What is organic?

Organic food is tasty, healthy and safe. Sales figures and popularity of organic food have been continously rising for years, through economic highs and lows. The Rolling Stones, Gwyneth Paltrow and Michelle Obama all swear by it. But what is organic exactly?

In short
Caring for a healthy living soil is fundamental  in organic farming. Because 99.7 % of all our food originates from the soil! Organic food is produced...

  • with respect for nature
  • with respect for animals
  • without chemical pesticides
  • without artifical fertilizer
  • without GMO's
  • without preventive antibiotics
  • under strict control by independant institutions (e.g. Soil Association, KRAV, etc)

For more information about the importance of healthy soils and the dangers that are threatening it, see www.saveoursoils.com.

The ideals of organic agriculture
The ideals of organic agriculture Organic agriculture is based on the ideal of sustainability; it wants to farm in a way that can be maintained for generations. The sustainability flower of Nature& More embodies this idea. It's a model for integral sustainability, which means that it does not only look at the earth, but also at the ethical, economical and cultural aspects of production. Research of Wageningen University in the Netherlands (2012) confirmed that organic agriculture, although it may not the be the most sustainable approach in all aspects at the same time, still has the overall most sustainable approach.

Legal status
Organic farming and production methods are defined in a legal framework and are supervised and checked by independant institutions. Organic farming is the only existing food production approach that is anchored in ideals as well as legislature. 

Organic farming is the only production method that is anchored in ideals as well as legislature

Definitions and principles
IFOAM is the international umbrella organisation of the worldwide organic movement. As such, it has formulated the four Principles of Organic Agriculture. Which are:

1. Health
Organic Agriculture should sustain and enhance the health of soil, plant, animal, human and planet as one and indivisible.

2. Ecology
Organic Agriculture should be based on living ecological systems and cycles, work with them, emulate them and help sustain them.

3. Fairness
Organic Agriculture should build on relationships that ensure fairness with regard to the common environment and life opportunities.

4. Care
Organic Agriculture should be managed in a precautionary and responsible manner to protect the health and well-being of current and future generations and the environment. 

The complete text of the Principles
The complete text of the Principles of Organic Agriculture can be found here on IFOAM's website.

IFOAM's definition of organic farming
"Organic Agriculture is a production system that sustains the health of soils, ecosystems and people. It relies on ecological processes, biodiversity and cycles adapted to local conditions, rather than the use of inputs with adverse effects. Organic Agriculture combines tradition, innovation and science to benefit the shared environment and promote fair relationships and a good quality of life for all involved."

Practice
In organic farming everything starts with a healthy, living soil. The soil provides for healthy plants, animals and people. An organic farmer therefore tries to stimulate and maintain life in the soil and work with natural means and nutrient cycles. He will not apply chemical fertilizer or pesticides that can seriously damage soil life. Instead he will use compost, crop rotation and green manure. For a more complete overview of the practical approach, see: "What does an organic farmer actually do?"

The products
Any product that comes from agriculture can be grown organically. Aquaculture (growing food in rivers, lakes or sea) can be based on organic principles as well. Wild grown products are by definition not organic. So organic products may include:

  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Meat and dairy
  • Fish and other aquatic life
  • Flowers and plants
  • Trees and wood
  • Seeds and seedlings
  • Processed food: coffee, tea, bread, peanut butter, etc
  • Cosmetic products
  • Clothes from natural fibres

According to European law, processed foods must consist of at least 95% organic ingredients, to be called organic. Synthetic colouring and aroma's are not permitted. 

Founders and movements
Several schools of ecological agriculture exist. Two recognized types with official certification in the Western world exist:

  • Mainstream organic agriculture -  regulated by law in Europa, USA, Japan and many other countries
  • Biodynamic (Demeter) agriculture - abides by organic regulations but imposes additional demands, set by Demeter.
     

Pioneering schools of ecological agriculture:

  • Permaculture - developed in Australia in the '70s. Makes a lot of use of intercropping instead of only crop rotation.
  • Agroforestry - a variety of permaculture that puts a lot of emphasis on using trees, to release nutrients from the deep soil and stimulate a wider range of biodiversity.
  • Fukuoka agriculture - based on the ideas of the Japanese Masanobu Fukuoka (published in 1975) who strives for minimal intervention in natural processes. 

Founders of organic agriculture:

  • Justus von Liebig (1803-1873): this chemist  andinventor of artificial fertilizer turned against his own invention in his latter years and pleaded for organic, carbon-based fertilisation.
  • Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925): founder of biodynamic agriculture. He foresaw the negative consequences of industrial agriculture in 1923. Read more here.
  • Albert Howard (1873-1947): pre-eminent pioneer of organic agriculture in the Anglosaxon part of the world.
  • Ehrenfried Pfeiffer (1899-1961): student of Steiner who carried his ideas forward. Pfeiffer developed biodynamic agriculture further and brought it to the Netherland and the United States.
  • Lady Eve Balfour (1899-1990): founder of the British Soil Association.

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