USDA certified organic foods are grown in only .08 percent of the world’s total farmland. While this percentage is incredibly small, for regions in the United States, organic farming is on the rise. The more educated society become about the benefits of organic farming, the more eco-conscience and health conscious people will be. Here’s what you need to know:
1. Since the late 1940s, farmers across the United States have cultivated farmland using biodiverse methods to produce minimally processed fruits and vegetables free of pesticides, antibiotics, synthetic fertilizers, irradiation, hormones, sewage sludge, or genetically modified organisms. This agricultural process entails facilitating soil health through the incorporation of compost and green manure as well as utilizing crop rotation techniques. Along with natural weed and pest mitigation efforts, organic farming creates a system of ecological balance.
2. Modern organic farming is inspired by the techniques of British botanist and organic farming pioneer Sir Albert Howard. Howard wrote, “An Agricultural Testament,” which outlined his approach to farming. Organic farming was initially embraced by the environmental community due to concern about the escalating use of synthetic fertilizers, but today has garnered even greater support among mainstream consumers rocked by fear over continuous food recalls.
3. The Organic Trade Association determined that organic food sales eclipsed those of mainstream edibles in the U.S. in 2008 with a 15.8 percent increase. Of the $22.9 billion earned, 37 percent of sales were produce-related. In order to ensure food is legitimately organic and farmer accountability is exercised through stringent cultivation standards, the USDA officially implemented a certification process in October 2002.
4. Globally, an estimated 32.2 million hectares of land are organically farmed, which is a mere 0.8 percent of the total farmland in the world. In contrast, of the 372 million hectares of conventional U.S. farmland, 2.6 million of those acres were farmed organically in 2007—less than 1 percent of cropland.
5. The geographic regions that have most heavily focused on organic production in America are located largely in California, the Northeast and Northwest.
6. The longest-running U.S. study comparing organic and conventional farming techniques—spearheaded by the nonprofit group, The Rodale Institute, suggests that if world agricultural efforts were converted entirely over to organic methods, we could effectively combat global warming. In the U.S. alone, the 1.5 trillion pounds of the agriculturally produced CO2 released annually could be eliminated if we relied solely on organic farming methods.
7. Many conventional farmers are hesitant to make the switch over to certified organic techniques. This is not just because organic farming requires one to follow a far greater list of checks and balances, but also because of lower crop yield per acre (sometimes by as much as 20 percent) which cuts into profit margins. Other factors that make the switch undesirable include comprehensive manual labor, sometimes-ineffective pest control options, and the genetic contamination of open-pollinating crops from nearby GM fields.
8. When all is said and done, organic food ends up costing the consumer from 10 to 40 percent more than mainstream versions, but proponents claim that affordable options can be found by joining Community Supported Agriculture groups, shopping at farmer’s markets and shopping in conjunction with sales and coupons.
9. Together, Aurora Milk—manufacturer of Costco, Wild Oats, and Safeway private label organic dairy products—and Horizon Organic has 65 percent control of the organic dairy market in the U.S. However, they source their product from feedlot dairies. Remarkably, they aren’t breaking any USDA rules since there are no rules regarding how much pasture cows should have access to.
10. Other companies like Stonyfield Farm rack up serious food miles and questionable eco-ethics by sourcing fruit from foreign companies and contemplating the import of organic milk powder in an effort to meet consumer demand at reduced costs.