To readers of The Los Angeles Times, food writer Russ Parsons is known as “The California Cook.” But he earned recognition throughout agriculture circles earlier this month with a common sense column about organic farming.
In his July 1 column, “‘Organic’ label doesn’t guarantee quality or taste,” Parsons told readers, “I don’t believe in organics. There, I’ve said it and I feel better. It’s something that’s been on my mind for years.”
Parsons continues by saying he has nothing against organic farmers. “In fact, some of my favorite farmers are organic.” But he also admits a lot of his favorite farmers aren’t organic, “and therein lies the rub.”
Parsons writes that organic advocates are often well-meaning, but they paint such a black-and-white picture of the way farming works that it seems there should be no choice but organic. “Listening to them, you get the idea that if you aren’t eating fruits and vegetables that were organically grown, you might as well be mainlining Agent Orange or handing your money straight to some giant industrial agricultural corporation. You’re certainly not going to be getting anything with any flavor, they’d argue.
“I've been covering agriculture and farmers markets for more than 20 years,” Parsons writes, “and in that time, I've visited scores, if not hundreds, of farms, both conventional and organic. I wrote a book on the subject. And I can say with some degree of certainty that those ideas are, at best, an oversimplification. The real world isn't black and white at all. Between pure organics and the reckless use of chemicals, there is a huge gray area, and this is where most farming is done.”
Parsons also tells his L.A. Times readers some interesting facts that support traditional farmers. For instance, he says, “Contrary to the image of farming being run by a few giant industrial agricultural corporations, roughly 85 percent of all farms in California — organic or conventional — are owned by individuals or families, and 75 percent are smaller than 100 acres.”
Now one might suspect “The California Cook” could have broken his dinner plate with his column supporting traditional growers. But, interestingly, that suspicion would be wrong.
In a follow-up column this week, Parsons admitted he expected to get a lot of mail. What he didn’t expect was that most of it would be positive. In fact, the overwhelming majority — a ratio of 5 or 6 to 1 — was positive. “Turns out,” Parsons writes, “it seems like this was something a lot of folks have been thinking, but they were just waiting for someone else dumb enough to say it out loud first.” — Greg Henderson, Drovers editor.
Read Parsons’ follow-up column, "'Organic’ debate goes on, naturally .”