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Natura enim non imperatur, nisi parendo.
Nature cannot be ordered about, except by obeying her.
–Sir Francis Bacon
As harmoniously successful as biological fertility systems are, they cannot remove all risks we farmers face. There are always disease and pest pressures, weeds and inclement weather. Conventional production agriculture’s approach often embraces technology in the pursuit of conquering nature, which affords the farmer a hedge against these risks.
Farming with “natural systems agriculture” means that our crops are often abused by nature, sometimes even lost entirely. Usually we are able to apply enough hands-on work to minimize the evidence of nature’s cruelty. Sometimes we are not. All of these factors mean that cosmetically perfect, Certified Organic vegetables are worth more and must be priced higher than conventionally grown produce.
People constantly ask, “Why is organic produce so expensive?” But, people rarely ask, “Why is conventional produce so cheap?” The answers to these two questions explain the dilemma Americans face in our food system today, and inform choices you must make daily in the supermarket. The dollar you spend is a “vote” for the food system you want.
We Know the Price of Everything, But the Cost of Nothing
“Americans pay about $1.50 per gallon at the gas pump, but gasoline actually costs up to $7 a gallon when you factor in all the costs. Middle Eastern oil, for instance, costs nearly $100 a barrel: $25 to buy and $75 a barrel for the Pentagon to keep shipping lanes open to tanker traffic. Similarly, a pesticide may be priced at $25 per gallon, but what does it cost society as the pesticide makes its way into wells, rivers, and bloodstreams?” –Paul Hawken, “Mother Jones,” March/April ’97
Industrial production of farm produce using toxic chemistry has delivered vast quantities of cosmetically appealing fruits and vegetables in all seasons at very low prices. This system has also delivered the demise of the family farm, serious environmental pollution, soil erosion, and produce that contains toxic residues. We enjoy cheap food today and defer until some distant “tomorrow” the unpaid costs of remediation.
Organic production shuns those toxic interventions that can often save a crop from suffering economic harm. We must rely on diverse farmscapes and nutritional support to steel our crops’ against disease and pest attack. These preventative measures are not always fully adequate, and we, therefore, expose organic production to greater risk of loss. When we are visited by pests and disease the National Organic Program-approved remedies available to us are more costly to purchase and apply, as well as less effective than those toxic conventional pesticides we cannot use.
Because organic farmers do not defer hidden costs into the future, we must build them into the price of our products with each day’s shipment. When you purchase an organic product at a higher price, you are not only buying what you hope to be a more nutritious, better tasting and residue-free fruit or vegetable. You are also paying to protect the health of farmers and farm workers. You are paying up front at the check stand for protecting the water you drink, the air you breathe and the soil in which your food is grown.