Is Organic Too Expensive? How Much is Organic worth?

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Let’s Face it. Organic is Expensive.

When I marketed Organic food to few consumers, they nodded in agreement about the goodness and health benefits. But the one question that I squirmed at was, “I heard its expensive, what’s the difference?”. At the end of the day it all boils down to the economics.

Before I entered the business, people said, that the difference would be 20%. Its only when I got about selling Organic produce that I understood the true value. It shot up to be 50% to almost 100% more expensive than the regular produce.

I could not sell. The mere thought of a consumer, “I get food for half the price in the super store with air conditioner and parking facility”, cannot compete with my humble room that held wooden shelves and bamboo baskets of organic produce. The inquisitive ones never returned and the regulars picked up a packet or two to satisfy their guilt. For weeks I went under loss and could not bear the sight of rotting vegetables and bug infested grains. I closed.

What is the benefit of making something that’s good but will not sell locally? Export is not an option I wish not to take to promote being local.

When I started to look for reasons for the exorbitant prices here are a few causes:

Organic Food is not subsidized food

After World War II countries who took to Green Revolution satisfied hunger and famine with chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Governmental policies till date stand in favour of them. So you might pay lesser for a regular veggie in the market but you still pay for the fertilizers through your taxes. There is no such subsidy for organic manure or bio-inputs.

It is labour intensive

Farmers do not use herbicides, so they control weeds by pulling them out. Many organic methods use lesser or no machinery and require great human care during seeding and plucking.

Low yields initially

Those who convert to Organic Farming lose 3 years as conversion period and yields reduce drastically. The soil is dead with chemicals that have killed essential micro-organisms. It takes that long to revive the earth and diminish the residual effect.

Misconception of niche audiences

A middle class man asked me to leave his grocery store and said “Take your organically grown rice and feed the elite, upper class who will agree with your ideologies”. People look at Organic Food as something that is delicate, precious and to be admired at a distance, but impractical for living.

Retailers are out to get your money – wrong!

Most retailers do not keep high margins on their products just because it is “Organic”. Infact those who sell Organic products know that they can never hope to make great profits and do it for the passion and dedication. When they buy it from the farmer, they procure it at the cost that you find on the store shelves of non-organic produce.

Hype on Organic

Right to the farmer level, the hype of Organic Food has also contributed to price increase, but these are proving to settled down with more competition and expansion of the market.

The need for change

Its easy to convert the soil to Organic but not the Human mind. We are conditioned to such sub-standards and mis-conceptions of science for years in the argument of feeding the masses. Organic Fields have proven this wrong with better yields. Governments are no longer dependable as they yield to the giants of agro-chemicals, bio-technology and eat up more cultivable lands for industries.

Consumerist behaviors have to change and its time we bow down to and support the producer who provides us good health.

I invite people to give suggestions to make this change happen.

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How Peanut Butter helps the planet

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One of the daily decisions we all face is what to eat. How do we eat well and in a way that’s good for the environment — and at the same time have meals that are easy to fix and taste good?

One food that fits all this is the simple Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich. According to the PB&J Campaign website:

  • Eating a Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich instead of a grilled cheese or chicken sandwich saves 2.5 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions. That’s almost half of what you’d save if you switched to a Hybrid car.
  • The same sandwich will save 280 gallons of water since growing peanuts takes less water than livestock.
  • Growing peanuts also takes less land than animals — so your sandwich could help preserve 12-50 square feet of land from being used for cultivation.

I bet you didn’t realize that eating three Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwiches could have the same environmental impact as switching your showers to a low-flow shower head.

This is the type of information we want to share. How can we change our daily habits to have less environmental impact in ways that fit our busy lives? This one is simple. Eat more peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Plus, they taste good and cost less.

In addition to being better for the environment, they’re also very healthy as long as you don’t eat too much. According to WebMD, peanut butter is high in fat, but those fats are relatively healthy ones. Everyone needs some fat in their diets — just not too much — and over 80% of the fats in peanut butter are the healthy kind.

According to the WebMD article, “It is hard to believe that something so wonderful could also be good for you.” Peanut butter “is chock full of good nutrition without those unhealthy trans fatty acids. The only limitation to enjoying peanut butter is the two-tablespoon portion size”

But what about all the fat and the less-healthy oils that sometimes get processed into commercial peanut butter? Does that make it bad? According to Leslie Bonci, director of sports nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, that isn’t always the case. “Fresh ground is not necessarily better,” Bonci says. “The fat and calorie content are pretty much the same whether you grind your own or buy commercial peanut butter.”

Again, according to Bonci, the serving size is 2 tablespoons.

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The Six Classic Books on Organic Growing

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It’s Sunday night and I’m on my laptop to begin this passionate subject – Organics!

My mind was whizzing with random topics and bits of information to write on this column. I realized then that the best way to start is with history. The past can reveal so many hidden secrets that the world is now re-discovering.

It is only a matter of a hundred years that such change has occurred — and thankfully grandmothers still exist to tell us to treat a cold with honey and basil!

For every problem we recognize with our current living system that is incompatible with nature, we need to look into old knowledge banks.

Our ancestors, wore clothes, cooked food, had shelter and traveled extensively, sans technology. We struggle to do the same in this generation of automatic, disposable culture without harming the environment.

Organic farming is rooted in ancient knowledge passed down through generations.
–David Suzuki

Hence I’m going to suggest some reading material to begin with. The books are by pioneers who were disturbed by the technological high and finally found their ways to a better and greener living.

Though the books are based on Agriculture, we need to understand where our food comes from and make right choices. Personally, reading them has taught me to respect the existence of matter, living and non-living in this chain called LIFE.

The One-Straw Revolution – Masanobu Fukoka
A Japanese Agricultural Scientist was in dilemma with his spiritual principles and the science he was practicing. He left his job and went back to his father’s farm and practiced Agriculture. The author takes you through a journey of revelation. He went on to become the Father of Natural Farming and Do-Nothing Farming. This book is a must for all those who wish to understand the difference of Organic and Conventional Agriculture.

Silent Spring – Rachel Carson
By the conventional practices and hazardous pesticides like DDT, we destroy several eco-systems that thrive and survive in farms. This natural historian writes on how pesticides have affected birds and the environment. She chose to call her book so, as the birds of the Spring season, were no longer heard chirping.

Ancient Roots, New Shoots : Endogenous Development in Practice – Bertus Haverkort, Katrien van ‘t Hooft & Wim Hiemstra (eds)
The Present global problems of poverty, ecological destruction and loss of cultural diversity call for innovative solutions. This book presents a number of field experiences of endogenous development, or development from within, in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, South America and Europe. With a good balance of theory and practice, this book can be immensely useful to development practitioners, researchers and policy makers, especially in the fields of rural development, agriculture, natural resource management and health

An Agricultural Testament – Sir Albert Howard
The author worked in India when the country was still under the British Empire. He came to spread the use of chemical fertilizers but after 25 years, left with the understanding of nature. By working with poor farmers he understood a great deal of traditional farming practices in relation to the soil fertility that a healthy eco-system survives on.

Agriculture: An Introductory Reader – Rudolf Steiner
Steiner is the father of Bio-Dynamic Agriculture that revolves around the science of the cosmos that play a major role in the time crops are planted. This natural science is related to Vrikshayurveda (Sanskrit term to mean the Plant Life Science or the Science of Plant Life) – (Vriksha = tree + Ayur- Veda = science of life). In the Organic Revolution, Bio Dynamic Agriculture is gaining more ground and is the present trend.

Look to the Land – Lord Northbourne
Northbourne coined the word “Organic Farming”. Chapter 3 contains the differences between Organic Farming and Chemical farming. He teaches that the farm is an organism, a living entity that has a balanced organic life. The eco-system is interdependent and every creature has a role to play in this balance. He was inspired by Rudolf Steiner’s work on Agriculture. To Northbourne Organic Agriculture determines the quality of food we eat, “Food of better quality is food which has vitality, individuality, freshness; food which is grown right, not only food that looks right; food which is effective as a vehicle of life and is not either mere stimulant or mere filling”

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A simple step you can take: Eat more locally grown food

“Eating locally isn’t just a fad like the various diets advertised on late-night TV – it may be one of the most important ways we save ourselves and the planet.”
– Dr. David Suzuki, chair, The David Suzuki Foundation

As a follow up to this recent photoset on eating locally grown food, here are set of resources to help you take steps to reduce how far your food travels before it reaches you.

1. Local Harvest

According to their website, “The best organic food is what’s grown closest to you. Use our website to find farmers’ markets, family farms, and other sources of sustainably grown food in your area, where you can buy produce, grass-fed meats, and many other goodies.”

This is a great resource/directory for locating organic farms, community supported farms and other organic and local food sources. On the Local Harvest site you can search for local Farms, CSA programs, Farmer’s Markets, Restaurants, and Grocery/Co-ops that provide local food options for you and your family.

(I personally joined a local CSA that I found through this site — and the food we received in our shares was amazing.)

2. Local Food Directories – National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service

This is a similar resource to Local Harvest allowing you to search for and find directories of source for locally grown food in your area.

They mainly list directories instead of lists of farms and stores — for example, a search for New Hampshire, USA resulted in three directories:

  • New Hampshire Organic Farm Guide (NOFA-NH) – Listings of organic farms by county
  • New Hampshire’s Own – A directory of local orchards, farms, and farmer’s markets.
  • New Hampshire Farm Stand Directory – A directory of farm stands in the state

Between these two resources, you can probably find most of outlets for locally grown food in your area.

3. The Eat Local Challenge

From the site: “ is a group blog written by authors who are interested in the benefits of eating food grown and produced in their local foodshed.”

The Eat Local Challenge is an interesting group weblog with a lot of information on the challenges of eating locally and how the authors solve them. They provide a lot of background on the benefits and importance of buying local foods, as well as the impacts on your local community that it will have.

4. Wikipedia entry on Local Food

While this isn’t the best reference as of this writing, I want to include it for a couple reasons. First, there is some good information that that could be useful to you immediately. Second, I encourage you to add more information to the entry there as you learn more about local eating. It’s important that we share the knowledge we develop, and wikipedia is a great place to do that.

5. The 100 Mile Diet

This is a companion site to the book Plenty: One Man, One Woman, and a Raucous Year of Eating Locally. Their getting started guide is a fast read and will introduce you to some of the important ideas behind eating locally.

If you have other resources or ideas, please leave them in the comments and I’ll consider adding them to this list -

So Eating Local Food is Worse Than Flying Grapes in From Chile?

There’s an opinion piece in the NY Times today that argues against local food production being the most environmentally friendly way to get food to your table.

As regular readers know, this is a subject that’s dear to us here at 21st Century Citizen. We believe that supporting local agriculture has many benefits — including promoting biodiversity, giving people more of a stake in their personal food supply chain, promoting local economic growth, and getting better tasting food.

But certainly, reducing the distance your food travels should have an impact on the amount of energy required to produce, package and get it to your table? Shouldn’t it?

Well, today’s NY Times presents an argument for the opposite. Here’s a snippet:

But is reducing food miles necessarily good for the environment? Researchers at Lincoln University in New Zealand, no doubt responding to Europe’s push for “food miles labeling,” recently published a study challenging the premise that more food miles automatically mean greater fossil fuel consumption. Other scientific studies have undertaken similar investigations. According to this peer-reviewed research, compelling evidence suggests that there is more — or less — to food miles than meets the eye.

The article is worth reading completely, so I recommend you do so.

But in the end, it seems to say that localfood in and of itself is not a cure-all. It’s simply one part of what needs to be a coordinated approach to create a sustainable food supply that will support us as we move forward into the 21st Century.

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Farming Organic Produce Underground in Tokyo

Tree hugger brings us news on new twist on local food, an underground farm in Tokyo. It’s main purpose is to provide training for Japanese students interested in learning about farming.

It reminds me of the Winter I grew organic tomatoes in my basement under lights. I calculated that it cost me $25 a month for electricity, lights, soil, etc — but I had fresh, organic tomatoes all Winter.

For more info, see also this article: Tokyo: Underground High Tech Urban Organic Farming. There are a lots of pictures and it will give you a good idea of what it’s all about.

Here’s a layout of the underground farm:

And on the map above,

  • Room 1: Flower field. White LEDs are used. Plant cultivation by RGB LED. Metal halids spotlights are used.
  • Room 2: Herb field. Metal halids spotlights are used.
  • Room 3: Shelf rice field. Metal halids lamps and high-pressure sodium lamps are used. It explains that it is possible to do by three crops a year.
  • Room 4: Fruit/vegetable field. Cultivation of tomato by hydroponics. 3 wavelength, 5000 deg. K, High-frequency fluorescent lamp.
  • Room 5: Vegetable field. Metal halids spotlights are used.
  • Room 6: Seedling room. Lettuces are being grown with fluorescent lamps. 2xFour steps cultivation bed.

And check out these fresh, organic tomatoes:

Seacoast EatLocal Blog reviews video on food supply

Here’s a wonderful post from Seacoast Eat Local, wonderful, very-local blog located in the Seacoast area of Southern, NH.

They blogged today about a youtube video that very simply lays out the story of our food supply and some of the issues surrounding it. For example, did you know that the process of growing, processing and shipping food where it’s grown to your door consumes about 17% of the energy used in the United States?

This short video takes just a few minutes to watch – and it’s simple message will stick with you.

Another great part of their site is their wiki page. It’s a collection of local food information for their local area. It’s a great example of how local communities can gather and share knowledge about local food optoins in their area.

This video was published by ‘Video Nation’, the video arm of ‘The Nation’ magazine. For background on ‘The Nation’, see this article in Wikipedia which provides information on this publisher.

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Still Life With Produce

Still Life With Produce, originally uploaded by shawn schreiner.

More local food shots today. It’s almost August and we’re at just about the peak of gardening and local produce season. The tomatoes this time of year are about the best food on earth (if you ask me!).

This week, make an effort to buy some local food. Look for a sign at your local store, or find a farmer’s market nearby.

If you’re at the store, ask someone in the produce department if they have locally grown produce. They may have it, but not have it marked.

Let them know you’re interested in it and they’ll remember — and it may make it easier for local farmers the next time they try to sell their goods to that store.

If you don’t know where to buy locally grown food, try searching – they have databases of local growers and community supported agriculture (CSA) farms.

Eating local will taste better because the food is fresher. It will also make your soul feel better because of the good your doing for the planet and your community.

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Beef Belches Be Big, Big Broblem

The About Simple Ways blog notes a recent Japanese study which says eating a pound of beef is worse for the environment than “driving your car for three hours while leaving all the lights on back home.”

This study was also pointed to by the news service:

A kilogram of beef is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions and other pollution than driving for 3 hours while leaving all the lights on back home.

This is among the conclusions of a study by Akifumi Ogino of the National Institute of Livestock and Grassland Science in Tsukuba, Japan, and colleagues, which has assessed the effects of beef production on global warming, water acidification and eutrophication, and energy consumption.

In other words, a kilogram of beef is responsible for the equivalent of the amount of CO2 emitted by the average European car every 250 kilometres, and burns enough energy to light a 100-watt bulb for nearly 20 days.

NewScientist goes on to say, “Most of the greenhouse gas emissions are in the form of methane released from the animals’ digestive systems, while the acid and fertilising substances come primarily from their waste. Over two-thirds of the energy goes towards producing and transporting the animals’ feed.”

Also, Action Today chips in its two cents

If every Canadian citizen ate just one meal a week that consisted of locally and organically raised meats and produce we would reduce our oil consumption by 5.7 million barrels of oil a year! Each food item in a typical meal has traveled an average of 1500 miles.

Farmers are working to reduce this as much as they can. For example, a recent article in New Zealand’s Farm News notes that “a Swedish study in 2003 suggested that organic beef, raised on grass rather than concentrated feed, emits 40 percent less greenhouse gases and consumes 85 per cent less energy.

But even with all this research on feeding practice, the simplest approach may be a bit more obvious:

“Everybody is trying to come up with different ways to reduce carbon footprints,” says Su Taylor of the Vegetarian Society in the UK: “But one of the easiest things you can do is to stop eating meat.”

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“What would you be willing to do limit and/or regulate the meat industry in order to curb the climate crisis?”

In a video posted testerday on youtube, David Fisher asks, “What would you be willing to do limit and/or regulate the meat industry in order to curb the climate crisis?”

His point is that methane is a greenhouse gas in the same way that CO2 is, except that the science shows it packs a more potent global warming punch than CO2. In fact, it’s 20 times more potent than CO2 according to the US Environmental Protection Agency.

Also, United Nations (U.N.) recently said said that raising animals for food generates more greenhouse gases than all the cars and trucks in the world combined.

So — that’s an interesting question. What would you personally be willing to do? It’s really a question of values — what is more important to you?

David posted this question on youtube hoping for responses from youtube viewers. Are you willing to answer? Follow the video on youtube to see what responses he gets.