The Spirit of the Law Giveth Life*: Organic is More Than a Checklist

organic hay bales with bears paw mountains in the background

The organic movement has seen a huge boost in popularity over the last few decades. And that’s a good thing! That means more folks, more families, are choosing to grow, buy and eat more healthy, organic foods every year. And while I, of course, welcome anyone who wants to convert to organic systems, it worries me that some farms and large corporations are jumping on the organic bandwagon focused only on transferring their current industrial model to their organic operations just to cash in on a lucrative new market instead of studying and applying the non-extractive, regenerative, holistic approach—the bigger pictures, spirit of the organic movement.

For those of us who fought so hard all those years ago for unified, organic standards, I believe most of us had that vision of the bigger picture and focused on that rather than just following the letter of the law. We saw more than higher profit margins and a better bottom line. We saw farmers free of devastating financial circumstances brought on by the high cost of inputs and the low prices they received. We saw rural communities bolstered and restored by more prosperous farms and better-paid workers in the food sector. We saw the decline of pollution and soil erosion brought on by artificial mono-cultures, propped up with enormous inputs of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. And we saw better health for our families, our friends and our neighbors. Regenerative, organic agriculture, sustainable organic processing and trade are so much more than a burgeoning industry!

As a regenerative, organic farmer, I often see things first from a farmer’s perspective. And from that perspective, I have seen the growing hype over the word “regenerative.” Some in this group focus so hard on things like no-till as their rallying cry, that they believe using just a little herbicide, like RoundUp (glyphosate) is okay. And on the other hand, there are organic farmers and livestock producers that follow the organic standards to the letter while using an industrial model of inputs to feed the plants, neglecting the vital soil building elements and systems that keep both the soil and animals healthy. To me, organic that is not regenerative, and regenerative that is not organic, are both missing the spirit of what was originally intended. In a very true sense, one is not complete without the other.

I have a similar concern regarding the businesses that meet every standard, every qualification and rule it took us years to put into place—standards intended to both simplify and unify a then-splintered pro-organic community—but are still missing the spirit of the law. The big picture. For companies focused solely on their bottom line and filling their coffers, using the same industrial extractive model that is strangling our current food industry with its continual sellouts and concentration on wealth and power. And even worse, some of these larger newcomers are putting pressure on the USDA, lobbying to make the organic program more industrial by ignoring key guidelines, like the pasture rule—a rule that was carefully crafted and debated for years. What I would hope is for more of these companies to abandon their extractive, industrial model and focus on things such as the triple bottom line, which contributes to its communities by paying fair wages to its workers and to the farmers for their products, and to caring for the earth by reducing pollution. But the greatest contribution of a truly organic, regenerative system is the improvement of our health! Nutritious, health-promoting food has the ability to change the world for the better. That is the spirit of organic and why I have been a proponent for more than three decades.

In my upcoming book, Grain by Grain (to be released March 5th), I explore these issues and many others in greater detail, focusing on the true value of regenerative organic products. It’s not just all about meeting a list of guidelines. For me, organic is more than an industry or a bottom line, it’s a conversion of outlook. It’s a love for the earth, which we can demonstrate by caring for it. It’s a love for our neighbors, shown by producing healthy, nutritious food. It’s a love for our communities, by recognizing and appreciating the hard work of farmers and all the people working in the food sector by ensuring all receive fair wages to support and raise their families. It’s about human health, community health, and the health of our planet.

*2 Corinthians 3:6