Freedom’s Just Another Word for Organic

Karen Adler's picture

Organic agriculture provides real independence for farmers, for consumers, for communities, and for the world. As we know, organic farmers and ranchers use production methods that are independent of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, and free of antibiotics and growth hormones. The avoidance of these substances, coupled with holistic approaches that foster the cycling and conservation of resources through composting, cover-cropping, and other soil and nutrient-management practices, spells independence from the costly and toxic chemical agriculture treadmill.

In their seminal work, “Conventional versus Alternative Agriculture: The Paradigmatic Roots of the Debate,” published in Rural Sociology in 1990, Curtis Beus and Riley Dunlap created a table that provides a snapshot of key elements that differentiate the two approaches.

Conventional Organic
Centralization Decentralization
Dependence Independence
Competition Community
Domination of nature Harmony with nature
Specialization Diversity
Exploitation Restraint

Under their expanded description of Independence, the authors cite smaller, low-capital production units and technology; reduced reliance on external sources of energy, inputs, and credit; personal and community self-sufficiency; and emphasis on personal knowledge and skills. But the other categories speak to independence as well.

Decentralization, with increased local and regional production, processing, and marketing, means economic opportunity as well as a meaningful approach to true food security.

Community speaks to the preservation of farm traditions and rural culture, rewarding work, and high quality of life--foundations of the independent American spirit.

Harmony with nature brings the rewards of engaging the cycles of life, creating closed-circle, regenerative systems that require reduced or no external inputs.

Diversity means working with a broad genetic base and locally appropriate production systems-- freedom from high-cost destructive monocultural practices.

Restraint requires that short-term and long-term outcomes be viewed as equally important, relying on renewable resources and conserving non-renewable resources, practices we know to be at the very heart of independence.

Beus's and Dunlap’s work provides a nice framework, but thinking about organic independence, so many possibilities open up. What comes up for you as you read this?

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