Sustainability and Stewardship protect our future
An article by Linda A. Odum

Reprinted from "Country Sun" magazine

“There are many reasons for buying organic products as there are products themselves. The most compelling-and far-reaching-reason is to support the sustainability and stewardship of the earth. It’s vital for both business and consumers to acknowledge and accept responsibility for the impact humans have on the planet- not just for today but also for the generations to come. Supporting organic practices is one way to accomplish this goal.”

Business with a Conscience
Companies that follow organic practices make good stewards by contributing to earth’s sustainability. “Often when American consumers think of organic, they mean no synthetic pesticides and no herbicides. But organic encompasses so much more,” says Sylvia Blanchet, co-founder of ForesTrade, an organic ingredient supplier of spices, coffee and essential oils. “Organic practices allow us to grow plants for generations to come.” Sustainable agriculture supports the ecosystem and the cultural lives of the producers.”

“When talking about sustainability, you’re really talking about two things- the environmental aspect and the social aspect,” says Eric Baty, of Brazilian coffee producer Café Bom Dia, a century old, fourth generation family-owned business comprising 800,000 acres of coffee fields- 80 percent in organic production. “Sustainability boils down to what you are doing to the earth and what impact you are having on the quality of life for the people who are making their living on the earth.”

Sustaining the Land
New England’s Coombs family understands the importance of taking care of the environment. Seven generations have scheduled their lives around Mother Nature to produce organic maple syrup. They harvest sap from approximately 2,400 acres of trees, some more than 300 years old. The family carefully thins the area to promote the maples’ growth. Then they use tree-friendly health spouts and limit their taps to two per average sized tree to keep the maples growing strong.

“We look at it from the point of forest sustainability-how we are going to be able to maintain the forest in a very healthy environment?” says Arnold Coombs. “We have an overall plan for our woods, developed with a forester, that’s reviewed annually.” This demands long term planning since “a maple is 40 years old before we tap it.”

The Coombs forest includes far more than maples: Conifers and numerous species of wildlife call it home as well. “When we go into the woods, we obviously want to make sure we are not doing any damage and also to improve conditions if we can.”

Planetary Issues
Global warming is of great concern to the Coombs family. “In Vermont and New Hampshire, we’re on the southern end of the large maple producing region,” says Coombs. “If the earth warmed up a few degrees, how would that affect us? It is definitely a conversation that comes up around the dinner table. Will our descendants be able to keep doing this?”

The folks at New Chapter, a producer of probiotic nutrients and herbal formulations have more far flung interests: specifically, an organic estate near the Children’s Rain Forest in Costa Rica. “Almost half our farm is untouched rain forest,” says Tom Newmark, president of New Chapter, “a place of unbounded mystery and diversity. Every inch of the rain forest is an explosion of life.”

(For more in-depth stories and recipes from the Amazon rain forest, check out episode #39 on DVD and VHS!)

On their farm, New Chapter practices the low impact method of biodynamic farming. This is the oldest, non-chemical agricultural movement, based on a series of lectures given in 1924 by Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner. “We don’t even use tractors on our farm,” says Newmark. Instead, oxen pull their plows.

For New Chapter, sustainability means more than simply following organic and biodynamic practices. Because the rain forest loses 100 endangered species a day, its farm includes a seed bank. Seeds of endangered species from all of over South America grow in New Chapter’s protected botanical garden, before the company introduces endangered plants back into its rain forest. “It is an unquestionable obligation of the human race to serve as stewards for endangered species,” says Newmark. “I personally believe that any person of conscience, looking at what the species Homo sapiens is doing to the planet, would feel a passionate responsibility to protect as many endangered species as possible.”

Sustaining People too
For these organic companies, stewardship of the earth means caring for the people who farm our planet. ForesTrade works with over 6,000 farmers in 140 communities in Indonesia and Guatemala. When you include family members, the premium paid for following organic practices impacts more than 34,000 people.

This organic premium often goes to build roads, water systems, and schools that support the entire community. “The producers of spices and coffee are usually small farmers,” says ForesTrade’s Blanchet. They tend to cultivate only three or four acres, and they often have incomes below $1,000 annually. “So you can imagine that these organic premiums make a huge difference in their lives.”

On New Chapter’s Costa Rican farm, approximately 10 full-time workers receive higher-than-average wages for agricultural work, along with medical insurance for employees and their families, three weeks paid vacation, and a bonus of one month’s salary each new year. New Chapter also makes a full yearly contribution to their workers’ federal pension plan. Employees are even encouraged to grow food for their families on the farm. “These things allow me to sleep well at night,” says Newmark.
For the Coombs family and many other organic companies, stewardship means passing along their knowledge to others. “We try to support other farmers by teaching sustainable forestry techniques,” says Coombs. “We hold an open house weekend in May with seminars about forest management techniques. This year we probably had more than 500 farmers come through.”

Consumers are Stewards too
When we buy organic, we become good stewards of the earth. Consumers need to know what a big difference their buying habits make in other parts of the world “when they choose to vote for organic with every cent that they spend,” says Blanchet. “We couldn’t do any of the things that we do without the support of the consumer.”

“Can you imagine the effect it would have if one fast food company were to say, ‘we are not going to use chickens that are given antibiotics or growth hormones’? asks Newmark. “It would shake the industry and change the consciousness of the consumers.” He adds, “you vote with your fork with every bite of organic food that you eat. Every consumer can support the organic movement and sustainability by buying organic.”


Selected Sources

Country Sun, countrysun.com
Organic Trade Organization, www.ota.com
Arnold Coombs, Coombs family farm.
Eric Baty, Café Bom Dia
Sylvia Blanchet, ForesTrade
Tom Newmark, New Chapter

 

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