Organic vs Sustainable

Welcome to Bella Organic Farm

Farming in Oregon has gone on for quite some time, but for the first time in Portland, a push has been made to go organic. On Sauvie Island, just North East of downtown Portland, Bella Organic Farm has decided to put the extra effort in and stop using weed killer and other harmful pesticides. Now in its seventh season, Bella Farm regularly sells fruits, herbs and vegetables in the organic farm store and also hosts festivals for the greater Portland community.

Many would assume that “organic” and “sustainable” go hand in hand, but this is not the case. As the Bella Organic Farm’s website states their “goal is to promote responsible, Organic, and sustainable farming practices” and they obviously know there is a difference. There is no sustainable certification for farming practices or products and it would be understandable that consumers would assume that organic certification held sustainable practices in mind, but this is not so. The requirements for USDA Organic certification are as follows:

  • Prohibit most synthetic pesticides and fertilizers
  • Prohibit all antibiotics, genetic engineering, irradiation and sewage sludge
  • Require all organically produced animals have 100% organic feed (which does not contain any animal byproducts or growth hormones)
  • Require all organically produced animals to have access to the outdoors
  • Require that processed products labeled organic contain at least 95% organic ingredients

Although most of these provisions will lead to positive sustainable outcomes for the planet and people, there are plenty of ways that agricultural practices could receive designation while doing harm to the environment. At Bella, weed killing performed by hand with plows, a backbreaking but sustainable practice. Now at the same time they use a tractor to till the fields. The tractor is not big by any means, but is powered by gasoline and will not technically be sustainable until run on biodiesel. This is a small issue and it is very easy to nitpick through a sustainable lens. Industrial organic farms on the other hand, could be using many industrial sized, gasoline powered, tractors. They might also not provide workers with a living wage or benefits, causing societal inefficiencies. Sourcing locally, zero emissions practices and many other sustainable factors are not considered in the certification process, which is understandable because the USDA is in the business of food production, not sustainability.

Organics and certifications are not by any means anti-sustainable and the more small scale the farming, the more likely it will be sustainably produced. However, sustainability is a journey and it should be our intention to always strive to do better.

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