The future is organic: But it’s more than organic

By Dr. E. Ann Clark
Energy Bulletin

The future is organic because the design drivers that have shaped and molded the current agri-food system are changing, demanding a wholly new, and largely organic, approach to agriculture.  Efforts to make the current system less bad — more sustainable — are counterproductive because they dilute and deflect the creative energy and commitment that are urgently needed to craft productive, ecologically sound systems, writes Ann Clark.  (Image)

Published Jan 14 2010 by University of Guelph, Archived Mar 7 2011.


Organic will be the conventional agriculture of the future, not because of wishful thinking or because it is the right thing to do, or because of some universal truth revealed from on high.

You don’t need to be a utopian to see the agricultural landscape of the future dominated by organic practitioners – whether in the city or in the country – if you stop to ask yourself …why are we not organic now?

How did we get to where we are now, and not just in farming but in the entire agri-food system?

How did we evolve an agri-food system so centered on specialization, consolidation, and globalization? What drove us to an agri-food system that reportedly consumes 19% of the national energy budget – but only 7 of the 19% are used on the farm, with the remaining 12% incurred by post-farmgate transport, processing, packaging, distribution, and meal preparation (Pimentel, 2006)? Is this all the result of Adam Smith’s invisible hand – an inevitable and inescapable result of the unfettered free market or other universal principle in action – or is there more to it?

This paper will present the argument that the future is organic because the design drivers that have shaped and molded the current agri-food system are changing, demanding a wholly new, and largely organic, approach to agriculture. Efforts to make the current model less bad – more sustainable – are counterproductive because they dilute and deflect the creative energy and commitment that are urgently needed to craft productive, ecologically sound systems driven by current solar energy (Pollan, 2008). Although time does not permit coverage, post-oil design drivers will also necessarily demand not just organics but novel agri-food systems emphasizing

  • local/decentralized food production, and
  • seasonal consumption expectations,
  • from minimally processed foods.

Evidence will be presented to show that organic is not enough, however. Ecological soundness[1] will require a de-emphasis on annual cropping coupled with re-integration of livestock, both to mimic the principles that sustain Nature and to dramatically reduce dependence on fossil fuels.


The design of contemporary agriculture did not evolve in a vacuum. McDonough and Braungart (2002) said that:

“Design is the first sign of intention”.

So what was agriculture designed to do? Agriculture here in the colonies was designed primarily for one thing – to export vast quantities of undifferentiated, raw commodities back to the Mother Country. We do the same thing today, but the recipient is ADM, Cargill, Smithfield and Tyson. Arguably, agriculture performed other services as well – sustenance, good place to raise a family, and a way to make a living.

Read the full post at Energy Bulletin

10 responses to “The future is organic: But it’s more than organic

  1. Conclusions: 1) the future will be marked by war, strife and catastrophe, pollution and desecration of the environment will exist on a vast and ongoing scale, 2) agriculture will be local and sporadic in its ability to feed people, there will likely be large prison farms that government operates with prisoner (basically anyone they wish to force into service) labor, 3) post oil reality will be that only able bodied people will be able to produce food, through intense physical exertion and will be hard-pressed to defend that food production from heavily armed marauders, 4) any livestock will be shot, killed and eaten on a first come, first served basis, ownership and reproduction of farm animals will be difficult to maintain, except on previously mentioned prison farms, 5) government policy makers will attempt to utilize increasingly harsh techno-fascist policies with armed and loyal troops and widespread surveillance techniques to maintain some semblance of order and control, specifically in ways that provide greatest benefit to themselves, academics will continue to fawn favorably towards government in order to receive food and whatever ‘security’ government grants them….

  2. Great article…

    The “old” system is old and in the way. Oligarchy… centuries old grudges and plots of the self-proclaimed elite will to go the way of the dinosaur. The audacity of those who now consider we are too many for this planet are the very ones who have lied about everything since before we were born and who have brought this planet to the brink of extinction by design. And all the while they blame us for it… indeed. They have no shame, no morals, and they have nothing that we want or need.

    Good riddance. I just hope there’s something left to rebuild on when we shake loose of their control.

  3. Pretty dire predictions Ned, and fairly likely if we do not take charge of policy making and wrench the tools of government away from those who plan to rule the future feudal Dark Age. Luckily there are some corners of the Earth that are communitarian and retain ag skills. They are most likely to survive.

    • ‘Academics’ such as the author of this piece, have a habit of cutting and pasting their pet theories and views onto reality. It’s as if the world is their thesis paper…

      The BIG problem, is the enormous potency of ‘control and destroy’ technology available to our rulers (the rabid corporatists). They WILL continue to make every use of this technology. Did you notice that Obama decided to ‘start’ a third war now? This, while Japan irradiates itself.

      Continuing: Any small agrarian communities that find ways to be successful and harmonious, will be located and manipulated, and in various roundabout ways, ultimately destroyed. This is what corporations do, they destroy life, while wrenching from it first, whatever they can steal. So all resources will continue to go into the system, as this corporate system of thievery, rape and murder struggles to maintain itself, indefinitely.

      I see no way of ending the corporate system peacefully, as the leaders are so entrenched and so corrupt and have so much technological advantage. It can only burn itself up and take most of everything else, with it. That appears to be humanity’s destiny.

      The only remote possibility that would be good (ie., peaceful to the majority), is if these rulers somehow reform themselves via their own process of reasoning, awaken their shame and guilt, and surrender voluntarily. But how often do criminally insane people do that? What, for example, did Hitler do? Kept that war (WWII) going and going and going, and then killed himself….

      I can see how to fight these insane criminals, I do it every day, but I cannot see how we win. Get used to fighting.

      And losing.


  4. A good resource: “World on the Edge: How to Prevent Environmental and Economic Collapse” by Lester R. Brown

  5. Curious about Monsanto and their ilk with respects to Genetically Modified Seeds/Organisms.
    The patenting of seeds (I do not find mentioned to any great degree) is an integral part of Monsanto and I do no think they will go silently into the night.
    Controlling the seed, especially terminator seed is their niche and one wonders as does Percy Schmeiser in the movie, Percy Schmeiser–David vs Monsanto when he asks the question:
    “Who owns life?”
    What happens to the seeds that have a patent?
    Should one or any company have the right to patent seeds?
    I think this article should be required reading by each and every citizen of North America, perhaps the world.

    Thank you.
    Alma Christina

  6. Another good resource: Pastures: Sustainable Management, produced by ATTRA in 2006.

    It’s a 20-page document

  7. The New Agriculture: None. All we need do is encourage restoration of Wild Nature. There’s plenty of food in fields, swamps, oceans, forests, and every nature ecosystem. One way or another we must leave our mansions and live with the Earth. Best to do it on purpose, with flourish and beauty.

  8. The County (UK and USA), the prefecture in Japan, and what ever other tribal or regional zones that exist are the perfect scale for us to operate on in a sustainable manner.

    We need to get serious about this, and approach this with precision.

    How many people inhabit your county?

    How many acres of ‘Organically’ [co-opted bullshit] (or better local, ethical, sustainable) farmed land will it take to sustain the populace at this level with the bear minimum required…?

    Answering questions like that will see (some of) us through this…

    A freeman, walking.

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