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I recently received Premiers newsletter and loved the article so much I shot Stan a note and asked if I could re-publish it for you. His thoughts on "labels" echo my own. So without further ado Here's Stan.....
In Premier's previous newsletter my comments about the future merits of the organic, sustainable and natural labels surprised and offended some readers. Therefore, a little personal background and an expanded explanation of my views about the future may be in order. My father switched from "chemical" to "organic" farming on our 160-acre Iowa farm in 1955, when I was 9 years old. This change was encouraged in part by reading J.I. Rodale's monthly magazine, Organic Gardening and Farming, which we studied at length.
My folks had a true family (8 children) farm for decades:
• Milked up to 5 cows by hand and sold the cream.
• Raised chickens (hundreds) and sold the eggs.
• Had a large vegetable and fruit garden for our personal needs, weeded, mulched and harvested by hand labor.
• Raised a limited number of sheep, pigs and beef cattle. We butchered and processed meat from them for the family and sold the rest.
• Grew corn, wheat, hay, oats and soybeans, but not many acres of each.
• Heated our home with wood from trees on the farm.
In short, it was the complete opposite of modern specialized farms. The most important product wasn't the food. Instead it was the education and development of the 8 children and our city cousins who visited us each summer. We learned how to think, accomplish, suffer and sweat.
In 1964, I went to Iowa State University and used its excellent library to read every organic/natural farming author on hand, including Howard, Faulkner and Bromfield. In 1965 I switched to Ambassador College, a small, conservative religious college that actively supported and practiced organic farming and gardening.
Two years later I transferred to Ambassador's British campus north of London. Its farm and gardens produced organic milk, meat (chickens and beef), eggs, vegetables and fruit for the student and faculty kitchens. In my senior year I was paid (even now I marvel at this!) to read extensively about organic food and food production for the college's Agricultural Department and prepare summary reports therefrom.
I stayed on after graduation to manage the college's farm and vegetable gardens. By the time the college closed (1974), the farm operation had grown to 300 acres, 1000 chickens, 5 acres of fruit/vegetable gardens and 150 dairy and beef cattle.
During my 6 years as the head of Ambassador's Agricultural Department, I visited research farms and agricultural shows all across Britain, Europe and the USA. We listened and talked with folks like E.F. Schumacher, whose book Small Is Beautiful — Economics As If People Mattered, is probably even more applicable now than it was in the early 1970s. In 1973 I had the privilege to share a lunch in Emmaus, Pennsylvania, with Robert Rodale (now deceased) and Wendell Berry (alive, and a thought-leader I respect highly).
So I have roots developed over 6 decades in organic farming and ecologically sound land utilization.
Why therefore did I suggest that producers might consider supplemental labels to organic, natural and sustainable in my previous newsletter?
1. Because the astute marketing minds of the big "industrial" food producers have already spotted the $$ potential of these labels. Therefore, "organic" labels will soon be commonplace (and may be often attached to food whose production systems may be questionable).
In turn, the smaller producers who began it all will feel pushed out. That's why it's sensible, in my view, to anticipate this — and also attach supporting labels like "no antibiotics, local and/or hormone-free." The nature of large-scale food production makes it more difficult to honestly replicate the extra labels (particularly local and no antibiotics).
2. Because, and this is an opinion developed over 6 decades, I think there is a second, and larger, group of valuable food consumers who are not overly concerned whether their food comes from an organic source. Nor do they care whether the source is a large operation or a small one.
Instead, they want the food source to be one that practices stewardship, that demonstrates integrity (honest, genuine, reliable) and proactively cares for land, animals, employees — and their customers. If they find that the source is too focused on profit as opposed to these things, they will seek an alternative. And they want to buy from people who — to paraphrase E.F Schumacher — "view food production as if people/soil/animals/plants matter, not just for profit and efficiency." Best wishes to you all through the holiday season and beyond.
Stan Potratz, Owner