Nurturing the Bounty of
- 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
- 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
- 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.
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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 <www.healthyworld.org>
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