by Lindsay Fahey, MBA candidate, Marlboro Graduate School

Gary Hirshberg, following a lunch catered by Entera Artisanal Catering, spoke on “The Role of Entrepreneurship and Large Scale Organics in Building a Resilient New England”. Prior to addressing summit attendees Gary visited the Organic Trade Association (http://www.ota.com/index.html), located across the street in the Marlboro Graduate School building.

Hirshberg opened by cautioning that we need to be mindful of the consequences of making “perfect the enemy of the good,” as time is no longer a luxury. This call to action echoed those in last night’s opening session, and urged that our efforts be directed at aligning common interests, instead of in-fighting.

Another common thread that Hirshberg continued was the creation of a new economy. While Terry Mollner and John Cavanagh termed this the Common Good economy in the “Visioning Resilient New England: the Economic Future” session earlier in the day, both shared the same fundamental views.

As a society we have evolved down a flawed path, and as such have built our economy on a series fundamentally flawed myths. These myths, noted Hirshberg, include waste, externalities, water, and toxification, among others. Several poignant statements made by Hirshberg while exploring these myths included:

There is no such thing as waste in nature. The waste of one system is always the food for another.

We believe the earth is a subsidiary of our economies and that it is there for the taking and the dumping.
In reality we are a subsidiary of the earth, yet we behave in exactly the opposite way.

Our externalities are not accounted for because they do not appear on our balance sheets. Therefore in economics they don’t exist.

These flawed myths are precisely why we need to rethink the fundamentals of our economic systems concluded Hirshberg. Of all of these myths, Hirshberg believes one of the greatest threats is GMO’s. “Many in Washington have drank, or in some cases bathed, in the kool-aid that we must regulate GMO crops to feed the world,” noted Hirshberg. As a result, many corporations believe GMO’s are necessary, despite failing to achieve the yield increases promised and increasing herbicide use tenfold. It comes as no surprise then that Monsanto is anticipating that 50% of their profits will come from GE seeds.

The challenges today are greater than they have ever been. The best way to confront these? In Hirshberg’s view, it is new political and economic solutions. “This is not your hippie mom or dad’s movement anymore,” stated Hirshberg. There are big players in the arena and it is imperative that we understand the scale and scope to direct and empower the work that needs to be done.

Hirshberg highlighted that this work will come in the form of small AND large scale efforts, movements and corporations. While some get caught up on the issue of scale, Hirshberg believes that we need to do it all: small, large and local. He argues that there are compelling reasons to get to scale, hundreds of reason to eat organic, but only one not to eat organic – it’s too expensive.

This is where the benefits of scale can be leveraged. Scale will provide the leverage required to make organic products affordable for the masses, help transition farmers from conventional to organic, eliminate the broken subsidy system, implement a GMO labeling law, and prove the notion of cradle to cradle. All of these require scale, political power and capital. Hirshberg, argues this is where corporations such as Stonyfield can play a prominent and influential role.

We need not make enemies of ourselves, cautioned Hirshberg, we need the small and the large. As a community we need to get the average person to choose organic wherever and whenever they shop. This  can be at their local farmers market, neighborhood co-op, national grocery retailer or even at Wal-Mart. “There are a whole lot of our neighbors that can only afford to shop at Wal-Mart,” noted Hirshberg. A purchase is a vote, whether it is at Wal-Mart of a farmers market. These votes shift the game.

The thought provoking session ended with a quote from Gandhi: “Anyone who thinks they are too small to make a difference has never been in bed with a mosquito.”