Going Organic

For many people, buying organic food, wine and other products and eating at organic restaurants is part of their way of life

Worldwide, the organic market is now worth around US$28 billion (GB £17.5 billion) a year. If your guests are interested in organic produce, perhaps it is an area you should explore?

Taking place this October, Organic Week is the UK's biggest celebration of organic food and farming.

In fact the organic movement now extends across the world.

Together, America and Europe sell over US $25 billion (GB £16 billion) worth of organic food and drink each year (Japan accounts for most of the rest of this US $28 billion market) and the market is growing'.

Although it represents a fraction of our overall consumption, the organic movement is here to stay and this is reflected in the number of hotels and restaurants that are serving' meals prepared from organically produced ingredients.

If you want to find out more about how to go organic, here are some suggestions of where to start.

What does organic mean?
The term 'organic' is a legal definition and therefore all organic food production and processing has to be strictly controlled. Organic food is produced without the use of food additives (some of which are associated with conditions such as migraines and hyperactivity), chemical pesticides, genetically modified (GM) crops and antibiotics. In addition, organic standards place an emphasis on animal welfare and wildlife conservation.

All organic products sold in the European Union must be certified by an approved organisation such as The Soil Association (based in the UK), Sweden's KRAV and Australian Certified Organic. The International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (lFOAM) is a movement for worldwide adoption of organic agriculture that sets standards for organic production and criteria for accreditation of certification bodies.

Why source organic produce?
Many people 'buy organic' as part of a general desire for a greener lifestyle, knowing that organic production causes as little harm to the environment as possible.

In the case of organically produced food and drink, many people believe it tastes better, is more nutritious and certainly healthier, given the debates that continue regarding the use of food additives, pesticides and genetically modified (GM) organisms.

Organic products are not restricted to food. Toiletries and beauty preparations, gardening, furniture and even cleaning products are produced from organic raw materials.

What's happening where?
If proof is needed as to the amount of accommodation specialising in organic produce, one only has to visit www.organic-holidays.com. This site lists organic farms (including self-catering and catered), B&Bs, guest houses and small hotels that serve organic food and wine according to availability.

Destinations include New Zealand, Peru, Senegal, Ecuador, Malaysia, Cuba and India. Mention is made where organic certification has been achieved although it is suggested that current certification status be checked with the appropriate body.

Case Study
The Chef's Academy at Percy's Country Hotel and Restaurant, Devon, England

Percy's Country Hotel and Restaurant is situated on an estate in West Devon.

Its 130 acres of organically farmed land produce home-reared lamb, eggs, vegetables, herbs and salad leaves and it received organic certification from The Soil Association in July 2003. The following month the restaurant itself was certified and recently granted its own organic processor's license that now enables customers to take away a selection of home-made organic products ranging from chicken liver parfait to sage and apricot bread.

In addition to running two-day cookery workshops for guests, the hotel is recognised as a centre of excellence for its Chefs Academy. Set up in 2001 by owner Tina Bricknell-Webb to address the skills shortage in the area, the academy has the full backing of South West Tourism and the Learning and Skills Council.

Up to ten students each year undertake a two-year apprenticeship to gain the nationally recognised National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) to level 3. Along the way they learn the principles of cooking, how to buy fresh fish at auction, butchery, animal husbandry, organic horticulture, reception, housekeeping, front of house, marketing and IT skills. "In the UK alone the industry is about 100,000 chefs short," says Chef Director Tina Bricknell-Webb. "Ideally we look for school leavers with no formal training and then nurture their enthusiasm whilst they learn our 'seed-to-plate' philosophy. I expect them all to go far and help make the South West the gastronomic hot-spot that it deserves to be."

The academy is fast gaining recognition and this year has had to turn students away. The first trainee chef to enrol, Andrew Lester, won the student category of the 2003 British Meat Chef of the Year award despite being the youngest entrant ever. "Having also cooked for a major supermarket chain at this year's Royal Devon and Royal Cornwall shows these really are the chefs of the future for the West Country" says Tina.

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USA and Canada

In the United States, Sarah Stegner, Dining Room Chef at the Ritz-Carlton Chicago, the only Ritz property in the world managed by Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts, is very supportive of the organic movement. Each year she hosts a farmer's market brunch to educate the public about the quality of farm-raised and organic produce available in the Mid-West of America.

In July, dining room customers were able to meet vendors from Home Grown Wisconsin Cooperative which comprises 25 family farms in Wisconsin working together to provide high-quality, organic fresh produce to restaurants in Chicago. "I think the whole country is becoming focused on sustainable local produce.

There is a huge movement to protect small family farmers. My cooking style is very simple and straightforward. I incorporate good quality product that is handled properly from beginning to end. You don't need a lot of complexity and flavours when you have such quality product to start with", says Stegner.

Ten of Fairmont Hotels & Resorts' properties have their own organic herb gardens on site, maintained by their chefs and environmental committees and used in the guest menus. In Canada, eighteen floors up at The Fairmont Royal York in Toronto, Executive Chef John Cordeaux has brought his love of gardening to the rooftop where he grows a variety of herbs, vegetables and ornamental fruit trees such as dwarf cherry and plums. He oversees the herb garden as an extension of the hotel's environmental efforts and as part of the chef apprenticeship programme.

Now in its sixth year, the garden features 17 beds and 23 planters. All the herbs are organically grown, beginning with that natural fertiliser, sheep manure. Watering is done on a rotational basis by apprentice chefs from each of the various kitchen departments.

The 2,100 square foot garden at The Fairmont Waterfront in Vancouver was created in 1995 on the hotel's third floor, south-facing terrace balcony. No herbicides or pesticides are used in the cultivation of herbs and edible flowers and the garden has become a haven for small birds. Occasionally a peregrine falcon visits in search of dinner!


European regulations for organic production require all food outlets serving organic food to be certified. Because food service differs from food processing operations in that they are small operations with rapidly changing menus, The Soil Association realised that the existing standards were difficult to interpret and certification was hard to achieve.

In May 2003, the association launched a set of practical organic standards tailored specifically for caterers covering all aspects of food sourcing, handling and preparation, based on European law. Where food or beverages are prepared or decanted in accordance with these standards the Soil Association symbol may be used to identify the organic status of specific items. Hotels and restaurateurs can apply for all or just one catering establishment to be certified or for specific menu items to be certified.

To be able to state that a dish is organic, at least 95% of the ingredients of agricultural origin in the dish must be certified as organic. The remainder must come from a specified list of agricultural ingredients that are not yet available as organic. The standards set out how organic and non-organic food can be prepared in the same kitchen to avoid cross-contamination, how to keep records, and the permitted substances for pest control. Use of the logo requires that establishments be subject to inspection to ensure that conditions are met and staff are being appropriately trained.

London's The Ritz hotel was the first catering operation offering organic and conventional food to become certified. As many of the systems for organic certification were already in place, the hotel only had to make small changes to its existing kitchen standards.

Penrhos Court, an old manor farm in Herefordshire, England became a hotel because Daphne Lambert and her husband Martin Griffiths had to find a way of financing the restoration of its dilapidated buildings when they bought it in 1971. The 800 year-old farm had always been managed without the use of agrichemicals so the tradition was carried on not only in the herb and fruit garden and the grounds but also in the running of the business. For example, sheets, towels and staff clothes are made from organic cotton and only environmentally preferable products are used in the laundry.

Daphne has run a restaurant at Penrhos for 25 years. In 1977 it became the first organic restaurant in the UK to attain Soil Association certification. Daphne runs greencuisine food and health courses at the 15-room hotel and her www.greencuisine.org website and shop is a mine of information on organic food and herbs.

"It's never been easier to run an organic restaurant" says Daphne. "Everything I could possibly want is available organically and if I can't get it, I don't use it!"

Case Study
Bio Hotels

BIO-Hotels is an association of 20 independent hotels in Germany, Italy and Austria offering accommodation in natural surroundings with different holiday possibilities based on eco tourism and organic meals and treatments. All products offered are sourced from controlled organic farmers and comply with Austria Bio Garantie, one of the largest controlling bodies.

Any exceptions are clearly marked as the hotels' reputations are built on trust and certification. The buildings themselves, the furnishings and cuisine are all designed to complement the natural environment. A high priority is given to recycling and energy conservation.

BIO-Hotels' philosophy is to work with nature and to consistently raise its already high standards through its alliances with local organic farmers. The association is currently looking to expand into Slovenia and Switzerland.

In Portugal Agro-Turismos Quinta da Comenda is a fully certified organic farm producing wine, fruit and jam. Its white, red and rose wines are exported around the world. During their stay guests can observe organic farming at work and go on wine tasting tours to sample the farm's certified organic wine.

Since introducing the concept in 2001, Hilton International's Nordic Region has served over seven million KRAV organic breakfasts in its Hilton and Scandic hotels in Sweden, helping to increase demand for organic food and beverages in Sweden by around 580 tonnes each year. The KRAV label is a nationally-recognised Swedish eco-label that develops organic standards and conducts inspections.

Among the ecologically produced KRAV labelled products on the breakfast buffet are coffee, tea, milk, soured milk, oats, crisp bread, muesli and cheese. Hilton Stockholm Slussen received the Arla Breakfast Award for the best breakfast in April 2003. In presenting the award, the Swedish Minister of Agriculture commented that "we have a concept that will be the role model for the hotel business for a long time". With over 200 tonnes of eggs being consumed each year, the decision was taken in 2002 to buy free-range eggs for all 69 hotels in Sweden.

The chain serves only organic coffee -not just at breakfast but all day long -making an impressive total of around 14 million cups served every year! According to Jan Peter Bergkvist, Director of Environmental Sustainability for Hilton International & Scandic, these initiatives are natural steps on the company's road to a sustainable operation, a journey that began in 1994 for the Scandic brand.

More Information

Accommodation offering organic food

Australian Certified Organic and Biological Farmers of Australia


Hilton International and Scandic

International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (lFOAM)


Organic lifestyle

Organic produce

Organic Trade Association, USA


The Soil Association, UK 


Organic Food and Farming: Myth and Reality 32 pages, downloadable free as a PDF

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