Chew on This: Organic Tops Chemical Ag

By Kathleen Logan Smith
Executive Director ; Missouri Coalition For The Environmen

In this column, we’ve been learning more about the U.S. Farm Bill, the package of legislation that impacts our food system- what is grown, how it’s grown, and how much it costs. The Farm Bill, or the Food Bill as it should be known, is reauthorized every five years or so by Congress. The next one will be written in 2012.

“The hallmark of a truly sustainable system is its ability to regenerate itself. When it comes to farming, the key to sustainable agriculture is healthy soil, since this is the foundation for present and future growth.”- Rodale Institute

Nations have risen and fallen on the health of their soil. For us to be prosperous and secure, our soil resource must be nurtured, defended, restored, and respected. For our food to pack health-giving nutrients, the soil must be healthy. And that means organic farming.

Last month, a report came out from the Rodale Institute for its 30 year trial of organic farming systems. Here are the highlights:

• Organic yields match conventional yields.

•Organic outperforms conventional in years of drought.

• Organic farming systems build rather than deplete soil organic matter, making it a more sustainable system.

• Organic farming uses 45% less energy and is more efficient.

• Conventional systems produce 40% more greenhouse gases.

• Organic farming systems are more profitable than conventional.

Bottom line: after a small dip in production during the first years of transition, nature does best. Good news! We can feed America without petrochemicals. Since the entities that control petroleum do not always embrace us, this is comforting.

You can see the whole report at http://www.rodaleinstitute.org/fst30years

That’s the good news. The other news is that Congressional Appropriations Committees have taken the axe to conservation programs in the Farm Bill while leaving much of the commodity payment programs unscathed. This on the heels of data showing the success of one such program, the Wetlands Reserve Program, which has helped preserve flood-storing, pollution filtering, wildlife-supporting wetlands. For Missouri, the path is clear: the conservation programs have had their amputation and some of the other titles should take the next cut.

And finally, Halloween is looming which prompts me to caution you about masks. A host of groups that sound like family farm organizations have mushroomed over the summer. Behind the images of Tuscan-looking fields and Wilbur the Pig, you’ll find industrial agriculture interests and mega PR firms. By all means do your research. Then join the advocates of a health-sustaining food and farm system (and understand they do not agree on everything): Food and Water Watch, Izaak Walton League, Environmental Working Group, Farm Aid, National Farmers Union, and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. In Missouri, the Missouri Organic Association, the Missouri Rural Crisis Center, and the Missouri Farmers Union lead the charge.

Above all, stay informed. Eat well. Eat local. Eat healthy.