Organicology – Past But Not Over

Organicology – or gan’ i col·o·gy (ɔːˈɡæn ɪ kɒl ə dʒi)

  1. The study of animals and plants grown without the use of fertilizers or pesticides derived from chemicals.
  2. The study of a sustainable food future.
  3. An event held every two years that brings together seeds people, farmers, logistics providers, retailers, distributors, certifiers, policy makers, scientists, chefs, advocates, and concerned citizens for instruction, interaction, and celebration.

More than 500 people attended Organicology, held this year in Portland OR, and took part in a full day of intensives, 2 days of workshops and educational sessions, and a mini trade show with 66 exhibitors.

Three keynote speakers from very – very! – diverse backgrounds informed and entertained hundreds of people.

Jim Hightower, a Texan with more than the usual spunk, was described by political pundit, Molly Ivins, this way, “If Will Rogers and Mother Jones had a baby, Jim Hightower would be that rambunctious child – mad as hell, with a sense of humor.” Hightower informed, regaled, and agitated the audience:

Change comes from within us. The change that has been building for decades at the grassroots level comes from each of us.

1972, we talked tomatoes with a high-level government agriculture official and he was quite proud of the development of a hard little tomato that was barely pink – but shipped really, really well. Those tomatoes just didn’t have the taste of the tomatoes we remembered from childhood.

His response when we pressed him: “Your children will never know the difference!” He was wrong; we are those children! We are rebelling and we can have the kind of food and food culture that we want. We do not have to accept conventional wisdom.

Andrew Kimbrell, one of the country’s leading environmental attorneys and opponent of destructive technologies and practices such as genetic engineering, factory farming, irradiation, sewage sludge and the patenting of seeds and other life forms.

At the podium, Kimbrell drew from his books, Your Right to Know: Genetic Engineering and the Secret Changes in Your Food (2006) and Fatal Harvest: The Tragedy of Industrial Agriculture (2002), as well as others, to educate and move his listeners:

Efficiency is fine for machines, but how do we treat the things we care about? None of the attorneys in my group want to treat natural resources – or just as important, human resources – more efficiently. We need to balance efficiency with empathy and love. Nature is not a machine; animals are not machines. Seeds are not machines. We are not machines.

Efficiency is a pathological, cold, evil principle when it is misapplied to living things instead of machines. It is that misapplication that is the basis of the way industrial agriculture treats the animals, the crops, the land, the farmers, and the farm communities.

The organic movement is about empathy, cooperation, qualitative lived-in science and a new paradigm. If we are all going to survive as a species we must cooperate, not compete.

Stephen Jones, University of Washington professor and soil scientist who teaches the evolution of wheat species and non-GMO use of wild species for crop improvement, gave an entertaining and informative presentation about wheat breeding. (Note: it was NOT an academic lecture – it was fascinating!)

How do we breed for organic systems? By participatory breeding, where farmers develop their own varieties of grain in informal breeding programs.

How do we get back to that? By bringing young people into the breeding programs and letting them develop their own varieties. For example, as a junior high student, Lexi Roach developed her own variety of wheat – Lexi 2 – that beat out 60 varieties developed through seed breeding programs from a number of colleges and universities as well as agri-businesses like Monsanto and Syngenta, in a state variety testing program.

Through participatory breeding, a student developed a variety that beat the yield of the top varieties of hard red winter wheat grown in Douglas County Washington by 8 bushels per acre!

The Intensives ranged from soils, seeds, and policy to sustainable business skills and “eating.” It was the last one – eating – that caught my attention! Workshops ranged across a number of topics including: the state of organic seed, environmental responsibility in manufacturing and packaging, food security, food safety, labor practices, and designing farmscapes for beneficial insects.

Watch this space, there is more to come! I’ll fill you in on exactly what was discussed in the intensives and workshops, and give you the final details on the Great Potato Tasting.