Courtesy of Roxanne C., Philadelphia PA
We often get asked if SPIN is organic. Usually it’s by aspiring farmers who want to do the right thing. We don’t dictate how to grow. We explain that SPIN calls for organic-based methods because they are cheaper and more appropriate for densely populated areas, where most SPIN farmers set up their businesses. On a practical level, organic is much easier to implement on the small land bases SPIN farmers use, than on larger farms.
In addition, because SPIN’s business model is direct marketing, SPIN farmers learn soon enough that customers want food that is grown free of synthetic pesticides and herbicides, and will pay the price for crops produced that way. So for SPIN farmers organic becomes the result of everyday practicalities, market demand and economics, not just an abstract moral imperative.
Sometimes, however, the question is a setup to draw us into an issue those inside and outside farming have been chewing on for decades – can organic feed the world? Those who say “no” claim organic yields are too low, and it limits innovation. Those who say “yes” claim organic is as productive and more sustainable than industrial agriculture. We say who cares, and here’s why.
The food system we have was not created by some vast corporate conspiracy. It was the result of fewer people wanting to farm. So we needed to make it faster and easier for those who did. The capital and chemical intensive agriculture we now have is based on doing more with fewer people and less complex management. This has been the reality in the U.S. since World War II. And the rest of the world has aspired to this goal, as well. While this large-scale industrialized system is efficient, we’re learning that it has some big negatives: it’s energy and resource intensive; in some cases, its by-products harm the environment; much of the food it produces is not nutritious; and it’s susceptible to supply disruption and sabotage.
To address this, we have started re-engineering the system to create regional food sheds that are easier to control and monitor, contribute positively to the environment and produce healthier food. But almost none of these efforts address the most obvious obstacle to any of this actually happening – new farmers. Some say we are going to need hundreds of thousands, other say millions. Whatever the number is, it’s big.
Until we figure out where all these additional farmers are going to come from, organic/regional/local/sustainable/ ag will remain a relatively small part of our massive production system. So SPIN stays focused on helping create and support new farmers, those who are turning to their gardens and neighborhood lots, not with the romantic notion of “returning to the land”, but to provide a product that consumers want because it is good for them and the planet. They don’t fit the traditional profile, but they do represent a vast pool from which the country’s new farmers will come. They span generations, geography and socio-economic backgrounds, but what unites them all is a desire to make money by meeting the demand for local food.
As I conclude this, I see another order for the SPIN online learning series coming in from Rockford, Illinois from a woman who has a little a growing experience and who is over 40 years old. Look for her behind the table with all the garlic next year at the local farmer’s market…