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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Remember When Organic Used To Mean Green?

From our friend Madhava Ghosh

Back in the day the organic pioneers had several motivations for promoting organic — better for the future of the soil because of closed systems of returning organic wastes to the soil, less pesticides in the environment so better balance in the ecology, and last but not least healthier better tasting food. Organic was green.

Now organic isn’t green and most consumers motivation is more self centered — I want healthier food for me. While many genuine organic growers still exist, corporations and agribusiness has gotten involved and the new standards for what is organic has dispensed with the closed system concept.

Buying organic today could mean stuff from Chile, California wherever. Organic is no longer synonymous with locally grown. So more aware consumers have now started to focus on ideally locally grown organic produce, but if the choice is locally grown or imported organic, they choose local. Which has lots of benefits, not least is economics of the local community as the money stays and recycles locally.

Here are some thoughts on benefits of locally grown:

The 100-Mile Index

The 100-Mile Index provides a statistical snapshot of our world’s globalized food system. The numbers are fascinating, troubling, funny and sometimes, just plain strange. Have a read and send them to a friend. Help grow this movement.

  • Minimum distance that North American produce typically travels from farm to plate, in miles: 1,500
  • Number of Planet Earths’ worth of resources that would be needed if every person worldwide lived like the average North American: 8
  • Planets saved if all of those people ate locally: 1
  • Ratio of minutes spent preparing food by English consumers who buy ready-made foods versus traditional home-cooking: 1:1
  • Estimated number of plant species worldwide with edible parts: 30,000
  • Number of species that currently provide 90 percent of the world’s food: 20
  • Share of each U.S. consumer food dollar that returned to the farmer in 1910, in cents: 40
  • Share that returned to the farmer in 1997, in cents: 7
  • Ratio of prisoners to farmers in the U.S. population: 5:2
  • Percentage of fresh vegetables eaten in Hanoi, Vietnam, that are grown in the city: 80
  • Percentage of all tomatoes in U.S. that are harvested while green : 80
  • Major river dams constructed to irrigate California, now the world’s number five agricultural producer: 1,200
  • Number of years that Alisa Smith and James MacKinnon of Vancouver, Canada, ate only foods produced from within 100 miles of their home: 1
  • Amount of potatoes, in pounds, that they bought for the winter: 100
  • Days that that 100 pounds of potatoes would have fed a person in Ireland, on average, before the potato famine of 1845: 18
  • Combined weight in pounds that Alisa and James lost on their 100-Mile Diet: 12


Rich Pirog et al., “Food, Fuel and Freeways,” Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture (Ames, Iowa: Iowa State University, 2001), p. 1.
Standard data estimate input into ecological footprint calculator,
As above, with change only to food estimate
Brian Halweil, Eat Here: Reclaiming Homegrown Pleasures in a Global Supermarket (New York: W.W. Norton, 2004), p. 164
Edward O. Wilson, The Diversity of Life (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1992), p. 287.
Edward O. Wilson, The Diversity of Life (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1992), p. 287.
Halweil, p. 45.
Halweil, p. 45.
US Census 2000,
Halweil, p. 94.
Halweil, p. 161.
Marc Reisner, Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water (New York: Penguin, 1987), p. 3.
California Department of Food and Agriculture, California Agriculture: Highlights 2005.
Larry Zuckerman, The Potato: How the Humble Spud Rescued the Western World (Boston: Faber & Faber, 1998), p. 30.

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