Nurturing the Bounty of Local Organics
Nurturing the Bounty of Local Organics
by Patricia Dines
Steppin' Out magazine, Fall 2002, pp. 16-7, 19. (Northern California's Wine Country Magazine. Lead article.)
(c) Patricia Dines, 2002. All rights reserved.
"In times of challenge,
we can help
new opportunities
Hidden among the oak-adorned hills and nestling forests of northern California, a quiet revolution has been brewing. As in so many communities around the world, local organic farmers have been recovering and developing ways to work in alignment with nature and offer their communities fresh delicious organic food and wine. Consumers have been increasingly enjoying and supporting these delights, making organics one of the fastest growing areas of the U.S. food market -- and nurturing a path to healthier agriculture for everyone.
It turns out that, in northern California, woven among the mainstream farms, we have one of the largest and richest organic communities in the country. The range of ecosystems from cool coastal areas to warm inlands allows a wide variety of foods to be grown organically here. Rolling hills with orchards and row crops offer diverse organic fruit and vegetables, like those that made Sonoma County famous for its fresh produce. Grazing lands allow cows to roam, offering us fresh organic milks, cheeses, and natural meats. And, among the Sonoma and Napa vineyards that are famous around the world, are those growing organically-grown wines that we can savor.
What a delight to explore, right here in our backyard!
The Roots of Organics
While organic agriculture is based on the traditional agriculture which fed humans for tens of thousands of years, today's organic movement is rooted in the work of pioneering thinkers like J. I. Rodale (creator of what is now Organic Gardening magazine) and Rudolph Steiner (founder of Biodynamics). In the early 1900s, both saw farming and ecological problems emerging from agriculture's experimentation with synthetic fertilizers then pesticides, and so they recovered, developed, and taught healthier ways of growing food.
The organics movement was further fueled in 1962, when biologist Rachel Carson's book Silent Spring was published, ringing the alarm about the harm that synthetic pesticides like DDT were doing worldwide to birds, humans, and ecosystems. "As crude a weapon as the caveman's club," Carson wrote, "the chemical barrage has been hurled against the fabric of life." The ensuing public outcry brought not only better government controls on pesticide use, but also helped spur greater awareness and action about other arenas of environmental harm. This book is now considered a seminal book in the history of U.S. environmentalism.
It is in that swell of action that today's organic movement started taking its present form. While some activists directed their outrage into creating new laws and regulations, others channeled their energies into providing a new option -- organic agriculture. Their vision was that farmers who choose to work with nature, not against it, would offer their food to consumers who could go into a store and buy "organic" food and know how it was grown. In this way, consumers could support those farmers who were making healthier choices.
Now, after many folks have spent decades working out the details (often on a volunteer basis), this vision is becoming real. Agreement has been achieved on a fairly-consistent definition of organic food and agriculture around the world. Because most countries have this definition written into their laws, consumers can have confidence in how the food was grown. And consumers have increasingly been buying organic foods, as sales have grown at least 20% a year for the past 12 years, with no signs of slowing down. Around the world, farmers in over 130 countries on more than 170 million acres (about the size of South Carolina) are producing organic food, beverages, and fiber -- including farmers who converted from pesticides to respond to consumer demand.
Once seen as being for the tie-dyed, granola-eating, tree-hugging, Birkenstock crowd,
organic has now established a beachhead in the mainstream.
Going Mainstream
Once seen as being for the tie-dyed, granola-eating, tree-hugging, Birkenstock crowd, organic has now established a beachhead in the mainstream. Mothers buy it to nurture their children's developing systems and to help avoid illnesses for themselves. People battling with illness purchase it to help strengthen their bodies. Farmers and winemakers grow it to be good stewards of the land, build terroir into their wines, and meet the growing market demand. And chefs, professional and amateur, buy organic for flavor.
Stereotypes fall by the wayside, as consumers find organic prices dropping, even sometimes being comparable to conventional food (especially when bought in season). But consumers are also expanding their understanding of the bargain that organic can be, because it avoids the indirect costs of pesticides' harm to human health and ecosystems. And, through Slow Food and other groups, we're reconnecting to the joy that food can be, and remembering that food becomes our bodies -- we are indeed what we eat.
In short, organics is a delightful grassroots success story about how we together can indeed make a difference.
So, What Comes Next?
And now, with the new national regulations being implemented, organics stand at an exciting transition from fringe into mainstream -- a transition that brings with it new questions and challenges.
The success of organics has attracted larger farms and manufacturers onto the bandwagon. And, while some consumers and activists see this as a positive step towards healthier agriculture for everyone, others wonder if this might threaten the integrity of organics. Will the standards be diluted? What does it mean if consumers buy organic from a large farm or manufacturer, or from across the globe? While organic is simply a definition of growing practices, people associate it with certain values, like supporting small local farms, that they fear will be lost as larger players enter the game.
And, among these new questions, new opportunities also emerge. The opportunity to reach more consumers and farmers with organics -- while supporting organic groups in keeping standards strong.
And the opportunity to stand on the success achieved so far and articulate the next layer of vision. In addition to encouraging all farms and producers to be organic, for everyone's health and well-being, what are the other values the long-time organic community wants to support?
A common theme that emerges is a call to buy not only organic, but local organic from small farms.
Buy Local Organic
There are many wonderful reasons to buy and support local organic foods. First, to get amazingly fresh food that nurtures our health, both through the food and in healthier local ecosystems. Second, to support beautiful open space without toxics. And third, to support this area's long-term viability, by allowing us to grow diverse crops that nurture our land for the long-term and make us more resilient to potential disruptions in long-distance food supply.
Community and consumer support is vital if we want local farmers to keep providing us with their delicious bounty. Like many small farmers across the country, local farmers are struggling with increased costs and a decreased share of our food dollar. If current trends continue, it's estimated that we'll lose much of our area's greenbelt in the next 30 years. But organic offers a viable survival strategy for these small farms, and when we choose to buy local organic, we help ensure that the healthiest form of our local farms continue growing -- and growing better -- long into our future.
And so, in our actions large and small, the community will decide what the next chapter of this story will be. Will we support agriculture that returns to its roots and honors nature's precious ecosystems? And will we have small local farms growing diverse organic crops? The organic pioneers show us that we can decide not to be powerless and cynical, that we can join with others and help create the good news for the next generation.
And they show us that we can make these positive choices with great joy and delight!

SIDEBAR: Choosing Local Organic
Whether you live in the country or in the city, are a local or a visitor, northern California offers myriad ways for you and your loved ones to enjoy and celebrate this area's delicious organic bounty. What new ways do you want to try today?
Farms. You can get the freshest food -- and connect to where your food really comes from -- by visiting the wonderful organic farms we have in this area. It's a fun outing for the whole family! And a great way to support local farmers, while often getting a good deal -- because both of you skip the middleman.
• Farmers' Markets. Every week farmers gather in markets across Northern California, many of which offer good selections of organic. You can get to know the farmers and choose from a delightful variety of fresh organic produce that makes cooking fun!
• Natural Food Stores. Local natural food stores provide a rich array of fresh and packaged organic food -- including organic and natural meats -- plus organic wine, organic clothing, and natural products to take care of your home, pets, and more. While you're there, look for products made by local producers, to enjoy and encourage the offerings of the local community.
Restaurants. Top chefs are increasingly turning to organics -- for health and ecological reasons -- and for the taste. Find and support restaurants committed to using substantial amounts of organics and you will benefit in oh so many ways.
Wineries. Just like other wine-lovers, if you're looking for tasty organically-grown wine, you can visit area wineries to taste your options and find the ones you like. This fun is not just for tourists!
Nurseries. Even when gardening and landscaping, you can create a healthier home and world. We're blessed to have wonderful local nurseries offering organic plants, products, and advice. You can even find organic landscaping services!
Community Gardens. If you don't have land for gardening -- or you want to learn and garden with others -- see if there's a community garden near you and ask if they grow organically. Most do, for health and safety reasons. Then see what your garden can grow!
By exploring local organics, you can have fun, nurture yourself and your family, meet allies and friends, and support a healthier vision for our area. Now that sounds like a recipe for true happiness!
Want an easy way to explore local organics and learn more about this topic? Check out "The Organic Guide to San Francisco" and "The Organic Guide to Sonoma, Napa, and Mendocino Counties." Both subtitled "Your Organic Adventure Guide and Empowerment Manual", these attractive and well-organized books overflow with places, resources, information, stories, and more. Our volunteer, community-supported group, Community Action Publications (CAP), created them to make it easy and fun for you to enjoy and support area organics -- and a better world for everyone. The books are both over 100 pages and are available at local stores or directly from CAP. For more information, see <> or call (707) 829-2999.
Patricia Dines is a writer and graphic artist in Sonoma County. She's also President of Community Action Publications, the volunteer community group that publishes The Organic Guides and otherwise spreads the opportunity of organics and a healthier world. She says that she's honored to be able to share the good news of the wonderful local organic people and their delicious bounty. For more information about the group, or to share your own organic good news, you can contact her at <>.

This entire website is (c) Patricia Dines, 1998-2007. All rights reserved.
Page last updated 04/05/07