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2005 Annual Membership Meeting Recap
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Eating Well, Being Well and Having Fun While You're At It!: The Food for Thought Festival
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Health & Wellness News: Teas
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Organics: In Our Beds, On Our Bodies and On Our Minds
Producer Profile: Rishi Tea
Putting Your Organic Garden to Bed
Member Services News: Our Annual Farm Tour
by Isaac Hacker, WSGC Staff
Cruising down Willy Street can sometimes seem like a flipbook of progressive bumper stickers. Flying past bumper-to-bumper traffic on my bike, one sticker winks at me—“Organic, A Better Way to Grow.” Instantly my head is filled with visions of bountiful produce, wholesome grains, eggs and yogurt from humanely-treated animals. When most of us hear the word “organic” we think of food grown to a higher standard without pesticides or genetically engineered seeds—food that’s regulated and certified with a seal of approval. Nowadays, however, trends show an increasing number of non-food products such as bodycare, bed and bath products, flowers and clothing products boasting the organic label. It’s not surprising that many of us who buy organically grown and produced food products have begun expanding our purchasing power to support other organic industries.
At “All Things Organic,” a trade-show for organic products held in Chicago in May, an estimated 30,000 retail buyers participated in three days full of events showcasing the latest innovations in natural and organic products. One fiber exhibitor at the conference reported sales of organic yoga wear at their club store exceeded 2.6 million pieces in 2004, according to the Organic Trade Association.
The last day of the conference a fashion show coined “Wear Organic!” displayed the force with which organic clothing is exploding in the mainstream as twenty designers, including Nike as the primary sponsor, flaunted the latest in organic fashion and textiles. The buzzing popularity of these types of products was confirmed by a recent Organic Trade Association survey, which found that U.S. manufacturers of organic fiber saw a 22.7% increase in sales to $85 million in 2003. The fastest growing category was women’s clothing, representing 38% of total sales, followed by infant clothing, and bedding supplies. Respondents anticipated an average annual growth rate of 15.5% between 2004 and 2008.
This trend is clear and resonates globally. Recent findings by Mintel’s Global New Products database show a total of 840 new organic non-food products hit the shelves worldwide in 2004; that’s more than double the 350 released in 2002. You might be wondering why so many more people are beginning to buy into a market of often pricier organic products that they won’t even be ingesting. We’ll be smearing them on our faces, throwing them on in the morning after getting out of the linens that accompany us in bed, or putting them in a vase on our kitchen tables. Why buy organic when you won’t be swallowing the conventional agricultural chemicals many of us strive to avoid at the grocery store?
The truth is that buying organic is about much more than just you and your body. Many of us are skeptical about the safety of our bodies in regards to exposure to conventional pesticides and herbicides. And, buying organic non-food products shows an interest by both consumer and producer in securing a form of production sustainable with our natural surroundings by eliminating or reducing the use of these harmful chemicals, genetically modified seeds, and land-damaging agricultural practices in our collective natural environment. Sure, keeping carcinogenic substances off your produce is important, but keeping them out of our communities lakes and rives, out of the soil, out of the habitats, off other living things is extremely important as well. Organic farmers understand that developing healthy production systems is the key to agricultural success.
It seems that many people are more concerned about the consequences that their purchases have on their community and the environment than they are about their personal satisfaction and about getting the most for their money as consumers are theoretically supposed to behave in free market capitalism. It only makes sense that those same selfless and globally-minded individuals would begin expanding their conscious decisions and buying power beyond the walls of the supermarket or neighborhood grocery store.
All you have to do is open your bedroom or closet door, or look inside your bathroom medicine cabinet to get an idea of the amount of agricultural products we use that are found outside the kitchen. Take a walk through your local department store or, better yet, a walk through your local thrift shop, stuffed with hand-me-downs and last year’s abandoned fashions. Maybe think back to all the pairs of socks you’ve thrown away because they have a small hole or they came out of the wash pink, and you can see that clothing, especially cotton, along with other household products make up a considerable chunk of agricultural production.
According to the USDA, eighty four million pounds of pesticides were sprayed on 14.4 million acres of conventionally-grown cotton in the U.S. during the year 2000, making cotton second only to corn in total amount of pesticides sprayed. The Environmental Protection Agency cites seven of the 15 pesticides most commonly used on cotton in the U.S. as “possible,” “likely,” “probable,” or “known,” human carcinogens.
It is estimated that cotton uses 25% of the world’s insecticides and more than 10% of pesticides. The USDA also reported over two billion pounds of synthetic fertilizers were applied to conventionally-grown cotton in the year 2000, at a rate of 142 pounds per acre, making cotton the fourth most heavily fertilized crop. The California Department of Pesticide protection reported that in 1999 a work crew re-entered a cotton field about five hours after it had been treated with tribufos and sodium chlorate, while re-entry should have been delayed for 24 hours. Seven workers sought medical attention and five have had ongoing health problems.
You might be thinking “Yeah, but there’s so much cotton production. How much of an impact can my clothes have on the situation?” Well, California’s Sustainable Cotton Project estimates it takes about one-third of a pound of chemicals, including pesticides and fertilizers, to grow enough cotton for just one t-shirt.
Not to mention the harsh chemical residue lurking in our conventional cotton clothing so close to our skin, would you want a third of a pound of possible human carcinogens dumped in your yard, the park down the street, or your community’s watershed for every t-shirt you or your neighbors own? Likely not, but they are getting dumped somewhere, in someone else’s drinking water. Local and family-owned farms tend to be more accountable to the communities they serve because they are more closely and personally connected and likely share similar values. Smaller scale organic farming encourages better labor practices by reducing hazards related to chemicals such as those that ravaged the work crew in California, as well as the hazards of massive factory farm machinery. Also, by demanding a fair price for their products, these farmers are likely able to provide better, more livable wage for unskilled and migrant laborers. Organic farming also utilizes more efficient irrigation systems, which coupled with generally smaller scale operations than their conventional counterparts, makes for more sustainable use of our water resources.
More closely related to food than fibers in that many of these products are absorbed directly by the body, puritans and political activists alike are opting for organic bodycare and other health-related products in an effort to thwart the assimilation of pesticides into their bodies and to support sustainable production methods. One of the sale items in our Health and Wellness department during July was Aloe Vera gel, 99% USDA Certified Organic. New Chapter recently released a new line of vitamins extracted from many certified organic whole foods. A wide range of products from makeup and shampoo to toothpaste and essential oils are either certified organic or contain organic ingredients. You should be aware that stipulations for certification in this realm are less clearly defined. Many things like lotions and shampoos, in which water is the primary ingredient, are able to boost their percentages of organic ingredients by using organic hydrosol, which is basically water that has been steamed with organic herbs. This practice mitigates the presence of conventional ingredients to the point where a product could earn the organic label with hydrosol as its only certified ingredient.
As a cashier, I get a peek at consumer choices while sliding products across the scanner. By far the most popular organic items that come from the Health and Wellness department are tampons and panty liners made from certified organic cotton and free of chlorine bleach and other chemicals. It appears that many women consider these ingredients in conventional feminine products too close for comfort.
Recent expansions in the organic non-foods market are reason for optimism. As of 2001 the United States and Turkey lead the world in organic cotton production, and the high growth rates in organic fiber sales point towards a significant decline in pesticide use, leading to healthier soil and higher biodiversity overall. Displayed by an increase in social and environmental morality amongst consumers, more and more of us are beginning to realize that our health as human beings is dependant on the health of the complex ecosystems in which we live, and we’re taking steps to make a change for the better. My dresser drawers are far from certified, but if yours contain even one organic garment, one organic bath towel, more power to you. You can consider yourself a trendsetter in one of the most important trends of our time. It’s only natural.
Show your loved ones you care about them and the environment by buying certified organic flowers for your next special occasion or spontaneous act of kindness. If you’re looking to jump on the organic bandwagon, look no further. Your very own Willy Street Co-op carries a wide range or organic non-food products from flowers, and potting soil to socks to toothpaste; we’ve got what you need to go organic.
If you’re interested in reading further, please visit the Organic Trade Association website at: www.ota.org, The Organic Pages Online at: www.theorganicpages.com or Organic Valley at www.organicvalley.coop.