National Editor Tom Karst
National Editor Tom Karst

I previously noted the response by California Citrus Mutual to my column about the idea for a USDA certification and/or standard for sustainability. I also received a friendly and informative e-mail from Woody Johnson of Green Giant Fresh on the topic.

From Woody:

I enjoyed your oped article in the September 17th edition of The Packer.  The produce industry has gone through several iterations of certifications over the years, mostly with well-intended efforts to improve the quality and efficacy of the food supply. However, the messaging of many of these efforts may have been misguided so as to unjustifiably alienate one producing segment in favor of the other. An example here would be organics vs. conventional.

The thesis of your article is sustainability.  This has been a difficult concept to understand, define and get our arms around. You cite the need for a formal “sustainability grown” label.  I agree – and I also wholeheartedly agree that “retailers should not be involved in setting their own label standards for sustainable growing methods.”

A shadow movement that really encapsulates sustainability in my mind is the practice of permaculture. Permaculture is a broad term for an ecological design system for all human endeavor including agricultural practices. When applying a permaculture attitude to the production of fresh fruits and vegetables, it is simply one of feeding a growing population in an environmentally sustainable and socially responsible manner.  

The 12 permaculture design principles are:
1.    Observe and interact: By taking time to engage with nature we can design solutions that suit our particular situation.
2.    Catch and store energy: By developing systems that collect resources at peak abundance, we can use them in times of need.
3.    Obtain a yield: Ensure that you are getting truly useful rewards as part of the work that you are doing.
4.    Apply self-regulation and accept feedback: We need to discourage inappropriate activity to ensure that systems can continue to function well.
5.    Use and value renewable resources and services: Make the best use of nature's abundance to reduce our consumptive behavior and dependence on non-renewable resources.
6.    Produce no waste: By valuing and making use of all the resources that are available to us, nothing goes to waste.
7.    Design from patterns to details: By stepping back, we can observe patterns in nature and society. These can form the backbone of our designs, with the details filled in as we go.
8.    Integrate rather than segregate: By putting the right things in the right place, relationships develop between those things and they work together to support each other.
9.    Use small and slow solutions: Small and slow systems are easier to maintain than big ones, making better use of local resources and producing more sustainable outcomes.
10.    Use and value diversity: Diversity reduces vulnerability to a variety of threats and takes advantage of the unique nature of the environment in which it resides.
11.    Use edges and value the marginal: The interface between things is where the most interesting events take place. These are often the most valuable, diverse and productive elements in the system.
12.    Creatively use and respond to change: We can have a positive impact on inevitable change by carefully observing, and then intervening at the right time.


TK: No matter the terms - sustainability, permaculture, environmentally friendly, or something else - there is considerable room for improvement in the industry. Thanks for Woody for sharing about permaculture. Here is another link on on the topic. Woody also mentions that in the early 1980s he used to write a monthly newsletter for Dimare California called "Fresh Talk."

"It’s nice to see the name recycled thirty years later," Woody writes. And that surprising fact fits the theme; we are nothing if not environmentally responsible.