Last night, I had a dream about an army of cotton T-shirts that called themselves the Beneficial Organic Brigade. For more efficient marketing, they went by B.O.B.
This band of T-shirts was singing at some kind of sustainable benefit concert in the middle of the Third Street Promenade. Resembling the green T-shirt that I recently purchased on Main street, they sang the slogan on that shirt. Such are the nature of dreams; they organically flow from strings of actual events and add a twist. But, back to the band, who started their benefit set with the slogan and ended with one of the biggest bands from the 1980s.
“Panoramic. Dynamic. Certified Organic,” a crew-cut green shirt sang into a microphone, shifting to a rendition of “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey. “Just an organic T, livin’ in a processed world. I take the less chemical route, looking out for cleaner air.”
Perhaps I had too much caffeine on the promenade right before bed. That point can be argued. But what I know for certain is that, along with that Journey song listening kick I went on yesterday, the topic of just what “organic” means stirred up my subconscious enough to dream about it.
So, just what is organic? I decided to go straight to a source of sustainable clothing, the flagship retail store for the Natural High Lifestyle brand on Main Street. Frank Anguili, the founder of Natural High Lifestyle, takes pride in the brand’s use of distinctive natural resources, including bamboo, hemp, tencel, organic cotton and vegetable leather.
My reason for asking Frank about the confusion surrounding the definition of “organic” was simple. How can a consumer possibly make a wise decision if they don’t know what they are buying?
I questioned him with this: “What is it about the environmentally-conscious and green push that has left us blushing red if we don’t know what everything means?”
“It’s become a buzzword,” Frank said of sustainability.
His answer was short. And simple. And brilliant. If you overuse a word, it loses its value. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about advertising buzzwords, like “cheap” or “best value,” or environmentally-conscious movements and their terms, like “going green” and “fair trade.” All of them meant something until someone found that there was money to be made by using the term loosely for marketing.
Mulling over this trend, Frank and I talked for a bit longer about the importance of awareness of actual rules and regulations regarding the definition of “organic.” Knowledge is power. To see for yourself what it means is the only way to get past the talk into the actual actions that producing an organic product require.
So, I compiled a list of two different organic certification information links.
The first is for food, put out by the United States Department of Agriculture. The National Organic Program (NOP) outlines what classifies agricultural practices or products as organic (www.usda.gov ). According to the USDA, organic products must pass through an inspection before they can be labeled organic. A government-approved certifier inspects the farm in question to make sure the rules and USDA organic standards are being met.
What standards are required of organic food? The USDA is straight forward in definition:
“Organic food is produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations. Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones. Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation.”
This is where the disparity of something that is “natural” and organic comes in; when something is made of say, natural raisins for food or natural cotton for clothes, there is no guarantee that the process was organic. When it comes to clothing making the “organic” grade, the retail products in question must use certified organic agricultural product ingredients, and label according to the percentage of organic products used. In other words, when you see a cotton T-shirt that says “made with” organic cotton, it is not the same as “100 percent organic.”
As for knowing where to turn for guarantees, the Organic Consumers Association lists qualifying organic companies by state (www.organicconsumers.org). The Organic Consumers Association is a non-profit public interest organization whose primary interests are in campaigning for health, justice and sustainability. Dealing with everything from issues of genetic engineering to environmental sustainability, their database serves as a great resource.
Still not sure who you can trust? You aren’t alone. But, locally, there are three days a week that certified Farmers’ Markets are held in town, promising produce sold directly from the farmer to consumer. The three locations were approved by the Department of Agriculture.
On a related note, the Farmers’ Market on 2640 Main St. on Sundays met my approval as I walked into the large grass area meant for eating lunch. I found a spot, sat on a blanket, and ate an apple that I just bought. While crunching, I looked up and saw a “compostable items” sign and a picture of what looked like my apple, along with other common lunch items that could be thrown in that bin instead of the trash. I stood up, tossed it in the bin, and walked on.
Sometimes, sustainability just fits in organically.
Megan Reilly is a freelance writer, specializing in documenting the lives of “ordinary” people doing extraordinary things; as a creative writer, she can’t be stopped, with entries appearing regularly on 1800recycling.com and ChoCoffeeAddictsAnonymous.com. When she’s not writing, she’s probably either singing or trying to make it as the next Kirsten Dunst, and can be reached at OhReallyReilly@gmail.com.