Principles of Organic vs. the Market

At the recent ACORN conference, Shannon spoke on a plenary panel called ‘Striking a Balance – Philosophy, Principles and Outcomes of Organic vs. Market Development and Profitability’.

Other panelists were Allison Grant, Dr. Andrew Hammermeister, and Dr. Av Singh.

This is what Shannon said:

“I’ve been thinking about this topic a lot over the course of the season and especially since this plenary topic was devised and I was asked to speak to it.

I’ve delved more deeply into what these 4 Organic Principles mean to me – for my life, my farm, the life of other humans in my community and around the world, and for the lives of all the other species we share this planet with – of which we humans are only 1 among millions – though we mostly act as if we are the only one that really matters, or the most important.

Principles of Organic

These 4 Principles really inspire me and I can’t imagine how anyone could not support a vision of a world with more of these qualities.

But our current economic model does not align with these Principles, in my opinion.

Our current economic model is based on continuous growth on a finite planet.

It is based on and promotes a constantly growing GDP – or Gross Domestic Product. GDP grows whenever money changes hands – regardless of the reasons that money is changing hands.

When there is an increase in citizens being treated for cancer – GDP increases.

When there is an increase in crime and the associated industries around capturing, convicting, and holding criminals – GDP increases.

So, why are we prioritizing GDP as a society over health, happiness, and a sense of security and safety?

Our current economic model has brought us NAFTA and other Free Trade Agreements where the interests of foreign investor multinational corporations legally outweigh Health, Ecology, Fairness, and Care.

The free trade agreements outweigh a country’s sovereignty, its food sovereignty, any policies or protections put into place to promote the health of its people, the protection and preservation of its ecosystems, the care and fairness towards its inhabitants – human and non-human, the legal rights and human rights of all its people, including and in particular Indigenous peoples.

A primary way the free trade agreements have so much power is through a mechanism that most Canadians know nothing about.

This mechanism is called Investor State Dispute Settlement or ISDS for short. It is what allows multinational corporations to sue a country for enacting policies they see as against their interests – their financial interests. Policies like, perhaps, the prioritization of local food supplied by local companies or Canadian-grown products. Or policies to protect our environment.

Canada is one of the Top 5 countries in the world for the amount of times it has been sued using this mechanism.

You can imagine all the legal fees associated with this – which is paid by the Canadian taxpayers. And which, of course, raises our GDP.

And while this can represent a large burden on Canadian taxpayers – imagine how this same mechanism affects smaller countries around the world – and the power they feel to put policies into place that are truly beneficial for their inhabitants.

Canada has primarily been sued over our environmental policies – which dis-incentivizes our Canadian government from putting more environmental protection policies in place.

Now I want to discuss the financial picture of Canadian farmers overall within this economic model.

Our gross farm sales for all Canadian farms taken together has grown dramatically over the last 60 years. I have seen many charts showing this – which our government and agricultural industry point to in a self-congratulatory way.

But that’s not the full picture. When you add in a line for farm debt to this graph, you can see that farm debt across our country has grown faster than gross farm sales and has far surpassed them in value.

Now add-in net farm income – farmers’ actual take-home pay. This line has barely changed at all in the last 60 years – in fact decreasing slightly, taking inflation into account.

The picture is suddenly very different. With input companies and banks capturing most of the wealth, and farmers dealing with financial stress that can lead to physical and mental health issues, and family and relationship breakdown.

financial picture of Canadian farms

(also check out this more recent graph that is similar though doesn’t include farm debt)

So, now that I’ve made you all feel super depressed, I want to turn it around a bit.

I think our Organic Principles are very much in line around concepts like Gross Domestic HAPPINESS rather than Gross Domestic Product.

Concepts like Steady-State Economics which is an economic model of ENOUGH or sufficiency.

And concepts around capital expressed and valued in many forms – not just monetary forms.

I just came back from the National Farmers Union convention in Ottawa – through whom I’ve become a member of their Indigenous Solidarity Committee.

One of the speakers at the convention was an incredibly inspiring Anishnaabe kwe woman named Danielle Boissoneau who shared the worldview of The Dish with One Spoon.

She said that all of already share one dish. Our Earth. And having only one spoon ensures that we each take only what we need before passing the spoon on – in order to ensure enough for everyone.

I believe that striving to fit the round organic peg into the square hole of our current economic model has not served us well.

But I’ll admit that it’s very hard for me – as I’m sure it’s hard for many of you – to see how an alternative would work practically and how to get there. I was born in the ‘80s. For my entire lifetime – every message, from the media to our education system – has taught me to fit into the economy of continuous growth on a finite planet.

But in an economy of Enough – I see room for valuing Health, for valuing Ecology, for valuing Fairness for our planet’s farmers who are more diverse than our stereotypes portray, Fairness also for our world’s farmworkers who are not mentioned, seen, recognized, or respected sufficiently, and Fairness for all Eaters. I see room for valuing Care for our farmlands but also our ecosystems or foodways (or foodlands) that provide abundant food not grown on farms. And also Care for those who have suffered and are suffering injustices due to our current economic mentality, suffering intergenerational trauma, displacement from their homes, disempowerment, and have been stripped of their dignity.

Through considering my own life and farm business through the lens of these 4 Organic Principles, my vision and dreams for the future have been adjusted as well as my indicators of success – what is required for me to see my farm as successful.

Throughout this conference, I invite us all to think deeply about these 4 Organic Principles and what they mean to you.

How the production techniques, marketing ideas, business tactics we learn fit with these Principles.

How your life and your farm fit into your vision of these Principles currently – and how you can imagine changes in your future.

I look forward to continuing this conversation with you.

Thank you.”

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