What Does Organic Mean?
Wikipedia describes organic farming as:
an integrated farming system that strives for sustainability, the enhancement of soil fertility and biological diversity whilst, with rare exceptions, prohibiting synthetic pesticides, antibiotics, synthetic fertilizers, genetically modified organisms, and growth hormones.
I love that description, and until writing this blog I hadn't read that before. I think that (almost) perfectly sums up what we are striving for by being certified organic. I say almost because we don't use synthetic pesticides, synthetic fertilisers, genetically modified organisms or growth hormones. God made our world to work fantastically! Genetically modified organisms are incredibly scary for me to think about. It's alarming to me that almost all of those 'prohibitions' for organic farmers, are frequently used on conventional dairy farms around the globe.
Organic to us means:
We use what nature gives us to feed the soil, the plants, our cows and then ourselves. We know that everything in that picture is alive and needs to be fed and managed in a way that helps produce a healthy, nutrient dense food. We don't use any chemical concoctions or synthetic fertilisers, instead we use naturally produced fertilisers such as seaweed tea, compost, compost teas, vermicast, organic matter (decomposing plant matter), manure and more.
But, being organic is more than just ensuring that the inputs that we use on our land or animals are certified organic and approved. To us, it's a philosophy of working with nature rather than against it. It's about getting our plot of land, as close to 'wild nature' as we can, while still being sustainable - not just environmentally but also financially. We count it as a massive privilege to be able to farm this land. I think of it being one more farm that is trying to do right by nature, which means it's one less farm in the conventional agricultural system, which in my view is helping to destroy it.
Set The Skeptics Straight
Something that seems to come up in conversation with Organic Skeptics quite often is - "but what happens if you get a sick animal, we would much prefer animal welfare over the prohibited use of antibiotics". This is such a sad thing to hear.
Did you know that the word 'antibiotic' comes from a New Latin word (from Ancient Greek) which means 'opposing life'.
Whhaaaaaat? How on earth does that sound like a good 'animal welfare' practice?
Antibiotics have been massively over-used in the modern world and we are seeing major anitibiotic resistances springing up because of it. This is not only from antibiotics being used in humans, but because of how the food we eat has been treated. There is a saying "You are what you eat, eats".
There are some agricultural practices that have antibiotics in the animal's food just as a preventative. As above, 'antibiotics' means to 'oppose life'. 😣 We believe that antibiotics have their place if it is absolutely necessary. What we don't believe, is the thought of giving antibiotics as a preventative, rather than a treatment, which is sadly such a common practice on animal farms around the world - including New Zealand Dairy. If we have an animal that needs antibiotics we will always take that step if it is necessary.
Animal welfare is our top priority. We are lucky in our situation where we have family that is also farming but not organically, so if we have an animal that will lose her organic status due to antibiotic use, she gets sent to our relative's farm and carries on her recovery and then her milking career there as a non-organic animal.
We live by the same standard in our home life as we do on the farm too. We like to practice what we preach (even if we're only preaching to ourselves most of the time! 😂). If we have an issue with our health, we always try to cure it naturally first, and if that doesn't work (rarely) we will resort to modern medicine.
We are lucky in the organic farming industry there are a few companies that provide some really great products including homeopathy, herbal tinctures, mineral salts and more that we can use as both preventatives and treatments for our cows.
So for the worry of "but what happens if you get a sick animal" hopefully this is cleared up for the organic skeptics. The majority of organic farmer's philosophies (that we know) are like ours - we have learned from them! Animal welfare is a top priority, and when we have our audits from our organic certifiers, animal welfare is a big part of that.
Some Of The Reasons We Don't Farm Conventionally
Let's start with my biggest concern stemming from conventional farm practices. Glyphosate (the active ingredient in products such as Round Up).
I'm sure you've heard of the legal battles in the States in the past couple of years around this product. The International Agency for Research on Cancer has listed Glyphosate in category 2A, meaning they classify it as a probable cause of cancer. From Wikipedia: A meta-analysis published in 2019 looked at whether there was an association between an increased risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma in humans and high cumulative exposures to glyphosate-based herbicides. The analysis used the most recent update of the Agricultural Health Study cohort published in 2018 and five case-control studies published in 2019. The research found a "compelling link" between exposures to glyphosate-based herbicides and increased risk for non-Hodgkin lymphoma. You can see this full data here. The review abstract finishes by saying "Overall, in accordance with findings from experimental animal and mechanistic studies, our current meta-analysis of human epidemiological studies suggests a compelling link between exposures to GBHs and increased risk for NHL."
Glyphosate is so commonly used in NZ it makes me cringe. Around the world, New Zealand has the reputation of being 'clean and green', but unfortunately this is far from the truth. Clean and Green to me, has a very strong association with Nature - and I don't know of anything like Glyphosate in the Natural World.
For a bunch of study references and a great article on the affects Glyphosate can have on your health - click here.
Another concern of mine is antibiotic use.
As mentioned above, the word 'antibiotic' translated to the original context means 'opposing life'. If that isn't enough to put you off in itself... Read on 😉.
There are many parts of the agricultural industry that abuse antibiotics. Rather than just using them as a TREATMENT for an infection, up until recently they were increasingly being used as both a preventative and a growth 'promotant' (like a growth hormone) in New Zealand, and are still currently used in this way in countries like the USA. A study looking into antibiotic residues in a new mothers milk showed that 85.7% of the women had residues of beta-lactams and 23.5% of them women had residues of quinolone's.These women consumed no antibiotics during or in the 7 days after giving birth. Isn't that alarming! The study summarised "We found that the majority of human milk samples included beta-lactams or quinolones, even though the mothers did not receive these antibiotics during pregnancy and lactation. Antibiotic residues in human milk may affect early maintenance of the intestinal microbiota. Previous studies have shown that antimicrobials in food might increase the risks of allergies and could lead to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacterial strains".
(A beta-lactam is a type of antiobiotic. It is the most widely used antibiotic and includes penicillins. A drug is classed as a beta-lactam by the specific bio-chemistry make up of the drug. A quinolone is another type of antibiotic specified by it's bio-chemistry make up. In this category ciprofloxacin is one of the most widely used antibiotics worldwide).
I feel like this is a VERY blasé summary of their findings. 85% had antibiotic residue!! That is crazy!
The figure below shows the effects that antibiotics have on the human microbiota which is what the above study is talking about (the microbiota is like a mini eco-system of bacteria that lives in our gut - naturally balanced with beneficial and non-beneficial bacteria).
There is more research starting to be done showing the correlation between auto-immune disease and the microbiota. Auto-immune related disease is so incredibly common now, we need to be thinking for ourselves about how our food and environment are affecting our health. Check out this list of what some of the most common auto-immune diseases are. I can 99% guarantee, you will know at least one person with one of these diseases. There needs to be an awakening, linking our food with our health.
So Why Eat Organic?
Certified Organic farming practices in NZ especially are extremely clear about prohibited practices including the 2 major concerns I have talked about already.
There are lots of other food badges or brands that are marketed, and it's hard to know what to go with.
If you aren't close by us, ideally you want to find someone that is not only certified organic, but also farming or growing your food in a biological and regenerative manner as well. Here at Alexander Organics we like to think of ourselves as a certified organic, biological, regenerative, grass-fed, sustainable, wild-life encouraging, living-breathing property. This isn't something you'll hear us saying as a slogan or anything like that, but are a few ideologies that we fit under.
How do you know your food is grown in this way?
You need to know who is growing your food!!
When you buy food from your local supermarket, in most cases you don't know who has produced the food that you are going to nourish (or not) your body with. Buying direct from your local farmer is so important. Not only are you then able to ask them:
How they have grown it;
What kind of practices they use;
Are you able to visit them (to verify for yourself);
Along with the benefit of knowing answers to those questions you will also be saving so many food miles on your food. Even if you have to drive to each individual grower, you will be well and truly saving countless food miles on food that otherwise would have come from all over the country.