10. The Organic Myth 
Pastoral ideals are getting trampled as organic food goes mass market 

Next time you're in the supermarket, stop and take a look at Stonyfield
Farm yogurt. With its contented cow and green fields, the yellow
container evokes a bucolic existence, telegraphing what we've come to
expect from organic food: pure, pesticide-free, locally produced
ingredients grown on a small family farm.

So it may come as a surprise that Stonyfield's organic farm is long
gone. Its main facility is a state-of-the-art industrial plant just off
the airport strip in Londonderry, N.H., where it handles milk from other
farms. And consider this: Sometime soon a portion of the milk used to
make that organic yogurt may be taken from a chemical-free cow in New
Zealand, powdered, and then shipped to the U.S. True, Stonyfield still
cleaves to its organic heritage. For Chairman and CEO Gary Hirshberg,
though, shipping milk powder 9,000 miles across the planet is the price
you pay to conquer the supermarket dairy aisle. "It would be great to
get all of our food within a 10-mile radius of our house," he says. "But
once you're in organic, you have to source globally." 

Hirshberg's dilemma is that of the entire organic food business. Just as
mainstream consumers are growing hungry for untainted food that also
nourishes their social conscience; it is getting harder and harder to
find organic ingredients. There simply aren't enough organic cows in the
U.S., never mind the organic grain to feed them, to go around. Nor are
there sufficient organic strawberries, sugar, or apple pulp -- some of
the other ingredients that go into the world's best-selling organic

Now companies from Wal-Mart (WMT
<javascript:%20void%20showTicker('WMT')>  ) to General Mills (GIS
<javascript:%20void%20showTicker('GIS')>  ) to Kellogg (K
<javascript:%20void%20showTicker('K')>  ) are wading into the organic
game, attracted by fat margins that old-fashioned food purveyors can
only dream of. What was once a cottage industry of family farms has
become Big Business, with all that that implies, including pressure from
Wall Street to scale up and boost profits. Hirshberg himself is under
the gun because he has sold an 85% stake in Stonyfield to the French
food giant Groupe Danone. To retain management control, he has to keep
Stonyfield growing at double-digit rates. Yet faced with a supply
crunch, he has drastically cut the percentage of organic products in his
line. He also has scaled back annual sales growth, from almost 40% to
20%. "They're all mad at me," he says.

As food companies scramble to find enough organically grown ingredients,
they are inevitably forsaking the pastoral ethos that has defined the
organic lifestyle. For some companies, it means keeping thousands of
organic cows on industrial-scale feedlots. For others, the scarcity of
organic ingredients means looking as far afield as China, Sierra Leone,
and Brazil -- places where standards may be hard to enforce, workers'
wages and living conditions are a worry, and, say critics, increased
farmland sometimes comes at a cost to the environment.

Everyone agrees on the basic definition of organic: food grown without
the assistance of man-made chemicals. Four years ago, under pressure
from critics fretting that the term "organic" was being misused, the
U.S. Agriculture Dept. issued rules. To be certified as organic,
companies must eschew most pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, synthetic
fertilizers, bioengineering, and radiation. But for purists, the
philosophy also requires farmers to treat their people and livestock
with respect and, ideally, to sell small batches of what they produce
locally so as to avoid burning fossil fuels to transport them. The USDA
rules don't fully address these concerns.

Hence the organic paradox: The movement's adherents have succeeded
beyond their wildest dreams, but success has imperiled their ideals. It
simply isn't clear that organic food production can be replicated on a
mass scale. For Hirshberg, who set out to "change the way Kraft (KFT
<javascript:%20void%20showTicker('KFT')>  ), Monsanto (MON
<javascript:%20void%20showTicker('MON')>  ), and everybody else does
business," the movement is shedding its innocence. "Organic is growing

Certainly, life has changed since 1983, when Hirshberg teamed up with a
back-to-the-land advocate named Samuel Kaymen to sell small batches of
full-fat plain organic yogurt. Kaymen had founded Stonyfield Farm to
feed his six kids and, as he puts it, "escape the dominant culture."
Hirshberg, then 29, had been devoted to the environment for years, stung
by memories of technicolor dyes streaming downriver from his father's
New Hampshire shoe factories. He wrote a book on how to build
water-pumping windmills and, between 1979 and 1983, ran the New Alchemy
Institute, an alternative-living research center on Cape Cod. He was a

But producing yogurt amid the rudimentary conditions of the original
Stonyfield Farm was a recipe for nightmares, not nirvana. Meg, an
organic farmer who married Hirshberg in 1986, remembers the farm as cold
and crowded, with a road so perilous that suppliers often refused to
come up. "I call it the bad old days," she says. Adds her mother, Doris
Cadoux, who propped up the business for years: "Every time Gary would
come to me for money, Meg would call to say 'Mama, don't do it."'

Farming without insecticides, fertilizers, and other aids is tough.
Laborers often weed the fields by hand. Farmers control pests with
everything from sticky flypaper to aphid-munching ladybugs. Manure and
soil fertility must be carefully managed. Sick animals may take longer
to get well without a quick hit of antibiotics, although they're likely
to be healthier in the first place. Moreover, the yield per acre or per
animal often goes down, at least initially. Estimates for the decline
from switching to organic corn range up to 20%.

Organic farmers say they can ultimately exceed the yields of
conventional rivals through smarter soil management. But some believe
organic farming, if it is to stay true to its principles, would require
vastly more land and resources than is currently being used. Asks Alex
Avery, a research director at the Hudson Institute think tank: "How much
Bambi habitat do you want to plow down?"

For a sense of why Big Business and organics often don't mix, it helps
to visit Jack and Anne Lazor of Butterworks Farm. The duo have been
producing organic yogurt in northeastern Vermont since 1975. Their 45
milking cows are raised from birth and have names like Peaches and
Moonlight. All of the food for the cows -- and most of what the Lazors
eat, too -- comes from the farm, and Anne keeps their charges healthy
with a mix of homeopathic medicines and nutritional supplements.
Butterworks produces a tiny 9,000 quarts of yogurt a week, and no one
can pressure them to make more. Says Jack: "I'd be happiest to sell
everything within 10 miles of here."

But the Lazors also embody an ideal that's almost impossible for other
food producers to fulfill. For one thing, they have enough land to let
their modest-sized herd graze for food. Many of the country's 9
million-plus dairy cows (of which fewer than 150,000 are organic) are on
farms that will never have access to that kind of pasture. After all, a
cow can only walk so far when it has to come back to be milked two or
three times a day.

When consumers shell out premiums of 50% or more to buy organic, they
are voting for the Butterworks ethic. They believe humans should be
prudent custodians not only of their own health but also of the land and
animals that share it. They prefer food produced through fair wages and
family farms, not poor workers and agribusiness. They are responding to
tales of caged chickens and confined cows that never touch a blade of
grass; talk of men losing fertility and girls becoming women at age nine
because of extra hormones in food. They read about pesticides seeping
into the food supply and genetically modified crops creeping across the

For Big Food, consumers' love affair with everything organic has seemed
like a gift from the gods. Food is generally a commoditized, sluggish
business, especially in basic supermarket staples. Sales of organic
groceries, on the other hand, have been surging by up to 20% in recent
years. Organic milk is so profitable -- with wholesale prices more than
double that of conventional milk -- that Lyle "Spud" Edwards of
Westfield, Vt., was able to halve his herd, to 25 cows, this summer and
still make a living, despite a 15% drop in yields since switching to
organic four years ago. "There's a lot more paperwork, but it's worth
it," says Edwards, who supplies milk to Stonyfield.

The food industry got a boost four years ago when the USDA issued its
organic standards. The "USDA Organic" label now appears on scores of
products, from chicken breasts to breakfast cereal. And you know a
tipping point is at hand when Wal-Mart Stores Inc. enters the game. The
retailer pledged this year to become a center of affordable "organics
for everyone" and has started by doubling its organic offerings at 374
stores nationwide. "Everyone wants a piece of the pie," says George L.
Siemon, CEO of Organic Valley, the country's largest organic farm co-
operative. "Kraft and Wal-Mart are part of the community now, and we
have to get used to it."

The corporate giants have turned a fringe food category into a $14
billion business. They have brought wider distribution and marketing
dollars. They have imposed better quality controls on a sector once
associated with bug-infested, battered produce rotting in crates at
hippie co-ops. Organic products now account for 2.5% of all grocery
spending (if additive-free "natural" foods are included, the share jumps
to about 10%). And demand could soar if prices come down.

But success has brought home the problems of trying to feed the masses
in an industry where supplies can be volatile. Everyone from Wal-Mart to
Costco Wholesale Corp. (COST <javascript:%20void%20showTicker('COST')>
) is feeling the pinch. Earlier this year, Earthbound Farm, a California
producer of organic salads, fruit, and vegetables owned by Natural
Selection Foods, cut off its sliced-apple product to Costco because
supply dried up -- even though Earthbound looked as far afield as New
Zealand. "The concept of running out of apples is foreign to these
people," says Earthbound co-founder Myra Goodman, whose company recalled
bagged spinach in the wake of the recent E. coli outbreak. "When you're
sourcing conventional produce, it's a matter of the best product at the
best price."

Inconsistency is a hallmark of organic food. Variations in animal diet,
local conditions, and preparation make food taste different from batch
to batch. But that's anathema to a modern food giant. Heinz, for one,
had a lot of trouble locating herbs and spices for its organic ketchup.
"We're a global company that has to deliver consistent standards," says
Kristen Clark, a group vice-president for marketing. The volatile supply
also forced Heinz to put dried or fresh organic herbs in its organic
Classico pasta sauce because it wasn't able to find the more convenient
quick-frozen variety. Even Wal-Mart, master of the modern food supply
chain, is humbled by the realities of going organic. As spokesperson
Gail Lavielle says: "You can't negotiate prices in a market like that."

While Americans may love the idea of natural food, they have come to
rely on the perks of agribusiness. Since the widespread use of synthetic
pesticides began, around the time of World War II, food producers have
reaped remarkable gains. Apples stay red and juicy for weeks. The
average harvested acre of farmland yields 200% more wheat than it did 70
years ago. Over the past two decades chickens have grown 25% bigger in
less time and on less food. At the same time, the average cow produces
60% more milk, thanks to innovations in breeding, nutrition, and
synthetic hormones.

It's also worth remembering how inexpensive food is these days.
Americans shell out about 10% of their disposable income on food, about
half what they spent in the first part of the 20th century. Producing a
budget-priced cornucopia of organic food won't be easy.

Exhibit A: Gary Hirshberg's quest for organic milk. Dairy producers
estimate that demand for organic milk is at least twice the current
available supply. To quench this thirst, the U.S. would have to more
than double the number of organic cows -- those that eat only organic
food -- to 280,000 over the next five years. That's a challenge, since
the number of dairy farms has shrunk to 60,000, from 334,000 in 1980,
according to the National Milk Producers Federation. And almost half the
milk produced in the U.S. comes from farms with more than 500 cows,
something organic advocates rarely support.

What to do? If you're Hirshberg, you weigh the pros and cons of
importing organic milk powder from New Zealand. Stonyfield already gets
strawberries from China, apple puree from Turkey, blueberries from
Canada, and bananas from Ecuador. It's the only way to keep the business
growing. Besides, Hirshberg argues, supporting a family farmer in
Madagascar or reducing chemical use in Costa Rica is just as important
as doing the same at home.

Perhaps, but doing so risks a consumer backlash, especially when the
organic food is from China. So far there is little evidence that crops
from there are tainted or fraudulently labeled. Any food that bears the
USDA Organic label has to be accredited by an independent certifier. But
tests are few and far between. Moreover, many consumers don't trust food
from a country that continues to manufacture DDT and tolerates fakes in
other industries. Similar questions are being asked about much of the
developing world. Ronnie Cummins, national director of the nonprofit
Organic Consumers Assn., claims organic farms may contribute to the
destruction of the Amazon rain forest, although conventional farming
remains the proven culprit.

Imported organics are a constant concern for food companies and
supermarkets. It's certainly on Steve Pimentel's mind. "Someone is going
to do something wrong," says Costco's assistant general merchandise
manager. "We want to make sure it's not us." To avoid nasty surprises,
Costco makes sure its own certifiers check that standards are met in
China for the organic peanuts and produce it imports. Over at
Stonyfield, Hirshberg's sister, Nancy, who is vice-president of natural
resources, was so worried about buying strawberries in northeastern
China that she ordered a social audit to check worker conditions. "If I
didn't have to buy from there," she says, "I wouldn't."

For many companies, the preferred option is staying home and adopting
the industrial scale of agribusiness. Naturally, giant factory farms
make purists recoil. Is an organic label appropriate for eggs produced
in sheds housing more than 100,000 hens that rarely see the light of
day? Can a chicken that's debeaked or allowed minimal access to the
outdoors be deemed organic? Would consumers be willing to pay twice as
much for organic milk if they thought the cows producing it spent most
of their outdoor lives in confined dirt lots?

Absolutely not, say critics such as Mark Kastel, director of the Organic
Integrity Project at the Cornucopia Institute, an advocacy group
promoting small family farms. "Organic consumers think they're
supporting a different kind of ethic," says Kastel, who last spring
released a high-profile report card labeling 11 producers as ethically

Kastel's report card included Horizon Organic Dairy, the No. 1 organic
milk brand in the U.S., and Aurora Organic Dairy, which makes
private-label products for the likes of Costco and Safeway Inc. Both
dairies deny they are ethically challenged. But the two do operate
massive corporate farms. Horizon has 8,000 cows in the Idaho desert.
There, the animals consume such feed as corn, barley, hay, and soybeans,
as well as some grass from pastureland. The company is currently
reconfiguring its facility to allow more grazing opportunities. And none
of this breaks USDA rules. The agency simply says animals must have
"access to pasture." How much is not spelled out. "It doesn't say
[livestock] have to be out there, happy and feeding, 18 hours a day,"
says Barbara C. Robinson, who oversees the USDA's National Organic

But what gets people like Kastel fuming is the fact that big dairy farms
produce tons of pollution in the form of manure and methane, carbon
dioxide, and nitrous oxide -- gases blamed for warming the planet.
Referring to Horizon's Idaho farm, he adds: "This area is in perpetual
drought. You need to pump water constantly to grow pasture. That's not

Aurora and Horizon argue their operations are true to the organic spirit
and that big farms help bring organic food to the masses. Joe E. Scalzo,
president and CEO of Horizon's owner, WhiteWave, which is owned by Dean
Foods Co., says: "You need the 12-cow farms in Vermont -- and the 4,000
milking cows in Idaho." Adds Clark Driftmier, a spokesman for Aurora,
which manages 8,400 dairy cows on two farms in Colorado and Texas:
"We're in a contentious period with organics right now."

At the USDA, Robinson is grappling with the same imponderables. In her
mind the controversy is more about scale than animal treatment. "The
real issue is a fear of large corporations," she says. Robinson expects
the USDA to tighten pasture rules in the coming months in hopes of
moving closer to the spirit of the organic philosophy. "As programs go,"
she says, "this is just a toddler. New issues keep coming up."

Few people seem more hemmed in by the contradictions than Gary
Hirshberg. Perhaps more than anyone, he has acted as the industry's
philosopher king, lobbying governments, proselytizing consumers, helping
farmers switch to organic, and giving 10% of profits to environmental
causes. Yet he sold most of Stonyfield Farm to a $17 billion French

He did so partly to let his original investors cash out, partly to bring
organic food to the masses. But inevitably, as Stonyfield has morphed
from local outfit to national brand, some of the original tenets have
fallen by the wayside. Once Danone bought a stake, Stonyfield founder
Samuel Kaymen moved on. "I never felt comfortable with the scale or
dealing with people so far away," he recalls, although he says Hirshberg
has so far managed to uphold the company's original principles.

The hard part may be continuing to do so with Danone looking over his
shoulder. Hirshberg retains board control but says his "autonomy and
independence and employment are contingent on delivering minimum growth
and profitability." Danone Chairman and CEO Franck Riboud expresses
admiration for the man he considers to be Danone's organic guru, but
adds: "Gary respects that I have to answer to shareholders."

The compromises that Hirshberg is willing to make say a lot about where
the organic business is headed. "Our kids don't have time for us to sit
on our high horses and say we're not going to do this because it's not
ecologically perfect," says Hirshberg. "The only way to influence the
powerful forces in this industry is to become a powerful force." And
he's willing to do that, even if it means playing by a new set of rules.

11. Annual Farm Registration-with Michigan Department of Agriculture

Did you know that MDA requires organic farms to be registered-one so
when another farm is spraying a pesticide you will be notified and the
other so they can track production.  For the safety of you and your farm
there is a registration so that you can be notified when surrounding
farms are spraying any pesticide or restricted product. You can get the
form at this WEB site or you can call 517-241-1169, Michigan Department
of Agriculture.
<> .  

The other type of registration is so the state can track all organic
products. This form can be found at
<>  or
you can call 517-373-1075 for an application.



Vicki Morrone

Organic Vegetable and Crop Outreach Specialist

Michigan State University

C.S. Mott Sustainable Food Systems

303 Natural Resources Bldg.

East Lansing, MI 48824


517-282-3557 (cell)

517-353-3834 (fax)



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