Organics a drop in the bucket
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has been heavily promoting its organic programs lately, particularly its increased support for organic farming in the new farm bill:
"Consumer demand for organic products has grown exponentially over the past decade. With retail sales valued at $35 billion last year, the organic industry represents a tremendous economic opportunity for farmers, ranchers and rural communities," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. "New support in the 2014 Farm Bill will enhance USDA's efforts to help producers and small business tap into this market and support organic agriculture as it continues to grow and thrive."
One of the narratives of the 2014 Farm Bill was, in fact, that organic farming got "historic wins".
So many produce coolers… Photo: David Sommerstein.
And it's true. The federal government has never been more supportive of training, funding, and insuring organic agriculture.
But author Marion Nestle, the incredibly sharp food expert, nails the bigger point in her latest blog post on Food Politics (sign up for her e-mailed newsletter). All the money that will go to organic farming is a drop in the bucket:
Adds up to more than $40 million and sounds good, no? Industrial agriculture gets $20 billion a year.
Organics are still a tiny fraction of the U.S. food supply and all too easy for USDA—and Congress—to ignore and not take seriously.
That argument reminds me of the big lesson I drew from recent trips to New York City to cover "buy/eat local" related issues.
For all the passion and pride and innovation surrounding locally grown food and organic food, they remain the tiniest drop in New York City's "Giant Pool of Food".
When I spent the day following an organic farming couple trying to establish markets in the city, that fact is what inspired them. "There's just so much opportunity," Dan and Megan Kent said, almost breathlessly. (Check out my Year on the Farm series documenting 2014 on their farm.)
But Nestle's point is well-taken: if the local movement wants to get taken seriously with The Big Guys, it's going to have to sell a lot more food.
Tags: agriculture, farming, food, new york, organic, usda, vegetables