Authentic Food - Authentic Farming

By Eliot Coleman, printed in Mother Earth News

The label "organic" has lost the fluidity it used to hold for the growers more concerned with quality than the bottom line, and consumers more concerned with nutrition than a static set of standards for labeling. "Authentic" is meant to be the flexible term "organic" once was. It identifies fresh foods produced by local growers who want to focus on what they are doing, instead of what they aren't doing. (The word authentic derives from the Greek authentes: one who does things for him or herself.) The standards for a term like this shouldn't be set in stone, but here are the ones I like to focus on:

  • All foods are produced by the growers who sell them.
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables, milk, eggs and meat products are produced within a 50-mile radius of their place of their final sale.
  • The seed and storage crops (grains, beans, nuts, potatoes, etc.) are produced within a 300-mile radius of their final sale.
  • Only traditional processed foods such as cheese, wine, bread and lactofermented products may claim, "Made with Authentic ingredients."
  • The growers' fields, barns and greenhouses are open for inspection at any time, so customers, themselves, can be the certifiers of their food..
  • All agricultural practices used on farms selling under the "Authentic" label are chosen to produce foods of the highest nutritional quality.
  • Soils are nourished, as in the natural world, with farm-derived organic matter and mineral particles from ground rock.
  • Green manures and cover crops are included within broadly based crop rotations to maintain biological diversity.
  • A "plant positive" rather than "pest negative" philosophy is followed focusing on correcting the cause of problems rather than treating symptoms.
  • Livestock are raised outdoors on grass-based pasture systems to the fullest extent possible.
  • The goal is vigorous, healthy crops and livestock endowed with their inherent powers of vitality and resistance.

"Authentic" growers are committed to supplying food that is fresh, ripe, clean, safe and nourishing. "Authentic" farms are genetically modified organism-free zones. I encourage all small growers with local markets who believe in exceptional food to use the word "Authentic" to mean “Beyond Organic”. With a definition that stresses local, seller-grown and fresh, there is little likelihood that large-scale marketers can steal this concept.