USDA photo by Lance Cheung
This past week at Expo West, I had the pleasure of attending a dinner thrown by the Organic Center, at which Anna Lappé was the Keynote speaker. Of the many ideas and ingenuities I encountered over the course of the convention, it was an old refrain Lappé echoed that resonated most: standing up for organic is standing up for farmers.
In her speech, Lappé shared her experiences interviewing farmers with Real Food Media, and hearing repeatedly that the move to organic was motivated by illness in the family. This is an experience shared in common amongst those that grow and harvest our food worldwide. Pesticide exposure is irrefutably dangerous, and prolonged exposure puts farm workers at risk on a daily basis. My colleague Dave Carter has shared his personal experience here, and it’s well worth a read.
Studies from the National Cancer Institute have found higher rates of many types of cancer (such as leukemia, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, multiple myeloma.. the list goes on) among agricultural workers. They also point to other environmental exposures farm workers face- engine exhausts, solvents, dusts, animal viruses, fertilizers fuels and microbes. Whichever way you slice it, farming is incredibly hard work. Making the environment toxic to workers is an inhumane added burden.
Organic agricultural practices create safer and more sustainable environments for workers, as well as consumers, by reducing pesticide exposure. Choosing organic, whether it be at the shelf or at the poll, demonstrably improves quality of life for agricultural workers. Growing demand for organic produce and products is driving the Industry to expand, and this in turn creates a need for more organic acreage. More organic acreage means more organic farms and farmers operating in better working conditions.
Groups such as Farmworker Justice, Farm Aid, United Farm Workers, alongside a host of others at both the State and National levels, tackle the broad range of challenges that matter most to our food supply, from the ground up. The Organic Trade Association, Organic Consumers Association, and Organic Center advocate, educate, research and/or disseminate to address the same challenges with an organic perspective. They are all great sources of information and insights on how to stand up for both farmers and organic.
I thank Anna Lappé for reminding me of this truism, an idea worth sharing. Here’s to standing up (and eating delicious organic food to keep up our strength!).