Buena Vista Roastery

Coffee and the Mountains

Organic is not holistic

I read the following quote yesterday. It comes from a very respectable company that roasts coffee and sells it over the Internet and perhaps through some cafes and restaurants local to them,

Organic farming is the art of holistically utilizing the systems and resources at hand to produce a crop that is the true, natural creation of the land and soil on which it was grown.

And I am compelled to write about its inaccuracy. Today’s organic farming is entirely non-holistic. It is as far from being ‘holistic’ as any conventional farming. By definition these are mutually exclusive elements, as organic/conventional is a fabrication of linear thinking, the other requires the ability to process enormous amounts of information and complexity found in both natural and soft systems.

Let’s first define the terms at play. Organic, Holistic, Conventional. Organic is merely free of synthetics in growing and processing your products, with the soil being free of synthetics for at least three years prior to being deemed ‘organic’ by a third party certifying agency at a cost. Conventional allows the use of synthetics. Holistic includes balancing the complex environmental needs of your situation, with the economic, and your social community and personal values both on and off-farm. By definition there is a disparity between the words organic and holistic. There is actually very little in common when you hold the definitions next to each other. But let’s look at the terms practically.

Take an coffee grower in Colombia. There are three significant situations when he needs to be keenly aware of what is applied to his coffee. First, when young seedlings are transplanted to the field. Grasses and forbs can overrun the seedlings in their quest for sunlight. The common defense is either the herbicide Round-Up to inhibit the growth of chlorophyll, ergo unwanted grass/forbs, and the machete. The machete would be “organic”. Second, to combat fungus. The options available are fungicides or biodiversity and careful observance and selection. Third, to replenish soil since coffee production mines calcium, phosphorous, nitrogen, etc. Usually this would be through synthetic fertilizer or compost.

The farmer has worked with an agency to be Certified Organic, and can sell the green beans at a premium. He has to sell enough to make the cost of certification worthwhile, as well as to pay for added labor needed to clear grass, spread compost, etc. Fortunately, there is also Fair Trade certification, where we in the West are ensured that the farmer is paying decent wages to his employees and they are living under appropriate conditions. And being the sagacious farmer, he also understands that biodiversity will help his cause, growing coffee under a tiered canopy. To help his premium he may pay for Shade Grown and Bird-Friendly Certifications. There are several other certifications available for various activities as well.

Already, we can see that a host of certifications are available through various agencies to augment Organic. If you were doing all the right things, had all the certifications accepted by the consuming West, and were able to balance your financial planning with your family’s needs while monitoring to increase biodiversity and also checking your impact on the community and surrounding environment even off-farm, you are acting more holistic. Organic is but one component – if defining yourself as ‘organic’ fit with your value system; you may find that to survive economically one year, you have to spray Round-Up in a concentrated area, fully aware that you will lose certification on that parcel and need the three years transition back. But you are aware of the consequences and balancing the complexity of the situation.

Conventional and Organic farmers by definition can be holistic. Just the same, Conventional and Organic farming do not equate to holistic. It’s like calling a rectangle a square. These are mutually exclusive, and each actually only analyzes a relatively small component of the whole system, according to a linear thought model. Organic assesses actions and activities. Holistic is a thought process.



  YB wrote @

This reminds me of a recent piece of McDonalds marketing that I saw extolling the virtues of their egg sandwiches. Allow me to paraphrase: ‘The sandwich begins with a pure white egg from a local farm……’ Ummmmm, wait a second….. I’m sure that the farm in question is local to somewhere….. just not to all of the thousands of Mcdonalds locations that are using that particular tray liner. The term is ‘greenwashing’ – Where you bathe your product in the fashionable market-speak of the day. Look for it – you’ll see everyone trying to reclassify their products this way, further diluting the value of people who do go the extra mile to learn about their food and it’s lifecycle….. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greenwashing


  Joel Benson wrote @

I hear what you are saying about greenwashing, and have seem countless examples of it. There are cases, however, such as here, where the intent is actually very noble and directed. The terms organic and holistic are used in this sense mostly out of idealism and lack of understanding. I believe.

I do like your example of the white egg from a local farm. This does seem intentionally misleading. I think I’ll visit the grocery store later and look for greenwashing.

[…] BV Blogger, Joel B. […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: