Region：Europe & Former Soviet Union States
Summary：In 1992 the City of Gliwice Chapter of the Polish Ecological Club, an environmental NGO located in the industrial region of Upper Silesia, Poland, initiated the Tested and Organic Food program. The goals of the program are to reduce health risks from the region's contaminated agricultural land and to promote organic foods and farming. The program accomplishes its goals by providing local consumers with chemically tested organic produce grown in unpolluted areas as an alternative safe food source and preventive health measure. Tested produce is also directly distributed to pre-schools for the high-risk group of children. Another important element of the program is community education to inform the population about the benefits of organic food and farming and the agricultural pollution problem.
Reason to Be Selected
Leveraging the resources from a network of private businesses and government and non-profit sector organizations has been crucial to the effectiveness and growth of the program. An important accomplishment of the program is the establishment of direct linkages between organic farmers and urban consumers through the establishment of retail outlets and farmers markets. Experience gained from the program shows that it is critical to raise the public's awareness to gain their participation and support. This is especially true of government officials who must be well informed before they will dedicate resources to support program initiatives. Recently, the program has initiated efforts to influence government officials to adopt sustainable agricultural laws and policies.
The principal objectives of the Tested and Organic Food program are to:
Promote-organic farming as a resource for safe food of highest nutritional value and as the most environmentally sound method of food production,Minimize health risks, particularly to the high risk group of children, related to the ingestion of man-made toxins present in food, especially heavy metal compounds, nitrogen compounds and pesticides,
Raise the awareness of the general public about the environmental health risks from contaminated agricultural land and the benefits of organic food and farming methods.
Tested Organic Food Products:
The program primarily supplies vegetables, including popular potatoes, carrots, beet roots, onions, celery and parsley roots, which are grown in unpolluted areas using verified organic farming techniques and which are tested by an independent outside. The program supplies vegetables because they were judged to be easiest to introduce into the organic food market, form the basic components of local diets and are low cost. Certain processed fruits and vegetables, including fruit juices, pickles, vegetable purees, salads and honey are also offered.
Chemical control of the produce is primarily conducted at the farm level and is under the jurisdiction of the certifying organic farming association. Farms undergo re-certification each year. At that time, soil samples are analyzed for heavy metals, fertilizer residues and pesticides. Later and to a lesser extent, chemical analyses is performed on certain shipment lots of produce purchased by the wholesaler, and-occasional spot sampling and analysis are performed on produce at retail outlets.
Acquisition and Market Distribution System:
Organic Farms: All farms that cooperate with the Tested and Organic Food program must be certified and use organic farming techniques that are in accordance with the certifying organization's criteria (EKOLAND and PTRE) and the standards of the International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements (IFOAM). Farmers who want organic certification receive technical assistance from agricultural extension service trainers. Presently, there are a total of about 40 organic farms located in the Zielona Gora, Tarnowski, Wroclaw, Poznan, Torun, Sieradz and Kielce Districts that supply organic produce for the program.
Retail Shops and Farmers-markets: Retail shops sell tested organic products under an agreement with PEC Gliwice and in accordance-with program guidelines. Shops maintain a separate display stall marked with placards stating that it contains products of the Tested and Organic Food program. Educational fact sheets and brochures are displayed in the shops, and the shop owners undergo training performed by program staff. The shops are inspected for product quality and display.
Besides the retail shops, another increasingly popular way of selling tested organic products directly to consumers is by organizing local farmers markets. Participating farmers bring their organic products to different town markets on specified days. Local consumers are informed about the organic farmers markets through radio announcements, newspaper ads and informational leaflets.
Pre-School Program: Children are at greater risk from contaminated food because they consume the greatest amount of food relative to body weight and therefore accumulate the-largest amount of heavy metals while in the formative stages. Tests performed on children living in certain cities of Upper Silesia show that levels of lead in the blood are abnormally high. PEC Gliwice gained the interest of pre-school directors and local authorities in the contaminated food problem and, as one effort to address the problem, organized a program to distribute tested organic produce directly to pre-schools. Pre-schools are linked to farms, which supply safe organic produce and also participate in educational activities.
Education/Promotion/Community Organizing: A broad educational outreach and promotional program is conducted to raise the public's awareness about sustainable farming, proper nutrition and agricultural pollution. Education and promotional activities are aimed at various target groups, including government authorities, health and education professionals, shop owners and parents. The target groups are educated by organizing lectures, workshops and conferences, media cooperation and publication of educational materials. Lectures and workshops include the-preparation of healthy food with special recipes using organic ingredients. Conferences on the topic of healthy food and organic farming include exhibitions and specialist speakers. During these events, local radio, television and newspapers are notified so that they have ample opportunity to provide coverage, press releases are prepared, and press interviews given.
Obstacles and problems that were encountered developing and implementing the Tested and Organic Food program include:
· Need for sustainable financing for the program, especially for the costs of micro-analyses of the tested organic products,
· Need for increased public awareness about the importance of proper nutrition and organic farming in order to increase the demand and market for organic foods,
· Ensuring that the supply of short term and long term agricultural production will meet the criteria and demand for organic food products,
· Need for increased support on the part of government authorities for sustainable agriculture and food monitoring systems,
· Lack of tradition in the region for activism and public participation to promote community interests, including health and environment issues,
· Higher costs of organic food products.
Strategies that were used or are being considered to overcome the-obstacles and problems identified above include:
· Reducing the need for chemical testing of products by accepting only organic foods supplied by certified organic farms and making the soil testing and process quality control conducted by certifying organizations on the farms more rigorous.
· Membership drives.
· Leveraging resources from private businesses, government agencies, independent institutions and other non-profit organizations.
· Diversifying-funding sources (membership fees, economic activities, private donations, government and private non-profit sponsorship, fund raising events) and financing mechanisms (contracting services).
· Lobbying-government officials to support sustainable agricultural laws and policies
· Coalition building.· Developing more direct ties between farm producers and community consumer groups (i.e., neighborhood member associations and schools) and developing alternative sales and marketing mechanisms similar to Community Supported Agriculture (CSA).
· Forming associations of shop owners and wholesalers to cooperate together, share-information and function more independently.
· Creating farmers associations
The Tested and Organic Food program has been successful in achieving its objectives. Both product and process indicators are used to evaluate the success of the program. The principal product indicators used are the number of participating shops (now over 40) and the number of converted organic farms (approximately 70) and the-numerous good training, workshops, conferences and promotional events. During 1997, over 2000 people attended the various educational activities. The program has impacted the decision-making of government officials and many health and educational professionals on the local level. Another important effect of the program has been the establishment of cooperative partnerships between non-profit organizations, government agencies and private enterprises. The behavior and attitudes of many consumers have been changed. They now recognize the important role that organic food and farming plays in protecting our heath land environment.