last 40 years, these groups of farmers have been advocating organic farming practices and avoiding other threats to a biodiverse world.

Multiple crops are encouraged for biodiversity. It has been proven scientifically that crops need to be rotated and a variety of crops planted in soil for best results. It’s a big no for monocropping – something our politicians still recommend for scale.

No water? Then we must grow sturdy varieties. There has been drought in Europe and even in our part of the world, while there are floods elsewhere where there was too much rain. Definitely, the world is in flux and the climates have changed.

No pesticides or chemicals. It is a challenge to teach farmers to not use these chemicals if consumers want perfect-looking vegetables. So if you want cleaner food, you need to accept natural-growing produce, which may have insect holes, etc.

Taste the sweetness. I challenge you to buy some organic pechay or lettuce and another kind, which is from a conventional or commercial farm. Blindfold yourself and taste the difference.

But as I always say: “Even my dog knows organic!” And “when the student is ready, the teacher will come.” I say these two statements because it is difficult to preach about organic agriculture when you  face business people who compute productivity using scale. All in the name of food security. To these people nothing is possible without scale. And that is why the world is so slow in converting to what Nature wanted us to do: practice organic agriculture. Even in a modern country like Germany, the organic farmers are still a minority, because most of society still looks just at the business side and not the biodiversity side. So how will we make people change their minds about the food they eat?

Most will change to organic sources when sickness hits home. Then the patient becomes more careful about what he or she eats. Then they start to check traceability or where their food comes from. But sometimes it is a little too late.

Most will change to organic sources when they remember how food used to taste. Try to remember the sweetness of tree-ripened fruits, including tomatoes and apples. Is it not sad that tomatoes are picked green and they become red along the way because transport takes so long? Compare that with a tomato you pick when red ripe. But who bothers to compare? We just eat mindlessly because we are too busy making money to buy expensive food, which may not even be organic.

People think hydroponic is organic. It is not, but some believe it is cleaner and safer than soil-grown vegetables whose water source is unknown. Organic uses soil as medium, not a sterile solution that hydroponic uses. It’s your choice of medium, and taste. Each to his or her own taste.

So why should we espouse organic agriculture? Besides doing it for personal health reasons we should be doing it for the planet. It’s a lofty or noble reason, but doing good to yourself becomes doing good for the planet as well. So why not?

If you love food like I do, do it for the sheer pleasure of tasting good food. We all have a right to enjoy good-tasting food. As Slow Food says: Good, Clean and Fair. And organic agriculture does give us all these qualities. Many farmers do not taste their produce, so they just scale up and sell. The smarter ones have a separate plot which they grow organically and without any pesticides or chemicals. They save that for their own consumption. That is smart agriculture. Sell to the uncaring ones who want scale and cheap prices. Save the best for yourself.

Now, let’s also include meat sources from chickens and turkeys, pigs and cows. Do you know where your meat comes from? Why do we like grass-fed beef and pork? Why do we like organic eggs and organic chicken meat, even if it is tougher than mass-produced ones? And when it comes to fish, you  must choose sustainable salt water fish and avoid fishpond-grown fresh water fish and fed with feeds.

The busy executive or career woman sometimes does not have the time to analyze food sources. So we feed children all the sugar and carbohydrates seen on television or social media. But what do we need to do three times a day? It’s the eating with pleasure that we have forgotten because we now eat to survive and have forgotten the pleasures of good-tasting food. How will food taste good? When it is natural and organic.

Is organic expensive? Expensive is relative. Sometimes people buy expensive cars, watches and clothes but eat oh so poorly. People pay for parking in a mall but won’t spend more for a kilo of good food. Even in a big country like Germany, they have people so engrossed in achieving big dreams like a big house and expensive cars, but eat poorly. This is why Naturland carries on its mission to make organic more mainstream. To help not only organic farmers, but to cater to today’s eco-conscious young consumers who think about ethically-sourced, clean food. Carry on so the new generations may just shift slowly to organic ways, sooner than later.

Here in the Philippines, we are organic by default because of poverty. But we need to know how to watch out for each other so that organic farmers can thrive to keep feeding us clean and good food. That is a topic for another column: Participatory Guarantee System or PGS.

Read more about where food comes from. Don’t panic, it may be organic!

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