Tipping the scale in organic agriculture

Larger scale retailers and manufacturers moving into the organic sphere justifiably raises concern among smaller producers. But if we want organic to spread to the masses, big may be the only way.

“Scale” has long been a topic of debate within the organic food movement.
After all, small farmers pioneered organic. Farmers’ markets, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) operations, and other direct marketing links emerged as ways for those growers to bring their products to the marketplace.

It’s easy to understand the skepticism, then, that some people feel as larger commercial farm operations and food manufacturers entered the organic arena. Some critics contend that larger farms simply cannot be compatible with organic principles. The criticism is intensifying as large retailers now make a bolder move into the organic arena.
One critic even suggests that farmers’ markets and CSAs are the only viable venues for “real” organic food.

I love farmers’ markets. Four years ago, I joined with a group of community volunteers to organize a farmers’ market in Broomfield, Colorado. Each Tuesday afternoon this summer, roughly 1,000 area residents will stop by our market to purchase fresh, locally grown produce, meat and prepared food. They’ll grab a bite to eat from one of the mobile food trucks, and linger to listen to live entertainment.
Then, many of them head off to the supermarket to buy the rest of their week’s groceries. That’s not a bad thing. It’s reality.

Even the most dedicated patrons of farmers’ markets will continue to purchase a majority of their food in traditional brick and mortar stores. If we really want more people to have access to healthy, organic food, we should celebrate the commitment of those retailers to begin stocking organic products at prices within reach of their customers.

Organic isn’t about scale, it’s about adhering to the principles of producing food without synthetic chemicals and in a manner that sustains the land and water used to grow that food. As retailers put more organic food on their shelves, the incentives for commercial-sized farms to master organic principles, and to convert to organic production, will only increase.

And, if you happen to be in the Broomfield area some Tuesday afternoon this summer, stop on by and join me at the farmers’ market.

TAGS: Regulatory
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