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No question about it

This author’s experience with a local food movement has reworked her opinions on food. (Photo: Chris Parent)

This past summer, I had the pleasure of working with the Atlantic Canadian Organic Regional Network (ACORN) in Sackville, N.B.. ACORN is an organization that brings together farmers, consumers and agricultural organizations in the local organic food movement, a pertinent issue from the field to the table.

Farmers everywhere are suffering. The effects of corporate dominance and climate change are clear: the use of products such as synthetic fertilizers cause climate change by increasing methane emissions from crop fields that use ammonium-based synthetic fertilizers. Even pesticides are directly linked to climate change. The surface runoff contaminates local water sources, causing skin rashes and sometimes death when ingested.  Organic fertilizers such as manure can also contain harmful nitrates, but farmers who handle it carefully can avoid nitrate pollution.

Internationally, the actions of companies like Monsanto have been devastating. Monsanto has been linked to more than a quarter million farmer suicides in India, who reported poor yields leading to mounting debt (as in the Monsanto Canada Incorporation v Schmeiser case of 2004) as well as increased need for costly pesticides and seeds sold exclusively by Monsanto. The company denies this, attributing the suicides to other factors and even proclaiming their corporation as a supporter of sustainable agriculture.

Eating organic is really the only way to ensure that what you consume is free of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and fungicides. It does not use food irradiation or growth hormones, and of course, it’s free of genetically modified organisms (GMO). Organics are also grown under humane animal standards and ensures the well-being of animals (and farmers!) at every stage of development. In late August, I helped organize ACORN’s first Beginner Farmer Symposium in Sackville. This event aimed to attract new entrant farmers to network and participate in workshops. Throughout the day I saw smiling faces and connections made between new and experienced farmers. It was truly inspirational.

While organic agriculture may appear to be a simpler process than conventional farming, it comes with a financial cost—to the farmers. Farmers pay for a third party inspector, hired by a certification body, to determine whether the operation is in accordance with the Canada Organic Standard. If the inspection is successful, then the farmer is able to market products using the Canada Organic logo. Organic certification can cost around $500 to $1000 per year for the farmer, a cost that can be detrimental to small-scale operations. It seems ludicrous that a natural process such as this needs a label, yet it’s the only way consumers know they’re eating organic. Currently in Nova Scotia, the provincial government does not subsidize farmers for organic certification, meaning that several farmers have dropped their organic certification simply because they cannot afford it.

In a world dominated by capitalist interests, local food movements are essential. ACORN supports conferences, workshops and other resources for organic farmers. Importantly, they provide a network of members who share knowledge and resources to get farmers started and to build on their experience. While capitalism teaches competition and the value of property, organizations like ACORN support co-operation, sharing knowledge and resources for everyone’s benefit.

We must become more aware of what we eat every day. Huge grocery stores provide a convenient illusion, disconnecting shoppers from the source of their food and its true cost. Some grocery stores are aware of these issues and provide food with organic certification. However, consumers must remain aware that green has become a marketing tool. Foods labeled as “natural” cannot guarantee the standards of organic certification. Products must have the Canada Organic logo to ensure that the product has an organic content greater than 95 per cent and has been certified according to Canadian requirements for organic products.

The best way to support the local food movement is to buy from farmers directly. Attend the Farmer’s Market at the Halifax Seaport. Shop at your local organic or natural foods store. In Halifax, you can grow food at an urban garden, join the food committee at the Ecology Action Centre, or attend events supported by ACORN— check out Organic Week at restaurants and retailers across the city from Sept. 22-29. There are tons of opportunities abroad, including the World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF), apprenticeships with Stewards of Irreplaceable Land (SOIL), and ACORN’s Grow a Farmer program to be launched this fall.

We need to share land, knowledge, and resources. We need to mobilize ourselves and support agriculture–for our farmers, and for ourselves. Organic farmers of the world, unite!

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