WHAT IS A LOCAL ORGANIC FOOD INITIATIVE?

Drawing upon 10 years of practical experience in developing organic food projects, the participants in SOFI have compiled a theoretical outline of the functions that a dedicated project could perform to promote locally-grown organic food. SOFI can presently fulfil only some of these functions on a small scale for a limited number of people, but our experience suggests that many benefits are achievable even within limited means.

 

Local Organic Food Initiatives could provide an infrastructure dedicated to the support, backup and encouragement of projects specifically dedicated to growing organic food locally. The scale of operations of such initiatives would of course vary according to the amount of relevant activity in a given area, but many of these functions should be seen as necessary precursors to activity, especially in disadvantaged areas.
Projects delivering provision can seem marginal if they are assessed simply upon single criteria, such as net output or short-term profit, but can be justified and recognised as valuable in many different ways if the full scope of outputs generated is acknowledged.

 

WHY LOCAL?

Current food delivery mechanisms are increasingly dependant upon high levels of transport, both on the part of the retailer and the customer. Considerable savings in transport bills could be made if a proportion of food could be supplied locally. This would have the side-effect of improving transport mobility and related problems such as pollution, congestion and accidents. In addition, it could service those consumers who do not have ready access to private or even public means of transport.

 

Only a limited range of products can be grown in any given locality and output is to a large degree seasonal. However, the current delivery system imports staple and seasonally-available supplies, which could be provided more efficiently from local sources. In addition, competent cultivation and more sophisticated techniques can vastly extend the range of products available and extend the continuity of outputs though the year .

 

One of the defining characteristics of gardening is that it is immobile geographically, although the gardeners themselves may be peripatetic; having to travel from their homes to one or more growing sites. In the case of specifically organic projects, this is more so since the techniques involved are often long-term, such as radical soil improvement and achieving balance in the productive system. As such, organic gardening projects require several years to achieve their full potential. Many communities of people could benefit from the long-term or even permanent nature of the commitment involved, generating a sense of social confidence and continuity.

 

Several benefits could be generated in terms of the local economy. The recycling of organic matter would contribute to solving existing problems associated with current waste disposal practices such as landfill, dumping and incineration. A thriving and productive organic sector would help to retain and cycle wealth within a local community, as demonstrated by the pattern of Local Economic Trading Schemes, instead of the current structure in which most expenditure on consumable items disappears from the local economy.

 

Locally based projects are well-placed to develop direct links between growers and customers, based on personal contacts and trust.

 

WHY ORGANIC?

There is currently a huge imbalance between the demand for and supplies of organic food. Supply is inadequate and this scarcity means that staple organic produce is perceived as an expensive luxury. Unless substantial incentives are provided to conventional producers, this will continue to be the case. Paradoxically, the image of organics is equally perceived as involving low cost strategies such as recycling and independence from costly inputs. Hence it is possible that good organic practice can actually supply expensive, scarce produce at an affordable cost to anyone who has the time, energy, knowledge and patience to develop such a system.

 

The overwhelming majority of new productive gardeners are motivated by the desire to obtain a reliable supply of organic food. Detailed guidelines for achieving organic standards are available from the HDRA, for domestic production, and from the Soil Association, covering all aspects of commercial production. Whilst these guidelines are an invaluable aid, they are complicated and could be described as intimidating especially for novice horticulturalists. It is vital that the fundamental principles are understood and that organics is perceived as a relative standard, rather than in absolute terms. There is no guarantee that even the most scrupulous organic systems can avoid every influence which would undermine its organic status. For instance, the individual grower has no control over spraydrift in rural areas or airborne pollution in urban and industrialised areas. Hence, a pragmatic approach of minimising non-organic contamination should be accepted as best practice, taking into account factors outside the control of the grower.

 

However, having established that the organic standard is necessarily relative, rather than absolute, it is vital that it is adhered to as strictly as possible. Many existing garden-related projects are compromised by the inclusion of non- organic elements, such as proprietary chemical fertilisers. This may be excusable if only ornamental, non-food use is made of the produce, but should be rejected by projects whose main aim is the production of food. Organic inputs are by definition more scarce than inorganic fossil-fuel-derived additives and there is a convincing argument that they should be reserved for food-production.

 

Compared to conventional production involving chemical enhancement, organically-produced food has been shown to have a much more benign effect on human health. It avoids the dangers of residues found in conventional produce introduced both during the growth of the produce and in treatments to improve appearance and extend shelf-life. Evidence also exists that organic produce is nutritionally superior to conventional, containing greater concentrations of vitamins which are more easily assimilable by the human body. This is supported by the phenomenon of appetite being sufficed by smaller amounts of organic produce and accounts for its recommendation as a component of disease therapy such as in cancer treatment.

 

In addition to its unarguable superiority in nutritional value, the production of organic food is also much less dangerous for the producer. The use of chemicals can cause potentially lethal results for the users especially if they are unqualified or inexperienced and even if they observe all safety recommendations. Hence, any project involving members of the public or occurring in proximity to dwellings has an obligation to minimise potential dangers, which can be achieved by maintaining organic standards.

 

WHY FOOD?

Food is a necessity, which people are highly motivated in securing. After World War 2, the maintenance of local food-growing capacity was seen officially as a matter of civil defence, since it augmented national security and self- sufficiency in times of conflict. Although the danger of interruptions to international trade have decreased, dependence on food imports is greater than ever.

 

Compared to the provision of other necessities [clothing, shelter] and even more in the case of imported and processed manufactured items [such as cars or computers], food is different in that it can be produced by local individuals and communities independently of complex, centralised, technologically-advanced, capital-intensive systems. The patterns of mechanical mass-production and economies of scale that function perfectly well for inanimate products are not necessarily appropriate when applied to living systems.

 

Organic food could be described as having been grown for taste, flavour and nutritional value instead of simply for cosmetic appearance or gross bulk.

 

CONVERSION OF CONVENTIONAL OUTPUT TO ORGANIC.

The most readily available means of generating increased supplies of organic food might appear to be the conversion of existing conventional, chemically-enhanced capacity to more organic output. Existing growers are often aware of and actually employing elements of organics in their systems for pragmatic reasons. However, in the context of several centuries of agricultural depression and de-population, and taking into account the discrepancies between existing subsidies to different sectors, there are significant disincentives to this conversion. Conventional growers are reticent in abandoning practices that have been successful for them in the past or are required by their corporate customers, and can often be unwilling or unable to change their practices to suit organic techniques.

 

Despite the huge current demand for organic produce, British growers have not so far responded to meet this demand, except in low volumes of luxury outputs. There are less than 1,000 farms registered as organic in the UK. If any major conversion to organics were to be undertaken, there would need to be many more people employed in the agricultural and horticultural sectors, which could bring with it a concomitant repopulation of rural areas by people competent to produce organically. A national network of initiatives to encourage new growers into the market would help to provide this groundswell of new producers.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.