Sunday, March 19, 2006

Digging into "Beyond Organic"

Back in 1996, when I first started using the term "Beyond Organic" I got a lot of nasty looks and bewildered expressions.

A few years before, while working with my family at Straus Family Creamery, I began to notice how people would react to our organic milk. Some would be inspired by my mom's efforts in agricultural conservation (at the Marin Agricultual Land Trust), others would love the environmental philosophy behind our using returnable glass milk bottles. Some were concerned about the fate of family farms, while others loved to bake with our butter. Many people were concerned about bovine growth hormones in their food, and others about pesticides in the environment.

Behind the individual reasons, I found that people simply wanted to feel
connected. And organic foods, especially in the early days, provided a link that connected taste, values and people.

Organic", as a mere word, can't hold all of that intention. It's primary function is to serve as a shortcut - a guarantee that the foods you eat are grown and processed in a certain way. It's a crucial role, especially in today's world, in which less than 2% of Americans are responsible for feeding the rest of us; in a world where most of us have never grown a carrot, milked a cow or even shovelled shit (not as bad as it may sound, actually, but that's another story). We need the organic seal of approval, and the transparency it provides, to help us navigate the very complex commercial food production system which is primarily defined by the lack of information it provides us.

Beyond Organic" is a concept, not a product. It's a way to create a dialog about how all of us can get more connected to our environment and our communities. It's a belief that by engaging in a passionate and vibrant converation, that'll we'll find opportunities to "discover" ourselves within the context of solutions, that we'll create new solutions.

"Beyond Organic" is a way of expressing that "organic" is just the starting point, a door that many of us are willing to step through for many differing reasons. Equally, it's about getting beyond preaching to the choir.

There are lots of other words and phrases out there -- sustainable, social responsibility, artisan, local, integrated, holistic - to name a few. It doesn't matter what we call it. What matters is that we have the conversation.

/ Michael Straus


Matt Tucker said...

Excellent point. I'm glad there is a forum for this type of conversation. I am currently doing an independent study on sustainable agriculture (just the term I've been using). I distinguish the term from "organic" and continue to provide benefits. I'm now trying to prove its practicality for our use. Have any good sources? I also write about farming and the importance of local food at

6:28 AM  
Michael Straus said...

Matt - let me know what type of resources would be most helpful. / m

7:35 AM  

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