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How to go organic

Whether you live in urban or rural Australia, organic living is now a realistic goal. This would not have seemed possible even two years ago, but now it seems that suddenly you can make choices for an organic lifestyle even on a busy day in the city.

There was once a time when your only takeaway food choices in an airport or city street, for example, were high-fat and meat based. Now you can grab a juice and make a vegetarian food choice with relative ease. You can take a yoga or meditation session before or after work and even in your lunch hour. This much-needed transformation to a holistic approach has been driven by our desire for balance and optimum health and it’s thanks to those consumers before us who demanded and drove the change.

The next step to better health is to go organic. This means choosing chemical-free options in every aspect of our lives. If that sounds daunting, the good news is it isn’t. Most of the hard work was done in previous years by environmentalists committed to a greener and healthier future for our planet. Some clever business people who were prepared to take a risk on organics then stepped in and now it’s for us to choose organic or not.

The organic movement began 60 years ago, with the farmers. Their own health was suffering from chemical farming practices and they realised the problems caused by chemicals long before city dwellers did. When farmers nurture biologically enriched soil that’s free from chemicals, we all benefit from receiving tasty, wholesome food grown from a sustainable resource.

Now, all over Australia, organic gardens are popping up in homes, on small acreages and on large farms. It is driving a whole new sustainable system of living. The organic movement may have started with food, but it has begun a chain reaction of health and sustainability that could rescue our planet and enable us to maintain a modern lifestyle at the same time.

The companies that are going organic are finding it’s finally commercially viable. However, this relatively new industry still needs a helping hand. It’s now up to us to put our dollars and lifestyle choices where it matters to ensure the growth of the organic industry. If the trend continues at this rate, we as consumers could create an unexpected revolution whereby the world becomes 100 per cent organic. In effect, we can all turn this planet around. Belgium, for example, already has in place a 30-year plan to ensure the whole country goes organic.

Brief history of organics

The origins of the modern organic movement can be traced to the post-war period in the late 1940s. Pesticides, as they became known, were, in fact, one of the first forms of biological warfare in World War II. A byproduct of this chemical warfare was the noticeable decline in bugs affecting food crops. The pesticide industry found a post-war commercial outlet for their products in the farming industry.

Farmers quickly identified the detrimental health effects of using chemicals and a small percentage of them maintained biological diversity as a farming tool instead, especially in Europe. Known as biodynamic agriculture, these principles were kept alive on a small scale until they began to be used on a larger scale in the 1980s and 1990s.

It was the 1960s before public awareness of the sensitivity to ecological issues started to spread. This was compounded throughout the 1970s, when the first large-scale environment protests and alternative lifestyle communities began researching and applying organic farming methods. The ’70s was a time of new ideas and significant sociological transformations throughout the world and the first time in Australia that organics were taken seriously. It would be another decade, though, before the hippie image was shaken and organics began to be accepted as commercially viable on a wider scale.

This was also the decade when England and France led the way with organic farmers joining together in trade syndicates and federations. A logo was created to introduce the notion of legally formulated specifications and quality controls that gave a legally binding guarantee for the consumer. Soon after, the major national organic farming organisations throughout the world joined forces in the form of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM).

There are now many certification bodies throughout the world and any product with organic integrity carries a logo. Anyone can call their product organic, but not anyone can carry a logo. So look for this as a guarantee on the next product you pick up that claims to be organic!

The 1980s to 1990s saw the first real growth in public demand for organically grown produce. These days, it’s positively smart. At fashionable gatherings, valuable contacts are excitedly swapped: the charming vegetable supplier, the organic supermarket, the farmer who takes Visa. Celebrities are great trendsetters promoting organics, making it fashionable and doing much to raise the profile of organics. It has also become much easier to buy organic products than it used to be, with even supermarkets responding to our demands.

Still, a farmer can’t go organic overnight. After years of using agrochemicals, it takes at least two years for land to become “clean” enough to farm without them. So it takes real commitment from farmers. Now that consumers are voting with their dollars, more and more farmers are prepared to go organic.
The industrial farmers continue to impoverish the landscape, pollute soils and watercourses and market contaminated food, all without penalty. They’re producing for the government, not the consumer. It started after the World War II with the introduction of subsidies whereby farmers were guaranteed prices for what they grew, regardless of world market prices.

There’s a still a discrepancy between what people say they want and what they do. None of us would say no to organic food, but we all buy many non-organic products, too. Free-range eggs cost just a bit more, but 90 per cent of the egg market is battery. Only when it’s easy, when organics are in all stores and are totally cost-effective, can we expect the real revolution to take place. It’s ultimately up to us.

First things first

Buying and growing organic is the first step towards living sustainably and free of chemicals. Initially, taking small steps will eventually lead us to our ultimate goal of being totally organic. So how can you make positive choices about going organic in every aspect of your life?

Let’s face it, it has to be fun, inspiring and easy … or we won’t do it. Here are 10 easy ways you can achieve an organic, sustainable lifestyle. Remember the butterfly effect: a small change to one person’s actions or one consumer’s purchasing habits will influence many. Every one of us is part of something bigger and our actions and choices affect the planet as a whole. If you commit to making just one change in each of these 10 areas, you will have made a huge impact on sustainability.

As easy as counting to 10

We are creatures of habit. The first time you implement a change towards an organic lifestyle and greater sustainability, it may seem like an effort. However, it’s just as easy to establish a new habit as it is to discard an old one. Taking it step by step is best, as you want the following habits to stick.

1. Cleaning products

This is possibly the easiest and most cost-effective way to start becoming chemical free. Check your cupboards for chemical cleaners. They may seem cheap and easy to purchase off the supermarket shelf, but a small change on your part can ensure safe, healthy alternatives are just as cost effective and no hassle to buy elsewhere.

Make a commitment that when your next bottle of a cleaning product runs out, you will sample an earth-friendly product to replace it. Look for concentrated products, because this means less packaging, and less packaging means less energy is expended in manufacturing, transport, shopping time and waste collection.

Where do you buy these products? Try your local healthfood store. If this is not in alignment with your budget, check the free publications from healthfood stores, or the internet, for mail-order companies. In my personal experience, this is a much cheaper way of shopping once you’re in the swing of it. Ask your local store to stock earth-friendly products. Retailers respond if they get asked often enough. You may even find them in supermarkets.

2. Food

This is the second easiest area in which to make a change. If you live in a rural area, you may have a local farmers’ market. If so, this is your best source of farm-fresh, unpackaged, wholesome, chemical-free food. At farmers’ markets you’ll find certified organic produce at a good price because you are buying direct from the grower.

If you live in an urban area, there are organic markets in some suburbs. Or you can ask around for a co-op or a store that does home delivery of organic food boxes, or start your own co-op with your neighbours. The great thing about vegetable boxes (apart from someone else doing the shopping for you!) is that you get in touch with seasonal produce. Working and eating in rhythm with the seasons is important for sustainability.

Most supermarkets and healthfood stores have organic options for everyday products, including meat, chicken and fruit and veg. If your budget doesn’t enable you to make the switch completely, choose one product to go organic every month and make the change slowly.

Pesticides used in growing food stay on the food, so if you are not yet eating organic food, scrub your food thoroughly.

3. Children

Children are our future and they learn by modelling. They learn about the world around them by observing you, your habits and your language. Creating a healthy environment for your children without completely opting out of the contemporary lifestyle is simple:


  • Limit television to the weekend.

  • Encourage a team sport once a week.

  • For social time with their friends on the weekends, visit national parks, beaches and other natural environments.

  • Seek out school holiday programs run by rangers.

  • Get involved with the Parents & Friends Association at their school and take a close look at the school tuckshop. What foods are they serving and should any be replaced?

  • What’s in their lunchbox today? Limit packaged foods. They seem easy but they are over-packaged and costing you a fortune. Have a cooking day once a week with your kids. It’s a great activity and they can proudly pack their lunchboxes once a week with their own homemade treats.

  • Use brown paper bags, not plastic.

  • If plastic bags are unavoidable, get the kids involved in washing them and reusing them.

  • Does your school have an environment policy? Get involved in creating one as an integrated program in the curriculum.

  • For the next fundraising drive, suggest a healthy organic food bar instead of chocolate boxes.

  • Take the kids shopping with you to the healthfood store so they can experience bulk shopping without colourful labels full of marketing hype.

4. Transport

How did you travel today? Cars are wonderful for getting us to places quickly but they use a non-renewable resource and contribute to ozone layer depletion. Try the following tips for reducing fuel use and carbon emissions, saving money and keeping fit.

Carpool when you know a few of you are going the same way. Walk when you can. If you can’t walk all the way to a destination, park at a reasonable distance (which will often save you parking fees) and walk, cycle or bus it the rest of the way. Cycling is wonderful and, depending on where you live, could satisfy up to half your transport needs per week. Need to pop down to the shops? Make it an adventure or part of your exercise routine. How do you start? Commit to replacing one trip a week with petrol-free transport.

5. Recycling and resources

Three simple things that can be implemented immediately at work and home are recycling, consuming green energy and saving water:


  • Dedicate an area of your home to easy recycling. Always wash containers before putting them out. Home composting, even with a small garden, is possible and will reduce a third of your household waste.

  • Green energy can be purchased from your local electricity supplier or from www.climatefriendly.com. You can purchase green energy for all areas of your life, even air flights or other business needs.

  • Ask your plumber about water-saving devices on taps and shower heads. Shower for no more than three minutes a day and don’t leave the tap running while you clean your teeth. This will save you a small fortune as well as water. How is your garden watered? Sprinklers may seem time-saving but they use up to 1300 litres of water per hour and are wasted on garden areas that don’t need it. When planting, consider plants that need little water to survive, or install your own small water tank if you have room.

6. Party time

Having a party? Surprise your guests with unique invitations using recycled materials. Make a mini collage by sticking unwanted packaging on recycled paper. Serve organic wine to your guests; it’s now the same price as a good non-organic wine. Serve drinks in glasses instead of plastic cups. You’ll be surprised how little it costs to hire glasses from a party hire company — and most of them will even pick up the dirty glasses the next day. Serve finger food so there’s no need for plastic plates. Send your guests home with party favours in paper bags, not plastic.

If you’re off to a party yourself, consider organic cotton clothing or sheets or food items as unique gifts. If you don’t have an organic store in your area, go online and get a gift delivered.

7. Health and fitness

A healthy lifestyle is intrinsically linked with good diet and exercise. If you are finding it hard to change your eating habits and seek out organic food, start with exercise first. You will naturally crave good foods when you feel fit.

Choose a natural sunscreen from a healthfood store or chemist and wear a hat for protection. When it comes to vitamin supplements, there are a few companies using certified organic ingredients, so ask your local healthfood store about them or look on the internet.

Going organic is easy when it comes to a good cup of tea or coffee. All major supermarkets now carry these items at good prices. Many tea fields overseas are already 30 per cent organic, with a goal to be 100 per cent organic within the next 10 years.

8. Community involvement

This is at the heart of sustainability. Buying local and direct from producers and getting involved in community clean-up days creates common goals and purposes. An organic consciousness may have been pioneered by farmers and activists but it’s up to us to create discussion about the topic. If you feel really inspired, why not come up with your own community action? Involve your local media and get politicians, teachers, health professionals and consumers linking together. If this idea inspires you, visit www.sustainabilitystreet.org.au and find out how to take the first step.

9. Home renovation

Let’s face it, cost is usually the main issue with any renovation, so how do you do it sustainably? Thankfully, being creative and fashionable now means using recycled materials and furniture. Using the internet, it’s quite easy to find companies selling eco-friendly paints and floor finishes.

Giving your garden or backyard a makeover? Seek out a nursery specialising in local native plants that will flourish in your garden with less water. They will also help preserve the local gene pool and maintain biodiversity. Check with your council if you don’t have a nursery specialising in indigenous species nearby. To save water in the garden, remember to mulch for at least five centimetres with a layer of newspaper to stop weeds growing, then straw, compost, soil and manure on top.

10. Clothing

Choose hemp and organic cotton wherever possible. The pesticides used to spray cotton are so deadly that the side-effects include birth defects, cancer and kidney and liver damage.

The trend towards organic cotton has grown rapidly in the past few years. The economics of organic cotton is simple: as production increases, the price gradually comes down. If we all buy organic cotton whenever possible, the price will keep coming down, as it will become the norm rather than the exception to wear organic. We need to vote with our wallets to help this industry along. New parents are leading this revolution because they believe their baby’s health is worth it.

Hemp is even better than cotton, if you can get it. Because of its cousin, marijuana, hemp has not enjoyed such a ready market acceptance. However, compared with cotton, it takes no chemicals and minimal water to grow, cultivate and manufacture hemp fabric.

The internet and even your local clothing store may have items of hemp clothing. Ask around, feel how durable and soft hemp can be and help the planet by wearing hemp clothing.

Internet resources

Hopefully, these tips will have given you all the inspiration you need to go organic. If you want to take sustainability a step further, see the following internet resources for more information.

www.australianorganic.com.au

www.bfa.com.au

www.birdobservers.org.au

www.ceres.org.au

www.cleanup.com.au

www.climatefriendly.com

www.ecorecycle.vic.gov.au

www.environs.org.au

www.floraforfauna.com.au

www.goodenvironmentalchoice.org.au

www.greenpeace.org.au/actnow/envirotips.html

www.invasives.org.au

www.savewater.com.au

www.seda.nsw.gov.au

www.slf.org.au

www.sustainabilitystreet.org.au

www.sustainablecotton.org

www.weedbusters.info

What about the cost?

While we often measure cost in fiscal terms only, we need to start seriously considering the cost our planet is paying for our consumer choices and lifestyle practices. However, if we’re talking dollars and cents, here’s a snapshot of some certified organic products and their prices (in Australian dollars). How do the prices compare with what you are spending now? If you are already purchasing “quality” chemical products, you’ll be surprised to find that their organic equivalents may be around the same price or less!

Soap $5.95(100% certified organic)

Deodorant $7.95(100% certified organic)

Lip balm $9.95 (100% certified organic)

Body powder $9.95(100% certified organic)

Mosquito repellent $9.95 (100% certified organic)

Hair shampoo $17.95 (73% certified organic)

Hair conditioner $17.95 (73% certified organic)

Hair gel $29.95 (100% certified organic)

The WellBeing Team

The WellBeing Team

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