Organic Articles: Beyond Organic?

The Organic Consultancy

Beyond Organic?

by Simon Wright

This article originally appeared in the July 2001 edition of Organic Business.

The New York Times Magazine for May 13 contained an article written by Michael Pollan entitled ‘The Organic Industrial Complex – all about the folks who brought you the organic TV dinner’. Over nine pages Pollan made some good points about the history of organics in the USA and warned about where it might be heading, with particular reference to Small Planet Foods and their President Gene Kahn.

Small Planet was recently acquired by General Mills, reinforcing their position as a major player in the USA organic market. Pollan claims that the entry of such large mainstream food companies into organics may in some way undermining the integrity of organic food and drink. He quotes disaffected farmers who feel that the term organic has been hijacked by the mainstream and that we now need a new term “beyond organic” to describe organic food grown locally on a small-scale.

Three days after the story was published Michael Pollan and Gene Kahn shared a podium as part of the opening presentation at the Organic Trade Association’s All Things Organic conference in Austin, Texas. Here Pollan modified his story, talking about a “creatively tense” relationship between Old Organic and New Organic and admitting that even an organic Twinkie (for which read Mars bar) is a vote for a better organic agricultural system. Gene Kahn’s response was to concentrate on the beneficial changes to thousands of acres of farmland resulting from local farmers supplying Small Planet with organic fruit and vegetables – the success of “compost farming” over “chemical nozzleheads”.

Pollan suggests that consumers should follow his lead in buying locally produced but not necessarily organic milk, beef, eggs and even maple syrup – that last exhortation being particularly difficult to follow here in Wandsworth. He argues for more Community Assisted Agriculture, such as Box Schemes and Farmers Markets. My local Farmers Market has just celebrated its first birthday. The food and drink on sale is excellent but I don’t often coincide with its one-morning-per-week opening hours. Which is why shops were invented, and why a food industry evolved to supply those shops with a range of food and drink. Now we have the option of replacing at least part of this range with an organic alternative.

Let us have local producers and Farmers Markets but as a complement to the mainstream availability of organics, not as a replacement. Let us have ‘and’ not ‘or’. And finally let’s get more consumers to go Organic before we start worrying about going Beyond Organic.