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Organic food is a healthy deal

PORTLAND, Ore. - Liz Woody, member of the Confederated Tribes of Warm
Springs and director of the indigenous leadership program at Portland's
Ecotrust, sent a message recently about tribal salmon sales down at the
Ecotrust building. "Bring cash and a decent size cooler or cooler bag. The
market goes from 4 - 8 p.m. in the Ecotrust parking lot on NW 10th Avenue,
between Irving and Johnson. You will be glad that you did," she wrote.

It came as a surprise, though, when an organic farmer and regular seller at
one of the city's Saturday farmer's markets fired back a stern missive.
"I've supported the tribal catches for years, but where are the Indians
when it comes time to buy local and organic at my stand? There's one Indian
woman that buys my stuff regularly and that's it. It gets old having the
deal go one way when we're all after the same thing - living gently on the
earth and freeing ourselves from bondage to the corporations. Yes, it costs
more, but the tribal fishers aren't shy about getting $4/pound for their
fish."

The point is worth considering. Why is there a perception among at least
some buy-local folks that they aren't getting the quid pro quo from their
tribal friends that they think fair?

Money, of course, is the obvious conclusion. Most the folks at the farmer's
markets look fairly affluent - or at least middle class. Regular customer
Bob Smith said it is "spendy" to buy organic from local growers. "It costs
me from $25 to $30 each week on fresh vegetables, but then I eat a lot of
beans and steam my own whole grains so it balances out, money-wise. Also, I
can't remember the last time I bought anything packaged or processed. As
far as I'm concerned, if people would get off the "Capri Sun routine" and
quit sucking down soda pop, they'd have enough to buy their food
responsibly. To me that means going local, in season, and organic."

The New York Times ran an article in October 2004 on the California
strawberry industry and its use of the ozone-depleting chemical methyl
bromide. "Planting time is near in John Steinbeck's old haunts. A fork on
the back of a tanker-tractor dips 12 inches down into the soil and emits a
gaseous cocktail to kill any fungus or microorganism that could threaten
next spring's strawberries. Mexican workers, wearing antiseptic white suits
but no face masks, follow close behind, tamping down the white plastic
sheeting that covers the loamy fields. They are fumigating Will Garroutte's
strawberry fields with methyl bromide, a pesticide so witheringly effective
it is a farmer's dream. But it is not an environmentalist's."

While it's true that strawberries, along with tomatoes and peppers, are
some of the most heavily dosed commodities we eat, the writer's description
of the "gaseous cocktail" - a biocide that kills every living thing in the
ground - leaves a haunting, graphic reminder of how we have relinquished
the growing of our food to large producers. More, it underscores attitudes
about using highly toxic pesticides and fertilizers that permeate the
agricultural sector. Clearly this is not the kind of behavior that tribal
values support.

Could it be that part of the problem lies in the marketing? The packaging?
The convenience? The appearance of large, unblemished fruits and vegetables
stacked up to appeal to the eye in the stores?

But any way you slice it, it's a problem. Moms and dads in Indian country
are busy to the hilt seeing that the kids have what they need. Getting out
on Saturday morning to buy local might not even be possible for the 40
percent of the tribal population living on reservations.

But now that the question has been raised, it might be something to ponder.
Gathering roots and berries and such is certainly one way to stay connected
to the land and its rhythms in a respectful way. Buying local and - organic
just might be another.