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    An administrator pushes, on a shoestring budget, to move his university and the world toward a more sustainable equilibrium.

The worst kind of organic
November 30, 2011 - 5:53pm

I was in the supermarket yesterday, looking at organic produce. At our latitude, I can grow good sweet peppers, but hot peppers have never done well in my garden.  

Any way, as I was choosing a handful of habaneros (when I say hot, I mean hot), I happened to notice a bin of red bell peppers nearby.  What caught my eye was that, of all the peppers and pretty much all the produce in the organic section, these were the only items individually shrink-wrapped.  The logic of wrapping or bagging unwashed produce items has always eluded me -- I mean, the things have spent their whole lives surrounded by dirt -- and it seems especially out of synch with any real understanding of "organic".  But then I looked at the label.  The peppers had been grown in South America.  And I mean southern South America!

As I said, sweet peppers (including bell peppers) grow perfectly well at this latitude.  I know local organic gardeners with hothouses, hoop houses and cold frames who are still getting peppers.  I believe that there are local farmers/market gardeners who would love to be supplying bell peppers in the area or, if there aren't, there easily could be if they knew they'd have an outlet.  Like a local supermarket.

Look, I know that the USDA sets a very limited standard for use of the term "organic".  And I'm sure that some free trade agreement or other makes it viable for South American vegetable farmers to sell their produce into the US market.  But, from a big-picture perspective, it makes absolutely no sense to be growing a simple crop like bell peppers four- or five-thousand miles from the kitchens where they're going to be prepared.  Shipping produce, which requires a controlled environment and fairly gentle handling to retain prime market value, takes a lot of energy and costs a fair amount of money.  And sealing that produce hermetically inside plastic wrap undoes at least a portion of the good that comes from not spraying petrochemicals all over it.

Come to think of it, I don't know where those "organic" habaneros were grown, either.  I presume either California or Mexico, but I really don't know.

At least they didn't come shrink-wrapped.


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