Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The opposite of organic

Today Eleanor and I drove up to Comasagua for a meeting with Mercedes, who's in charge of organizing the communities, and several of the women who will be volunteering to help. We went first to the finca San Antonio, a community-owned coffee plantation. While we were waiting for the women who would ride into town with us, we had time to talk with Remberto about the finca and the work of growing coffee. They are growers only, harvesting the coffee and then delivering it to the local beneficio (coffee processing plant) where the berries are stripped down to beans and the beans are dried and roasted.

I asked Remberto whether the finca's coffee is organic. No, he said, they had started to set aside some 23 manzanas (one manzana=1.75 acres) as organic, but when they discovered that they would have to grow and harvest the coffee without using any chemicals for three years before they could sell it as organic and get the higher price, they got discouraged, and went back to chemical coffee.

I've often wondered what the opposite of organic should be: inorganic never seemed quite right. Now I know: the opposite of organic is chemical. Think about that the next time you buy some chemical apples or some chemical coffee. I wish the finca San Antonio well all the same, and I wish strong backs and great courage and endurance to the men who walk the coffee up the long steep road that leads to the finca.

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