OGO LogoHQ‘To be interested in food but not in food production is clearly absurd.’ —Wendell Berry

WE’RE AT THE OUTER EDGE OF SUMMER, TEETERING TOWARD FALL, the autumnal equinox mere days away, and celebrating, here in Oregon, another Organically Grown in Oregon Week, now in its twenty-first year. With 425 certified organic farms and organic production covering more than 115,000 acres, Oregon has been a longtime leader in the organic agriculture charge toward sustainability and “good food for all.” And now with an organic vegetable garden on the South Lawn of the White House (raising a big the-day-has-finally-come HURRAH! from Alice Waters; not so much from Monsanto) and everywhere you turn talk of simple, slow, local, organic and boy, do we ever need to change our nation’s eating habits, let’s hope this movement can gain serious momentum, and requisite backing, to make a real difference in the way food is grown, harvested, sustained and eaten.

As Michael Pollan writes in the introduction to a new collection of essays by Wendell Berry, Bringing It to the Table: On Farming and Food (Berkeley: Counterpoint, 2009), “Certainly these are heady days for people who have been working to reform the way Americans grow food and feed themselves—the ‘food movement’ as it is now often called. Markets for alternative kinds of food—local and organic and pastured—are thriving, farmers’ markets are popping up like mushrooms, and for the first time in more than a century the number of farmers tallied in the Department of Agriculture’s census has gone up rather than down.”

WHAT GOT THINGS GOING IN OREGON? Well, there’s a lot more than choice Pinot Noir grapes growing with exuberance up, down and across the Willamette Valley, and throughout the rest of the state for that matter. Produce is bountiful: wheat, hay, barley, oats, hazelnuts, berries, pears, plums, cherries, apples, green peas, onions, snap beans, sweet corn, hops, sugar beats and fescue, to name a few. Oregon, early on, saw the value in organic and passed the first organic standards legislation in the United States in 1973, first published organic certification standards in 1987, declared the first Organically Grown in Oregon Week in 1988, revised the Oregon Organic Food Laws in 1989 (a model for eventual national organic standards) and first established a statewide advocacy group in 2005, Oregon Organic Coalition, to evangelize the trade to private and public interests.

Layout E1We need also give a shout out here to Oregon Tilth, a nonprofit “supporting and promoting biologically sound and socially equitable agriculture through education, research, advocacy, and certification.” Its antecedents reach back to the early 1970s and Regional Tilth, which had chapters in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Northern California and Idaho (read more Oregon Tilth history). Oregon Tilth’s excellent resources (available online) include listings for CSAs, U-picks and farmers’ markets, ingredients sourcing, regulations and trade, farm and garden tools, such as an organic fertilizer calculator from Oregon State University, and much, much more.

Bright green Oregon (viridian, anyone?), fortunately, is no longer alone; the food movement, as Pollan points out, is indeed experiencing heady days. Last week’s progressive-powered Nation magazine was a special issue featuring a “Food for All: How to Grow Democracy” forum, articles on starting a community garden (written by a Portland-area master gardener), ending hunger in Africa, growing local food in New Orleans, improving college cafeterias, a Mississippi farmers’ market and plenty more you might consider shades of beryl, chartreuse, lime or olive. “Food democracy” took center stage in the forum’s intro paragraph, an idea, or meme, whose time has undoubtedly come (and sounding rather all Galbraith/”Good Society” in a, well, good way). “[F]ood democracy,” the Nation editors declaimed, “requires a transformation of the food industry, so that workers and consumers can exercise control over what they produce and eat. As the Small Planet Institute defines it, ‘Food democracy means the right of all to an essential of life—safe, nutritious food. It also suggests fair access to land to grow food and a fair return for those who labor to produce it. Food democracy concerns itself with the future as well: It implies economic rules that encourage communities to safeguard soil, water, and wildlife on which all our lives and futures depend.’ ”

IMG_0050We’ll return to this subject in future posts (a Green Dynamind book review of Berry’s Bringing It to the Table is coming soon), but suffice it to say Oregon and the rest of the nation are making more positive moves to establish food democracy and to enact sound agricultural policies, to raise awareness of where food actually comes from before it hits your plate, to get people eating healthier and more responsibly, and to buy and support what’s local, or what’s local as possible. But there’s still a lot of work to do, as eloquently evidenced by Brent Cunningham in his Nation special food issue contribution, “Cornucopia Blues”:

In his most recent book, In Defense of Food, Pollan offers guidelines for what to eat and how—buy a freezer, eat wild foods when you can, get out of the supermarket—that are suited to people with disposable income, not to the single mother who must feed her kids while working two jobs, negotiating the world without a car and dealing with the many other, less obvious burdens of poverty. To her, the Value Meal at the corner McDonald’s is practicable; foraging for salad greens is not. For the revolution to succeed, it must find ways to make better “food decisions” practicable for her. Even if she wanted to vote with her fork, she has few realistic options as she waits for the system of agricultural subsidies to be fixed.

Let’s ramp up the fixing part, get lawmakers—such as has occurred here in Oregon and in other states—creating stronger and more fair agricultural policies, and get more organic options on the table—everybody’s table! Fast food or convenience market food should not be one of the only options, if not the only option, to those in trying circumstances or of less means. Let’s roll up our sleeves and make this a meaningful moral imperative.

Last but not least, if you’re in the vicinity, it’s not too late to take part in the celebration of this year’s Organically Grown in Oregon Week. Events this weekend include LifeSource Natural Foods in Salem’s farm tours from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Saturday, a farm and vineyard tour in southern Oregon’s breathtaking Applegate Valley 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (also on Saturday), and a People’s Food Co-op and Food Front Co-op cosponsored daylong tour of organic and biodynamic farms in the Hood River Valley this Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.. More details are available on the Oregon Organic Coalition website.

10 Reasons to Support Oregon’s Organic Agriculture

  1. Oregon’s organically grown foods must meet strict USDA standards and organic farms and processors are inspected annually. Oregon Tilth, one of the most respected third‐party certifiers in the United States, certifies most of Oregon’s organic farms and processors.
  2. Oregon’s organically grown foods are grown without persistent pesticides or chemical fertilizers. In the instances where organic farmers use pest controls, they work with a limited number of materials that are carefully selected to ensure that they are safer for people and the environment. Oregon’s organic processed foods contain no artificial or synthetic preservatives that would harm the environment and are minimally processed and manufactured using only a short list of additives allowed by the USDA.
  3. Oregon’s organically grown foods taste great because they are grown close to home and can be harvested ripe and ready for eating or processing. New studies are also showing that many organic foods contain higher levels of nutrients than their conventionally grown counterparts.
  4. Oregon’s organic farms are great stewards of our state’s farmland. Organic farming methods help protect our state’s most valuable agricultural resources, including our soils and waterways.
  5. Oregon’s organic farms are managed by families who are active members in their local communities and committed to the success and vitality of family farms across the state. There are 425 certified organic farms in Oregon, with over 115,000 acres in organic production.
  6. Oregon’s organic farms are located close to their customers, allowing processors and distributors, grocers and consumers to receive the freshest products, often within hours of harvest. Personal relationships can be established between farmer and customer, ensuring a more secure food supply and a better overall understanding of where our food comes from.
  7. Oregon’s organic farms protect the diversity of species and plant genetics in our landscapes. Organic farmers manage the agricultural landscape with the goal of maintaining healthy, balanced ecosystems for generations to come. The variety of local organically grown foods has been an inspiring influence on our culinary arts, both professionally and in the home kitchen.
  8. Oregon’s organic farms grow a feast for the senses, reflecting our state’s unique geography. Potatoes from the Klamath Basin, onions from eastern Oregon, apples and pears from the Columbia Gorge, meats from central Oregon, mixed vegetables and cut flowers from the Willamette Valley, dairy products from the coast, wines from more than a dozen appellations, even grass seed for organic lawns!
  9. Supporting Oregon’s organic farms means ensuring that the state will continue to possess a diverse mix of family farms and that your food dollars will remain in the state to benefit local communities.
  10. Supporting Oregon’s organic agriculture allows you to eat with the seasons. Spring’s rhubarb, peas and greens. Summer’s berries, stone fruits and salads. Autumn’s apples and pears. Winter’s hard squashes and soup vegetables. If it can be grown in Oregon, there is an organic farmer growing it!

“10 Reasons” Source: Oregon Organic Coalition

Oregon community organic gardening in action! The first story is from May 2009 and the second from September 2009.

Country Garden Will Provide Food for Needy People (from OregonLive.com): Empty Multnomah County land taken over by blackberries will soon grow organic produce for the county’s hungry. Commissioners today approved colleague Jeff Cogen’s proposal to use about two acres of a 46-acre Troutdale parcel known as the “pig farm” for a victory garden. Volunteers and residents sentenced to community service will work the land and produce enough food to give 500 needy people a regular supply of fresh vegetables. Read the complete story.

County’s Old ‘Poor Farm’ Nets 3,000 Pounds of Produce (from KGW): Commissioners had planned to celebrate a harvest of 2,000 pounds but were surprised to learn Tuesday that the farm had actually produced 3,000 pounds. All of the produce goes directly to the Oregon Food Bank. Read the complete story.


2 Responses to “A Paean to Organic Agriculture, Oregon Style”

  1. […] posted previously on the growth of organic agriculture and need for more fair agricultural policy, and sincerely hope the work of writers like Wendell Berry, with books as vivid and telling as […]

  2. […] it comes to food (and Green Dynamind has covered the topic in “Back to the Garden” and “A Paean to Organic Agriculture, Oregon Style”), food miles are an additional concern—that is, the distance food travels from its origin to […]