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Tell Stanford We’re Moving Beyond Organic

September 7, 2012 |

The following is a guest post from Dan Allen, the CFO of Farmscape Gardens, a Los Angeles-based organic garden installation and maintenance company that since its founding has become the largest urban farming venture in Southern California.

Researchers at Stanford have launched another salvo in the battle between conventional and organic produce. After reviewing more than 200 studies, they concluded that organic produce is not significantly safer or more nutritious than conventional produce.

Chuck Benbrok at Washington State has already taken issue with their conclusions. Meanwhile, Brian Fung at The Atlantic correctly observed that their study misses the point by choosing to focus on organic food in the first place rather than its impact on the environment. Organic cultivation builds topsoil – a scarce and vital resource – rather than depleting it, and avoids the carbon emissions associated with synthetic fertilizer production.

More broadly, however, I think the study engages a debate – organic versus conventional – that is outdated. Sophisticated consumers have moved past the organic movement to be part of a broader “good food” movement. Organic production is still important to good food consumers but so is the freshness and flavor of the food, the wages paid to the workers growing the food, and other aspects of environmental stewardship such as water management or minimizing fertilizer runoff.

The development of local food economies and technologies that make food traceable increasingly gives consumers detailed data on their produce. And with this data, more consumers are moving past the tired marketing-driven dichotomy of conventional versus organic to seek something better.

As the good food movement progresses, consumers will be able to seek out specific tomato varietals rather than choose from piles of tomatoes bundled under broad terms like organic or heirloom. Right now, it’s like shopping for pizza and everything is labeled as “pizza” rather than identifying the cheese and toppings on each different pizza. Soon, I expect that others – like our members at Farmscape – will express strong preferences for mouth-puckering Green Zebras, sugary Sun Golds and meaty Caspian Pinks.

Consumers will be able to select varietals where nutrient content is prioritized as opposed to durability during transport. These varietals will be organically grown and vine-ripened. Even if organic methods aren’t enough to ensure higher nutrient content, both variety and ripeness will.

Consumers will also be able to know their farmer. In many cases, that farmer will be located nearby as the trend toward local food production continues. And with proximity comes accountability; after all, it’s harder to hide dangerous working conditions on an urban farm than it is on a rural one.

If the scientists at Stanford are interested in joining us on this good food journey, we’d like to invite them to survey research regarding the nutrient content of different fruit and vegetable varietals, or survey the science of flavor. After decades of industrialized food, we have a lot of learning to do. Let’s get started.

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