Organic vs. “organic”

Beth, a member of the Sparta CSA group, sent me an e-mail today with a link to a pretty disturbing story. The Washington Post details, at great length, how the surging demand for organic food in America has been accompanied by a weakening of federal standards over the use of the “organic” label.

The result? Synthetic additives in 90% of all organic baby formula, additives that the U.S. Department of Agriculture had decided just three years ago violated federal standards. Or how about wood starch in grated organic cheese? Yum.  Want more? Dean Foods, the largest organic food brand in the U.S. and the business behind Horizon organic milk, is undercutting its own brand with a new line of “natural” products.

Beth said in the note that she hopes USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack and Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan will get things under control. I hope so too. But while we wait for Washington to act, there is something that every consumer can do: Get to know a certified organic farm and its farmer, and become an active participant in the integrity of your organic food by joining a CSA.

To those of you who already have, my thanks.


USDA to survey organic farms

The 2007 Census of Agriculture revealed that there are more than 20,000 organic farms now in the U.S. So it’s perhaps not surprising that the U.S. Department of Agriculture is about to conduct a big survey of organic production. It might surprise you, however, to learn that this is the first time that the USDA has ever taken such a look at organic farming. It almost makes me nervous to see what the agriculture giants are going to do with the information.

Better late than never, I guess.

Low-Carbon Eating

Seventh Generation, the green cleaning company, has an interesting item in its latest newsletter about food and carbon footprints. It says that what a typical American household eats generates about eight metric tons of greenhouse gases per year. Put in auto terms: About twice the emissions of a car getting 25 mpg and driven 1,000 miles a month. 

I thought I knew the rest of the story, that these high emissions were all due to the distance that most food travels to our plates. But no. According to Seventh Generation, research from Carnegie Mellon has found that the biggest culprit is the food itself: 83% of food’s greenhouse gas emissions are due to what it is and how it is produced, versus just 11% for transportation.

One solution is remembering what your mom used to say at meal time: Eat your vegetables. Raising beef (the supermarket kind, not the beef from pastured cows like Upper Meadows’) generates 30% of our food-related greenhouse gas emissions. The newsletter says that going vegetarian just one day a week would be like cutting 1,160 miles off your car’s yearly mileage. Another solution is to buy organic. The soil on organic farms like Upper Meadows can absorb and sequester more carbon than the chemical-doused dirt on so-called conventional farms.

Bonnie & Len re-glazing the potting house

Bonnie & Len re-glazing the potting house

The newsletter says that, according to some estimates, if the U.S. grew all its corn and soybeans organically it would cut 580 billion pounds of carbon from the atmosphere. Leonard and Bonnie are re-glazing the potting greenhouse and will begin planting your local fresh vegetables this week!  Now is a great time to join our CSA!


The newsletter has some additional tips and links to calculators that help you learn more about low-carbon eating.