In the early 2000s with a young daughter, proactively engaging with the GE Free movement, and being part of an organic produce purchasing co-operative, the dream of New Zealand/Aotearoa as an Organic Nation by 2020 seemed maybe possible. Certainly the vision led by the Soil and Health Association inspired me to believe that such a future for New Zealand could be embraced – at least on some broader scale.
We were smart, we were aware, and we were on a roll. Now its 2019, and the Vision for an Organic 2020 – just one year away even if it were possible – has morphed and seems even more distant than it did then.
I grew up on a mixed sheep and cropping farm in the scorched earth badlands of Mid Canterbury. I can’t remember a native tree anywhere within 20 kilometres, and our local river was the infamous “irrigation ditch”. As a child I sat on the side of the tractor while we poured all sorts of herbicides onto our paddocks. My dad was born in the first World War, and survived Egypt in the second – and our farm was won by ballot as part of helping re-establish a normal life for returned soldiers. My parents did what other farmers of the time did, and embraced the chemical revolution.
But somewhere between the 70s and the 90s, I found myself part of the organic movement – not just for the health benefits, but for the more holistic lifestyle it encompassed – and its rejection of corporatisation of the food production web of life. It was my socialist reading that helped me come to see organics as an opportunity to shake off the steadfast hold that multi-national companies like Monsanto had over the future of all life, and our food. It was organics that provided a sustainable response to climate change. Vandana Shiva was an inspiration, and the local organic growers were my life blood.
Now as I greet 2019, organics has flourished in some ways, yet stagnated in others. It is now more strongly embraced as a modern dietary response, rather than a movement bent on changing the economic paradigm. It is glossed up on websites, and finding its own shelves at the supermarket – but rarely do I hear organics as a challenge to an inherently unsustainable food production model. Small systems of change are around us – with farmer’s markets and organic co-operatives, but pushing the edge of resistance, of organics as part of solution to inequalities, climate change, and food resilience, seems muted. I know there are still stalwarts out there (I can hear them shouting in my ears as I write this), but they are few – and in political circles, they are almost non-existent.
At the Nelson Organic Co-operative we attempt to embrace a more systemic change, with co-operative ownership, a mixed staff-volunteer system, opportunities to become an owner without $s, and priding ourselves on our low waste methods, our local producer support, and our mutually supportive arrangement with the Nelson Environment Centre. Yet we could always do more, and we need to embrace the challenge to become better advocates for organics in wider circles.
In 2019, I’d like to see us beat the drum again for an Organic Nation. It may not be 2020, and change may not be as we expect it, but reasserting Organics as a way of life, as a way of protecting the earth and its people, as a way of encouraging a healthy lifestyle, and as a way of building a resilient community. That we can resolve to do.