With the opening sentence "I don't believe in organic." in his recent Los Angeles Times piece, "Organic' label doesn't guarantee quality or taste,” Russ Parsons creates a straw man that he then uses a thousand words or so to tear apart. In the process, he seems to broaden the definition of ‘organic,’ beyond what it in fact means. Despite overzealous and often over-romanticized sales pitches by some food writers and some organic farmers at Farmers Markets, there is nothing in the organic regulations, or in the inherent nature of organic farming that stipulates ‘organic’ means better flavor. What those regulations do indicate is that certain practices and protocols have been followed for a specified period of time, and as a result the buyer can be sure that the food is free of the chemicals and chemical residues that have become a part of modern farming in the last fifty or sixty years. While there is a belief in the ‘organic’ movement that food produced using these methods is ‘better’ for a person, although ‘better’ in this respect does not necessarily include 'taste.'
Farming has always come down to soil, climate, and skill, and this was true long before the first chemical fertilizers and pesticides were used, and it is still true today. While Parsons’ headline may not be obvious to those who allow themselves to be overwhelmed by the hype, it is quite obvious to those who pay attention to the details behind what they eat - else why, with competitive prices, would there be long lines for certain organic farmers in Farmers’ Markets and no lines at all for other organic farmers, as I have witnessed up and down the West Coast. Parsons needs to attach the aspect of ‘taste’ to the definition of ‘organic,’ or he simply doesn’t have a valid dispute to enlighten us about.
Whereas his piece could have been useful to bridge the information gap between certified organic farmers and all of those small and medium size farms that are not buying into the total program of chemical farming developed and promoted by Big Ag, he barely scratches the surface here. He provides the examples of the ‘conventional’ farms of Art Lange and Fritz Kelly. The former Parsons writes “doesn't embrace the organic label,” but he fails to tell us what this means with respect to Art Lange’s farming practices, and this really doesn’t help the reader who might be interested. Thankfully, he does provide detailed reasons why Fritz Kelly does not farm 'organically,' which the reader can use to make an informed choice. I am mystified why Parsons did not supply us with his comparative tasting notes between the “absolutely heavenly Snow Queen white nectarines” of Art Lange and some virtually tasteless ones from an organic farmer, likewise with Fritz Kelly’s “terrific stone fruit,” upon which he made the profound judgment that led to this article. Instead of providing just the sample of two non-organic farmers from his list of hundreds of farms that he’s visited, he would have been a greater help to the reader, and to the farmers he supports, had he provided the entire list including how and why they are not organic, and a description of the wonderful produce they grow.
Unfortunately, the most important point that Parsons raises is actually buried in the middle of the article. As he correctly indicates,
The real problem with most farming today is with a commodity marketing system that demands that every decision be made based on what will be cheapest, not what will result in the best flavor.