FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Organic and Beyond

Those of us who advocate a new, environmentally sound agricultural model know full well that organic farming out-competes industrial conventional farming in all indicators, including yields, consumer benefits, rural economic development, environmental protection and hunger eradication. We know full well that the methodologies of organic agriculture have as much or more scientific validation than conventional agriculture and that these represent the vanguard of the agriculture of the future. By whatever name it goes- agroecology, permaculture, ecological farming, biodynamics- this modality of agricultural production, which combines the best of ancient traditions with modern science, is our best bet in facing pressing global challenges like climate change, peak oil, the food crisis and the worldwide economic debacle.

We know all those things. Among sustainable agriculture advocates, these are facts that are not in controversy. So let me now say some things that might be controversial: Organic is not enough. Organic will be an effective proposal for change only to the extent that it is integrated into the local and global movements that carry on the fight for food sovereignty, climate justice, ecological debt, women’s rights and labor organizing; and against enclosures of common goods, as in the case with patents on seeds; for the defense of water and seed as inalienable human rights, for the human right to housing, education, health care and food. In a single word: justice.

This means that the concept “organic” cannot be the only criterion when passing judgement on agricultural production. There are other elements that must be considered. I wholeheartedly agree with the following words of Mario Mejia-Gutierrez, professor at Colombia’s National University:

“It is indispensable to remember the existence of values, principles and social proposals of a category higher than the economic and ecological, in particular moral, ethical, historical, philosophical, political, religious and spiritual elements; and of course, without rolling out the whole list, we present some examples: truth, mercy and beauty, the trilogy of Mokiti Okada, founder of messianic agriculture; justice, as pointed out in Nitiren’s agricultural proposal; love and forgiveness, as stated by Jesus; compassion, if we follow the Buddha; the virtues of personal enlightenment, in the style of Lao Tse: austerity, laboriousness, humility, loyalty; liberty in relation with peace, democracy, the practice of one’s own culture, the right to be… Can a social system of solidarity-based relationships between producer and consumer of healthy foods be constructed solely with economic and ecological arguments?”

(Source: http://webs.chasque.net/)

Indeed, there is a multiplicity of values and criteria to consider, which go way beyond dollars and cents, even beyond narrow concepts of environmental protection. To those mentioned by Mejia-Gutierrez I would add more: friendship, solidarity and patriotism.

Patriotism, as in the case of Raul Noriega, who has been working his farm continuously for over twenty years, and has been an organic producer since 2000. The farm, located in the Barrio Pasto community in the municipality of Aibonito, where four generations of Noriegas live together in a humble little house, has been in the family’s possession for over 150 years. Raul has had a heart attack, a stroke, and more recently an amputation, and nevertheless he is still dedicated to agriculture with the same fire and energy as when he started practicing. He is a founding member of the Madre Tierra Organic Farming Co-op and board member of the Agrocomercial Farm Co-op, Puerto Rico’s oldest farm co-op, with over 70 years of existence. He heads the Agrocomercial’s Education Committee, whose tasks include the publication of the “Agrocooperando” newspaper, of which I am senior editor.

I cannot talk about Raul without mentioning his loyal wife Laura Morcilio, who has been at his side in both good and bad times for more than twenty years and who, because of her husband’s delicate health condition, does most of the work at the farm. Every time that Raul is given a well-deserved tribute, Laura must be equally honored.

That’s patriotism. This is something that every consumer must consider when deciding on food purchases and on the best way to contribute to agriculture’s transformation.

Then there’s also the fervorously independent Pablo Diaz-Cuadrado from the town of Orocovis. His farm is not strictly organic, since he uses fertilizer in his coffee crop. But it would be unjust and foolish to dismiss him and lump him together with conventional producers who use and abuse agrochemicals. Pablo is an established authority in ecological farming, especially in the control of pests and weeds without using toxic chemicals, as was documented in an extensive interview with author Maria Benedetti, included in her book “Sembrando y Sanando”.

Pablo always shows up in community, progressive and environmental activities, with his table on which he displays and sells his goods, coffee, honey, jelly, juice (lemon, orange, passion fruit), eggs, and much more. All of it local, pesticide-free produce straight from his farm, no intermediaries. He does this even when it means an economic loss to him. From a strictly economic viewpoint, selling his products in these activities, which sometimes have poor attendance, makes no sense. But disinterested commitment is precisely the essence of patriotism.

Third and last, the admirable example set by To?o Alvarez, who led the Pollos Pic? poultry company to success. Long before people started talking about corporate social responsibility, Alvarez was already putting in practice a social capitalism based on solidarity. During his lifetime he gave us all an unforgettable lesson of business success, patriotism and solidarity bordering of selflessness. It was a real tragedy for all Puerto Ricans to see his company descend to ruin after his death.

I do not mean to say that organic is not important. Have no doubt that we aspire to no less than a total transformation of world agriculture towards ecological practices and the abolition of toxic agrochemicals, GMO’s, monocultures and industrial feedlots. Have no doubt that we, as a global society, must move towards small, post-industrial, decentralized, post-patriarchal, farming systems, with a reduced ecological footprint.

Likewise, I do not mean to wax romantic about those forms of agriculture that we seek to turn into a thing of the past. Pic?, like its competitors and succesors, was an industrial feedlot operation, in which birds spend their short and miserable lives confined indoors, with over 100,000 under the same roof; an inherently unsustainable system, among other reasons because of the huge amounts of water and fossil fuel that it needs in order to operate; a system whose horrors were detailed in films like Food Inc and The Meatrix.

In the course of doing research for a film project on Puerto Rico’s poultry production in 2009 I had the pleasure of meeting Tony Alvarez, To?o’s son. He was kind enough to give me and a film maker colleague of mine a whole day of his time, showing us around the farms that once supplied his father’s company. Of all the people we interviewed that day, Tony was practically the only one who understood the need to transcend the current poultry production system and take the bold step towards an ecological aviculture, which treats the animals that feed us with dignity and ethical concern.

In short, in our zeal to move towards an agroecological future, we cannot boil everything down to conventional = bad, organic = good. I only wish it were that simple. But when facing complex realities we need complex thinking.

And we need humility, because the practicioners and advocates of sustainable agriculture must acknowledge that even conventional farmers can teach us some very important lessons.

CARMELO RUIZ-MARRERO is an author, investigative journalist and environmental educator. He directs the Puerto Rico Project on Biosafety. He is a senior fellow of the Environmental Leadership Program, a fellow of the Oakland Institute and a Research Associate of the Institute for Social Ecology. His progressive blog, Haciendo Punto en Otro Blog, is updated daily (http://carmeloruiz.blogspot.com/).

 

More articles by:

Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero is a Puerto Rican journalist.

July 19, 2018
Rajai R. Masri
The West’s Potential Symbiotic Contributions to Freeing a Closed Muslim Mind
Jennifer Matsui
The Blue Pill Presidency
Ryan LaMothe
The Moral and Spiritual Bankruptcy of White Evangelicals
Paul Tritschler
Negative Capability: a Force for Change?
Patrick Bond
State of the BRICS Class Struggle: ‘Social Dialogue’ Reform Frustrations
Rev. William Alberts
A Well-Kept United Methodist Church Secret
Raouf Halaby
Joseph Harsch, Robert Fisk, Franklin Lamb: Three of the Very Best
George Ochenski
He Speaks From Experience: Max Baucus on “Squandered Leadership”
Ted Rall
Right Now, It Looks Like Trump Will Win in 2020
David Swanson
The Intelligence Community Is Neither
Andrew Moss
Chaos or Community in Immigration Policy
Kim Scipes
Where Do We Go From Here? How Do We Get There?
July 18, 2018
Bruce E. Levine
Politics and Psychiatry: the Cost of the Trauma Cover-Up
Frank Stricker
The Crummy Good Economy and the New Serfdom
Linda Ford
Red Fawn Fallis and the Felony of Being Attacked by Cops
David Mattson
Entrusting Grizzlies to a Basket of Deplorables?
Stephen F. Eisenman
Want Gun Control? Arm the Left (It Worked Before)
CJ Hopkins
Trump’s Treasonous Traitor Summit or: How Liberals Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the New McCarthyism
Patrick Bond
State of the BRICS Class Struggle: Repression, Austerity and Worker Militancy
Dan Corjescu
The USA and Russia: Two Sides of the Same Criminal Corporate Coin
The Hudson Report
How Argentina Got the Biggest Loan in the History of the IMF
Kenn Orphan
You Call This Treason?
Max Parry
Ukraine’s Anti-Roma Pogroms Ignored as Russia is Blamed for Global Far Right Resurgence
Ed Meek
Acts of Resistance
July 17, 2018
Conn Hallinan
Trump & The Big Bad Bugs
Robert Hunziker
Trump Kills Science, Nature Strikes Back
John Grant
The Politics of Cruelty
Kenneth Surin
Calculated Buffoonery: Trump in the UK
Binoy Kampmark
Helsinki Theatrics: Trump Meets Putin
Patrick Bond
BRICS From Above, Seen Critically From Below
Jim Kavanagh
Fighting Fake Stories: The New Yorker, Israel and Obama
Daniel Falcone
Chomsky on the Trump NATO Ruse
W. T. Whitney
Oil Underground in Neuquén, Argentina – and a New US Military Base There
Doug Rawlings
Ken Burns’ “The Vietnam War” was Nominated for an Emmy, Does It Deserve It?
Rajan Menon
The United States of Inequality
Thomas Knapp
Have Mueller and Rosenstein Finally Gone Too Far?
Cesar Chelala
An Insatiable Salesman
Dean Baker
Truth, Trump and the Washington Post
Mel Gurtov
Human Rights Trumped
Binoy Kampmark
Putin’s Football Gambit: How the World Cup Paid Off
July 16, 2018
Sheldon Richman
Trump Turns to Gaza as Middle East Deal of the Century Collapses
Charles Pierson
Kirstjen Nielsen Just Wants to Protect You
Brett Wilkins
The Lydda Death March and the Israeli State of Denial
Patrick Cockburn
Trump Knows That the US Can Exercise More Power in a UK Weakened by Brexit
Robert Fisk
The Fisherman of Sarajevo Told Tales Past Wars and Wars to Come
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail