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Conventional Vs. Organic Vs. The Future of Food

People are awakening to a vision where they can see themselves as less stressed, having more quality time to spend with family, and real food laced with nature’s nutrition. Our great grandparents and, for some, grandparents could have told you of a time when there was no such thing as a supermarket. As a point in fact it was not until 1915 that Vincent Astor came up with a ’mini mall’ that was the basis for supermarkets. The idea eventually morphed into the modern supermarket; the first one named King Kullen, inspired by the movie King Kong, in Jamaica Queens, New York City — to which their slogan was "Pile it high, Sell it low". It seems that even in those days the idea of quality over quantity was fading in the eyes of the store owners.

Today we have a new infusion and influx of curiosity about what goes into our food. Mothers and fathers from the generation of growing up on McNuggets (the 1980s babies) are seeing the deterioration of health en masse in most countries. Most of the world has now heard of organic foods and many are switching to an organic food based diet.

The organic movement really started within the green movement in the 1940s. The term ‘organic agriculture’ was coined by Walter Ernest Christopher James, 4th Baron Northbourne (long name I know) in his book Look to the Land. Interestingly enough, Walter Northbourne was a major proponent of the work of Rudolph Steiner’s and Ehrenfried Pfeiffer’s called biodynamics. Which for those of us who study in patterns of design, this is quite interesting.

The call to take the toxins out of our food is the basis of organic farming, which we as a society should really applaud as it is not an easy feat to go up against Big Pharma. However after studies on both sides of the fence for and against organics have shown, there has not been major differences in nutrition in organically farmed produce and animals to that of conventionally grown crops. And to top that off, many organic farmers are still using conventional shaving of ecosystems — irrigation, planting, and harvesting practices which will ultimately end in enslavement and debt to the organic farmer. Thus will also lead to deforestation and salted deserts.

There is also an overwhelming amount of evidence showing the link to mental disorders, obesity, cancers, high blood pressure, and a myriad of other health related issues due to current toxic conventional farming systems.

I want to point out that either consciously or subconsciously there appears to be an awakening. Thanks to millions of people who are out there Marching Against Monsanto, or a new wave of interest from young people to get into sustainable and regenerative farming, or restaurants both big and small now offering quality organic ingredients because their market demands it, things are slowly changing.

What will happen next?

There is currently a bid to label or take out GMOs (genetically modified organisms) from the food system. More and more farmers are wanting to switch to a highly regulated organic system. However this is not enough. If we truly want to obtain health we must increase the nutrition in food. I repeat! If we truly want to obtain health we must increase the nutrition in the food. Many people have called this type of food "nutrient dense food".

Nutrient dense food is the next stage of our food pledge. To do this en masse we must utilize permaculture systems, as these systems never need artificial fertilizers or the use of chemical pesticides or herbicides. We must take responsibility for what we want to eat and how we want to feel. The easiest way to do this is to turn your home into a permaculture system. It does not matter if you live on 500 acres or more, or a sub-acre suburban lot, or an apartment in an urban sprawl. These systems can and will work for you.

Some may ask how we can know how much nutrition is in the food grown on my property vs. the food bought at conventional supermarkets vs. organic foods? In this case there is a tool that anyone can purchase called a refractometer. It is simple to use and measures the amount of nutrients via sucrose levels. This type of reading is called a Brix reading. An example of conventionally grown carrot may have a brix reading of 5. An organic carrot may still be at 5 or up to 8 (there have been higher numbers measured). And a nutrient dense carrot will start at 12 — with many tests gauging at 18 for being the average result for food grown in a permaculture system (that is a very good number to be at). In New Zealand, Kay Baxter of the Koanga Permaculture Research Institute is using amazing permaculture systems and even trying to reach a brix reading of 30.

However, no matter how many facts we see, or inspiration gathered, or even how sick we are, there are still those not ready to take that step into food freedom by creating a home based permaculture system. Even in these cases, we then must rally for the re-localization of food. At the outset of this movement we must get to know our local food growers. Show them our interest in nutrient dense food and why it is far better than organic and then tell them how they can achieve this by using permaculture practices. If they have never heard of permaculture then at that moment would be a good time to let them know about permaculture and its regenerative methods and give them information about a permaculture school/teacher in their area — or at the very least a permaculture design consultant.

We must really put an emphasis on wealth and its true definition. Our health, and that of our children, is the motivation that will take us to the next level of food integrity.

Further Reading:

Nicholas Burtner

Nicholas is a permaculture practitioner, advocate, consultant, teacher and speaker. After a greater calling in 2011, permaculture found Nicholas and since has filled him with an endless passion that has led him to many travels, learning, spreading, and practicing permaculture and natural living ever since. Apart from consulting and designing properties across a large arena of different climates and bio-regions, Nicholas has attended internships at the Permaculture Research Institute of Australia under the leadership of Geoff and Nadia Lawton. He also obtained a permaculture design certification from Geoff Lawton and Bill Mollison. Nicholas has also attended the Earthship Academy for natural and recycled building construction in Toas, NM under the guidance of Michael Reynolds. After very worthwhile learning, and on the ground experiences, Nicholas opened Working With Nature Permaculture Learning, Research, and Healing Center in late 2012 which is now School of Permaculture. The school has both an urban and a rural demonstration / educational site which offer hands on experience as well as class room learning. School of Permaculture’s website offers permaculture related tips, videos, and articles on a mostly daily basis.


  1. Nick, thanks for your inspiring article. I’d like to share here some common thoughts.
    I am currently studying a MSc in Agroecology in the Netherlands.
    Two key issues were addressed in the welcome lecture which combine well with your analysis.
    – the urgency of an “ecological intensification” of farming practices
    – “can organic feed the world?”: “Global issues have local solutions”.

    As you said, re-localisation of food seems to be the way to repair the ripped tissue of the consumption society. Many consumers though have difficult access to the countryside, or this access involves a commute from the cities which is not properly sustainable. Could then the farmer pander to the (city) consumer?
    I think that innovative patterns of cooperation amongst local farmers could promote the most effective re-localisation of food – also in highly urbanized areas – as sovversive market strategies against the mainstream monopolized system. One farmer alone, often can’t hold the cost, the risk, the burocratic weight of such initiatives, thus he gets stuck and enslaved in conventional systems.

    In ancient cities the SQUARE – and its market! – was the pulsing hearth of the community, the place of the dialogue, of the meeting, the platform for a constant and direct re-negotiation of the values of the collectivity. If local cooperatives of farmers could conquer the modern squares, if farmer markets could reoccupy the pubblic space, a new pulse can be given to the modern society from its messy core. A pulse towards a next level of food integrity, indeed.

    Thanks again for your interesting analysis, and for the opportunity to share my humble opinion.

    Alessandro, from Italy.

  2. Talking about the early history of organic farming reminds me of my Grandfather was an draftsman engineer and an organic gardener and member of Henry Doubleday, having joined in the 50’s. He also attended a talk given by Mollison at the organic convention of 1979, here in Australia and it is through my Grandfather that I first heard about permaculture. We owe a lot to those early pioneers of organic farming and now, with the rise of ecological gardening, we are entering an exciting time in human evolution.

  3. You say Nutrient dense food is the next stage of our food pledge. To do this en masse we must utilize permaculture systems, as these systems never need artificial fertilizers or the use of chemical pesticides or herbicides.

    Not everyone knows what nutrient dense food is. An explanation would help. Also, can you explain exactly how permaculture systems produce nutrient dense food.


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