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Organic, biodynamic, local?

Updated: Aug 18, 2021

Understanding the different types of farming and their effects on the environment should be part of everyone's decision making when choosing what foods to buy.

Words used to describe foods often become associated with a price tag - why is "organic" more expensive? To begin with the term organic didn't exist before the 1950's in terms of describing produce. From around 1942, the use of pesticides were introduced to mitigate crop damage caused by pests. Pests being anything from weeds and pathogens to arthropods or anything else that may interfere with the production of crops affecting quality and/or yield.

HRH The Prince of Wales, Soil Association Organic Food Awards

"Tradition involves respecting Nature's limits and accepting a number of restrictions in the name of sustainable husbandry. It also means actively promoting the health of crops and livestock, rather than merely just suppressing disease".

What does Organic mean today?

The term organic is the necessary accreditation stamped on food to communicate with the consumer that this produce has not been interfered with, in terms of genetic modification, synthetic fertilisers, chemical insecticide or pesticide usage. There are however, exceptions - while over 320 pesticides can be used as standard in non-organic farming, organic farmers are permitted to use 15 pesticides, derived from natural ingredients like citronella and clove oil.

Non-GMO crops must be grown on land that hasn’t been treated with synthetic chemicals, fertilisers, or pesticides for three full years before they can be considered organic, giving the soil time to regenerate - the cost increase in produce is then reflected by the time and money spent on legal certification.

In reality, organic food could just be called "food", whereas the products of intensive agriculture could be labelled "tampered with", however it's ability to entice consumers to the cheaper products would not nearly be so successful.

Certification price tag

Sadly for many farmers, the price tag to become an accredited organic farm is off putting and there may be farms that grow "organically" that is to say sustainably, without the use of chemical and with the natural environment in mind, without the ability to call their produce "certified organic". This is where communities do well to know their local farmers, we should take time to email them, visit their farms, ask questions and feel happy about the farming methods used before purchasing produce.

In reality, if more people buy organic the price tag will come down as it could once again become standard farming practice. Farming without the use of insecticides, pesticides and chemical enhancement not only supports the local ecosystem but nurtures and respects the land and it's inhabitants, preserving the environment for future generations. Indeed if we continue to degrade the soil at the rate we are now, the world could run out of topsoil in about 60 years, according to Maria-Helena Semedo of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization.

In terms of meat and dairy, organic doesn't always mean high well-fare nor does free-range mean that animals see the light of day, anyone who has seen "Land of Hope & Glory" will attest to that. If people choose to consume animal products, it's crucial that questions are asked and consumers shop from farms who's methods adhere to their own ethics and standards, instead of settling for cleverly marketed wording or the use of a tractor, high well-fare or RSPCA stamp on the packaging.

Biodynamic farming

Biodynamics embraces a holistic view of nature: by definition it is organic however biodiversity and astronomy are key factors. Produce is grown and harvested in accordance with lunar cycles. The concept came from a philosopher called Rudolf Steiner, who founded the theory in 1924 through a series of lectures, arguing that the most successful days for harvesting, planting and sowing should be according to whether the moon is in the ascendant (when a plant's sap rises) or descendant (when the vitality is in the roots). During an ascending moon, the upper plant is filled with vitality, which, in biodynamic terms, is the perfect time to harvest. For the other two weeks of the lunar cycle, it's open season on root vegetables.

Sebastian Parsons, Ethical entrepreneur and innovator

"Essentially, it's about working with nature, not against it, and making the most of the land with the minimum cost impact, it is a strategy for saving the world".

Farming standards and insect conservation

A study conducted by Scientists at the University of Sydney found that the total mass of insects is falling by 2.5% a year and that they could be extinct within a century. The report found 41% of all insect species in decline, the loss of these animals will trigger a 'catastrophic collapse' in the planet's ecosystems. Intensive agriculture was found to be 'the root cause of the problem', but other issues, such as climate change, urbanisation, habitat loss, disease and the introduction of invasive species were also contributing factors.

First Global Scientific Review, published February 2019

"Insects could become extinct within a century if their rapid rate of decline continues".

You are what you eat!

Whether you and your family choose to buy local, organic or biodynamic the important thing is to be knowledgable about where the food comes from, how it is farmed and that it actively promotes conserving the natural ecosystem as well as fitting with your own personal morals and standards.

Growing your own veg is undoubtedly the cheapest option which also promotes insect conservation as well as knowing that your food has not been modified or chemically enhanced in any way. If you don't have a garden or lack the space for a veg patch, there are local allotment sharing initiatives and community growing projects that can help get you started.

The price tag should not be important when it comes to how we sustain ourselves - spending money on quality, sustainably farmed food is more important in maintaining our planet's delicate ecosystems than spending money on less necessary consumables.

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