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From movement to industry : organic agriculture in British Columbia Cernigoj, Mark

Abstract

This thesis explores how organic standards have shaped the thought and practice of organic agriculture in British Columbia. While organic agriculture is often viewed as offering an alternative to the unsustainable trajectory of conventional agriculture, this thesis argues that commercialized organic agriculture as it currently exists offers only a minor potential for food system reform. Organic farming pioneers who originally came together at the grassroots in BC aspired to enact radical agrarian ideals that could counteract the social and environmental ills wrought by decades of adherence to conventional agriculture. By creating organic certification schemes that granted mainstream market access to organic producers, these farmers attempted to promote their ideals by transforming organic agriculture from a marginal fringe movement into a formal capitalist enterprise. While commercialization has reaped benefits, at the same time the standardization of organic agriculture that is prerequisite to sought-after market access has considerably undermined progress towards the ’alternative’ goals advocated by organic farmers I interviewed. Issues I explore throughout show that the operationalization of ’organic’ via codified certification standards has given way over time to a gradual erosion of organic principles. I argue that despite the efforts to impart knowledge of, and enforce adherence to, ’pure’ notions of organic practice through organic standards, the pressure of market forces instead causes growers to sacrifice organic ideals in the name of taking measures to boost productivity instead. As organic agriculture is integrated ever more deeply into regimes of certification and standardization required for participation in the market, it has become more and more akin to the very conventional agricultural paradigm it was originally intended to oppose. In sum, although the organic market has grown with remarkable speed in recent years, this growth cannot be viewed as indicative of the arrival of a truly radical ’alternative paradigm’ of agriculture.

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