What does organic really mean for me?

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Four organic lemons in a yellow plastic net, conventional ones single and bulk. „Organic cucumbers“, mini in a plastic shell, the conventional cucumbers are bulk on another shelf.

It’s not always easy to buy organic food as a critical conciouc consumer. You often get into a catch-22 situation, when you try to avoid long transport times, wrapping and pesticides at the same time.

In the course of this, I asked myself: What is organic? Are those lemons in the plastic net or the muesli with berry powder from south america in the sense of original organic?

You can find more and more products from organic agriculture in the stores. Austria is often praised as a organic-champion: 14% of all farmers are organic farmers (2009) [1] and the growth of organic farming is going to continue.

With the augmentation of theses numbers, more and more shops start to promote organic products. a lot of them just see this as another trend.

Definition of organic

Organic=no pesticides

That’s not the whole spectrum of organic. You can read about the legal framework of organic in this document.

Bio shall stand for a sustainable agriculture, high-quality products und for a rich variety of food, which doesn’t damage human, nature and environment.

All in all, organic agriculture seems to change a part of the agriculture in a positive way. But criticians claim, „organic“ is only a marketing claim and a cash-cow. Are all the claims of organic production only a lie?

My opinion

The thought of „organic“ to ensure products free from pesticide and GMO is generally positive for me. Because it is an important step towards healthier products for human beings and nature.

However, „organic“ doesn’t include some essential aspects. Thus, this label isn’t the only thing what I’m looking for when I buy something.

True organic – the 8 points

In the following paragraphs I want to clarify what belongs to organic in a broader definition. I call this organic „true organic“.

1.Regional

Honig China nachbearbeitet Verschwommen

Organic Honey from China – why?

Organic cocoa powder and coconut products have a long way until they land in our shops. However for me it makes sense to consume these tasty groceries rarely and conciously.

Certainly, cocoa can’t grow regional in the middle of Europe. Bananas surprisingly do (if I buy some, I only choose those ones).

Though it doesn’t make sense for organic to import lemons from Chile or South Africa to Austria because there are enough lemons in southern Europe. Products from far-awy countries cover a long distance and produce more carbon dioxide.

True organic has the shortest possible distance to the consumer.

But not every time there are products from regional production available. E.g. in may, I won’t get any organic blueberries from Germany.

2. Seasonal

In earlier times, the different seasons in Europe were much more important for the food offered. Today you find all the time a big sortiment at the supermarket.

You can eat tomatoes for the whole year, if you want to.

However no matter if it’s organic or not, in the winter most if the tomatoes taste like red coloured water in round shape. Certainly there are enough months where the regional sortiment of fresh products like fruits and vegetables seems modest. Go to the farmer’s market and inspire yourself with new old vegetables, that are ripe now. A calender as seen in the link helps you to find seasonale vegetables and fruits, too(the calender’s for the UK seasons. There might be different calenders for your country).

True organic changes within the time of the year! There is no fresh asparagus all the year in my region and that’s ok! All the more, I’m looking forward to asparagus every spring.

And the freezer helps me to brinde times with a littler sortiment of regional vegetables and fruits.

3. The advantages of intercropping and know-how

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I learn a lot in my own garden: When a plant doesn’t want to grow it usually doesn’t help for a long time to put expensive fertiliser and pesticides on it. Maybe the surroundings (soil, air, humidity, temperature etc.) are not suitable for this plant. Then I choose a different variety or even a different plant. So I made the experience that carrots don’t grow well in the most of my garden soils, because the soil is very heavy and loamy. However, the potatoes like my garden and runner beans too.

A vivid agriculture with intercropping isn’t mere window-dressing. The concept of permaculture is really exciting in this context. Vines on the house wall, runner beans on the banister outside and herbs on the balcony help to establish a decorative, clever and healthy supply wiht food.

True organic uses the advantages of different positions and avoids huge monocultures. The diversity of plants and animals helps to generate synergies like it does in natural environments[2].

4. Packaging

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These cucumbers could be sold without all that waste!

Look at the example from the beginning. The differences between conventional and organic grown vegetables regarding the packaging in the supermarket is crazy.

In the supermarket I went before I started Zero Waste, the „organic“ fennels, tomatoes and avocados were all packaged in a colourful printed paper shell with plastic all around it.

Organic shall be sustainable and shall protect the natural resources. A big step towards that is to avoid packaging noboda needs.

That’s the crux with most of the organic groceries I see in the supermarkets and in wholefood shops too.

Why should I buy products in packaging which means work for me (I have to open it, separate the waste and put it in the right bin) and a waste of resources for the environment. The most sustainable is a product, which is sold without packaging. And that’s possible, how Zero Waste shows.

5. Fair trade

In this paragraph, I talk especially about trade with developing countries.

Organic products shall also bring advantages for the peoplewho produces them. Organic and fair trade, go hand in hand. A farmer/manufacture who produces biological products, should get enough money for the valuable work. And social sustainability only works with abstinence on substances which endager the workers and destroy the natural resources.

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upper picture: here we see an state-controlled organic seal and a fair trade seal – for me this is very important regarding products from developing contries. Positively: the declaration of the country of origin.

True organic helps the people. In addition organic shall contribute to enough schooling, opportunities for advancement for everyone, worker’s rights and retirement provisions. And wages which are enough to live humanely with it.

6. Fair prices

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Products from organic agriculture cannot be too cheap!

Organic food often costs more. I understand that the manufacturers: They want to earn something they can live from. That’s especially  difficult concerning agriculture: The image of the farmer’s job is low and people e.g. in Germany often buy concerning three criteria: cheap, cheap and cheap.

We as consumers shall be ready to pay the producers of our organic products a fair price for their work. In my opinion it helps to grow vegetables in the own garden to understand what farmers achieve every day.

True organic is not cheap, but affordable. It’s our decision what we do with our money. Because of fairness I also buy organic products which are more expensive but I know I can trust in them (see point 8). I get an quivalent for my money, so it’s fair.

7. Raw

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The ingredients of organic vegetable stock

Today you get nearly everything in organic quality: soup powder, convenience food and to-go food with plastic cutlery. The sense of organic to preserve natural resources is not realized here: The products need energy in the fabrics to get proceeded and resources for the packaging (point 4).

However, producers also follow the demand. Here we come: We shall simply make our soup on our own, instead of using powder for it. To ensure this point, you and me have to change further.

Anyway, you recognise raw products easily. The rawest products are unpacked!

True organic is rawer! Products are fresh or conserved careful and they are packed in a sustainable way: e.g. pledged.

8. Transparency

apples garden

One of the most transparent products: Apples from the own garden, free from pesticides, raw and tasty!

Regarding globalisation, organic has become more important. When the ways from consumer to producer get longer, we lose trust. Organic seals and other seals try to replace this trust.

But who still has the conspectus on these seals?

And my information requirements are much bigger than the information these seals contain and I ask: Where do the single ingredients in the product come from? What does „made in Italy“ on my shoes really mean? Wat’s the way and the distance covered by the product?

An example: Earlier I liked eating wild smoked salmon. It was packed in a ridiculously little quantity (90g) in vakuum. On the packaging I read: fished in scotland, packed in France. At least, I got the information. Conerning clothes and many other products, you never find out about the different production stages!

Here we need much stronger legal labeling duties and more information duties for producers. And everybody should have access to a defined product data set in the internet.

You can get more transparency for yourself, if you buy regional and organic, visit farmers and manufactures and get in touch with the people who produce your food and proceed it.

That’s easier said than done, but concerning food it’s simple for the beginning and it makes fun!

True organic is honest for me. It informs its buyers in a reliable and transparent way.

All in all

For me these ones are the eight most important points which organic products should fulfill besides from their legal criteria.

Truly good products and groceries from convinced organic production aren’t easy to find.

However these products are existing, and for me they show ideal forms of biological agriculture. These criteria are demanding, but I am not tired to look further for products which fulfill them!

You can buy these products, as mentioned in point 8, directly at the producer’s/farmer’s market and from your own garden.

P.S. It is also interesting, to compare the different organic labels and to question it. However, that’s a different story. (content follows)

[1] http://www.advantageaustria.org/zentral/news/aktuell/Organic_farming_in_Austria.pdf

[2] http://www.heathcote.org/PCIntro/2WhatIsPermaculture.htm

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