Organic Foods Help Environmental Responsibility

Another reason to reformulate for organics: environmental responsibility.

By Mark Anthony, Ph.D., Technical Editor

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At Barbara’s Bakery (www.barbarasbakery.com), San Francisco, giving back to the community and investing in the preservation of the environment is an integral part of the company. “It is our company philosophy to invest in ‘healthy’ actions across the board, from the wholesome products we create, to our commitment to environmental and sustainable programs,” says Spaulding.

Over the years, Barbara’s has developed relationships with several ecological/environmental enterprises. The associations generally start with employees and their passion for a particular cause.

“Our Puffins cereal brand and its affiliation with the National Audubon Society’s Project Puffin started with a trip to Alaska by one of our longtime employees and the instant love she had for the seagoing puffin,” Spalding explains. This passion led to the development and name of the Puffins cereal and a longtime affiliation with Project Puffin, which has successfully been restoring puffins to historic nesting islands in the Gulf of Maine since 1973. “We are thankful to be a supporter,” adds Spalding.

Another of Barbara’s employees had a passion for organic gardening and piloted a program with local schools to develop organic gardens as a learning tool for health and the environment. Barbara's created a 10-year, $50,000 grant to fund organic school gardens in the Petaluma School District, home of Barbara’s headquarters. The grant has funded organic teaching gardens and curricula at 11 of the 17 Petaluma schools,

The first grant went to Valley Vista School, a K-6 elementary school. With Barbara’s $5,000 grant as the cornerstone, the school was able to turn a dying patch of grass into a vibrant, child-centered garden. “The garden is completely organic and provides produce for the school’s organic salad bar. The garden now serves as a model organic teaching garden for schools nationwide,” says Spalding.

Healthier for the land

“As consumers become educated about how food is produced, they understand how their food choices impact the environment,” says Stephen McDonnell, founder and CEO of Applegate Farms (www.applegatefarms.com), Bridgewater, N.J. While believing meat is essential to maintaining a healthy lifestyle, McDonnell and his company encourage people to eat less meat, balancing it with more fruits, vegetables and other foods.

“Organic food is differentiated from conventional food by the sustainable farming practices employed when raising it, and this knowledge is one of the primary driving forces behind the increasing consumer demand for organic food,” adds McDonnell.

If you’re not a believer in organics, the National Organic Program’s prohibitions against certain kinds of waste lagoons and the spraying of raw sewage on fields may leave you unaffected. Requirements that farmers dispose of waste in a manner that does not pollute groundwater may interest you a little. But an event in 1995 probably moved many North Carolinans a lot closer to the organic movement.

In 1995, a dike surrounding an eight-acre hog-waste lagoon burst, releasing 25.8 million gallons of waste into the New River, killing much of its marine life. Suddenly, people took notice of organic vs. nonorganic farming practices.

“It’s remarkable how today it’s very popular to be concerned about our environment, but mention that something must have gone wrong in order to create the problems, and you will be met with resistance,” says Dag Falck, organic program manager for Nature’s Path Foods (www.naturespath.com), Richmond, British Columbia. “The challenge seems to be how to say, ‘organic doesn’t pollute’ without saying ‘someone is polluting right now.’

“Nature has solved the challenges facing farmers in growing abundant, healthy and clean products. Fertility is achieved though a complex system of recycling,” Falck continues. On the other hand, “The solutions [practiced for the past 70 to 80 years] of using synthesized forms of fossil fuels to kill pests and weeds and boost fertility have been found to be polluting our land, air and waterways. The most modern, most systemized, most effective, most widespread and verifiable solution to this exact problem is organic agriculture, which has found a way to deal with pests, weeds, and soil fertility without using polluting chemicals.”

Objections to organics as a worldwide solution have centered on the claim organic yields are too small when compared conventional agricultural yields. In a 2007 article in Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems, titled “Organic agriculture and the global food supply,” researchers from the University of Michigan concluded organic agriculture could indeed feed the present world’s population and probably more, “while reducing the detrimental environmental impacts of conventional agriculture.”

Since organically grown foods are grown without any chemical fertilizers, pesticides, etc. -- which usually come from the petrochemical industry -- eating organically grown food also can lighten your carbon footprint by using less fossil fuel, says Jim Green, “ambassador” at Kettle Foods (www.kettlefoods.com), Salem Ore.

“It has always been our goal to make our products in the most environmentally friendly way possible,” he says. FOOD PROCESSING has often noted Kettle’s efforts at generating solar power and purchasing wind energy credits (see “Consider alternative and renewable energy sources,” www.foodprocessing.com/articles/2008/008.html). “We hope our efforts in sustainability inspire others to see industry and the environment can coexist while both prosper.”

Can ingredient suppliers keep up?

Ingredient providers now are aiding the organic processor with products that give organic foods more versatility to match modern consumer expectations.

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