Buying Organic: The Ripple Effect

Speakers: Steven Bourne & Brandon HeborWritten by: Sheena Jain & Esha Jain

Many times we are unaware of what is entailed to get the food we eat onto our plates. What we do not realize is the numerous issues that are encountered in the process. This includes the loss of nutritional value that occurs in produce that is required to travel long distances in order to become accessible to us. Other issues that arise involve land degradation, growing cities, soil erosion and the increased use of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). Additionally, seasonality also raises concern, as the Canadian climate creates boundaries and limits the amount of time during the year in which produce can actually be sourced in Canada. Therefore, during off-seasons we are required to rely on other areas to receive our produce. In retrospect, there may essentially be a 1200 km distance between the location of where the initial seed was harvested to its yielded produce appearing on our plates. At the same time, numerous amounts of carbon are also being emitted into our atmosphere in the process.

Another factor that is influencing the way our produce is managed is the high demands that our daily reliance on fast food, places on farmers. In order to accommodate us and our needs, farmers are required to speed up the harvesting process to the best of their abilities. For instance, our tomatoes which are imported from Mexico are clipped from the stem while they are still green to ensure that we receive them on time to fulfill our fast food necessities. They do not ripen until they are already halfway to us. By modifying Mother Nature and defying standard growing techniques we are not only affecting the produce but also the environment in which it is cultivated. This is also seen with our current usage of tillage and crop covering leading to soil erosion, where as in the past we would have strayed away from using such methods.

            When we put all of these challenges into prospective, it is no wonder that Mr. Bourne and Mr. Hebor developed The Ripple Effect and promote the importance of buying organic. The goal of their Ripple Farms is to drive positive change by emphasizing the significance of cultivating produce locally and reconnecting the population with food. Their objective is to educate the public regarding the food they consume as well as the process in which it is harvested and becomes accessible. This will allow them to encourage the population to make better food choices. They intend on achieving this by creating a hands-on learning experience. Furthermore they plan to promote agricultural innovation to individuals of all ages by using vertical growing technologies, such as apps indicating pH and micronutrient levels in order to involve millennials as well. Essentially, their aim is to bring the farm to the city instead of bringing people of the city to the farm.

            Their method involves the use of aquaponics, a soilless closed-loop system using fish feces to nourish plants that essentially recycles back into fish tanks. This technique uses only 3% of water used in traditional farming and has been found to be 97% efficient. This tactic also uses vertical growth in order to conserve space and yield as much produce as possible. Furthermore, simulating these methodologies within a greenhouse also allows the growth of produce all year round, creating a competitive edge and preventing us from having to rely on other places to gain access to food.

            Overall, this system of harvesting non-genetically modified crops locally year round will generate produce with greater nutritional value than that found in both genetically modified and imported foods. By educating the public, increasing their food literacy and encouraging everyone to pay attention to labels not only increases purchasing power but also allows our population to become more unified. This can shift the demands made on markets that grow food and increase their organic supply.

            We as a population can take further initiative by supporting our local farmers, asking them how our food is grown and prepared in addition to reducing our meat intake.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:

1)   Are any pesticides used when organic foods are being grown?

Although organically grown foods still utilize pesticides, the concentrations in which these pesticides are used are significantly low. Additionally, organic farms use naturally-derived pesticides compared to the synthetically-derived pesticides used in conventional farms.

The advantage of naturally derived pesticides is that they are less toxic. Though some naturally-derived pesticides have been shown to produce health risks, consuming organic food exposes us to less harmful toxins compared to conventionally grown foods.      

2)      What makes organically grown produce more expensive than foods that are conventionally grown?

Since the cultivation process of organic foods requires the use of low concentrations of naturally-derived pesticides, natural fertilizers and no other chemicals or drugs, they are more labour intensive. Since organic farms are typically smaller in size compared to conventional commercial farms, costs are fixed for organic farms. They also lack government subsidies and their overhead expenses must be distributed across smaller produce volumes. Additionally, obtaining organic certification is also more expensive.

3)      Are organically grown produce all GMO-free?

There are different classifications of organically grown foods. Typically purchasing 100% organic, certified organic as well as USDA Organic-labeled products are usually free of genetically modified ingredients. American and Canadian laws do not mandate produce companies to label products as 100% Organic and Certified Organic unless they completely lack any trace of GMOs.  

The following demonstrates what to deduce from different types of organic labels:

Label Meaning
100% Organic - Completely organic ingredients

   → EXCEPT water & salt

- Completely GMO-free ingredients

Certified Organic/ USDA Organic - At least 95% of ingredients are organic (by weight)

   → EXCEPT water & salt

- Remaining ~5% are ingredients approved on USDA’s National list

- USUALLY GMO-free ingredients

Made with Organic - 70% of ingredients are organic

- USUALLY GMO-free ingredients

SOURCES:

1)   "Is Organic Always GMO Free?" GMO Awareness. N.p., 08 May 2015. Web. 01 Dec. 2016. (https://gmo-awareness.com/2011/05/05/is-organic-always-gmo-free/)

2)   "Organic Foods: What You Need to Know About Eating Organic." Organic Foods: What You Need to Know About Eating Organic: The Benefits and Basics of Organic Food and How to Keep It Affordable. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2016. (http://www.helpguide.org/articles/healthy-eating/organic-foods.htm)