Tuesday, December 31, 2013




































by  Michael  Pollan

Get over it, Gene Kahn would say. The important thing, the real value of putting organic on an industrial scale, is the sheer amount of acreage it puts under organic management. Behind every organic TV dinner or chicken or carton of industrial organic milk stands a certain quantity of land that will no longer be doused with chemicals, an undeniable gain for the environment and the public health. I could see his point. So I decided to travel around California to see these farms for myself. Why California? Because the state's industrial agriculture grows most of America's produce, and organic has in large part become a subset, or brand, of that agriculture.

No farms I had ever visited before prepared me for the industrial organic farms I saw in California. When I think about organic farming, I think family farm, I think small scale, I think hedgerows and compost piles and battered pickups—the old agrarian idea (which in fact has never had much purchase in California). I don't think migrant labor crews, combines the size of houses, mobile lettuce-packing factories marching across fields of romaine, twenty-thousand-broiler-chicken houses, or hundreds of acres of corn or broccoli or lettuce reaching clear to the horizon. To the eye, these farms look exactly like any other industrial farm in California—and in fact some of the biggest organic operations in the state are owned and operated by conventional mega-farms. The same farmer who is applying toxic fumigants to sterilize the soil in one field is in the next field applying compost to nurture the soil's natural fertility.
Is there anything wrong with this picture? I'm not sure, frankly. Gene Kahn makes the case that the scale of a farm has no bearing on its fidelity to organic principles, and that unless organic "scales up [it will] never be anything more than yuppie food." To prove his point Kahn sent me to visit several of the large-scale farms that supply Small Planet Foods. These included Greenways, the Central Valley operation that grows vegetables for his frozen dinners (and tomatoes for Muir Glen), and Petaluma Poultry, which grows the chicken in his frozen dinner as well as Rosie, the organic chicken I made the acquaintance of in Whole Foods. I also paid a visit to the Salinas Valley, where Earthbound Farm, the largest organic grower in the world, has most of its lettuce fields.

My first stop was Greenways Organic, a successful two-thousand-acre organic produce operation tucked into a twenty-four-thousand-acre conventional farm in the Central Valley outside Fresno; the crops, the machines, the crews, the rotations, and the fields were virtually indistinguishable, and yet two different kinds of industrial agriculture are being practiced here side by side.

In many respects the same factory model is at work in both fields, but for every chemical input used in the farm's conventional fields, a more benign organic input has been substituted in the organic ones. So in place of petrochemical fertilizers, Greenways' organic acres are nourished by compost made by the ton at a horse farm nearby, and by poultry manure. Instead of toxic pesticides, insects are controlled by spraying-approved organic agents (most of them derived from plants) such as rotenone, pyrethrum, and nicotine sulfate, and by introducing beneficial insects like lacewings. Inputs and outputs: a much greener machine, but a machine nevertheless.
Perhaps the greatest challenge to farming organically on an industrial scale is controlling weeds without the use of chemical herbicides. Greenways tackles its weeds with frequent and carefully timed tilling. Even before the crops are planted, the fields are irrigated to germinate the weed seeds present in the soil; a tractor then tills the field to kill them, the first of several passes it will make over the course of the growing season. When the crops stand too high to drive a tractor over, farm workers wielding propane torches will spot kill the biggest weeds by hand. The result is fields that look just as clean as the most herbicide-soaked farmland. But this approach, which I discovered is typical of large-scale organic operations, represents a compromise at best. The heavy tillage—heavier than in a conventional field—destroys the tilth of the soil and reduces its biological activity as surely as chemicals would; frequent tilling also releases so much nitrogen into the air that these weed-free organic fields require a lot more nitrogen fertilizer than they otherwise might. In a less disturbed, healthier soil, nitrogen-fixing bacteria would create much of the fertility that industrial organic growers must add in the form of compost, manures, or fish emulsion— all inputs permitted under federal rules. Not surprisingly the manufacturers of these inputs lobbied hard to shape the federal organic rules; in the end it proved easier to agree on a simple list of approved and prohibited materials rather than to try to legislate a genuinely more ecological model of farming.

Yet the best organic farmers deplore this sort of input substitution as a fall from the organic ideal, which envisions farms that provide for as much of their own fertility as possible, and control pests by means of crop diversification and rotation. It is too simple to say that smaller organic farms automatically hew closer to the organic ideals set forth by Albert Howard: Many small organic farms practice input substitution as well. The organic ideal is so exacting—a sustainable system modeled on nature that requires not only no synthetic chemicals but also no purchased inputs of any kind, and that returns as much to the soil as it removes—that it is mostly honored in the breach. Still, standing in a 160-acre block of organic broccoli in the Central Valley makes you appreciate why the farmers who come closest to achieving this ideal tend to be smaller in scale. These are the farmers who can plant literally dozens of different crops in fields that resemble quilts and practice long and elaborate rotations, thereby achieving the rich biodiversity in space and time that is the key to making a farm sustainable in something of the way a natural ecosystem is.

For better or worse, these are not the kinds of farms a big company like Small Planet Foods, or Whole Foods, does business with today. It's simply more cost-efficient to buy from one thousand-acre farm than ten hundred-acre farms. That's not because those big farms are necessarily any more productive, however. In fact, study after study has demonstrated that, measured in terms of the amount of food produced per acre, small farms are actually more productive than big farms; it is the higher transaction costs involved that makes dealing with them impractical for a company like Kahn's—that and the fact that they don't grow tremendous quantities of any one thing. As soon as your business involves stocking the frozen food case or produce section at a national chain, whether it be Wal-Mart or Whole Foods, the sheer quantities of organic produce you need makes it imperative to buy from farms operating on the same industrial scale you are. Everything's connected. The industrial values of specialization, economies of scale, and mechanization wind up crowding out ecological values such as diversity, complexity, and symbiosis. Or, to frame the matter in less abstract terms, as one of Kahn's employees did for trie, "The combine just can't make the turn in a five-acre corn field"—and Small Planet Foods now consumes combine quantities of organic corn.
The big question is whether the logic of an industrial food chain      can be reconciled to the logic of the natural systems on which organic agriculture has tried to model itself. Put another way, is industrial organic ultimately a contradiction in terms?
Kahn is convinced it is not, but others both inside and outside his company see an inescapable tension. Sarah Huntington is one of Casca-dian Farm's oldest employees. She worked alongside Kahn on the original farm and at one time or another has held just about every job in the company. "The maw of that processing beast eats ten acres of cornfield in an hour," she told me. "And you're locked into planting a particular variety like Jubilee that ripens all at once and holds up in processing. So you see how the system is constantly pushing you back toward monoculture, which is anathema in organic. But that's the challenge—to change the system more than it changes you."
One of the most striking ways companies like Small Planet Foods is changing the system is by helping conventional farms convert a portion of their acreage to organic. Several thousand acres of American farmland are now organic as a result of the company's efforts, which go well beyond offering contracts to providing instruction and even management. Kahn has helped to prove to the skeptical that organic farming— dismissed as "hippie farming" only a few short years ago—can work on a large scale. The environmental benefits of this process cannot be overestimated. And yet the industrialization of organic comes at a price. The most obvious is consolidation down on the farm: Today two giant growers sell most of the fresh organic produce from California.
One of them is Earthbound Farm, a company that arguably represents industrial organic farming at its best. If Cascadian Farm is a first-generation organic farm, Earthbound is second generation. It was started in the early eighties by Drew and Myra Goodman, two entirely improbable farmers who came to the land from the city with exactly no farming experience. The two had grown up within a few blocks of each other on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, where they attended the same progressive private high school. They didn't get together until after both had gone off to college in California, Drew to Santa Cruz, Myra to Berkeley. While living near Carmel, killing time before heading to graduate school, Drew and Myra started a roadside organic farm on a few rented acres, growing raspberries and the sort of baby greens that chefs were making trendy in the eighties. Every Sunday Myra would wash and bag a bunch of lettuce for their own use, a salad for each night of the week. They discovered that the whole-leaf lettuces held up remarkably well right through to dinner the following Saturday.

One day in 1986 the Goodmans learned that the Carmel chef who bought the bulk of their lettuce crop had moved on, and that his replacement wanted to use his own supplier. Suddenly they were faced with a field of baby greens to get rid of, greens that wouldn't stay baby for very long. So they decided to wash and bag them, and try to sell a prewashed salad mix at retail. Produce managers greeted the novel product with skepticism, so the Goodmans offered to take back any unsold bags at "the end of the week. None of them was returned. The "spring mix" business had been born.

So at least goes the Earthbound creation story, as recounted to me by Myra Goodman, now a tanned, leggy, and loquacious forty-two-year-old, over lunch at the company's roadside stand in the Carmel Valley. Like Cascadian Farm, Earthbound still maintains a showplace farm and roadside stand, a tangible reminder of its roots. Unlike Cascadian, however, Earthbound is still very much in the farming business, though most of its production land is an hour northeast of Carmel, in the Salinas Valley. Opening onto the Pacific near Monterey, the fertile, sea breeze—conditioned valley offers ideal conditions for growing lettuces nine months of the year. In winter, the company picks up and moves its operation, and many of its employees, south to Yuma, Arizona.
The prewashed salad business became one of the great success stories in American agriculture during the eighties and nineties, a time when there wasn't much to celebrate, and the Goodmans are direcdy responsible for much of that success. They helped dethrone iceberg, which used to dominate the valley, by introducing dozens of different salad mixes and innovating the way lettuces were grown, harvested, cleaned, and packed. Myra's father is an engineer and inveterate tin-kerer, and while the business was still headquartered in their Carmel Valley living room, he designed gentle-cycle washing machines for lettuce; later the company introduced one of the first customized baby lettuce harvesters, and helped pioneer the packing of greens in specially formulated plastic bags pumped with inert gases to extend shelf life.
Earthbound Farm's growth exploded after Costco placed an order in 1993. "Costco wanted our prewashed spring mix, but they didn't want organic," Myra told me. "To them, organic sent the wrong message: high price and low quality." At the time, organic was still recovering from the boom and bust following the Alar episode. But the Goodmans were committed to organic farming practices, so they decided to sell Costco their organically grown lettuce without calling it that.

"Costco was moving two thousand cases a week to start," Myra said, "and the order kept increasing." Wal-Mart, Lucky's, and Albertson's soon followed. The Goodmans quickly learned that in order to feed the maw of this industrial beast, Earthbound would have to industrialize itself. Their days of washing lettuce in the living room and selling at the Monterey farmer's market were over. "We didn't know how to farm on that scale," Drew told me, "and we needed a lot more land—fast." So the Goodmans entered into partnership with two of the most established conventional growers in the Salinas Valley, first Mission Ranches in 1995, and thenTanimura & Antle in 1999.These growers (no one in the valley calls himself a farmer) controlled some of the best land in the valley; they also knew how to grow, harvest, pack, and distribute tremendous quantities of produce. What they didn't know was organic production; in fact, Mission Ranches had tried it once and failed.

Through these partnerships, the Goodmans have helped convert several thousand acres of prime Salinas Valley land to organic; if you include all the farmland growing produce for Earthbound—which has expanded beyond greens to a full line of fruits and vegetables—the company represents a total of 25,000 organic acres. (This includes the acreage of the 135 farms that grow under contract to Earthbound.) The Goodmans estimate that taking all that land out of conventional production has eliminated some 270,000 pounds of pesticide and 8 million pounds of petrochemical fertilizer that would otherwise have been applied, a boon to both the environment and the people who work in those fields. Earthbound also uses biodiesel fuel in its tractors. I expected a field of spring mix to look a lot like the stuff in the bag: a dozen varieties tossed together in happy profusion. But it turns out the mixing comes later. Each variety, which has its own slightly different cultural requirements and life span, is grown in a monoculture of several acres each, which has the effect of turning this part of the valley into a mosaic of giant color blocks: dark green, burgundy, pale green, blue green. As you get closer you see that the blocks are divided into a series of eighty-inch-wide raised beds thickly planted with a single variety. Each weed-free strip is as smooth and flat as a tabletop, leveled with a laser so that the custom-built harvester can snip each leaf at precisely the same point. Earthbound's tabletop fields exemplify one of the most powerful industrial ideas: the tremendous gains in efficiency to be had when you can conform the irregularity of nature to the precision and control of a machine.

Apart from the much higher level of precision—time as well as space are scrupulously managed on this farm—the organic practices at Earthbound resemble those I saw at Greenways farm. Frequent tilling is used to control weeds, though crews of migrant workers, their heads wrapped in brightly colored cloths against the hot sun, do a last pass through each block before harvest, pulling weeds by hand. To provide fertility—the farm's biggest expense—compost is trucked in; some crops also receive fish emulsion along with their water and a side dressing of pelleted chicken manure. Over the winter a cover crop of legumes is planted to build up nitrogen in the soil.

To control pests, every six or seven strips of lettuce is punctuated with a strip of flowers: sweet alyssum, which attracts the lacewings and syrphid flies that eat the aphids that can molest lettuces. Aside from some insecticidal soap to control insects in the cruciferous crops, pesticides are seldom sprayed. "We prefer to practice resistance and avoidance," Drew Goodman explained. Or, as their farm manager put it, "You have to give up the macho idea that you can grow anything you want anywhere you want to." So they closely track insect or disease outbreaks in their many fields and keep vulnerable crops at a safe distance; they also search out varieties with a strong natural resistance. Occasionally they'll lose a block to a pest, but as a rule growing baby greens is less risky since, by definition, the crop stays in the ground for so short a period of time—usually thirty days or so. Indeed, baby lettuce is one crop that may well be easier to grow organically than conventionally: Harsh chemicals can scorch young leaves, and nitrogen fertilizers render lettuces more vulnerable to insects. It seems the bugs are attracted to the free nitrogen in their leaves, and because of the more rapid growth of chemically nourished plants, insects find their leaves easier to pierce.

From the moment an organic lettuce plant is ready for harvest, the rest of its journey from field to produce aisle follows a swift and often ingenious industrial logic that is only nominally organic. "The only way we can sell organic produce at a reasonable price is by moving it into a conventional supply chain the moment it's picked," Drew Goodman explained. There is nothing particularly sustainable about that chain: It relies on the same crews of contract workers who pick produce throughout the valley on a per piece basis, and on the same prodigious quantities of energy required to deliver any bag of prewashed salad to supermarkets across the country. (Though Earthbound does work to offset its fossil fuel consumption by planting trees.)

That conventional supply chain begins with the clever machine Earthbound developed to harvest baby greens: a car-size lettuce-shaving machine that moves down the rows, cutting the baby greens at a precise point just above the crown. Spidery arms extended in front of the machine gently rake through the bed in advance of the blade, scaring off any mice that might find their way into the salad. A fan blows the cut leaves over a screen to shake out any pebbles or soil, after which a belt conveys the greens into white plastic totes that workers stack on pallets on a wagon trailing alongside. At the end of each row the pallets are loaded onto a refrigerated tractor trailer, entering a "cold chain" that will continue unbroken all the way to the produce section at your supermarket.

Earthbound's own employees (who receive generous benefits by Valley standards, including health insurance and retirement) operate the baby greens harvester, but on the far side of the field I saw a contract crew of Mexicans, mosdy women, slowly moving through the rows pulling weeds. I noticed that some of the workers had blue Band-Aids on their fingers. The Band-Aids are colored so inspectors at the plant can easily pick them out of the greens; each Band-Aid also contains a metal filament so that the metal detector through which every Earthbound leaf passes will pick it up before it winds up in a customer's salad.

Once filled, the trucks deliver their cargo of leaves to the loading dock at the processing plant in San Juan Bautista, essentially a 200,000-square-foot refrigerator designed to maintain the lettuce at exacdy thirty-six degrees through the entire process of sorting, mixing, washing, drying, and packaging. These employees, most of them Mexicans, are dressed in full-length down coats; they empty totes of arugula, radicchio, and frisee into stainless steel rivers of lightly chlorinated water, the first of three washes each leaf will undergo. Viewed from overhead, the lettuce-packing operation looks like a hugely intricate Rube Goldberg contraption, a tangle of curving silver watercourses, shaking trays, and centrifuges, blue Band-Aid detectors, scales, and bagging stations that in about a half hour propels a freshly harvested leaf of baby lettuce into a polyethylene bag or box of ready-to-dress spring mix. The plant washes and packs 2.5 million pounds of lettuce a week; when you think just how many baby leaves it takes to make a pound, that represents a truly stupendous amount of lettuce. It also represents a truly stupendous amount of energy: to run the machines and chill the building, not to mention to transport all that salad to supermarkets across the country in refrigerated trucks and to manufacture the plastic containers it's packed in. A one-pound box of prewashed lettuce contains 80 calories of food energy. According to Cornell ecologist David Pimentel, growing, chilling, washing, packaging, and transporting that box of organic salad to a plate on the East Coast takes more than 4,600 calories of fossil fuel energy, or 5 7 calories of fossil fuel energy for every calorie of food. (These figures would be about 4 percent higher if the salad were grown conventionally.)
I had never before spent quite so much time looking at and thinking about lettuce, which when you do think about it—at least in the confines of the world's biggest refrigerator packed to the rafters with the stuff—is truly peculiar stuff. There are few things humans eat that are quite so elemental—a handful of leaves, after all, consumed raw.
When we're eating salad we're behaving a lot like herbivores, drawing as close as we ever do to all those creatures who bend their heads down to the grass, or reach up into the trees, to nibble on plant leaves. We add only the thinnest veneer of culture to these raw leaves, dressing them in oil and vinegar. Much virtue attaches to this kind of eating, for what do we regard as more wholesome than tucking into a pile of green leaves?

The contrast of the simplicity of this sort of eating, with all its pastoral overtones, and the complexity of the industrial process behind it produced a certain cognitive dissonance in my refrigerated mind. I began to feel that I no longer understood what this word I'd been following across the country and the decades really meant—I mean, of course, the word "organic." It is an unavoidable and in some ways impolite question, and very possibly besides the point if you look at the world the way Gene Kahn or Drew and Myra Goodman do, but in precisely what sense can that box of salad on sale in a Whole Foods three thousand miles and five days away from this place truly be said to be organic? And if that well-traveled plastic box deserves that designation, should we then perhaps be looking for another word to describe the much shorter and much less industrial food chain that the first users of the word "organic" had in mind?

This at least is the thinking of the smaller organic farmers who, not surprisingly, are finding it impossible to compete against the impressive industrial efficiencies achieved by a company like Earthbound Farm. Supermarket chains don't want to deal with dozens of different organic farmers; they want one company to offer them a complete line of fruits and vegetables, every SKU in the produce section. And Earthbound has obliged, consolidating its hold on the organic produce section of the American supermarket, and in the process growing into a $350 million company. "Everything eventually morphs into the way the world is." Drew Goodman told me a day had come several years ago when he suddenly no longer felt comfortable manning his usual stall at the Monterey farmer's market. He looked around and understood "we didn't belong here anymore. We're really in a whole different business now." Goodman makes no apologies for that, and rightly so: His company has done a world of good, for its land, its workers, the growers it works with, and its customers.

Yet his success, like Gene Kahn's, has opened up a gulf between Big and Little Organic and convinced many of the movement's founders, as well as pioneering farmers like Joel Salatin, that the time has come to move beyond organic—to raise the bar on the American food system once again. Some of these innovatirfg farmers are putting their emphasis on quality, others on labor standards, some on local systems of distribution, and still others on achieving a more thoroughgoing sus-tainability. Michael Ableman, one of the self-described beyond organic farmers I interviewed in California, said, "We may have to give up on the word 'organic,' leave it to the Gene Kahns of the world. To be honest, I'm not sure I want that association, because what I'm doing on my farm is not just substituting inputs."

A few years ago, at a conference on organic agriculture in California, a corporate organic grower suggested to a small farmer struggling to survive in the competitive world of industrial organic agriculture that "you should really try to develop a niche to distinguish yourself in the market." Holding his fury in check, the small farmer replied as levelly as he could manage:
"I believe I developed that niche twenty years ago. It's called 'organic' And now you, sir, are sitting on it."
The last stop on my tour of California industrial organic farming took me to Petaluma, where I tried without success to find the picturesque farmstead, with its red barn, cornfield, and farmhouse, depicted on the package in which the organic roasting chicken I bought at Whole Foods had been wrapped; nor could I find Rosie herself, at least not outdoors, ranging freely.
Petaluma Poultry has its headquarters not on a farm but in a sleek























Keith Hunt

Sunday, December 29, 2013

The WHOLE Truth about...ORGANIC #2


by Michael  Pollan (2006)

After a somewhat overheated "60 Minutes" expose on apple growers' use of Alar, a growth-regulating chemical widely used in conventional orchards that the Environmental Protection Agency had declared a carcinogen, Middle America suddenly discovered organic. "Panic for Organic" was the cover line on one newsweekly, and overnight, demand from the supermarket chains soared. The ragtag industry was not quite ready for prime time, however. Like a lot of organic producers, Gene Kahn borrowed heavily to finance an ambitious expansion, contracted with farmers to grow an awful lot of organic produce—and then watched in horror as the bubble of demand subsided along with the headlines about Alar. Badly overextended, Kahn was forced to sell a majority stake in his company—to Welch's—and the onetime hippie farmer set out on what he calls his "corporate adventure."
"We were part of the food industry now," he told me. "But I wanted to leverage that position to redefine the way we grow food—not what people want to eat or how we distribute it. That sure as hell isn't going to change." Becoming part of the food industry meant jettisoning two of the three original legs on which the organic movement had stood: the countercuisine—what people want to eat—and the food co-ops and other alternative modes of distribution. Kahn's bet was that agribusiness could accommodate itself most easily to the first leg—the new way to grow food—by treating organic essentially as a niche product that could be distributed and marketed through the existing channels. The original organic ideal held that you could not divorce these three elements, since (as ecology taught) everything was connected. But Gene Kahn, for one (and he was by no means the only one), was a realist, a businessman with a payroll to meet. And he wasn't looking back.
"You have a choice of getting sad about all that or moving on. We tried hard to build a cooperative community and a local food system, but at the end of the day it wasn't successful. This is just lunch for most people. Just lunch. We can call it sacred, we can talk about communion, but it's just lunch."

In the years after the Alar bubble burst in 1990, the organic industry recovered, embarking on a period of double-digit annual growth and rapid consolidation, as mainstream food companies began to take organic (or at least the organic market) seriously. Gerber's, Heinz, Dole, ConAgra, and ADM all created or acquired organic brands. Cascadian Farm itself became a miniconglomerate, acquiring Muir Glen, a California organic tomato processor, and the combined company changed its name to Small Planet Foods. Nineteen ninety also marked the beginning of federal recognition for organic agriculture: That year, Congress passed the Organic Food and Production Act (OFPA).The legislation instructed the Department of Agriculture—which historically had treated organic farming with undisguised contempt—to establish uniform national standards for organic food and farming, fixing the definition of a word that had always meant different things to different people.

Settling on that definition turned out to be a grueling decade-long process, as various forces both within and outside the movement battled for control of a word that had developed a certain magic in the marketplace. Agribusiness fought to define the word as loosely as possible, in part to make it easier for mainstream companies to get into organic, but also out of fear that anything deemed not organic—such as genetically modified food—would henceforth carry an official stigma. At first, the USDA, acting out of long-standing habit, obliged its agribusiness clients, issuing a watery set of standards in 1997 that— astoundingly—allowed for the use of genetically modified crops and irradiation and sewage sludge in organic food production. Some saw the dark hand of companies like Monsanto or ADM at work, but it seems more likely the USDA was simply acting on the reasonable assumption that the organic industry, like any other industry, would want as light a regulatory burden as possible. But it turned out organic wasn't like other industries: It still had a lot of the old movement values in its genetic makeup, and it reacted to the weak standards with fury. An un-precedented flood of public comment from outraged organic farmers and consumers forced the USDA back to the drawing board, in what was widely viewed as a victory for the movement's principles.

Yet while the struggle with the government over the meaning of "organic" was making headlines in 1997, another equally important struggle was underway within the USDA between Big and Little Organic—or, put another way, between the organic industry and the organic movement—and here the outcome was decidedly more ambiguous. Could a factory farm be organic? Was an organic dairy cow entided to graze on pasture? Did food additives and synthetic chemicals have a place in processed organic food? If the answers to these questions seem like no-brainers, then you too are stuck in an outdated pastoral view of organic. Big Organic won all three arguments. The final standards do a good job of setting the bar for a more environmentally responsible kind of farming but, as perhaps was inevitable as soon as bureaucratic and industrial thinking was brought to bear, many of the philosophical values embodied in the word "organic"—the sorts of values expressed by Albert Howard—did not survive the federal rulemaking process.
 From 1992 to 1997 Gene Kahn served on the USDA's National Organic Standards Board, where he played a key role in making the standards safe for the organic TV dinner and a great many other organic processed foods. This was no small feat, for Kahn and his allies had to work around the original 1990 legislation, which had prohibited synthetic food additives and manufacturing agents outright. Kahn argued that you couldn't have organic processed food without synthetics, which are necessary to both the manufacture and preservation of such supermarket products. Several of the consumer representatives on the standards board contended that this was precisely the point, and if no synthetics meant no organic TV dinners, then TV dinners were something organic simply shouldn't do. At stake was the very idea of a coun-tercuisine.

Joan Dye Gussow, a nutritionist and an outspoken standards-board member, made the case against synthetics in a 1996 article that was much debated at the time: "Can an Organic Twinkie Be Certified?" Demonstrating that under the proposed rules such a thing was entirely possible, Gussow questioned whether organic should simply mirror the existing food supply, with its highly processed, salted, and sugary junk food, or whether it should aspire to something better—a counter-cuisine based on whole foods. Kahn responded with an argument rooted in the populism of the market: If the consumer wants an organic Twinkie, then we should give it to him. As he put it to me on the drive back from Cascadian Farm, "Organic is not your mother." In the end it came down to an argument between the old movement and the new industry and the new industry won: The final standards simply ignored the 1990 law, drawing up a list of permissible additives and synthetics, from ascorbic acid to xanthan gum.*

"If we had lost on synthetics," Kahn told me, "we'd be out of business."
The same might be said for the biggest organic meat and dairy producers, who fought to make the new standards safe for the organic factory farm. Horizon Organic's Mark Retzloff labored mightily to preserve the ability of his company—which is the Microsoft of organic milk, controlling more than half of the market—to operate its large-scale industrial dairy in southern Idaho. Here in the western desert, where precious little grass can grow, the company was milking several thousand cows that, rather than graze on pasture (as most consumers presume their organic cows are doing), spend their days milling around a dry lot—a grassless fenced enclosure. It's doubtful a dairy could pasture that many cows even if it wanted to—you would need at least an acre of grass per animal and more hours than there are in a day to move that many cows all the way out to their distant acre and then back again to the milking parlor every morning and evening. So in-
* After Arthur Harvey, a Maine blueberry farmer, won a 2003 lawsuit forcing the USDA to obey the language of the 1990 law, lobbyists working for the Organic Trade Association managed in 2005 to slip language into a USDA appropriations bill restoring—and possibly expanding—the industry's right to use synthetics in organic foods.

stead, as in the typical industrial dairy, these organic cows stood around \ eating grain and silage when they weren't being milked three times a day. Their organic feed was shipped in from all over the West, and their waste accumulated in manure ponds. Retzloff argued that keeping cows in confinement meant that his farmhands, who all carried stethoscopes, could keep a closer eye on their health. Of course, cows need this sort of surveillance only when they're living in such close quarters— and can't be given antibiotics.

Such a factory farm didn't sound terribly organic to the smaller dairy farmers on the board, not to mention to the consumer representatives. Also, the OFPA had spelled out that the welfare of organic animals should take into account, and accommodate, their "natural behavior," which in the case of cows—ruminants who have evolved to eat grass—surely meant grazing on pasture. You might say the whole pastoral idea was hardwired into these animals and stood squarely in the way of industrializing them. So how could the logic of industry ever hope to prevail?

The USDA listened to the arguments on both sides and finally ruled that dairy cows must have "access to pasture," which sounds like more of a victory for the pastoral ideal than it turned out to be in practice. By itself "access to pasture" is an extremely vague standard (What constitutes "access"? How much pasture per animal? How often could it graze?), and it was weakened further by a provision stating that even access could be dispensed with at certain stages of the animal's life. Some big organic dairies have decided that lactation constitutes one such stage, and thus far the USDA has not objected. Some of its organic certifiers have complained that "access to pasture" is so vague as to be meaningless—and therefore unenforceable. It's hard to argue with them.

Along with the national list of permissible synthetics, "access to pasture," and, for other organic animals, "access to the outdoors" indicate how the word "organic" has been stretched and twisted to admit the very sort of industrial practices for which it once offered a critique and an alternative. The final standards also demonstrate how, in Gene Kahn's words, "everything eventually morphs into the way the world is." And yet the pastoral values and imagery embodied in that word survive in the minds of many people, as the marketers of organic food well understand: Just look at a container of organic milk, with its happy cows and verdant pastures. Thus is a venerable ideal hollowed out, reduced to a sentimental conceit printed on the side of a milk carton: Supermarket Pastoral.




The WHOLE Truth about.... ORGANIC #1



From  his  book  "Omnivore's  Dilemma" (2006)

..... The organic label may conjure an image of a simpler agriculture, but its very existence is an industrial artifact. The question is, what about the farms themselves? How well do they match the stories told about them?....
About as well as you would expect anything genuinely pastoral to hold up in the belly of an $11 billion industry, which is to say not very well at all. At least that's what I discovered when I traced a few of the items in my Whole Foods cart back to the farms where they were grown. I learned, for example, that some (certainly not all) organic milk comes from factory farms, where thousands of Holsteins that never encounter a blade of grass spend their days confined to a fenced "dry lot," eating (certified organic) grain and tethered to milking machines three times a day. The reason much of this milk is ultrapasteurized (a high-heat process that damages its nutritional quality) is so that big companies like Horizon and Aurora can sell it over long distances. I discovered organic beef being raised in "organic feedlots" and organic high-fructose corn syrup—more words I never expected to see combined. And I learned about the making of the aforementioned organic TV dinner, a microwaveable bowl of "rice, vegetables, and grilled chicken breast with a savory herb sauce." Country Herb, as the entree is called, turns out to be a highly industrialized organic product, involving a choreography of thirty-one ingredients assembled from far-flung farms, laboratories, and processing plants scattered over a half-dozen states and two countries, and containing such mysteries of modern food technology as high-oleic saffiower oil, guar and xanthan gum, soy lecithin, carrageenan, and "natural grill flavor." Several of these ingredients are synthetic additives permitted under federal organic rules. So much for "whole" foods. The manufacturer of Country Herb is Cascadian Farm, a pioneering organic farm turned processor in Washington State that is now a wholly owned subsidiary of General Mills. (The Country Herb chicken entree has since been discontinued.)

I also visited Rosie the organic chicken at her farm in Petaluma, which turns out to be more animal factory than farm. She lives in a shed with twenty thousand other Rosies, who, aside from their certified organic feed, live lives little different from that of any other industrial chicken. Ah, but what about the "free-range" lifestyle promised on the label? True, there's a litde door in the shed leading out to a narrow grassy yard. But the free-range story seems a bit of a stretch when you discover that the door remains firmly shut until the birds are at least five or six weeks old—for fear they'll catch something outside—and the chickens are slaughtered only two weeks later.


.....People's Park was born on April 20, 1969, when a group calling itself the Robin Hood Commission seized a vacant lot owned by the University of California and set to work rolling out sod, planting trees, and, perhaps most auspiciously, putting in a vegetable garden. Calling themselves "agrarian reformers," the radicals announced that they wanted to establish on the site the model of a new cooperative society built from the ground up; that included growing their own "uncontaminated" food.....

For example, organic's rejection of agricultural chemicals was also a rejection of the war machine, since the same corporations—Dow, Monsanto—that manufactured pesticides also made napalm and Agent Orange, the herbicide with which the U.S. military was waging war against nature in Southeast Asia. Eating organic thus married the personal to the political.....

A counter-cuisine based on whole grains and unprocessed organic ingredients rose up to challenge conventional industrial "white bread food." ("Plastic food" was an epithet thrown around a lot.) For a host of reasons that seem ridiculous in retrospect, brown foods of all kinds— rice, bread, wheat, eggs, sugar, soy sauce, tamari—were deemed morally superior to white foods. Brown foods were less adulterated by industry, of course, but just as important, eating them allowed you to express your solidarity with the world's brown peoples. (Only later would the health benefits of these whole foods be recognized, not the first or last time an organic conceit would find scientific backing.) But perhaps best of all, brown foods were also precisely what your parents didn't eat......

One such notable success was Gene Kahn, the founder of Cascadian Farm, the company responsible for the organic TV dinner in my Whole Foods cart. Today Cascadian Farm is foremost a General Mills brand, but it began as a quasi-communal hippie farm, located on a narrow, gorgeous shelf of land wedged between the Skagit River and the North Cascades about seventy-five miles northeast of Seattle. (The idyllic litde farmstead depicted on the package turns out to be a real place.) Originally called the New Cascadian Survival and Reclamation Project, the farm was started in 1971 by Gene Kahn with the idea of growing food for the collective of environmentally minded hippies he had hooked up with in nearby Bellingham. At the time Kahn was a twenty-four-year-old grad school dropout from the South Side of Chicago, who had been inspired by Silent Spring and Diet for a Small Planet to go back to the land— and from there to change the American food system. This particular dream was not so outrageous in 1971, but Kahn's success in actually realizing it surely is: He went on to become a pioneer of the organic movement and probably has done as much as anyone to move organic food into the mainstream, getting it out of the food co-op and into the supermarket.....
Perhaps more than any other single writer, Sir Albert Howard (1873—1947), an English agronomist knighted after his thirty years of research in India, provided the philosophical foundations for organic agriculture. Even those who never read his 1940 Testament nevertheless absorbed his thinking through the pages of Rodale's Organic Gardening and Farming, where he was lionized, and in the essays of Wendell Berry, who wrote an influential piece about Howard in the The Last Whole Earth Catalog in 1971. Berry seized particularly on Howard's arresting—and prescient—idea that we needed to treat "the whole problem of health in soil, plant, animal and man as one great subject.".....

In Howard's agronomy, science is mosdy a tool for describing what works and explaining why it does. As it happens, in the years since Howard wrote, science has provided support for a great many of his unscientific claims: Plants grown in synthetically fertilized soils are less nourishing than ones grown in composted soils;' such plants are more vulnerable to diseases and insect pests;2 poly cultures are more productive and less prone to disease than monocultures;3 and that in fact the health of the soil, plant, animal, human, and even nation are, as Howard claimed, connected along lines we can now begin to draw with empirical confidence. We may not be prepared to act on this knowledge, but we know that civilizations that abuse their soil eventually collapse.4
If farms modeled on natural systems work as well as Howard suggests, then why don't we see more of them? The sad fact is that the organic ideal as set forth by Howard and others has been honored mainly in the breach. Especially as organic agriculture has grown more successful, finding its way into the supermarket and the embrace of agribusiness, organic farming has increasingly come to resemble the industrial system it originally set out to replace. The logic of that system has so far proven more ineluctable than the logic of natural systems.


FERMENTED FOODS.....Good for your health !

Fermenting Foods—One of the Easiest and Most Creative Aspects of Making Food from Scratch

December 29, 2013 | 

By Dr. Mercola
Ninety percent of the genetic material in your body is not yours but belongs to the bacteria that outnumber your cells 10 to 1.  These bacteria have enormous influence on your digestion, detoxification and immune system.
Sandor Katz is a self-described “fermentation revivalist,” and has published two books on this topic, along with a third on the underground food movement. He’s a native of New York and a graduate of Brown University. Sandor currently lives in Tennessee, where he pursues his interest by presenting workshops around the world on fermentation.
Fermented food is something I too have become quite passionate about, and I firmly believe it’s an absolutely essential factor if you want to optimize your health and prevent disease. The culturing process produces beneficial microbes that are extremely important for human health as they help balance your intestinal flora, thereby boosting overall immunity.
Moreover, your gut literally serves as your second brain, and even produces more of the neurotransmitter serotonin—known to have a beneficial influence on your mood—than your brain does, so maintaining a healthy gut will benefit your mind as well as your body.
Fermented foods are also some of the best chelators and detox agents available, meaning they can help rid your body of a wide variety of toxins, including heavy metals.
“It wasn’t until I was in my 20s... that I first began to learn about and observe some of the digestive benefits of eating live culture fermented foods,” Sandor says.
“It was another decade after that when I left New York City, moved to rural Tennessee, and got involved in keeping a garden that I first had a reason to investigate the practice of fermentation. All of the cabbages were ready at the same time, and I thought I should learn how to make sauerkraut. I did a little bit of research in cookbooks and started making sauerkraut. Thus began my investigations into fermentation about 18 years ago.”

Starter Cultures versus Wild Ferment

When fermenting vegetables, you can either use a starter culture, or simply allow the natural enzymes in the vegetables do all the work. This is called “wild fermentation.” Personally, I prefer a starter culture as it provides a larger number of different species and the culture can be optimized with species that produce high levels of vitamin K2, which research is finding is likely every bit as important as vitamin D.
For this past year, we’ve been making two to three gallons of fermented vegetables every week in our Chicago office for the staff, which they can enjoy with the lunch we provide as an employee benefit.
We use a starter culture of the same probiotic strains that we sell as a supplement, which has been researched by our team to produce about 10 times the amount of vitamin K2 as any other starter culture... When we had the vegetables tested, we found that in a four- to six-ounce serving there were literally 10 trillion beneficial bacteria, or about 100 times the amount of bacteria in a bottle of high potency probiotics.
There are about 100 trillion bacteria in your gut, so a single serving can literally “reseed” 10 percent of the bacterial population of the average person’s gut! To me that’s extraordinary, and a profoundly powerful reason to consider adding fermented vegetables as a staple to your diet.
You don’t have to use a starter culture however. Wild fermentation is fermentation based on microorganisms that are naturally present in the food you’re fermenting. It’s just as simple as using a starter culture, but it will take a little longer for it to ferment.
“It’s very predictable when you salt and submerge vegetables [in their natural juices or brine]. The bacteria that will initiate at fermentation are always Leuconostoc mesenteroides. Then it’s a successive process whereby, as the pH changes and as the environment changes, different strains of bacteria come into dominance...” Sandor explains.
“Typically, in a mature sauerkraut, the late-stage bacterium that’s dominant is Lactobacillus plantarum. It’s a very predictable succession, what happens with raw vegetables, [but] the specific strains will always be somewhat different depending on the vegetables you’re using and the environment that you’re doing it in.”

To Salt or Not to Salt?

Whether or not to use salt also largely comes down to personal preference. While it’s not a necessity, Sandor does provide some compelling reasons for adding a small amount of natural, unprocessed salt—such as Himalayan salt—to your vegetables. For example, salt:
  • Strengthens the ferment’s ability to eliminate any potential pathogenic bacteria present
  • Adds to the flavor
  • Acts as a natural preservative, which may be necessary if you’re making large batches that need to last for a larger portion of the year
  • Slows the enzymatic digestion of the vegetables, leaving them crunchier
  • Inhibits surface molds
Again, natural unrefined salts are ideal as they contain a broad spectrum of minerals, and the fermentation process makes the minerals more bioavailable—a win-win situation!
“Just now, I’m getting near the bottom of a 55-gallon barrel of sauerkraut that I made last November mostly out of radishes. That would not be possible without the addition of salt,” Sandor says.  “You can make sauerkraut, and then you can ferment for several weeks in a cool environment. Maybe you could get to several months. But what would happen eventually to a salt-free kraut is that enzymes in the vegetable would basically digest the fiber of the vegetables. It would just turn into a mush, which is not at all appealing to me.” 

What Type of Container Should You Use?

There’s no need to over-think or spend large amounts of money on containers. The material they’re made of is important however. You do NOT want to use plastic or metal. Plastics are loaded with chemicals you don’t want leaching into your food, such as bisphenol-A (BPA) and phthlalates. Metal is also inadvisable as salts can corrode the metal. Even if you don’t add salt, most vegetables have some natural salts in them. Good options include:
  • Glass jars (wide-mouthed Mason jars are ideal, so that you can get your whole hand in there to press down the vegetables)
  • Ceramic crocks
  • Wooden barrels
I completely agree with Sandor’s sound general advice here:
“My main message that I would encourage your viewers and listeners to remember is you don’t need to buy anything special. You need a head of cabbage or a couple of pounds of vegetables, and beyond that everything you need is already in your kitchen. Whatever tools or devices you typically use to chop or shred vegetables, you can use that. Add some salt, mix it around, squeeze it with your hands for a couple of minutes, and stuff it into a jar.
Beyond that, you could use any kind of shredding device you like: a mandoline, a food processor, a continuous feed food processor, or a specialized cabbage-chopping device. You could buy beautiful elegantly designed crocks. But you have everything that you need to get started in your kitchen. Don’t let the beautiful crock that you don’t have yet be the reason why you don’t start doing this.
I think it’s really important to recognize that you don’t need anything special to start a fermentation practice. You might decide you want to play with starter cultures, but you don’t need starter cultures to get started. You might decide that you want to invest in a crock, but you don’t need a crock to get started.
If you take two pounds of vegetables, you can stuff a quart-sized jar with those. Just chop them up. Shred them. They can be extremely fine, or they can be coarse and chunky. It doesn’t matter. Lightly salt them to taste or else weigh them and measure out 1.5 percent salt. I prefer to salt them lightly to taste.”

Two Helpful Tips...

As Sandor explains, an important step in the process is to squeeze the vegetables before packing them into the jar. You don’t need any fancy tools for this; just use your hands. “Bruising” the vegetables in this way allows the cell walls to break down and release their juices. Capture the juice in the jar you’re going to ferment your vegetables in. Then stuff as many veggies into the jar that will fit. You want to stuff them in as tightly as possible, forcing out any air pockets that might ruin the batch. The brine should cover the vegetables.
Sandor then simply covers the jar with the lid and leaves it on the kitchen counter. A helpful tip I learned from Caroline Barringer is to top off the jar with a cabbage leaf, tucking it down the sides. Again, make sure the veggies are completely covered with the natural brine you squeezed out of the vegetables (or add a small amount of celery juice), and that the juice is all the way to the top of the jar to eliminate trapped air.
To speed up the fermentation, store the jars in a warm, slightly moist place for 24 to 96 hours, depending on the food being cultured. Ideal temperature range is 68-75 degrees Fahrenheit; 85 degrees max. You don’t want it too hot, as heat will kill the beneficial microbes. Don’t tuck them away in a dark closet and forget about them, though! As Sandor explains:
“The reason why you don’t want to just put it in the closet and forget about it is that it’s going to produce pressures, especially in the first couple of days. You want to relieve that pressure by opening the jar for a second. In that way, you don’t get a huge accumulation of pressure and risk the possibility of the jar exploding – or what’s more likely to happen, if you’re using a canning jar, where the glass is thick and the lid is thin, it will just contort the top. But it’s best to consciously release the pressure.”
The second tip is to smell and taste your ferment regularly. There’s really no objective moment when the fermentation is ready, so go ahead and taste it at frequent intervals, starting after about 48 hours. Then keep on tasting it every few days or a couple of times a week as it matures. It typically takes about a week for the optimal amount of fermentation to occur. Resist the temptation to eat out of the jar, however, as this can introduce undesirable organisms from your mouth into the jar. Instead, always use a clean spoon to take out what you're going to eat, then, making sure the remaining veggies are covered with the brine solution, recap the jar.
When the flavor is to your personal liking, transfer the jars into the refrigerator to dramatically slow the progression of the fermentation. Keep in mind, the vegetables will tend to get increasingly sour as time goes on, but according to Sandor, you could let the vegetables ferment for weeks and even months without worrying about them spoiling—after all, that’s what the fermentation process does: It preserves food without refrigeration.

Some additional info on how to ferment vegetables can be found here.

On Allowing Your Creative Juices to Flow

There is no food that cannot be fermented. As Katz states in a recent NPR article1, bread, coffee, pickles, beer, cheese, yogurt and soy sauce are all examples of foods that have been fermented at some point during their production process. That said, not every vegetable will produce equally delicious results, and not every food is as easily fermented as vegetables, but your imagination is really the only limit when it comes to what you can concoct.
“If you ferment summer squash, which are very watery, they will tend to get soft and mushy much faster than any other kind of vegetable would,” Sandor says. .. You can certainly ferment kale and other dark green vegetables, but the high levels of chlorophyll in these vegetables produce a really strong flavor in fermentation. I prefer to use dark green vegetables as a minor ingredient rather than as the primary ingredient. Then I feel like that strong flavor can become a nice accent.
But if it’s pure dark green vegetables, that flavor’s a little bit too strong for me, although I have heard from other people who really, really love it. In a way you can only learn what you like by experimenting.
My biggest batch every year has been from radishes. I have a farmer friend who uses daikon radishes as a cover crop over acres and acres of his land. He invites me to pick a truckload full of daikon radishes. And I augment that with some cabbages, some chili peppers and garlic, and make a 55-gallon barrel full every year... Then you can also ferment whole vegetables. The difference with whole vegetables is that you can’t pull the water out of them, so you need to mix up a brine – salty water – and ferment them in the salty water.
... I met a woman whose grandmother was from a town in Poland, where they used mashed potatoes in their sauerkraut. And I love making mashed potatoes sauerkrauts. What I do is I steam potatoes, I mash them up, cool them to body temperature, and then I layer the mash potatoes in with my salted cabbage. That makes a beautiful sauerkraut. You can really be experimental and go wild. You can add things other than vegetables.
... In German tradition, juniper berries are often used. I’ve been tasting wildly experimental krauts with curry seasonings and things like that. Really, the only limitation is our imagination, once we understand the underlying principles of getting the vegetables submerged.”

A Word of Caution Regarding Meat Fermentation

As just mentioned, while virtually any food can be fermented, and the fermentation process automatically renders the food exceptionally safe since the probiotics produced kill any pathogens present, a disclaimer regarding fermenting meats is worth taking note of.
“Fermenting vegetables is an intrinsically safe practice. In the United States, according to the USDA, there’s never been a single case of food poisoning reported from fermented vegetables. There is no danger. The food itself is a strategy for protection. Fermented vegetables are safer than raw vegetables,” Sandor says. “With meat, I can’t say this. The word “botulism,” which is the most feared food poisoning form of all, comes from the Latin word “botulist” or sausage. Until the advent of canning, which was in the 19th century, it was from fermented sausages that people knew about the rare food poisoning disease of botulism.
There’s a little bit more of a learning curve. Another limitation with fermentation of meat for preservation process is the acids, which are what enable certain fermented foods to preserve so well. Acids are produced from carbohydrates, and meat fundamentally lacks carbohydrates. There’s a tiny bit of glycogen, but not enough to support a significant fermentation and formation of lactic acid. Typically, when salami is produced, the meat and the fat are minced or ground. And then they’re mixed with a tiny bit of sugar. The sugar is really what is fermented by the lactic acid bacteria and creates the acidic environment that is able to preserve the meat.
It’s not through acidification alone that the meat is preserved. It’s a combination of acidification, drying (the meat is partially dried), and salting (the meat is always salted). Any one of these mediums could preserve the meat, either making it very, very dry as in something like jerky, making it very, very salty as in a food like prosciutto, or very highly acidic.”

More Information

To learn more, pick up one of Sandor’s books, The Art of FermentationAn In-Depth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Processes from Around the World, or Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods.
You can also find more information on his website at WildFermentation.com.