The Ground War

We Live Amidst a Pitched Battle for the Future of the Earth’s Soil.  Everyone can be a force for reaching the Organic Tipping Point, winning back the land and living more healthfully by shopping organically.

To Arms, To Arms! This is not a rant, but it is a literal call to arms – in fact, to arms, hands, fingers, and mouths, because every time we select a grocery item from a produce bin, shelf or refrigerated case we are casting a vote, making a partisan choice in the global battle for the future of the planet’s soils and food supply. 

If you want to cast your vote for planet-healing, global warming-reducing, soil and water-conserving, non-toxic, healthful food choices, then consistently purchase/vote organic, regenerative, transitional (returning to organic) items.

Alternatively, you can mark your ballot – a.k.a shopping list, for what has become known as conventional produce, dairy, meats and processed foods. Unfortunately, the seemingly vanilla designation of conventional, is, in truth, a titanically crass deception. All too often crops, meats and packaged foods are mildly to heavily treated with unknown, suspect and known toxic chemicals. These get into and on our foods via industrially manufactured fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, fumigants and laboratory created GMO’s (genetically modified organisms). 

Just as “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.” (from the movie, The Usual Suspects), one of the greatest tricks the chemical industry ever pulled was getting the public to accept ‘conventional’ as the nom du plum for chemically treated crops produced by industrial-agricultural with all the human and environmental hazards this more accurate name implies.

It shouldn’t be a difficult choice. In fact, it seems like a no-brainer. The products of our so-called conventional agriculture are not only concerning for the health of people who consume them but are well documented as harmful to agricultural workers and disastrous for the health of the planet’s soils, waters and atmosphere a.k.a climate.

Yet, sales from all organic food production in the U.S.  now accounts for around  just 4.5% of all food sales  in 2020. That 4.5% is the result of a highly energized organic movement that’s been actively growing since the early 80’s, but also the frequently controversial participation of significant segments of corporate food America over the past 15 to 20 years.

The fact that this is so is a profound testimony, among other things, to the hold that the industrial agriculture sector, especially including chemical and petroleum companies, has on the American food economy including the federal U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the food and public health policy making process of most farming states as well.

But this cannot and must not persist. Just as the continued climate destruction of global warming is on a short-term collision course with the habitability of large swaths of the earth’s surface, the continuing practices of industrial agriculture are radically unsustainable in the same short-term framework. You may think shopping organic is too expensive, and it can  cost somewhat more than the products of industrial agriculture. However, in addition to providing often more flavorful and healthier ingredients, when you buy organically, you’re casting a vote with your dollars for a healthier planet.

The Organic Tipping Point

The over-arching objective of this writing is to help amplify the goal of reaching the Organic Tipping Point, that moment in time when the momentum, demand and public policy becomes so favorable for expansion of the United States (and global) organic food economy that its own momentum propels it forward to become the mainstream food economy, to the extraordinary benefit of a healthier humanity and planet.

What exactly is the Organic Tipping Point by percentage? Opinions of tipping point theorists range from 10 to 25% of the population. There are now two esteemed organizations advocating for the goal of 10% organics for California’s food economy by 2030; They are the: California Certified Organic Farmers Foundation, (ccof.org)  the foundation arm of California’s first organic certifier, and the Environmental Working Group’s Organic California project www.ewg.org/organiccalifornia/. While the seat of my pants would like me to believe we can and will get further faster, let’s adopt this still ambitious goal for our tipping point threshold?

The Entrenched Industrial Food Economy. It’s certainly true that there are rather formidable barriers to reaching this objective including the vast and relentless resources of the industrial food economy, the need for fully informing the general public of the personal health and environmental implications of their shopping choices, the obsolete and industrial-agriculture-entrenched policies and personnel of the USDA that govern U.S. agricultural policy including the National Organic Program. Additionally, there are divisions within the organic sector itself about what practices, processes and regulations constitute authentic organic production.

The dire nature of the persistent destructiveness of industrial agriculture was eloquently summarized by Scientist and ‘Deep Ecology’ thought leader Fritzjof Capra in a scathing paragraph from an essay he wrote for the Center for Ecoliteracy, Feb. 2015: “In recent years, the disastrous effects of climate change have revealed another set of severe limitations of industrial agriculture. [The global chemical-industrial revolution (the so-called Green Revolution)] was  launched in the 60’s under the assumptions that abundant water and cheap energy from fossil fuels would always be available, and that the climate would be stable. None of these assumptions are valid today. The key ingredients of industrial agriculture — agrochemicals, as well as fuel-based mechanization and irrigation — are derived entirely from dwindling and ever more expensive fossil fuels; water tables are falling; and increasingly frequent and violent climate catastrophes wreak havoc with the genetically homogeneous monocultures that now cover 80 percent of global arable land. Moreover, the practices of industrial agriculture contribute about 25 to 30 percent to global greenhouse gas emissions, further accelerating climate change.”  (from: Industrial Agriculture, Agroecology, and Climate Change, bracketed text is my insertion for brevity sake).

The Emergent Organic Food Economy. However, the organic food economy has powerful forces working on its behalf as well. Foremost among these are ever increasing consumer environmental awareness and demand for organics and resistance to GMO crops along with the urgent global necessity to abate the negative planetary impacts of industrial agriculture. 

An additional emergent force for reaching the Organic Tipping Point is the dramatic rise over the past half-decade or so of citizen activism the likes of which had not been seen since the 60’s and 70’s of the last century. It has manifested in all kinds of civil, environmental, electoral initiatives as well as grass roots mobilizations. Some key instances include the mid-decade Native American led resistance to the Keystone Oil pipeline, the massive Women’s March on Washington in 2017 marking the beginning of the resistance to the Donald Trump presidency, the historically consequential mid-term election wins restoring control of the of the House of Representatives for the Democratic Party, and, of course, the widespread civil uprising, a tipping point in the movement for racial justice and equality, sparked by the murder of George Floyd in May of 2020.

It seems like the movement to preserve and regenerate the health of the planet’s soils, waters and climate will become ever more fertile ground for activism as the climate crisis deepens, consumer awareness expands, and the global economic crises  of food insecurity and injustice deepens. There seems tremendous potential for effectively organizing and mobilizing at the intersection of expanding sustainable food production with the outspoken demand for food justice and food security.

Fritzjof Capra concludes his essay, “In recent years, the Rodale Institute in Pennsylvania, Miguel Altieri’s SOCLA in Latin America, and similar organizations around the world have trained thousands of farmers, proving that the shift from industrial agriculture to agroecological practices is not only urgently needed, but is also practical and can be achieved without new technologies or expensive investments. What we need now (in order) to scale up these practices from thousands of successful local and regional projects to the global level is political will and leadership.”

May the strong currents of people-powered activism ignite our will to lead many initiatives committed to health and justice-positive public policy campaigns including the movement toward the tipping point of mainstreaming the organic/regenerative food economy. Everyone can find a contribution to make and one of those can be voting with your grocery dollars.

I hope you will join me and offer feedback and resources of your own as I explore the pertinent issues, policy initiatives and effective actions for accelerating the movement toward the Organic Tipping Point. 

Next time in The Ground War.

We’ll begin to look at the lay of the actual and political organic/regenerative landscape. This will encompass beginning to examine the controversy within the organic movement about organic authenticity, organic certification co-optation, the dubious role of the USDA and the Organic Trade Association, and the significance of the emergent Regenerative Agriculture.

Have a nice organic day.

Russell Bass, August 1, 2020

flavorscc@gmail.com.

Resources:

This is the first of an intended series exploring the organic/regenerative farming movement and the larger food economy with its many challenges and hopeful developments. Here are some valuable resources that I’ve found to be impactful for understanding the crisis and taking positive actions. 

Symphony of the Soil. This film is an exhilarating (although disturbing at points) journey, first, through the origins of the phenomena of soil and the extraordinary and vast web of microbiol life that drives the engine of soil creation. 

Producer and Director Deborah Koons Garcia follows this powerful first act by tracing the story of agriculture into the modern era, how we finally got to the crisis in which we find ourselves today and some sterling examples pointing the way forward. Beautifully filmed on five continents, and enhanced with beguiling animation, the movie shines a powerful light on the good, bad and ugly of the agrarian state of our planet and concludes with some great real-time vignettes of the organic future that awaits. An engaging cast of farmers, scientists and thought leaders provide notable and inspirational perspectives.

The visual magic of cinema vivifies our agrarian plight and also our potential to transcend in a memorably impactful way. This film influenced me to fully adopt organic sourcing in my personal diet and for my catering business, Flavors (flavorscc.com). It also moved me to act to advocate for the advance of organic agriculture economy and to champion organic foods in public health and farm policy.

Rent or buy Symphony of the Soil on Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/ondemand/symphonyofthesoil, or contact Lily Films directly at: info@lilyfilms.com; Lily Films, P.O. Box 895, Mill Valley, CA 94942 USA.

Top Google Search Listings: Negative impacts of industrial farming on the soil and water in the U.S.

https://foodprint.org/issues/how-industrial-agriculture-affects-our-water/

This page is a resource rich guide https://foodprint.org/eating-sustainably/

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The Center for  Eco-Literacy. In 1995 Fritzjof Capra co-founded this enduring non-profit with the mission of creating curriculum in environmental and ecological education and establishing healthy meal programs for future generations of students throughout the nation: 

www.ecoliteracy.org

Environmental Working Group (EWG.org): 

You can sign up here to support the Organic California Campaign: https://www.ewg.org/organiccalifornia/. This website tab also contains a map locating every one of the 4185 California organic food operations. It also reprises much of the consumer information detailed below.

EWG Guides to Pesticides in Produce. Since it was founded by Ken Cook and team in 1992, the Environmental Working Group (www.ewg.org) has assembled a small army of scientists, policy advocates and media/communications professionals in support of their motto, Know your Environment. Protect your Health.

Their extensive web platform identifies 10 areas of information and advocacy focus, including food and consumer products, farming, toxics, children’s health, and energy. Perhaps EWG is best known for their annual list of the most and least fearful of non-organic crops: Their Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 lists. Check them out here: www.ewg.org/foodnews/dirty-dozen.php; https://www.ewg.org/foodnews/clean-fifteen.php. Unfortunately, there’s now also the Dirty Dozen Plus.

www.ewg.org/foodnews/five-lesser-known-foods-high-in-pesticides.php

This report also includes a very concerning pesticide alert for my fellow chilenistas: www.ewg.org/foodnews/summary.php#dirty-dozen-plus

Don’t buy non-organic strawberries: www.ewg.org/foodnews/strawberries.php.

Finally, this stunning revelation from EWG’s Report  “Also, important to note is that the USDA does not test for all pesticides used in crop production. Notably, it does not analyze glyphosate, or Roundup, the most heavily used pesticide in the U.S. [should we really be shocked? ], but high levels can be found in several [non-organic]grains and beans, such as oats and chickpeas, due to its increasing use as a pre-harvest drying agent.” I suggest reading the full report. www.ewg.org/foodnews/summary.php.

Finally, in closing: there are many currently popular diets with highly devoted followings: vegan, keto, vegetarian, Mediterranean et al. All are welcome here in the diversity-positive People’s Republic of Dietary Proclivities. However, I do believe strongly that no specific diet is more important than sourcing as close to 100% organically as is feasible for one’s situation. 

Every year around Earth Day, voluminous lists are published on how individuals can take actions to help save the planet. Committing to shopping organically more rigorously is one of the most effective actions people can take with little if any extra effort and perhaps surprisingly little additional expense. Every dollar invested on organic groceries constitutes an effective tactical action in the Ground War for a healthier planet. 

Vote with your dollars!