What does “organic” mean? Yes, many of us know what “organic” means in terms of marketing; a few of us know what it means in regards to how items are grown, but what does “organic” mean to populations and peoples in general?
“Organic farming promotes the sustainable health and productivity of the ecosystem – soil, plants, animals and people. Organic foods are farmed in an environmentally sustainable and socially responsible way, focusing on soil regeneration, water conservation and animal welfare.” (http://www.certifiedorganic.bc.ca/aboutorganic/whatis.php)
Personally, I’m not on the organic bandwagon. It’s not that I disagree with the above ideals, but I disagree with how it’s marketed. Why is “organic” so expensive? Why is “organic” so heavily governed? Why is “organic” so elite? If I grow something in my own backyard, where I have the most control over the growing environment, it’s not “organic”, which implies by organic marketing that it’s not as good for me as “organic”. Pah.
I grew up with my “hands in the dirt”… and my feet, knees, elbows… even my face. I used to play in my parents’ and grandparents’ gardens. I used to run to fetch cows, ride Nifty into the barn to collect eggs, pull carrots, cooled by the earth, yet warm from the sun, brush off the dirt (nutrient rich from our own backyard compost) and eat while sitting in the garden. I don’t need to be lectured on “organic”… these marketers don’t understand the meaning of “organic”. And I’m sure as hell not paying twice as much for “organic”.
Blackberries… once again my mind turns to blackberries. Why, why, why would anyone choose to pay so much money for a berry that grows like a weed everywhere in our area? Go for a walk, marketers! Carry a basket, get of your high “organic” horse and pick a blackberry for free. Oh, yes, you don’t want us to do that. Why? Because we’ll realize that “organic” and organic are not the same thing and you’ll be out of a job.
Yes, I’m cynical about “organic”. Guthman’s “Bringing Good Food to Others” just begins to scratch the surface of why. I don’t have the money/resources for “organic”. I’ve a child whom some people think would benefit from “organic” (particularly the marketers), but I’ve a garden and I grow food. I’m not swayed by “getting my hands in the dirt”, it’s not a romantic notion, it is common sense because I have a limited budget.
I make my own jams, I’ve purchase only one jar of jam in my life (purchased on a whim because I was craving Saskatoons and don’t have these berries available to me). I can and freeze fruits and vegetables. We put up our own produce for cooler months and eat these before we run to the store to purchase more. I walk through the farmers’ markets, which I love, but I don’t purchase anything I can do myself. Why would I? Yes, those pies are lovely, but I can do it myself. That jar of pickles looks beautiful, but I can do it myself. I love those quilts, but I can do it myself. Your fondant cakes are pretty, but I can do it myself. That bread smells amazing… I don’t have the recipe, so I’m going to purchase a loaf and try to figure it out for myself.
In short, for me, the farmers’ markets are inspiration more than anything else. I’ll grab a cup of coffee to enjoy while I wander (I make terrible coffee), and I’ll purchase those items I cannot produce myself: meats, salmon, fruits; but the farmers’ market is not a yuppie kingdom to court. Ooo, ouch! Did I just draw the line between “us” and “them”? Guthman’s students have great ideas and ideals. And as people who’ve never had the opportunity to experience a garden, or have only had the romantic flirtations with gardening, I think I can understand the appeal.
But remember the post war era? Okay, I don’t, I’m too young, and many of us are… let’s try this: remember our parents? Do/did they get excited over “modern conveniences”? Did TV dinners and microwaves send tingles of delight down their spines? Yes, it may sound horrid to you (me too), but I understand the conveniences and the desire to step away from what you had to do. Have you ever used a washboard regularly? I have. Not fun. I still own one, it’s in the shed collecting cobwebs and making some spider a lovely home, I’m sure. I now use stronger detergent on socks or just let socks grey.
Some of us had to work harder than others for what we all can now take for granted. Those people who had, (rather those who had-not) are not necessarily ready for the “back to the good old days” mentality. And while I agree, many of those ways are healthier, there is going to be mental block style resistance. So why make it more difficult? Why make “organic” so expensive? Marketing monsters? Big-brother Business? I don’t know. I don’t have the answer to that – and I think that’s Guthman’s point.
But this reflection has not changed my resolve. I plan to grow herbs in my classroom next year. And I would like to have a larger herb garden at school, (our cafeteria can wipe it out in one meal – it’s just not big enough to meet our needs). Why? Because fresh herbs taste wonderful. Because they smell so good. Because I want my students to learn how to cook with them (they cook differently than dried ones). Because I want my students to have the opportunity to see “Field to Fork” in action… even if the “field” is a vertical garden. And because it has the potential to save some money.
It’s not about “organic”, or even making assumptions about the cultural context about gardening. It’s about showing students the science behind their food and the impact this can have so that they can make an informed choice. If they desire a garden in their future, I’ve done my job, and if they don’t… well, I’ve still done my job.
Guthman, J. (2008). Bringing good food to others: Investigating the subjects of alternative food practice, cultural geographies, 15: 431-447.