REAL Organic Standards

While government-approved organic certification standards are a good thing to have, they are by no means a guarantee that the produce under the label is of the highest nutritional quality. Indeed, as anyone who's seen the film “Keeping the Soil in Organic” must admit, the standard -at least in USA (i.e. USDA Ceritified Organic)- is so broad as to admit of some very unhealthful practices… And because those practices are essential to the profitiability of those big agri-businesses that have lobbied successfully to protect them, they are in fact coming to increasingly dominate the organic food supply chain.

So: Here at Quinta Vale da Lama, we have decided to go “Beyond Organic” into adoption of the REAL Organic Project standards, which we already have implemented on a limited scale, to be expanded as we grow our production. Meanwhile, we are in process of obtaining organic certification in accordance with Portuguese government standards -which standards we already maintain, as they are essentially about abstention from certain practices & products which we have never applied (i.e. chemical pesticdes/ fungicices/ herbicides). Beyond merely avoiding those biocides (life-killers, literally) in all their forms, REAL Organic production is essentially about promoting LIFE in a maximally diverse yet balanced ecology. If you are on the side of life, then i would encourage you take this printable .PDF and make it the standard by which you evaluate the quality of food you are consuming and producing, as the case may be.

PS: Here's a short version of those standards i just found on Eliot Coleman's site:

  1. First, for uncompromised nutritional value all crops must be grown in a biologically active, fertile soil attached to the earth and nourished by the natural biological activities of that soil. There are so many important soil processes that we could not replace even if we wanted to, because we are still unaware of all the benefits they contribute.
  2. Second, soil fertility should be maintained principally with farm-derived organic matter and mineral particles from ground rock. Why take the chance of bringing in polluted material from industrial sources when fertility can be created and maintained internally?
  3. Third, deep-rooting green manures, cover crops, and grazed pastures must be included within broadly based crop rotations to enhance biological diversity. The greater the variety of plants and animals on the farm, the more stable the system.
  4. Fourth, a “plant positive” rather than a “pest negative” philosophy is vital. The focus must be on correcting the cause of pest problems (sick plants) by strengthening the plant through creating optimum soil conditions to prevent pests, rather than merely treating the symptom (pest damage) by trying to kill the pests that prey on weak plants. More and more scientific evidence is available today on the mechanisms by which a biologically active fertile soil creates induced resistance in the crops.
  5. Fifth, livestock must be raised outdoors on grass-based pasture systems to the fullest extent possible. Farm animals are an integral factor in the symbiosis of soil fertility on the organic farm.

This reminds me of another list of related principles: Gabe Brown's 5 Principles of a healthy soil-ecosystem:

  1. Limited Disturbance: avoid synthetics & tillage
  2. Topsoil Cover: bare soil is (as Savory Says) “public enemy #1”
  3. BioDiversity: no monocropping; nature doesn't work that way, neither do we
  4. Living Roots in the ground as long as possible, using covercrops & seasonal diversity
  5. Integrated Animals: not only livestock, but consider also the role of “little critters” dwelling on and in the soil, in keeping the soil healthy

And if you want to dive deeper into the whys and wherefores of this subject, John Kempf posits the following Core Concepts (From AEG's Mission and Core Concepts page), which also happen to be 5 in number (what is it with these lists of 5 i wonder? :-) In fact there's a longer list on the page linked above, with videos that go into depth on each one, but here's the short list:

  1. Healthy Plants Resist Insects and Disease
  2. Mineral Nutrition Supports Plant Immunity
  3. Microbial Metabolites Are a More Efficient Source of Nutrition
  4. Quality Drives Yield
  5. Healthy Plants Create Healthy Soil

So there you have some helpful ideas and resources to chew over, in developing your own “REAL Organic” production.

PS: This just in: best article i've found yet for explaining how to apply all these “motherhood” principles in a practical way. Thanks for that, Niels Corfield!