It’s Organic September, and this week on Social Media we have been asking the question- What does organic mean?
And for me, another question is- how did it get mixed up with the word “Artisan?”
I find it really intriguing that somehow these two words often get tangled up in relation to food. Artisan chocolate? I get that. Artisan pottery, ceramics, textiles? I get that too. But I struggle to marry up the word “artisan” with the dirty spuds and carrots in our shop.
Perhaps it’s not even the word Artisan I have a problem with. After all, all it means in relation to food is that it is produced “by hand” in a traditional way, and there is an enormous amount of love and craft in what the farmers do. And don’t get me wrong, I LOVE the work of Artisans. Perhaps it’s more the barrier I feel like it puts up for people. Calling fruit and veg artisan makes it a little less accessible and a little bit more full of bollocks.
I feel at this point, I should qualify this blog post with, well, my lack of qualification. I do not come from a long line of farmers, nor do I even come from a family of greengrocers. In fact, some may say my degree in Art History left me ill-equipped for the world of fruit and veg. Or anything else for that matter. But I am hugely interested in what I do. I am always learning and always happy to chat to people who know more than I do.
So what exactly does “organic” mean in relation to farming? This is how I understand what organic means…
- Organic Farming means looking after the soil. It’s easy to overlook the vast amounts of micro-organisms that live in the soil in which we grow the food that keeps us alive. Plants establish better roots in better soil, which makes them more resistant to floods/droughts and all the other shit that’s coming our way. It’s not glamorous, but it’s incredibly beautiful.
If you want to know more about this, there’s an excellent article by George Monbiot here: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/mar/25/treating-soil-like-dirt-fatal-mistake-human-life which discusses the idea that we only have 60 harvests left if we go on like we are.
- In line with looking after the soil, Organic farming uses no chemical pesticides or fertilizers. It goes without saying that this is better for the environment and our health. Don’t let that put you off eating your fruit and veg. Any fruit and veg is better than none, but if you can get organic, so much the better.
If you want to just try switching up some of your fruit and veg to organic, some is known to have more pesticide residue than others, known as the “dirty dozen”- more info on the specifics here: https://www.foodsafetymagazine.com/news/2018-dirty-dozen-and-clean-fifteen-lists-rank-produce-items-by-pesticide-level/
- It means accepting the fact that we are not the only f#ckers on the planet. Everything on earth is interlinked, which is true regardless of whether or not you consider this to be a “hippy” notion.There is up to 50% more wildlife on organic farms than regular farms. You may also have heard of “permaculture” or “biodynamic farming”. Put simply, these are all just methods of farming that work with nature rather than against it. There’s a lovely example of this called the 3 Sisters Planting method, for growing corn, beans and squash. You plant the corn first, then the pole beans which support the corn, then the squash. The beans add nitrogen to the soil and the squash shades out the weeds.
When we plant up huge areas of monocrops (wheat, corn and soy being the larger examples), for the sake of progress and ease, we are wreaking havoc on natural systems that are not used to working in this way. They are naturally more unstable and less pest-resistant, meaning they need an ever increasing use of new pesticides to keep them growing.
This is a very reductionist list of the complexities of organic farming, but I hope it gives you a bit of an idea.
Because we live in a topsy turvy world where Trump is President and Boris Johnson is still alive, it’s the organic farmers who become accredited to prove they don’t use extra crap to make the food grow, rather than the people who use lots of chemicals.
To sell produce labelled as organic, farmers have to become accredited with a body such as the Soil Association. There is a cost inherent in this which is one of the reasons why organic fruit and veg is sometimes pricier. (Although at this abundant time of year, there’s not much in it. I price checked our stuff this week and it is comparable to both Morrisons and Tesco produce).
The very last thing Lisa and I want to do is price people our of coming to the shop. But we have to be realistic and we are constantly navigating a very thin line between a) not wanting to charge too much and b) needing to charge enough so that we can still be here in a few years time. The more shops there are selling organic produce, the more demand there is and the more incentive there will be for organic farming.
We are not daft though. We realise that no matter how much we adjust our pricing, there are some people who cannot afford organic at all, and some of our longer term aims as a company are to do with addressing this. If you can though, perhaps just incorporate an extra thing or two into your usual shop. Shop seasonally, and everything is cheaper anyway.
I’d love to know your thoughts on all this.