Things Are Heating Up This Summer In The Organic Community. (Pt. 1)

carolina reaper
                                              Carolina Reaper Pepper 

Consumer demand for organic food is rising at an incredible rate, up 11% in 2014 according to the Organic Trade Association. This translates into increased revenue for producers, but also the challenges of keeping up supply. The cost of becoming USDA certified organic on top of the operating costs the organic farmer faces can be intimidating. Organic farmers take these challenges head on to deliver a product they believe in to the consumer. The weight of these costs though seem to be creating some waves and possible rifts in a growing industry. Many farmers are rallying a call to action to consider the often intensive work they have committed to producing their product, and this to be marketed more favorably. The inclusive focus on conventional methods by traditionally organic retailers in regards to sustainability as well as the innovation of non-traditional organic methods are under fire. First we’ll take a look at the changing relationships with distributors and retailers.

Grocer Whole Foods, who has been traditionally as an advocate for the organic community, is now under scrutiny. Whole Foods with their Responsibly Grown program seem to be focusing on the sustainability of products their offering and not solely highlighting the organic vs. conventional aspect of food sourcing. “Organic is an incredibly deep standard, and at Whole Foods we celebrate that in very consistent, long-term ways,” said Mr. Rogers, who worked for more than three years to put the program together. “But the organic standard does not cover water, waste, energy, farmworker welfare, and all of these topics are really important, too.”
Below is an outline of this program:


  • Reward farmers who work hard to protect human health and the environment.
  • Prohibit the most harmful chemicals; measure and reduce the rest.
  • Provide shoppers with an at-a-glance Good, Better or Best rating for sustainable farming practices.


This system was developed to address some of the serious challenges facing agriculture today.

  • An estimated 5.2 billion pounds of pesticides are used worldwide each year.
  • Agriculture uses 70% of the world’s accessible fresh water.
  • Since 1960, an estimated one-third of the world’s farmable land has been lost through erosion and other degradation.
  • Agriculture accounts for 10–12% of the world’s human-generated greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Pollinators are crucial to more than two-thirds of the world’s crop species, yet bee and butterfly populations are in serious decline.
 (courtesy of Whole Foods 2015)
In a recent article in The New York Times “Organic Farmers Object to Whole Foods Rating System”, it’s stated that “”some organic farmers contend that Whole Foods is quietly using its formidable marketing skills and its credibility with consumers to convey that conventionally grown produce is just as good — or even better — than their organically grown products.” Instead of being a flaw in information based on the above foundation of the new rating system, it appears that Whole Foods is acting responsibly in providing complete information to the consumer on the global and environmental impact of the product their buying. Unfortunately the culture of organics has become focused on the production in regards to the USDA standards and not what the true sustainability impact is of that production. If they are not able to produce a product that is more sustainable than another conventional or not, why should they be granted a higher rating? This is a step in the right direction to educating the consumer and allowing them to use that information to make their own decision.
The article continues with the perspective of “Tom Willey, who has been farming organically for more than 40 years in and around Madera, Calif.,” and that he and others “say the program is a subtle way of shifting the costs of a marketing program onto growers.” This seems like smart on the business side for Whole Foods as well. The market for organics is growing, which is very positive, but should lead to the farmers themselves taking on the role of marketing their product and finding the best distribution outlet. According to the Organic Trade Association, “Consumer demand has grown by double-digits every year since the 1990s—and organic sales increased from $3.6 billion in 1997 to over $39 billion in 2014.” These numbers and the fact that the market is continuing to grow seems contradictory to the attitude of entitlement of farmers towards Whole Foods carrying the marketing load. A big benefit to a growing industry, your options are endless.
As the organic market continues to grow, the increasing revenue generated will lead to innovation. This innovation, as in in other industries, could allow these organic producers opportunities to lower their production costs as well increase sustainability.
After all isn’t the ultimate goal a sustainable and healthy food supply?

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