Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association
Big Organic; Organic Beekeeping

Editor, MOF&G:

Two items caught my attention in your Dec.-Feb. issue. Tim Sullivan’s objection to an ad from Hannaford is timely, for it comes as organics is increasingly controlled – and even defined – by corporate power rather than consumer power. To the extent that Hannaford, or Whole Foods, or any other mega-retailer can find a USDA-accredited certifier to bless its operation, it would be difficult for MOFGA to say: You are not in good standing with us. So there is a dichotomy.

As an organic grower looking for retail outlets, I can see distinctions among these monsters, who may end up dominating not just our standards, but our very economic survival. Hannaford, alone among the big boys, allows its produce managers to buy directly from local farmers. Balancing this to some extent was Shaw’s policy of helping petitioners seeking signatures for various good causes – including term limits, which is now state law. Since Lord Sainsbury divested his control of Shaw’s, I don’t know if that policy has endured. (Wal-Mart at present is not a significant factor in fresh organic produce.)

Tim Sullivan notes the unsavory law firm hired by Hannaford. Well, the Organic Trade Association, not to be outdone, hired Covington & Burling – law firm for Philip Morris and several anti-environment causes – to do its dirty work of watering down the Organic Foods Production Act a couple of years ago. All with the support of Stonyfield Farm (owned by a European conglomerate), Organic Valley, General Mills and Dean Foods. It is hard to find a national brand of organic products that is not in bed with anti-consumer interests. Maine’s organic farmers may feel good about what they do, but two-thirds of every dollar spent on organic food goes to such scoundrels, in greater or lesser degree.

Your comment on organic beekeeping (News & Events) brings to mind the first national conference of organic beekeepers, held in Oracle, Arizona, on February 15 to 17 this year. I attended with another organic beekeeper from New Hampshire.

These people are miles ahead of us. We have been looking for natural treatments against Varroa mites and other pests, but most of those at Oracle say that natural treatments stand in the way of developing genetic resistance, as surely as synthetic chemicals. Furthermore, the size of the honeybee has been artificially increased by 20 to 40% over its natural size through the use of commercial foundation. Beekeepers from Florida, Massachusetts, Nebraska, Colorado and Arizona have transitioned to a cell size of 4.9 mm compared with 5.2 to 5.4 mm common in the industry. None of them have a Varroa problem, let alone Colony Collapse Disorder.

We also learned about top bar hives, with little or no foundation furnished to the bees. I intend to try that.

Arthur Harvey
Hartford, Maine
MOF&G Cover Summer 2008
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