Wednesday, January 29, 2014

What does “Organic” Mean?

Yesterday we had Toni Dipple of Organic Ilford come to speak at our packed Coffee morning with a talk entitled “building soils and communities”. Here she is pictured with some bloke who wondered in off the High Street.

Toni is the founding director of Organic Ilford who want to bring proper food back onto our daily menus. It is a Social Enterprise, which means it is a not for profit organisation, and the (hopefully not too) long term aim is to have an organic farm right here in Redbridge. They are currently looking at a former allotment site, so the soil there is very rich and nutritious, and negotiating with the Council. Now you might think that a farm in a built up area would be prone to pollution but you would be wrong. As we have noted on this blog before the pollution in Redbridge is mostly from traffic and the pollution levels drop off quite rapidly with distance from the source. Fullwell Cross roundabout would not be a good place to grow vegetables but a rear garden would be, and there are still plenty of open green places in Redbridge where pollution levels are very low. This paradoxically is not the case in the countryside where the pollution is of a very different kind.

Here we need to understand what “organic” means. From the free web dictionary:
a. Of, marked by, or involving the use of fertilisers or pesticides that are strictly of animal or vegetable origin: organic vegetables; an organic farm.
The problem in the countryside is that only about 4% of food grown is organic and it is very difficult to protect organic produce from contamination caused by wind borne leakage from large mono-culture practises that use chemical pesticides and fertilisers and from Genetically Modified crops via bees and other insects.

Here in the UK the regulator is the Soil Association, who administer the certification which allows the use of the word organic on produce, and they are very, very strict and very expensive. The big irony here is this: Organic is what all food used to be up to about 100 years ago. All food was organic because we didn’t have the chemical pesticides and fertilisers. On the ‘polluter pays’ principle it is the big-agri farms who should be bearing this cost. As said in the UK standards are high at level 5. In the EU they are at level 4. Don’t even bother with the USA, they have major problems with GM crops. So, it might say “organic” on the label but the rigour of its meaning will depend on where it has come from.

While the dream of an organic farm will take time to set up, in the meantime Organic Ilford have a veg box scheme. They source seasonal vegetables from organic farms as near to us as possible, paying them a proper rate for their produce, and they have pick up points to cut down on costs, the savings of which are passed on to the consumer. Toni admitted that due to the seasonal nature of the scheme it may get boring at various times of year, but she should not be so negative – it is merely an opportunity for creative cooking.

You can keep tabs on Organic Ilford here;

Further reading:

Permaculture and the myth of scarcity Charles Eisenstein
The latest permaculture methods can deliver much more than just double or triple the yield of conventional farming. I recently came across this article by David Blume chronicling his nine-year permaculture enterprise in California. Running a CSA for 300-450 people on two acres of land, he achieved yields eight times what the Department of Agriculture says is possible per square foot.
The Growing Food Crisis: why industrial animal farming is bad for animals, people and the environment.
It is vital we have Greens there [EU] to push for a completely different kind of farming, one that feeds us decent, healthy food while supporting farmers and protecting consumers, animals and the environment. As we saw with the horse meat scandal the current system is completely broken.


  1. "No wildlife can be seen at today’s mega-farms; just slime, smog and sewage. Our hunger for cheap food risks destroying the land"
    Isabel Oakeshott The Sunday Times 19 January 2014