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Food Ink 11
Organic, Grants for Farmers + Small Biz, Milk, 80/20...
Hello friends and farmers,
In this edition, I'm taking you on a mini deep dive into organic agriculture. While I often criticize organic certification for its shortcomings, looking at the sobering statistics of how little penetration has been made by arguably the most successful eco-standard we have to date, I'm inclined to change my tune a bit. I'll still continue to criticize it - that's the only way we can hold individuals, systems, authorities accountable - and advocate for buying as local as possible from producers you know and trust. But ultimately, even corporate "organic" is probably better than nothing.
Before we get to the deep dive, a quick note for farmers and rural small businesses: You may be eligible to apply for funding through the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) Renewable Energy Systems & Energy Efficiency Improvements. You can get funding to cover 25 percent of the cost to purchase and install renewable energy systems or make energy efficiency improvements to your operations. Use the state dropdown to see details specific to your state.
Onwards to the (mini) organic rabbit hole...
💰 Organic food is big business. This graphic outlines some of the most popular organic brands and their corporate parents.
📈 The organic industry has clearly been on the rise in the US.
"There were more than 14,000 certified organic farms in the United States in 2016, according to the latest available data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service. This represents a 56% increase from 2011, the earliest comparable year."
"U.S. farms and ranches sold nearly $7.6 billion in certified organic goods in 2016, more than double the $3.5 billion in sales in 2011."
But that's only a tiny piece of the pie: "There were 5 million certified organic acres of farmland in 2016, representing less than 1% of the 911 million acres of total farmland nationwide."
🗓 More recently, from 2016 to 2019, "the number of operations producing certified organic commodities was up 17%, and land used for certified organic production was up 9%" while overall sales of certified organic commodities rose 31% in the same period.
In 2019, the amount of certified organic farmland grew to 5.5 million acres, while the total land in farms shrunk to 897.4 million acres. Even still, the proportion of farmland that's organic is a tiny percentage - 0.61% to be exact, which seems abysmally low considering the plethora of organic products available on store shelves.
🥛 From the same organic survey, milk was the number one organic commodity by sales, with more than $1.5 billion sold.
Interesting that milk was so recently one of the top organic commodities, despite its collapsing prices due to declining demand for real dairy milk. The dairy industry has seen a particularly high level of consolidation, along with increased output despite the falling number of licensed dairy herds. If the demand for real milk is dropping, supplanted by plant-based dairy alternatives, but milk production is growing, then where is all that milk going?
🐮 Also noteworthy: In 2019, 58% of organic sales came from crops, meaning animal products still play a rather large role in the spread of organic farming, the standards for which were not initially designed with livestock agriculture in mind. When it comes to regenerative agriculture, I imagine animal products play an even bigger role in spreading the adoption of those particular improvements in land management.
⚖️ Summing up, in an almost perfect example of the Pareto principle, "the largest organic farms (sales of $500,000 or more) accounted for fewer than 20% of farms but more than 80% of sales."
⭐️ Given the numerous confusing labels, and all the nitpicking and infighting about grass-fed vs grass-finished, free-range vs pasture-raised, and now regenerative and all its many nuances (Regenerative Organic Certified, Ecological Outcome Verified, Certified Biodynamic, etc.), when faced with a decision to buy organic or not (or for any number of these certifications), be like Nike and just do it. If you can afford to pay the premium for Certified Organic product (even on items where you think it doesn't matter, i.e. the Clean Fifteen), just do it. And rather than be picky about one particular certification standard, pick any of them, whenever you can. Pay the extra for any certification that denotes any type of environmentally-conscious or animal welfare practice or standard, because while there are indeed many flaws with organic and some of these other certifications, we still have a LONG way to go to wean off of conventional agricultural production. Anything is better than nothing.
But of course, whenever you can, keep buying local. And start supporting regenerative.
🌎 While the regenerative agriculture movement is still nascent, it does seems to be growing quickly. Here is a map of regenerative agricultural projects around the world.
📽️ And here is a short film called Farmer's Footprint on the importance of better agriculture for our health, specifically regarding the link between chemical pesticides and cancer.
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Betting the farm,