By JOANNÉE DEBRUHL, STONE COOP FARM, BRIGHTON, MI
One of my roles as a certified organic farmer is education. I do several presentations
a year and it disheartens me that so many people don’t understand how many chemicals
are in our food. They also don’t understand what a GMO (genetically modified organism,
genetically engineered/GE or biotech) is or how prevalent it is in our food system.
Everyone deserves to eat healthy, natural, chemical-free food. My hope is that
we all know what we are eating and what we are feeding to our families.
You may have noticed that access to organic products in your grocery store has increased. Each year more and more consumers are demanding access to chemical-free food. Our purchases are changing the food system in the U.S, but we still have a LONG way to go. The USDA has been tracking farm sales of certified organic food and according to the 2014 USDA Organic Survey, less than 1% of all our crops and meat are grown/raised using certified
“WASHINGTON, Sep 17, 2015 — Today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) released the results of the 2014 Organic Survey, which show that 14,093 certified and exempt organic farms in the United States sold a total of $5.5 billion in organic products in 2014, up 72 percent since 2008.” These numbers sound large, but remember this is less than 1% of all the food grown in the U.S. For example, Colorado is the 8th largest state in certified organic farm sales yet there are only 134 certified organic farms out of the 36,180 farms in Colorado.
Michigan is 9th in certified organic sales, but we only have 285 certified organic farms out of the 52,194 total farms in Michigan. More organic farms are popping up every year, but in order to continue this growth we need to support these local organic growers. If less than 1% of all our crops and meat are grown/raised using certified organic practices, then more than 99% of all the food we eat in the U.S. is routinely sprayed with chemicals.”
What Are GMO’s?
The USDA Economic Research Service study concluded that GMO’s are used to grow over 90% of our corn, soybeans and cotton. According to the Cornucopia Institute the top 10 GMO food products are soybeans, corn, canola, cotton, milk, sugar, Aspartame, yellow squash, zucchini and papayas. Other GMO crops that are expanding in the U.S. are apples, potatoes, and alfalfa. (Johnson/O’Connor, Time Magazine 4/30/15)
If you are not familiar with GMO’s, here’s a quick insight into one of our largest crops in the U.S. — Monsanto’s Roundup Ready Corn. The chemical glyphosate in Roundup (a weed killer you may use on your driveway to kill weeds) is inserted into the DNA of corn to produce Roundup Ready Corn. This allows farmers to plant the Roundup Ready Corn in the field along with continuing to spray for any new weed infestation. The Roundup Ready Corn stays alive and thrives through all these chemical applications. Since the DNA of the corn has glyphosate in it, that means every time you eat corn or a corn product that is not certified organic, you are eating glyphosate.
In 2015 the World Health Organization’s cancer experts declared that glyphosate is a probable human carcinogen. Yet, the chemical use of Monsanto’s Roundup continues to increase. “In 1987, only 11 million pounds of the chemical were used on U.S. farms, but now nearly 300 million pounds of glyphosate are applied each year.” (Main, Newsweek 2/2/16). Glyphosate is used as an herbicide (for weeds), but conventional farms also spray pesticides (for caterpillars and insects), and fungicides (for molds and diseases).
Why Eating Organic is Better For Us
When food is grown according to the USDA Certified Organic standards it must meet three basic requirements:
• No synthetic chemicals
• No GMO seeds
• Detailed records and annual inspection — from seed to sale
Certified organic growers must track and keep records of all seed packets, harvest records (weights and quantities), a field map where each crop is grown, and invoices showing where the crops were sold. We also have to explain how we deal with the fertility of the soil, pest and insect damage, disease prevention, and elimination of weeds. When growing conventional crops, none of these records are required. Chemicals can be used as frequently as the farmer wants. Often times hazmat suits and respirators are needed when applying chemicals to conventionally grown crops.
A common misconception is that it costs thousands of dollars to become a certified organic farm. This is false. The USDA has a cost share program for all certified organic farms. Each year we pay $1000 for our certification and the USDA sends us a check for $750. So our actual cost to become certified organic is only $250 annually. The record keeping required also makes us a better farm. We can tell you the exact yields for each crop each year so we can decide which crops and varieties to grow based on those yields. With the USDA certification, our customers can be assured that the food they buy from us is chemical and GMO free.
So what can you do? Read labels at the grocery store. Avoid GMO ingredients. Buy certified organic products. AND last but not least, support your local farms. They need it! Eat seasonally, which means, eat tomatoes in the summer, potatoes and apples in the fall and winter, and asparagus in the spring. Find out what is ready in your part of the country by visiting your local farmers markets and talking to the farmers. Get educated about the food you eat, the farmers you buy from and ask LOTS of questions about their farming practices. Can you visit their farm? Do they put chemical fertilizer in the water to irrigate? Do they add chemicals to their soil? Do they use GMO, GE or biotech seeds?
There are great, chemical-free farms out there that are not certified organic. Those farmers will share the details about how they grow their crops and raise their animals. You can get a fantastic lesson on how to do it, but you have to ask.
“If every U. S. citizen ate just one meal a week (any meal) composed of locally and organically raised meats and produce, we would reduce our country’s oil consumption by over 1.1 million barrels of oil every week.” — Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver
Eating certified organic and locally grown food will reduce the chemicals you eat and will positively impact your health as well as your taste buds. It will also support your local economy along with our planet. Take some time to educate yourself about your food and share your knowledge! If you would like to find a local farmer in your area check out LocalHarvest.org.