Let’s begin by acknowledging that growing fruit and vegetables organically is a step in the right direction and something worthy of appreciation. Without a doubt, in terms of a healthy diet, organic versions are better than potentially ingesting a plethora of agrochemicals that have proven negative effects.

However, in terms of sustainability, organic alone is not the ideal solution. Like mass agricultural of any ilk, industrialized organic produce has its pitfalls and scars on the land. While it may be the best option many of us currently have, if we are looking for the planet and human existence on it to be at its most harmonious, we have to explore more fundamental solutions.

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With that in mind, it’s time to explore why the organic section of the supermarket may not be as wholesome as we’d like to believe. And, more so, we should dive into what it is we—as stewards of the earth—could be doing better.

Organic is not necessarily local.

Just like other industrialized agricultural products, organic produce can be grown halfway across the world and accumulate thousands of food miles before reaching supermarket shelves. As painful as it may be, we can’t grow avocadoes or pineapples—organic or not—anywhere near New York, Nashville, or New Orleans.

Thus, buying imported produce organically is only tackling a small part of the problem. The fact is we have to buy into what we can produce locally to avoid taxing the climate with our food demands.

Organic is not automatically resource-conscientious.

Large-scale organic farms can cause as big, if not bigger, demand on local and foreign resources. Huge monoculture fields of organic corn and soy still require huge amounts of fertilizer, organic pesticides, petroleum-driven equipment, and irrigation. The industrial system is built around exploiting resources rather than creating them.

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In other words, to move closer to sustainable food sources, we have to support small farms that are building soil and healthy, biodiverse ecosystems. Turning to farmer’s markets and our own garden plots are the best way of doing this.

Organic is not intrinsically better for the environment.

Industrialized organic producers still use biocides and fertilizers, that just have to come from natural sources. Though they are natural, that doesn’t mean that large concentrations of things like copper sulfate and manure aren’t problematic to the environment. Unnaturally high amounts of these natural substances definitely cause pollution issues.

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Basically, we need to use cyclical systems in which the crops and the environment are working in unison. This could potentially mean reimagining our heavy reliance on annual crops to a food system that celebrates perennial plants.

Organic is probably not renewably powered.

At this point, it goes without saying that we can’t have massive industries completely reliant on fossil fuels, and large-scale agricultural absolutely is. All that huge, heavy machinery used to plow fields and harvest crops run on fossil fuels, and it takes a lot to move those huge farming machines around, organic or not.

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We have to revert to smaller farming systems and back to more agrarian-based cultures, in which food production becomes a local venture rather than an imported and distant convenience. That’s before we consider the food miles required for moving everything, which only furthers this need for this reversal.

Organic is not above marketing ploys.

BANANA

Michelle Cesare/Flickr

Organic produce and products have become a true selling point. People are looking for them these days. Unfortunately, that has translated into USDA labeling becoming difficult to get, cutting out small farmers so that corporations can run the show. Lobby-backed corporations can pay the fees and meet standards that are simply out-of-reach for small operations.

We have to think beyond USDA organic labels. It’s a great thing to have in the supermarket, but when we can buy outside of big box stores, there is the opportunity to talk to growers as people and learn about their farming methods.

Organic is not at all veganic.

Without a doubt, most organic farms are very reliant on factory farms where animals are so poorly treated. The bulk manure, blood meal, and bone meal commonly used in gardens are a byproduct of CAFOs. In other words, until our organic fruit and vegetables stop turning to factory farms for fertility, it is in some sense supporting these industries.

Veganic farming is a plant-based method of growing fruit and vegetables. Veganic gardens don’t add manure or any nutrient-rich parts of animals to the soil. Without getting into the logistics of where that puts us as vegans buying crops, for now we can acknowledge that our organic food system can’t be sustainable if they are reliant on unsustainable and abusive animal farms.

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This kind of information can leave a well-meaning person shell-shocked. Most of us are not in the position to grow a lot of our own food or pay higher prices to those small farmers who do it right. Rather than feel helpless or judged for not having everything lined up perfectly right now, knowing these kinds of things can guide us towards more sustainable choices moving forward. That’s not to say we can never have avocado toast or a cup of coffee. More so, perhaps we can begin to enjoy these things more responsibly and maybe a little less frequently, aware of the real cost—not dollar cost—of doing it.

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