Soil-based organic agriculture tackles the climate crisis, economic insecurity and health inequalities


(Beyond pesticides, March 4, 2020) California produces the most food of any US state – more than half of all domestic fruits and vegetables – but only 4% of its agriculture is organic. After releasing a report on the benefits of organic farming last year, the California Certified Organic Farmers Foundation (CCOF) continues to offer a “Roadmap to an Organic California” with a detailed policy report. The document offers a host of concrete strategies for California lawmakers to employ. Organic agriculture, the authors ably explain, can address three pressing issues in California: climate resilience, economic security, and health equity. Additionally, the report highlights the need to focus on biological integrity in order to sustain positive change away from toxic practices.

Climate resilience

The climate crisis is already affecting California; heat waves, droughts and devastating wildfires are occurring more frequently and more severely. Organic farming is often overlooked as politicians ponder solutions. The CCOF proposes that policy makers help address the climate crisis by supporting healthy soil and carbon sequestering practices that are federally mandated in organic agriculture.

In addition to building farm resilience, healthy soil secures part of the state’s water supply. Because it is porous and sponge-like, well-maintained soil stores water. In a dry climate like California, the fact that organic crops yield up to 40% more than chemically intensive ones in drought years underscores the importance of organic farming as the climate changes. Given this value, there is a clear need for increased research and technical assistance in organic practices.

With increasing financial hardship in agriculture and high property values ​​in California driving sales, the state must make governmental efforts to help conserve farmland. “One acre of urban land,” the report points out, “emits 70 times more greenhouse gases than one acre of agricultural land.”

How to realize the full potential of organic:

  • Integrating organic into California’s climate strategy.
  • Invest in popular water saving programs.
  • Invest in biological research and technical assistance.
  • Conserve California Farmland.

Economic Security

While California represents a huge economy, the state struggles with exceptionally high rates of poverty and food insecurity. “Lower-income people in California are more likely to live in polluted environments, lack access to healthy food, have poorer health outcomes, and have fewer job opportunities” , says the report. However, he maintains that “organic is an economic solution”.

A 2018 study in Renewable agriculture and food found that organic “hotspots” – areas where organic farming is clustered – are linked to poverty rates that are 1.6% lower than the average. Median household incomes in these hotspots are also higher, by $1,600. “Organic agriculture is a proven economic stimulus that strengthens communities,” the CCOF report states. The growing demand for organic products and the fact that 39% of organic farms have direct sales in their locality (compared to only 5.5% of conventional farms) means that more money is circulating and being reinvested in local economies. An improved local economy creates jobs and opportunities for growth. As such, the report notes, there is a particular need to invest in the rights of agricultural workers – a frontline community that has been impacted by recent immigration policy. Labor shortages have led to rotting crops in the fields as there are no workers to harvest them.

How to realize the full potential of organic:

  • Foster a strong organic market.
  • Invest in agricultural workers.
  • Integrate organic into economic development planning.
  • Help organic farmers comply with regulations and maintain their viability.

Health Equity

Low-income families and people of color do not have disproportionate access to healthy environments and healthy foods. In California, children’s exposure to environmental hazards has been estimated at 254 million per year. Nationally, the lack of investment in healthy foods costs $160 billion in healthcare expenditures. These negative health effects are inequitable and preventable.

Organic farming creates healthy, pesticide-free environments and more nutritious food than chemical-intensive farming. It prevents water contamination and does not poison farm workers or their children.

How to realize the full potential of organic:

  • Extend organic to all communities
  • Supporting children’s health with organic food and agriculture
  • Promoting organic foods as medicine

Organic integrity

The issue of biological integrity is fundamental to biological growth and the public health, environmental and agricultural benefits that will flow from its expansion and the transformation of traditional agriculture, now dependent on chemical inputs and genetically modified organism. It is this issue of organic integrity, and the specifics that drive consumer confidence in the USDA organic label, that advocates point to as a threat to the future of the organic solution to the climate crisis. The CCOF, by many accounts, was identified as the first certification body to certify hydroponics (production of plants above ground) as organic, and later confirmed by the National Organic Program. The CCOF, advocates say, was complicit because the USDA violated the extinction process established as a foundational standard in the National Organic Standards Board’s (NOSB) process for reviewing synthetic substances permitted in organic production. This process required that, over a five-year cycle, synthetics in bio undergo a re-listing process (requiring the same supermajority vote required to initially place a synthetic on the National List of Permitted Substances) that reviewed science on the adverse effects and essentiality of the material, in light of new production practices and new substances. While the report emphasizes how essential the integrity of the organic label is to the success of the organic movement and all it has to offer, it ignores this reality that undermines organic integrity, advocates say – missing the point. the importance of unifying the interests of family farmers, consumers and environmentalists. Nonetheless, the report suggests that lawmakers: 1) fund the National Organic Program (NOP) and enforce strict organic standards, 2) clarify organic standards regarding hydroponics and container-based systems, and 3) develop a document guidance to strengthen the soil fertility standard. (how to maintain or improve natural resources and soil health).

Beyond Pesticides is a strong advocate of organic expansion through organic integrity (see: Keeping Organic Strong) and opposes organic labeling of hydroponic production because it fails to incorporate the fundamental element of a biological production system: the soil. If organic farming is to be a solution to the climate crisis, carbon-sequestering soils are essential.

California has a chance to lead the nation in addressing the critical issues exposed by CCOF in this policy report. Beyond Pesticides supports advocates and groups leading this work on the West Coast. You can join our national and local initiatives by subscribing to our action of the week and our weekly update. To learn more about organic integrity, keep up to date with our new program, OrganicEye.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this article are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source: CCOF

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