Information-Garden Harvest: bumper crop edition*


Posting has been light non-existent on The Berries for a few weeks. Blame it on spring-like weather, the early emergence of bulbs and blossoms, and the Olympics. These all converged in February to distract me from my regular programming, including blogging.  And lately I've been doing more literature-searching and reading than writing as I prepare to give a talk. It's on organic food and I'll be presenting it to my colleagues and interns at this year's Dietetics in Action education day in early May.

Now we're already 12 14 days into March, which, as all good dietitians know, is Nutrition Month. Like Vincci, who has written an excellent post on local food in Calgary, I want to promote this year's theme "Celebrate food...from field to table". But I feel a bit like Twitter's Fail Whale: overloaded and overwhelmed. Where do I find the time in the midst of deadlines? Ah, yes, I see a solution in covergence.

I'm going to share some of my notes and best resources about the organic field that provides food for our tables. Consider this collection a work-in-progress that I will update during the coming weeks.

Advisory: This post is long. But I've no expectations you will read all or even any of it. Feel free to skim, sample, or dig in. I've organized the content into sections so you can easily jump to a topic that interests you.

Murcott Tangerine

History of the term "organic"

The organic farming concept developed in the period prior to 1940 and was pioneered by Sir Albert Howard (1873–1947). Howard, born and educated in England, directed agricultural research centers in India (1905–1931) before permanently returning to England. His years of agricultural research experiences and observations gradually evolved into a philosophy and concept of organic farming that he espoused in several books. Howard's thinking on soil fertility and the need to effectively recycle waste materials, including sewage sludge, onto farmland was reinforced by F.H. King's book, Farmers of Forty Centuries. Howard developed a system of composting that became widely adopted. Howard's concept of soil fertility centered on building soil humus with an emphasis on how soil life was connected to the health of crops, livestock, and mankind. Howard argued that crop and animal health was a birthright and that the correct method of dealing with a pathogen was not to destroy the pathogen but to see what could be learned from it or to ‘make use of it for tuning up agricultural practice’. The system of agriculture advocated by Howard was coined ‘organic’ by Walter Northbourne to refer to a system ‘having a complex but necessary interrelationship of parts, similar to that in living things’. Lady Eve Balfour compared organic and non-organic farming and helped to popularize organic farming with the publication of The Living Soil. Jerome Rodale, a publisher and an early convert to organic farming, was instrumental in the diffusion and popularization of organic concepts in the US. Both Howard and Rodale saw organic and non-organic agriculture as a conflict between two different visions of what agriculture should become as they engaged in a war of words with the agricultural establishment. A productive dialogue failed to occur between the organic community and traditional agricultural scientists for several decades. Organic agriculture gained significant recognition and attention in 1980, marked by the USDA publication Report and Recommendations on Organic Farming. The passage of the Federal Organic Foods Production Act in 1990 began the era of accommodation for organic farming in the USA, followed by another milestone with official labeling as USDA Certified Organic in 2002. Organic agriculture will likely continue to evolve in response to ongoing social, environmental, and philosophical concerns of the organic movement.

Source: Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems (2006), 21:143-150, Cambridge University Press; doi:10.1079/RAF2005126. Note: bolding added.

Google Books has limited previews of Look to the Land by Lord Northbourne and The Soil and Health: A Study of Organic Agriculture by Sir Thomas Howard. It's truly fascinating, historical literature. If you don't have time to read a complete chapter excerpt, you may want to skim through a few paragraphs. Reading these pioneers' and advocates' own words to discover how they envisioned a wholly organic agriculture philosophy and system is inspirational and enlightening.

Principles of organic

In September 2005, the General Assembly of IFOAM [The International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements] adopted the Principles of Organic Agriculture:  health, ecology, fairness and care.


Organic Agriculture should sustain and enhance the health of soil, plant, animal, human and planet as one and indivisible.

Organic Agriculture should be based on living ecological systems and cycles, work with them, emulate them and help sustain them.

Organic Agriculture should build on relationships that ensure fairness with regard to the common environment and life opportunities

Organic Agriculture should be managed in a precautionary and responsible manner to protect the health and well-being of current and future generations and the environment.


Source: IFOAM | The Principles of Organic Agriculture

Definition of organic

Organic agriculture is a production system that sustains the health of soils, ecosystems and people. It relies on ecological processes, biodiversity and cycles adapted to local conditions, rather than the use of inputs with adverse effects. Organic agriculture combines tradition, innovation and science to benefit the shared environment and promote fair relationships and a good quality of life for all involved.

Source: IFOAM | Definition of Organic Agriculture

Sustainable agriculture encompasses organic

Sustainable agriculture is both a philosophy and a system of farming. It has its roots in a set of values that reflects an awareness of both ecological and social realities. It involves design and management procedures that work with natural processes to conserve all resources and minimize waste and environmental damage, while maintaining or improving farm profitability. Working with natural soil processes is of particular importance. Sustainable agriculture systems are designed to take maximum advantage of existing soil nutrient and water cycles, energy flows, beneficial soil organisms, and natural pest controls. By capitalizing on existing cycles and flows, environmental damage can be avoided or minimized. Such systems also aim to produce food that is nutritious, and uncontaminated with products that might harm human health.

This description encompasses a wide range of farming systems including those referred to as low-input sustainable agriculture (LISA), organic [bolding added], biological, ecological, agroecological, biodynamic, regenerative, alternative, natural and permanent (permaculture). Although these systems are sustainable to differing degrees, all fall within the boundaries of the description above. 

Source: Sustainable Agriculture | EAP [Ecological Agricultural Projects], McGill University


Healthy, Sustainable Food Systems - research & commentary

The Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition currently has free access to two volumes:

Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition, Volume 3, Issue 2 & 3, 2008, Sustainable Food Systems: Perspectives from the United States, Canada, and the European Union (link to journal)

Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition, Volume 4, Issue 3 & 4, 2009, Food Systems & Public Health: Linkages to Achieve Healthier Diets & Healthier Communities (link to journal)

Here are three articles I've found helpful in my personal research on organic systems but don't let me discourage you from perusing the full tables of contents.

Food as Relationship
Abstract | Full Text PDF | Full Text HTML 

Tools for Cultivating Sustainable Food Systems
Abstract | Full Text PDF | Full Text HTML

A New Health Care Prevention Agenda: Sustainable Food Procurement and Agricultural Policy
AbstractFull Text PDF | Full Text HTML



Canadian associations & organizations promoting sustainable, organic agriculture


Respect for soil, plants, animals, air and water contributes to respect for people and the planet  (source)


The Organic Agriculture Centre of Canada (OACC) was founded in 2001, and as the only institution of its kind in Canada, plays a leading role in organic research and education. Our vision is “Sustainable and science-based organic agricultural systems supporting healthy Canadian communities” and our mission is to “facilitate research and education for organic producers and consumers to build sustainable communities."

You can continue reading about the OACC's funding, affliliations, and activities here. This is an excellent, comprehensive, easy-to-navigate site. Other OACC web pages I've bookmarked to look at first and in more depth are:

Research in Organic Agriculture, particularly the Food & Health and Ecology & Environment pages.

Organic Agriculture in British Columbia (the Prairies, Ontario, Québec & Atlantic also have their own pages)

Information for Organic Food Consumers (topics include Local Food, Urban Farming, Health Issues, GMOs)

Organic Gems on the Internet

Canadian Organic Growers (COG) is a national charitable organization ... with members in all regions of Canada. COG is connected to the regions through thirteen regional Chapters, four affiliated organizations, and to the international organic community through membership in the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM).

COG's membership is diverse and includes farmers, gardeners, processors, retailers, educators, policy-makers, and consumers. Not all COG members run certified organic operations, but they share a vision for a sustainable bioregionally-based organic food system. Our members believe that organic food production is the best choice for the health of consumers and producers, for the protection and enhancement of the environment, and for the sustainability of the food production system 

Source: About Canadian Organic Growers

The site map is a useful place from which to navigate the site. As a first time visitor, I was impressed with the information and support COG provides to its members. COG's services, activities and publications include a library, a journal, The Organic Field Crop Handbook, The Organic Companion (that's one I've put on my wish list), Growing Up Organic, workshops on making the transition to organic, and extensive information about Canadian organic standards and regulations.

The Certified Organic Associations of BC (COABC) is an umbrella association for certification bodies which provides certification accreditation and leadership in the development of organic food production throughout British Columbia and Canada. The COABC was created in 1993 under the Agri-Food Choice and Quality Act of British Columbia to administer the BC Certified Organic Program, to ensure program credibility, facilitate domestic and international trade, and to promote the overall growth of the organic food community in BC.

As a dietitian and food consumer, I viewed these pages with particular interest:

Certification | Publications | What is organic farming? | How do I know it's organic? | Why buy organic?

I also checked out the Is Organic Healthier? page but noted the most recent study cited is from 2004. In a future post in this series, I'll be looking at up-to-date research.

I'd never claim British Columbia is the centre of the universe but it's the place where I live, work, & shop for food, so I decided to feature COABC as an example of a Conformity Verification Body (CVB).  CVBs assess, recommend for accreditation and monitor the certification bodies that can certify organic products under the Organic Products Regulations, 2009.

For information on organic certification bodies in other provinces and territories as well as other countries, you can consult The Canadian Food Inspection Agency listings.



From organic field to my kitchen & table

I had planned to end this post by listing all the organic and local foods currently in my cupboards, providing links to the farmers and growers and sharing favourite recipes. But I think this post is long enough so I'll stop here and publish the rest later. Thanks for reading this far. Watch for my "from field to table" post later in the week.


*Note on post title: I'm shamelessly stealing the concept of a "bumper edition" from Kathryn Elliott who a few times has used it on her most excellent blog, Limes & Lycopene. In exchange, I'd like to promote her and Lucinda Dodd's beautiful, delicious, and healthy collaboration, the eMagazine, An Honest Kitchen. I have both the Winter and Spring/Summer "bumper" edition, excellent guides for eating sustainably.

Photo credits (top to bottom): Organic, local Gala apple; organic, imported Murcott tangerine; organic, imported lemon; organic, imported tomato with organic, very local (from my balcony garden) dried basil.