Organic has gone mainstream. The more Canadian consumers become educated about where their food comes from and how it is produced, the more they are making the switch. In fact, 58 per cent of Canadians now buy organic products every week.
This is no surprise to Don Rees, CEO of Organic Meadow, the leading organic dairy brand in Ontario and a farmer-owned co-operative that is celebrating 25 years in the organic dairy business. "The future is organic, and what we are seeing is a new wave of informed, concerned consumers who are reading ingredient labels. They want to know where their products are grown and manufactured and what the carbon footprint is.
"More than ever, Canadian consumers are interested in what they are putting into their bodies and are demanding more information about how their food is made," Rees adds.
Canadian consumers are opting to go organic for a variety of reasons. They want to feed their families healthy and wholesome foods and support local businesses; they have legitimate concerns about how animals are treated and about the environmental impact of large-scale farming practices.
More than anything, Canadians are choosing organic products because of what's not in them. Organic food is produced without the toxic and persistent pesticides common in most conventional agriculture. Instead, organic farmers use natural pest controls including beneficial insects, mechanical and manual methods to control pests and weeds. Organic farms also ensure animals have access to the outdoors: fresh air, sun and pasture are essential for animals' health.
In Canada, the organic food chain is highly regulated. All products bearing the certified organic label must meet rigorous standards and processes that are regularly inspected, covering the entire food cycle from farm to table. Organic regulations mandate that crops are grown with methods that restore and sustain the environment and provide soil fertility naturally without synthetic fertilizers.
Similarly, livestock raised for organic meat and poultry must be provided with healthy living conditions, adequate space and organic feed. The government-overseen organic standards strictly forbid genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and the routine use of drugs, antibiotics or synthetic hormones.
On the other hand, while the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has some guidelines for "natural" food products, it is only focused in what happens to food after harvesting. While natural food should not contain food additives, it cannot ensure that those products are not exposed to pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, hormones, GMOs or antibiotics used at the farms where those products come from.
One place that has been helping to educate Canadians about the merits of healthy organic products for the past 30 years is The Big Carrot, which is a worker/owner co-op located on the Danforth in Toronto's east end. As Ontario's very first certified organic retailer, it offers an impressive selection of thousands of items from groceries, health-care and beauty products to supplements, an organic juice bar and a fresh vegetarian deli.
Far more, it's a community hub where customers come to get trusted advice. "We employ holistic nutritionists, which is a free service we offer for customers who have questions about their health or how to integrate organic into their diet," says Sarah Dobec, the store's public relations and education outreach co-ordinator.
In addition to this, The Big Carrot offers education days and events to help consumers to make the right choices for their lifestyle and budget. "It's hard to be a consumer these days, so we have done a lot of the work to make it easier for people to make decisions by establishing strict quality standards, scrutinizing every product that comes through our door," says Dobec.
Ultimately, the true value of organic is the peace of mind and knowledge that with every purchase people can live healthier, support sustainable businesses and protect the environment for future generations, a small price that Canadians believe is worth it.
For the love of honey, nature and community
It’s tough being a beekeeper, especially an organic one, says Julie White, explaining that managed honey bee colonies have been decimated by one-third annually since 2006 due to the colony collapse disorder, and the global honey bee population is as fragile as ever.
White is the proprietor of Long Point Honey Company (www.longpointhoney.ca). Her hives are placed on a peninsula bordered by water on three sides; a 10-kilometre strip of land separates the fourth side from the nearest farmland.
This buffer is important as it protects White’s bees from pesticides and other contaminants. “A group of neurotoxic pesticides called neonicotinoids have led to devastating honey bee losses all across North America and Europe,” she says.
Her love for bees and honey inspired a 10-year dedication to learning about beekeeping and hive management. In 2011, with help and encouragement from family, friends and mentors, White embarked on an adventure that involves honey bees, nature, community and regulations.
As an organic beekeeper, White says she welcomed the rigours of the certification process that inspires confidence in consumers that a product is truly organic and traceable from hive to jar.
“We wanted to go the extra mile of complying with all the requirements of the Canadian organic standards,” she says, adding that the guidelines not only promote organic practices, but also represent up-to-date science related to beekeeping.
“Now, three years later, my hives are thriving and I am producing the most delectable organic honey imaginable,” she says.
This content was produced by Randall Anthony Communications, in partnership with The Globe and Mail's advertising department. The Globe's editorial department was not involved in its creation.