Several weeks ago I had the opportunity to visit Rodale Institute in Pennsylvania and tour their 330 acre organic farm. Aside from enjoying a beautiful day in the country, I learned a bit more about modern organic farming and listened to a lively discussion on the benefits of organic farming and eating.
Rodale Institute was founded in 1947 by organic pioneer J.I. Rodale to study the link between healthy soil, healthy food and healthy people. Since that time the Institute has been dedicated to pioneering organic farming through research and outreach.
As a registered dietitian who speaks often to the media, I’ve never been 100% comfortable promoting organic eating in all circumstances. Don’t get me wrong… I believe in the ideas behind the organic movement, and if you’ve chosen to go organic, I’m fully supportive! But unfortunately it’s not always feasible — for cost or accessibility reasons — for people to eat all organic foods all of the time. I am mindful of the reality that some Americans are reliant on food banks or are in precarious economic circumstances that make paying $1 more for a gallon of milk or pint of strawberries a deal-breaker. And in some parts of the US, finding a large, year-round supply of organic produce is difficult, if not impossible.
Still, there are many great reasons to choose organic produce and dairy when budget allows and if you have access to organics. While science has yet to show that organic food is unequivocally more nutritious than conventionally grown food, there are some compelling reasons to go organic.
My trip to the Rodale farm inspired me to do more research on the organic issue. Below are some sound reasons, courtesy of organic.org, to consider going organic:
1. Reduce The Toxic Load: Keep Chemicals Out of the Air, Water, Soil and our Bodies
Buying organic food promotes a less toxic environment for all living things. With only 0.5 percent of crop and pasture land in organic, according to USDA that leaves 99.5 percent of farm acres in the U.S. at risk of exposure to noxious agricultural chemicals. Our bodies are the environment so supporting organic agriculture doesn’t just benefit your family, it helps all families live less toxically.
2. Reduce if Not Eliminate Off Farm Pollution
Industrial agriculture doesn’t singularly pollute farmland and farm workers; it also wreaks havoc on the environment downstream. Pesticide drift affects non-farm communities with odorless and invisible poisons. Synthetic fertilizer drifting downstream is the main culprit for dead zones in delicate ocean environments, such as the Gulf of Mexico, where its dead zone is now larger than 22,000 square kilometers, an area larger than New Jersey, according to Science magazine.
3. Protect Future Generations
Before a mother first nurses her newborn, the toxic risk from pesticides has already begun. Studies show that infants are exposed to hundreds of harmful chemicals in utero. In fact, our nation is now reaping the results of four generations of exposure to agricultural and industrial chemicals, whose safety was deemed on adult tolerance levels, not on children’s. According to the National Academy of Science, “neurologic and behavioral effects may result from low-level exposure to pesticides.” Numerous studies show that pesticides can adversely affect the nervous system, increase the risk of cancer, and decrease fertility.
4. Build Healthy Soil
Mono-cropping and chemical fertilizer dependency has taken a toll with a loss of top soil estimated at a cost of $40 billion per year in the U.S., according to David Pimental of Cornell University. Feeding the soil with organic matter instead of ammonia and other synthetic fertilizers may increase some nutrients in some produce, with higher levels of vitamins and minerals found in organic food, according to a 2005 study, “Elevating Antioxidant levels in food through organic farming and food processing,” Organic Center State of Science Review (1.05)
5. Promote Biodiversity
Visit an organic farm and you’ll notice something: a buzz of animal, bird and insect activity. These organic oases are thriving, diverse habitats. Native plants, birds and hawks return usually after the first season of organic practices; beneficial insects allow for a greater balance, and indigenous animals find these farms a safe haven. As best said by Aldo Leopold, “A good farm must be one where the native flora and fauna have lost acreage without losing their existence.” An organic farm is the equivalent of reforestation.
Want to learn more about organic foods and farming? Visit these great online resources:
|“Does It Pay to Buy Organic?” by Carol Marie Cropper. Business Week, Sept. 6, 2004.
“Eating Better than Organic,” by John Cloud. Time Magazine, Mar. 2, 2007. Full text:http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1595245,00.html
Food Labeling: Organic Foods. Food and Nutrition Information Center, National Agricultural Library, USDA.
Food Safety and Quality as Affected by Organic Farming. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 2000.
Guide to Organic Market, Industry and Consumer Studies (2004-2008). Guide 6 in the series, Organic Agricultural Products: Marketing and Trade Resources. Alternative Farming Systems Information Center, National Agricultural Library, 2008.
Organic Foods: Are they Safer? More Nutritious? Mayo Clinic/Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER), 2006.
Organic vs Non-organic Farming – The Debate. The Royal Society of Chemistry, UK. 2008.
Organic vs. Nonorganic: Understanding the Issues. Quamut.com, Barnes & Noble, Inc.
Scientific Findings about Organic Agriculture: Organic and Conventional Comparisons. Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, Iowa State University, 2008.
Sustainable Table. The Issues. GRACE, 2008.
“When it Pays to Buy Organic.” Consumer Reports, Feb. 2006.