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Healing food grown without chemicals or animal by-products

Beyond Organic Farming in California

Beyond Organic Farming in California
Beyond Organic Farming in California – Zava Ranch

What does “Beyond Organic Farming” mean?

Most people are familiar with the terminology of conventional vs organic farming, but what does beyond organic mean? What is so special about beyond organic farming in California?

So many confusing labels:

Designations of “Organic,” “Certified Organic,” “Grown Without Chemicals” or similar label certify that no prohibited substances were applied to the fruit, the trees, the soil, and the surrounding area for at least three years before the harvest of the crop.

Organic label is misleading:

This label refers only to the chemicals applied. It does not give any indication of the processes, sustainability, or ethics of the agricultural practices used in the process.

Organic label does not mean that no substances were applied, only no prohibited substances.

Unfortunately, as the demand for organic products increased, large agribusinesses started to industrialize organic production. 

Effect of large agribusinesses on Organic label:

Large profit-above-all-else-oriented businesses do the minimum necessary to get the organic certification. They utilize allowable chemicals but otherwise rely on industrial mode of agriculture.

These large corporations specialize in selling a few high-growth, high-profit crops, while doing very little if anything to improve soil fertility, biodiversity, or protection of the environment.

Agribusinesses operate on large parcels and use mechanized production that resembles conventional farming. Moreover, supermarkets are most likely to buy from these large agribusinesses because they can utilize their conventional distribution connections and systems.

Beyond Organic Farms vs Industrialized Agriculture
Beyond Organic Farms vs Industrialized Agriculture

In contrast to the small and diversified family farms that characterized the beginning of the organic movement, modern organic arable fields can be huge monocultures, resembling conventional fields.

Organic vegetables often come from sterile greenhouse blocks or large-scale cultures under plastic sheets, covering entire landscapes.1

Industrialized organic agriculture doesn’t look than different from conventional agriculture. The only difference is stricter regulation of the chemicals that are being sprayed.

Many experts believe that agribusiness penetration is lowering organic standards.

Practices such as crop diversification, small fields, green manure, low fertilizer input, and restoration of natural landscape elements are often recommended by organic food organizations and can be more prevalent on organic than conventional farms, but they are not formal part of certification regulations.1

As demand for organic food increases, and increasing number of large agribusinesses enter and dominate the organic food market, there is a growing concern that the organic food certification, designated by a label issued by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), is losing its meaning.

Large agribusinesses are shrinking the distinction between organic and non-organic food.

Need for a new label that goes “Beyond Organic”:

These changes in the farming practices that stretch the designation of organic have led many consumer groups to call for a new label that goes “beyond organic,” a designation that lets the consumer know whether the organic food they buy is the result of mass production of organic commodities by industrialized agribusiness.

Educated consumers want to know if they are supporting farms that are regenerative and sustainable, who are doing everything in their power to improve the health of the environment and all living things, or from a large agribusiness that is doing the minimum to get the organic label.

Ironically, many small farmers that are producing truly organic regenerative sustainable crops are choosing to drop their Certified Organic grower designation.

The reason for this is that the USDA organic standards have been diluted by big business agriculture.

Small farmers refuse to jump through numerous bureaucratic hoops (which are expensive and time-consuming) in order to have the food they produce be labeled the same as products from industrialized multi-national corporations.

So what exactly is Beyond Organic farming?

Beyond Organic farming does not have an official definition because it is not a government regulated label or certification.

It generally refers to agronomic practices that go beyond what is required for organic certification and aim to build healthy soil, boost biodiversity, and draw carbon from the atmosphere via methods like cover cropping and minimum tillage.

The principles of Beyond Organic Farming:

The principles of “beyond organic farming”, also called “natural farming”, center on the assumption that living and holistic biosystem that is nature cannot be dissected or resolved into its parts. We cannot break off pieces of nature and apply an engineering approach to optimizing it like we would for a machine.

As Masanobu Fukuoka states in his book “The Natural Way of Farming:”

We often speak of “producing food,” but farmers do not produce the food of life. Only nature has the power to produce something from nothing. Farmers merely assist nature.

Rather than offering a structured method, Fukuoka distilled the natural farming mindset into five principles:

  1. No tillage
  2. No fertilizer
  3. No pesticides or herbicides
  4. No weeding
  5. No pruning

Fukuoka argues that “scientific” or “industrialized” production has not brought increased yields and hurt productivity. It might seem that it is improving production, but in reality it is only solving problems that humans themselves created.

  1. Humans kill the soil by using pesticides, herbicides, fungicides.
  2. Chemical fertilizers are consequently used to return necessary chemicals to the dead soil.
  3. Farm machinery is used to process a large area, thus further damaging the soil, which in turn creates a need for more chemicals.

Chemical fertilizers are effective in increasing yields when the soil is poor. Doesn’t it make more sense to work on increasing the health of the soil instead?

Pesticides are effective in killing insects, but shouldn’t we be asking how to fix the natural ecosystem and why there was a disruption in the harmony of nature and the outbreak of pests instead?

We need to start working with nature, as opposed to fighting against it.

Beyond organic farming movement proponents argue that organic farming alone (limiting synthetic inputs) is not enough.

“Beyond organic” is not a marketing consumer-oriented gimmick, but a movement driven by farmers themselves.

Beyond organic framing is regenerative, soil focused, farming model will make an impact on the future of our planet.

What does Beyond Organic Farming mean for Zava Ranch?

At Zava Ranch, we strive to:2

  • Follow a farming model focused on creating agriculture practices that improve the health of humans and the planet;
  • Prove that farmers can break the chemical cycle that is modern agriculture by creating a new operating paradigm that dramatically upgrades current alternative farming methods (i.e., better than organic);
  • Create food that is so nutritious it is medicine;
  • Create climatefriendly agriculture practices that help solve climate change;
  • Cleanse the water table while stopping wind and water erosion;
  • Prove that if you take care of the soil, you create healthier livestock and wildlife.

That goes beyond organic.

Join the Conversation:

What are your thoughts, experiences, and challenges with growing or sourcing Beyond Organic Fruit? Is Beyond Organic farming designation necessary?

We would love to hear from you.

References:
  1. Teja Tscharntke, Ingo Grass, Thomas C. Wanger, Catrin Westphal, Péter Batáry, Beyond organic farming – harnessing biodiversity-friendly landscapes, Trends in Ecology & Evolution, Volume 36, Issue 10, 2021, Pages 919-930, ISSN 0169-5347, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tree.2021.06.010.[][]
  2. inspired by https://www.sandyarrowranch.com[]