Module V Section E Activities
Activities for Module V: A Growing Market: Organic Agriculture
Activities for Section E: Beyond Organic?
- Activity 1: Find the Loopholes
- Activity 2: Business Report: sustainability index
- Activity 3: Change the World, or Just Eat Lunch?
- Activity 4: Rate the Claim
Activity 1: Find the Loopholes
Purpose: Students will learn about limitations of animal welfare requirements of the National Organic Program Standards. Students will practice critical reading skills.
Advance preparation: Print out the relevant provisions of the organic standards for Livestock Handling and put in a format that can be projected for the whole class to see or make copies for the students. Print out Two Views document and put in a format that can be projected for the whole class to see or make copies for the students.
Estimated time: 5 to 15 minutes
- Explain to the students that they are managers of a large, conventional livestock production facility that is considering converting to organic production to take advantage of the price premiums. Their job is to read the requirements carefully and come up with a plan for livestock housing and handling that meets the letter of the law but requires as little labor and cost as possible. (If you wish, you can specify the livestock type, for example dairy, beef, pork, or poultry. Or you can divide the class into small groups and ask each group to concentrate on a different type of animal.)
- Ask students to identify what parts of the rule leave a lot of leeway for interpretation. If they have trouble, ask a few leading questions: What does “Access to” mean? What does “suitable to … its stage of production” mean? What does “temporary” mean?
- Ask students to come up with specific management suggestions that meet the letter of the law but violate its spirit.
- Show students the Two Views document on Petaluma Poultry and Aurora Dairy. Ask them what loopholes these companies have used.
- Ask students why they think the regulation is written the way it is. Why not just say “animals must be out on pasture at least 5 hours every day” for example? (Severe weather, risk of erosion and soil compaction in wet or droughty weather, care for sick or very young animals such as very young chicks.)
- Optional Extension: Ask students to do a web quest on Petluma Farms and Aurora Dairy. Suggested search terms include the company names and “organic” “grazing” “free-range” “pasture”Sites to visit include http://www.petalumapoultry.com/index.php, http://www.mindfully.org/Food/2006/Whole-Foods-Pastoral2006.htm, http://www.ethicurean.com/2006/06/26/alas-poor-rosie/, http://www.auroraorganic.com/, http://www.organicconsumers.org/Organic/greenwash20405.cfm, http://cornucopia.org/index.php/dairy_brand_ratings/, http://www.organicconsumers.org/articles/article_9925.cfm, http://www.motherjones.com/news/update/2006/04/organic_milk.html
Activity 2: Business Report: sustainability index
Purpose: Students will learn about sustainability and marketing approaches of real organic businesses. This activity builds on the “Find the Loopholes” activity by looking at a wide range of sustainability criteria.
Advance preparation: Print out the Business Report Worksheet and the Organic Critiques Summary and the pdfs on the Who Owns Organics website (http://www.msu.edu/~howardp/organicindustry.html) and make copies. Optional: have students bring in labels from organic products their families have consumed. Optional: bring in written publicity about organic businesses (ask for examples at natural food stores and coops—many businesses produce leaflets or advertise in free magazines).
It is best if students have access to the web for this activity. If students do not have web access, you can print out relevant web pages in advance for the students to look at, but that option is both more time-consuming for the teacher and less educational for the students.
Estimated time: 40 minutes
- Introduction: Organic regulations only address a specific set of practices. If your class has not already done this, discuss the sustainability issues in food production that organic standards do not address, using the Organic Critiques Summary and the background information. Your students may also be able to think of other sustainability criteria not covered by organic standards.
Some organic producers go above and beyond the requirements of the regulations in their production and business practices, while others do the bare minimum or even try to get away with bending the regulations. What kinds of things can companies do to be more sustainable? How sustainable are different companies?
- Explain to the class that their mission is to find out how sustainable specific organic companies are and report back to the class. Divide the class into small groups and give each group a copy of the Business Report Worksheet and the Who Owns Organics pdfs. Students should use the web to try to find the answers to the questions in the worksheet. In addition, they can use brochures, labels, newspaper articles, and other sources, if they are available.
- Assign each group a different business to report on. You can ask students to suggest organic businesses they would like to study, or provide your own suggestions. It is a good idea to have a mix of large, national businesses and smaller local independent ones
Examples of businesses that sell organic products:
Organic Valley http://www.organicvalley.coop/ (Wisconsin)
Equal Exchange http://www.equalexchange.com/ (Massachusetts)
Cedar Grove Cheese http://www.cedargrovecheese.com/ (Wisconsin)
Kalona Organics http://www.kalonaorganics.com/ (Iowa)
Horizon Organic http://www.horizonorganic.com (Colorado)
Cascadian Farm http://www.cascadianfarm.com/home.aspx (California)
- Give students 20 minutes to research their businesses and fill out their worksheet. 5 minutes before this time is up remind them to decide who will present their findings to the class and finish their work.
- Have each group make a 2 to 3 minute presentation to the class about the sustainability of their business.
- If you have time, follow the presentations with these class discussion questions:
- Does it matter if an organic brand is owned by a large, primarily conventional company? If yes, why, and is it good or bad or both?
- Fair Trade certification is applied to foods grown in developing countries, such as coffee, tea, and cacao (chocolate). Would something similar be a good idea for the US? Why or why not?
- Is there any relationship between a company’s marketing materials and how sustainable it is?
Activity 3: Change the World, or Just Eat Lunch?
Purpose: Students will discuss ethical and practical issues of consumer choices and deepen their understanding of these issues.
Advance preparation: No advance preparation necessary, other than printing out the introduction and discussion questions and perhaps the Socially Responsible Labels examples. Optional: print out National Geographic’s Guide to Labels and “The Power of the Grocery-Shopper’s Purse” by Nicols Fox.
Estimated time: 15 to 30 minutes
We live in a world where the economic decisions we make have consequences we don’t see. Discuss these issues with your students. If they are all just taking one side or are reluctant to discuss these questions you can assign roles (spokesperson for a socially responsible company, spokesperson for a conventional company, consumer activist, environmental activist, government regulator, ordinary shopper).
Introduction: It is a new but pervasive message: you can change the world by how you shop. When you buy sneakers or a new rug your money may be supporting abusive labor practices and even child slavery if you make the wrong choice. On the other hand, if you buy fair trade crafts and organic foods you can raise poor communities out of poverty, clean up water quality, and save the environment, just by spending a few extra dollars.
But wait a minute. Is it too good to be true? How much difference do one person’s purchases really make? And how do you know if the claims are even true? It is hard enough to figure out what products and foods are good quality and healthy. How much time and effort should people have to take to also figure out if the production of their purchases harmed the environment or treated workers unfairly?
- Brainstorm examples of socially responsible (and irresponsible) purchases. They don’t have to be limited to food examples.
Organic food, free-range meat and eggs, dolphin-safe tuna, fair trade foods and crafts, FSC certified paper and wood products are examples of products that claim their production practices are environmentally and/or socially responsible. Product “Red” and special issue postage stamps are examples of products that do not claim better production practices but donate part of the profits to charitable causes. These products also tap into the idea of improving the world through one’s shopping habits. If necessary, show the examples of socially responsible labels to stimulate the discussion.
- What difference can one person’s shopping decisions make? How about hundreds of thousands of shoppers?
One person’s shopping decisions will not by themselves change a company’s bottom line – or raise a community out of poverty or save the environment.
However, the cumulative impact of thousands of shoppers can do just that. Also, the choices one individual makes can influence that person’s peers and their purchases.
As Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
- How much should consumers think about ethical issues when they make a purchase?
Do consumers have the tools they need to help them make ethical choices?
Obviously, if a person can, by spending a few extra dollars, make the world a better place, that person has a moral obligation to do so.
There are some questions, though:
- How do you know which is the most ethical product to buy? What marketing claims can shoppers trust? In general you can trust labeling terms that are defined and enforced by law, such as “certified organic” and those that are certified by an independent third party. For more information on labeling see National Geographic’s guide to labels http://www.thegreenguide.com/doc/110/labels, or Consumer’s Union’s guide to eco-labels http://www.greenerchoices.org/eco-labels/labelIndex.cfm. Even the terms and labels that don’t get high ratings may represent real improvement over conventional practices, but there is more uncertainty.
- What about ethical trade-offs? For example should you buy fair trade organic bananas from far away or regular apples from the farmer in your county? It is up to the consumer what matters more. Either choice is probably better for the environment than a choice that offers no social responsibility, such as conventional apples from China or Chile, for example.
Thus, although consumers may not have all the tools and information they need to make perfect choices they do have access to enough information to make better choices and avoid the worst ones.
- How much of the responsibility should rest on the individual, and how much on government or other organizations?
For real change, the responsibility rests on both individuals and on government at all levels. At a minimum, individuals rely on government to ensure that the claims sellers make are true (though some statements are more tightly defined than others). For example, for hundreds of years government has checked that the scales and measures sellers use are accurate. We are so accustomed to that form of regulation that consumers don’t even think about it. On the other hand, government will only act when enough people demand it through their actions as well as their words. And your individual actions do make a difference.
- What if the socially responsible products I want are not available to me?
Ask for them! If they exist and enough people ask for them, your retailer will eventually stock them. If they don’t exist yet, ask anyway, and eventually maybe someone will produce it.
Further reading: “Why Bother” by Michael Pollan, New York Times Sunday Magazine, April 20, 2008 http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/20/magazine/20wwln-lede-t.html?pagewanted=1&ei=5070&en=4b8f85b0f7e2157a&ex=1209441600 discusses the importance of individual consumer actions.
Activity 4: Rate the Claim
Purpose: Students will critically evaluate advertising claims.
Advance preparation: A week ahead of time ask students to look out for advertisements making environmental claims and bring in examples of the ads. The claims can be explicit or implied. Print out the definition of greenwashing and an example of an ad with a high greenwashing rating from http://www.greenwashingindex.com/
Estimated time: 15 to 30 minutes
Ask each student who found an ad to summarize it for the class, pointing out what the environmental claims are.
Ask the class if they know what greenwashing is, and if necessary go over the definition and the example of a rating from the http://www.greenwashingindex.com/ website.
Ask the class to vote on which ad is most credible and which is the worst example of greenwashing.
Divide the class into small groups. Ask half the groups to rate the worst ad and the other half of the groups to rate the best ad. In addition to coming up with the numerical rating each group should provide a brief written explanation of why they chose that rating.
Optional: Ask for volunteers to submit the ads and the ratings to the http://www.greenwashingindex.com/ website.