As “Organic” Becomes More Popular, Is It Losing Its Meaning?
Much of the organic produce we will see in our grocery stores this winter is really reaching when it comes to meeting the ideals of traditional organic food. It used to be that organic produce was grown free of chemicals and pesticides, and on small local farms as to protect the environment. Nowadays, Americans expect to buy organic produce year-round and at reasonable prices, which begs the question, “how can organic farmers sustain their farming practices?”
TODOS SANTOS, Mexico — Clamshell containers on supermarket shelves in the United States may depict verdant fields, tangles of vines and ruby red tomatoes. But at this time of year, the tomatoes, peppers and basil certified as organic by the Agriculture Department often hail from the Mexican desert, and are nurtured with intensive irrigation.
Growers here on the Baja Peninsula, the epicenter of Mexico’s thriving new organic export sector, describe their toil amid the cactuses as “planting the beach.”
Del Cabo Cooperative, a supplier here for Trader Joe’s and Fairway, is sending more than seven and a half tons of tomatoes and basil every day to the United States by truck and plane to sate the American demand for organic produce year-round.
But even as more Americans buy foods with the organic label, the products are increasingly removed from the traditional organic ideal: produce that is not only free of chemicals and pesticides but also grown locally on small farms in a way that protects the environment.
The explosive growth in the commercial cultivation of organic tomatoes here, for example, is putting stress on the water table. In some areas, wells have run dry this year, meaning that small subsistence farmers cannot grow crops. And the organic tomatoes end up in an energy-intensive global distribution chain that takes them as far as New York and Dubai, United Arab Emirates, producing significant emissions that contribute to global warming.
Tell us what you think of the efforts to meet the demands for organic produce by posting a comment below!