Explore the Organic Matters booth in Energy Park at the Oregon Country Fair. We’ll learn about what transitional organic means, how farmers can make a difference, and the socio-economics of organic farming.


Organic Matters at Energy Park

Transcription by Jessica LaMotte

(Karen:) We just walked up here to the organic matters booth in Energy Park. We’re looking at a table spread with some beautiful information, all kinds of food products on the table, as well as some cutting board and some fresh tomatoes.

People are trying these wonderful organic tomatoes. So tell me the name of this booth here. It looks like it’s about, um, organic foods and…

(Brian:) The Organic Matters booth.

(Karen:) Organic Matters. Awesome. So you’re educating the public all about organic food, GMOs and things like that?

(Brian:) That’s right. We’re teaching,  we’re here to educate the public about the benefits of organic food and organic farming and it’s a matter of people’s health about the ecology, about taking care for future generations, and about fairness about seeing farmers get a fair price for their food and that they’re able to pay their workers well because they make more money.

(Karen:) All right. I have a question for you. So what does transitional organic really mean?

(Brian:) Well, transitional organic means that they’ve adopted the farming practices, but they have not met the legal or regulatory requirements to be certified organic. To be certified organic under the US department of agriculture. So in the United States, organic is a federally regulated industry, okay?

And when a movement becomes an industry, it’s very interesting. So what’s what’s happened is the USDA standard, um, requires a three year transition period from the date of application of the last prohibited substance to the first harvest of when a crop can be called organic. So what does transitional organic mean?

Very good question. Is it spray today? Transitional tomorrow? I’m giving it up tomorrow. Yeah, it could be.

(Karen:) So it could say transitional on it, but it could mean that last week they stopped spraying pesticides and this week they’ve decided to go organic and they’re just in the process and, but we don’t know how far.

(Brian:) And it may mean that they planned to spray next week, but you know, they’re going to spray less and it’s like a five year transition and that’s fair enough. You know, I’m not,  believe me. I’m not here to judge conventional farmers. I grew up on a conventional farm. I’ve worked with conventional farming systems.

Conventional farmers are our friends, our neighbors, our future, and every conventional farmer’s a future organic farm. And it’s the way I look at it, and if somebody’s not ready to give it up cold turkey, that’s okay. As long as they, take care of their soil, they’re moving in the right direction.

I’m willing to cut them a lot of slack. But when, once, they want to use the O word and they want to get a premium for their crop, well, let’s talk. I mean, how is this better than just plain old conventional, you know.

(Karen:) Good. And it’s good for the planet, for the environment, too good for our bodies.

And it’s. It’s good all around, right? People, planet profit. It’s good for everybody. You’re organic in the end.

(Brian:) That’s right in the, in the long run. And I, and I think this is where we’re headed, and in a general, in a general direction, I’m optimistic that we’re going to be farming more responsibly, more sustainably, have more resilient systems for a variety of reasons that, um, for example, organic farming by sequestering carbon, taking carbon out of the atmosphere. We’re helping to contribute to a solution to global warming and, and climate change. And, and, um, we’re seeing more adaptive techniques where increased organic matter in the soil means more moisture retention, better, more conservation of water, less erosion of soil.

All of these things help to heal the planet. And the, and the planet needs healing.

(Karen:) And these are, it just strikes me that, um, you know, native peoples and the first peoples that lived here for tens of thousands of years, they, they lived so in harmony with the land that they, it’s not like. You know, we say, Oh, science has proven this.

Well, they knew it for a long time. It was just part of what they did. You don’t destroy nature around. You take care of it. You live in harmony with it.

(Brian:) Right. And, and we see that still around the world with, with many of the traditional farming systems that are practiced everywhere. I mean, we, we see that in, um, Asia, Africa, Latin America, the, the agroecology movement in Latin America has been, um, very respectful of, of long-held practices that are, um, regenerative and, and working with those, those farmers, even if they don’t want to get into the bureaucratic system, being certified organic, you know, respecting, yeah, their traditional knowledge and building on that, using science, using the science of ecology and a better understanding of, of how nature works, we can then improve the farming system.

And, if we can help some of those farmers find their way into the organic market, um, and help them get a premium and provide for a better life for their families and community. That’s great. And if they don’t want, and if they don’t want to participate in that, that’s fine too. That’s okay.

It’s not just one way and it’s, and we have to respect, just like we need to respect the diversity of nature. We need to respect the diversity of community.


(Karen:) That’s a good perspective, I think. You know, because so often one side or the other will get criticized for being too judgmental or too harsh or saying, you’ve got to do it this way you’ve got to do it that way. So it’s, it’s good to have that perspective that’s open, that people may be, well, they are where they are now. They may be ready. They may not be, but. Yeah. And the science going hand in hand with traditional indigenous knowledge is a nice, you know, that that’s something we need to keep, keep doing.

(Brian:) As, as opposed to a top down or centralized approach.

And, and organic farmers have been pioneers in, in participatory research. And working as collaborative partners with the university system with extension, rather than taking this top down, the scientists knows everything and the, and the knowledge needs to be doled out to the farmer,

(Karen:) Like we have the knowledge and we’re gonna give it to you.

(Brian:) Right, right. I don’t know if you’ve ever read any Palo Frerie, Brazilian educator. You wrote Pedagogy of the Oppressed and he talked about the, the banker system of education where you have, you have all of the knowledge in a, in a centralized location, and then the teacher, the banker rations the the knowledge rather than having a free flow, multidimensional network educational system.

And what’s happened with organic, and going back to this genetic engineering question, organic has been a way of maintaining traditional and classical breeding classical plant breeding, as a technology. So yes, we do need to improve crop varieties. We need to continue to advance science. We need to, organic farmers are not opposed to science or technology, but organic farmers in the organic community take a precautionary approach.

So the, you know, so the patenting of seeds, for example, or something that has been a major issue within the organic community. And one of the other reasons for, um, opposition to genetic engineering really is socioeconomic. It is this the question of, is it really fair for a company to monopolize the seed industry and to prevent farmers from saving their seed and to prevent, um, the advancement of readers outside of that company or who are not licensed by that company to have access to varieties?

(Karen:) Or penalizing a farmer because the wind blew in pollen from a different farm and got into their farm and mixed with their plants. I’ve heard something about that where they’re, you know, they’re like, Oh, you can’t have that on your farm because it’s, you know, we own the copyright to that seed and you know, it’s, it’s ridiculous. I think.

(Brian:) Whether it’s ridiculous or not, the courts have sided with the corporations that control the patents all down the line, and not just in the U S but in Canada as well. So this is, it’s a very interesting situation. My own personal opinion is that it is important for the organic community to organize and to work with other farmers who are interested in, uh, alternatives to organize, to work together.

(Karen:) Thank you so much.

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