We were at the science fiction convention named Diversicon, in St. Paul, just over a week ago; and since conversations between friends at conventions go any-which-way (just as conversations between any friends anywhere have a tendency of doing), the topic of organic maple syrup came up.
One evening, Claudia, who for years has been a conspicuous supporter of my occasional excursions into ink-and-watercolor artwork, told Martha and me what she had been told, once upon a time: which is that all maple syrup is organic.
Well, yes ... such a statement might be made. Trees are trees, and sap is sap; and the use of synthetic herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers is relatively uncommon in the sugarbush. So on the face of it, “organic” might seem an appropriate word to use.
“Organic” is an elusive term. For decades, now, people interested in sustainable agriculture have been striving to define “organic” in special terms, even while corporate-industrial food representatives have been striving to undermine those terms.
These corporate-industrial food reps would love for all maple syrup to be ranked as organic. In general, they will encourage any perspective that helps them undercut the efforts of the true, soil-friendly agriculturalists of our time.
In the realm of sustainable agriculture, however, a process of certification for farmers has arisen, which creates a structure and puts strength behind the term. The structure is one that can be investigated, probed, questioned and analyzed.
In other words, it provides substance. “Organic” is a claim. Organic certification provides the substance that bolsters the claim.
“Organic” as a term, in other words, has come to signify more than a broad understanding of what is or is not “natural.”
Organic, in the realm of maple syrup, refers to the sugarbush. The woodlands being tapped must be treated in certain ways. Although certification requirements vary, among the various syrup-producing regions, it seems to be general that in order to gain certification, a woodland must not be a maple monoculture. The use of the land around the trees falls under some related restrictions. The farmer must observe practices meant to encourage not only woodland-ecosystem health but also individual-tree health – which usually means restrictions on numbers of taps, and against tapping trees too early in their lives.
Organic, as a term, also refers to how the food is handled. A bottling and distribution center for organic maple syrup must meet organic certification requirements.
Our own facility, for instance, meets such requirements; and we pursue some regular tasks out of the need to maintain our certification.
Facilities which handle regular, non-organic-certified maple syrup do not share our need to refrain from employing synthetic chemicals in matters dealing, for instance, with the cleaning of equipment, or with pest control.
As to be expected, at the science fiction convention, we mostly talked about matters other than organic food. Yet it was not an odd topic, for the weekend. Another friend, Greg Johnson, blogs about environmental issues, for instance, in addition to being a reviewer of new science fiction books.
... thoughts and news and observations ...
Mark has been a supporter of organic agriculture and an avid eater of organically-raised foods for most of his adult life. He joined forces with the folks at Organic Maple Co-op in the early summer of 2010. In Organic Maple Leaf Rag he explores the meaning and importance of the word “organic,” in food and agriculture. He also looks into the small world of organic maple syrup, and the daily activities of the Co-op. Both author and Co-op are based in Cashton, Wisconsin – a village whose weight in the organic-agriculture movement is disproportionate to its size.