Cause and Effect: Industrialized Organic Farming
“If corporate farms continue their takeover of our food supply, then these businesses and their giant trading corporate partners can set the price of basic food commodities, dictate the wages and working conditions of farm workers, and put family farms out of business through the consolidation of landholdings and economies of scale.” (Claire Cumming)
As organic agriculture becomes more mainstream and consumer demand calls for organically produced food, corporate motivation to dominate the marketplace on a large scale results in the industrialization of agriculture, operating on a profit motive rather than a belief system of sustainable food production. Consumers looking to eat healthier foods may see organic labels from industrialized farms and assume the process of production to be similar to the small and mid-scale organic farms of our recent past. As we become more industrialized in our approach to organic food production, we could be led from the ideals of local, healthful, and ecological use of the land to growing large expanses of land of a single crop.
This monoculture approach to organic farming sets aside the notions of sustainability and produces food in an industrialized manner, relying on inputs and products from off the farm site. Inherent in sustainable organic farming is self-sufficiency and minimal reliance on fertilizers and inputs from outside sources. Large scale industrialized organic farms operate in a similar manner to conventional industrialized farms, except organic inputs are applied in much the same manner as synthetic inputs are used in conventional industrial. The industrialized approach to organic farming becomes more like a factory run for high profit margins, than nurtured farmland respectful of biodiversity and health.
The industrial organic farm is more input-oriented than process-oriented. The Material List of accepted inputs for organic farming is not meant to be used as a recipe. “…a grower who relies primarily on highly soluble mined fertilizers for fertility management and botanical insecticides for pest control may be “organic” within the letter of the law, but cannot be viewed as truly farming organically. They are merely replacing a synthetic treadmill with a botanical one.” (CCOF Certification Handbook) Although soil management is required for organic certification, much of the record keeping focuses on inputs. The mentality of the industrialized organic farm is impersonal and not intensively managed. In fact, large tracts of land in separate locations are managed by off-site “farmers” giving instruction to low paid workers who do not benefit from the high profits earned by the factory farm on which they work.
The quantity of midsized viable organic farms is shrinking as the large scale industrial organic complex grows. Small family farms may not be able to meet an increasing demand for healthful organic food choices. It is in this “disappearing middle” that the agrarian ideal may be realized. If we continue with blind faith purchasing products labeled as organic, without concern over the process by which those products were produced, we could in essence be supporting the industrial complex rather than the organic ideal which lead us to buy and eat organically in the first place. With this corporate takeover of our food supply, the term organic can be manipulated to take on meaning to the benefit of profit margins and the demise of sustainable organic farms.
“This isn’t what we meant. When we said organic, we meant local. We meant healthful. We meant being true to the ecologies of regions. We meant mutually respectful growers and eaters. We meant social justice and equality.” (Joan Dye Gussow)