Treading Lightly With The Term “Organic”

By: Emily Fraysse

The bakery is all hustle and bustle when the doors swing open at seven in the morning. The local residents patiently wait in line to get their daily fix of coffee as the morning crew emerge carrying trays of freshly baked pastries. At night, although the location and owners are the same, it exudes a very different atmosphere. The pub is considerably more relaxed as waiters dash in and out of the kitchen, holding plates of Moroccan carrot salad sandwiches and hamburgers with the owner’s homemade zucchini pickle on the side. While to the naked eye the dishes may look like food that any other restaurant would serve, this restaurant is different, special, unique.

Anni Katz, the co-owner and manager of the Humble Bagel Bakery and the Humble Beagle Pub, takes pride in her family-started, predominately organic restaurant in Eugene, Oregon. While a large amount of the products have been local by default, she estimates that the pub is 75% locally sustainable and the bakery is around 25-40%.

The outside of the Humble Bagel/Beagle located at 2435 Hilyard St., Eugene.

In 2008, after countless hours of research to make the restaurant completely organic and entirely local, the stock market crashed. The family was forced to reevaluate their goal of serving purely local, organic, sustainable pub food to a different direction of serving food that was more approachable and reasonably priced, but still local. Anni now hand picks the restaurants that she believes to be up her standards and will sometimes physically go out to the farm to make sure their practices are ethical.  Although the approved providers may not have acquired the label of certified organic, a vast amount of them do everything that would be certifiable to the government, if not more.

“It speaks to our respect for the way our food is prepared,” Anni says. “If we all start actually paying attention we will stop going to places that don’t care at all about what they serve you.”

Anni Katz stands proudly in her family-owned restaurant.

The term “organic” is essentially a labeling term that means that the food or other agricultural product has been produced through approved methods like integrate cultural, biological, and mechanical practices.  These practices exclude the use of synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering to promote ecological balance and conserve biodiversity, says the United States Department of Agriculture.

It is a growing fad for smaller businesses to physically go out to the farms and verify it with their own eyes and pallets rather than a piece of paper or a label smeared across a product on the shelf of the local grocery store. Andrea Pierce, the produce manager at Sundance Natural Foods in Eugene, explains that the grocery store conducts thorough research into all of their distributors, especially the certified organic companies.  Many people assume the term “certified organic” is synonymous with “good.” Yet, the organic certification standards set by the USDA allow for certain strong pesticides to be used. Sundance, located a few feet away from and provides for the Humble Bagel/Beagle, prides itself on the fact that although it may not have all the foods that competing grocery stores have, they make sure that the produce is truly organic.

“If you think about it, probably one of the number one things that’s going to help this world stay alive is putting food in people’s bodies that will make them healthier,” Andrea says. “If you’re pouring pesticides and all the Monsanto and GMO’s, it’s going to ruin the earth. And then injecting antibiotics into produce so that worms don’t eat it and then you eat it.”

The produce manager, Andrea Pierce, sorts through the vegetables.

The organic certification process can be incredibly tedious and expensive. Leda Hermecz has researched and discovered many holes in the system, like the lack of watch dogging post organic certification of a company. Not only is she a baker at Sweet Life in Eugene, but also a sustainable business consultant for the Willamette Valley. She founded her own consulting business called F.I.R.S.T. (Food Industry Resources for Sustainable Transitions), which aims to help to make changes to local businesses in order to reduce the restaurant’s carbon footprint and increase their sustainability living. She also helps businesses get their sourcing components down and create a healthy relationship between the growers, producers, and distributors.

“I’m trying to take the next step further and really get food businesses involved with being in touch with where all their energy comes from,” Leda explains. “Their food, their fuel and helping make it clear that the choices they make are relevant and impact their immediate customers that walk through the door every day.”

She does not blame the smaller businesses that are experimenting with sourcing their foods from farms that are without the certification stamp.  Even though many companies and products will have the organic certified label, it does not stop the producer from using powerful organic pesticides that some believe are more dangerous and harmful than chemical pesticides.

“With the USDA, if you are preparing meat in the kitchen the USDA will be at your kitchen every single day,” Leda says. “But, if you’re growing organically, the USDA will come out, certify your farm, you write the check, and then they say ‘thank you very much’ and never go back to check up on them.“

Leda believes that the real problem is that the past few generations have been raised to not learn how to cook, so they’re forced to go to the grocery store to buy unprocessed foods. It also does not help that in today’s age, things are moving much faster and people are not stopping to take the time to make an organic, healthy lunch and as a result is making the country helpless and sick. With more people drawn towards getting the frozen pizza because the organics are too expensive, Leda questions the consumer by asking if they have the money to buy processed foods, which at times can be more expensive, than why can’t they buy organic?

One of the only meat providers for the Humble Bagel/Beagle located a few blocks away from the restaurant is Long’s Meat Market. Since 1927, the owners have sourced their meat as close to the store as they can before they spread further and estimate that around 80-85% of their meat comes from Lane County. Since they have developed close relationships with the businesses they have used for decades, Mike Wooly, the owner, has no problem randomly dropping in on the farm to check up on their system. One year, he even sent his son, Scott, to a baseball camp in Phoenix with the son of the man who provides lamb for the market. The friendship with the provider is important to the company and the trust in what they’re doing is just as crucial.

Posted on the door of Long’s Meat Market is a sicker signifying that the company is sustainable.

“The only thing between the rancher and the customer would be me,” Mike says. “There’s only one person who can influence this and I’m fourth generation from people that already know that an influence from us is going to be positive.”

Located 17 miles northwest of Eugene lay one of the restaurant’s providers, the Camas Swale Farm.  Although not certified organic, Amber and Jonah Bloch do everything on their 35-acre farm sustainably by rotating their laying hens on their pasture, growing only seasonal crops, and shipping only within a 20 mile radius. Jonah does admit to using certain pesticides, but is hesitant to use them because they are not only strong on the plants, but they effect the beneficial bug populations as well. They have now resorted to using preventative practices like row cover, crop rotation and manual removal.

In 2009, the couple at Camas Swale Farm started CSA or Community Supported Agriculture, where members pay a certain amount at the beginning of the growing season and in return, members receive a weekly supply of freshly picked produce and occasionally flowers and eggs. The goal of this endeavor is to maintain a mutually beneficial relationship between the consumers and the farmers. With 20 CSA members receiving six to ten different vegetables and herbs as well as a newsletter with recipes and news from the farm every season, Camas Swale Farm firmly believes in the connection with the consumer and trust that they know exactly where they are getting their guaranteed fresh, high quality produce.

Especially within the Willamette Valley, consumers are now more cautious with not only knowing how the food is prepared, but also its origin. With more consumers going directly to the farms to test if they pass the certain company or restaurant’s standards, they are basing their judgments on what their definition of sustainable and organic mean.  The Humble Bagel/Beagle is right on the bandwagon and believes that spreading awareness is key for change in the food industry.

“What I think is powerful is that you’re getting that mindset and understanding of what organic is into our entire culture,” Leda says. “Even if that product isn’t organic, it could raise a fuss and fight and that could be an empowering fight in itself.”

Vegetables in Sundance Natural Foods are examined closely to make sure that the product is the best it can be.

Sidebar 1:

Q & A with Kristen Koons, a local gardener in the Amazon neighborhood

Q: Which is more important: local, organic, or sustainable?

A: For me, the word sustainability is a really, really important one and it sums it up really well because you can farm and area, you can farm a bed, you can farm a farm for a while and get good crops and have it seem fine, but you’re depleting more than you’re putting in not counting poisons. It’s all about maintaining a healthy balance and doing it as naturally as possible.

Q: What is one important thing that people should look out for on menus when dining out?

A: I think one of the biggest is local. I think local is almost more important than organic just because if its certified organic and it’s from a really nice, small, organic farm in Maine its still have less nutritional value, its still going to have a bigger carbon footprint by the time it gets here. Certified organic bananas from south America is better than nonorganic from south America but its just a little step up. I think local is probably the best way to go especially for the economy.

Q: What do you believe is the biggest problem with farming today?


I think big farming is a big problem generally. You can’t do stuff on an enormous scale and do it in a healthy, sustainable way. Some of those organic brands where the cows still don’t get outside and the chickens, which are cage free, but still clustered together that’s not sustainable. Huge farms who don’t get to know the land, that’s a huge part of it too. I’d rather buy milk from someone just outside of town whose not certified organic, but they don’t spray and take really good care of their cows than someone who’s certified but have dozens of cattle and don’t know them individually.

Q: Do you see a big impact of “going green” sweeping the nation?

A: I hope that it’s not a fad thing that cycles through but I think its been going long enough that I think it’s more of a movement than a fad. I think even if people are misled by marketing a lot more people are trying and thinking about it and questioning more than they were before. If nothing else, if things don’t get completely better, I think it’s a step in the right direction and gives me hope. I think the fact that more people are growing their own food is really the biggest thing. That’s so empowering.  Once you’ve tasted a homegrown tomato and you know you can grow one in a pot even in the city… that changes your life.

Sidebar 2:

Restaurants in Eugene that sustainably provide local, organic food:

1. Sundance Natural Foods – 748 E. 24th Ave.

2. The Humble Bagel/Beagle – 2435 Hilyard St.

3. Hideaway Bakery – 3377 East Amazon Dr.

4. Go Healthy Cafe – 3802 W. 11th Ave.

5. Off the Waffle – 2540 Willamette St.

6. The Divine Cupcake – W. 11th Ave

7. Holy Cow Cafe – University Of Oregon EMU Bldg

8. Cafe Yumm! – 1801 Willamette St

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1 Response to Treading Lightly With The Term “Organic”

  1. Tammy says:

    Great post. It is so much work for the farms and growers to become “organic”. The farmer that I get my CSA from chooses not to do it but her practices are strong and sustainable. And because she is local, I can go visit anytime.

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