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“What’s Organic About Organic?”: Takeaways

Posted Jun 26 2010 5:19pm

woaologoYesterday afternoon, I attended a screening for “What’s Organic About Organic?” , a neat new documentary by Shelley Rogers that illustrates the differences between organic and conventional farming, highlights the challenges that many small organic farms face, and touches on issues that fall outside the scope of organic certification.  You can watch the trailer here !

The darkness of the screening room was no match for my trusty notebook and pen.  Here are notes, factoids, quotes and questions I jotted down as I watched:

  • One organic farmer explains that conventional apples are sprayed with chemicals that are specifically created to withstand rainstorms.  He then poses the question, “how big of a rainstorm can you produce in your kitchen sink?”
  • Urvashi Rangan, Ph.D., environmental health scientist and consumer advocate, explains that most agricultural pesticides are simply diluted versions of chemicals originally created for chemical warfare.
  • Colorado organic farmer Andy Grant recounts an anecdote that truly stuck with me.  One day, as a young boy growing up on a farm, he spotted a few grasshoppers that had been sprayed with insecticides jumping close to where his dog was laying.  As a result of the insecticides’ effects on their nervous systems, the grasshoppers were jumping erratically.  This caught the attention of his dog, which ended up eating one or two.  The dog died soon thereafter.
  • Sewer sludge is commonly– and legally used as fertilizer in conventional farming.
  • Current USDA organic guidelines do not touch upon issues of agricultural workforce.  Some farmers believe that the organic seal should also reflect humane treatment of farm workers (i.e.: providing safe working conditions, providing healthcare, etc.).
  • The best part of the documentary, in my opinion, is a 10 to 15 minute segment in which a conventional dairy farm is juxtapositioned with an organic one. In the conventional farm, the cows are milked three times a day, subsist on an unnatural wheat diet, and are often injected with a wide variety of medications and antibiotics to treat the multitude of symptoms and diseases that are a direct result of their living conditions.  At the organic farm, cows are exclusively pasture-fed.  We also learn that cows’ symptoms (i.e.: diarrhea) are treated with herbs.  As farmer Jim Gardiner explains, a lot of weeds that are considered “nuisances” in conventional farming are powerful medicines for cows.

I definitely recommend watching this if you get a chance.  It’s not only informative, but also a wonderful “organics 101″ for people who may not be fully aware of the issues that pop up with conventional farming practices.  I also appreciated the humanizing aspect of focusing on a small handful of organic farmers.

Click here to remain informed about future screenings.

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