LEGO’s newest set: an organic garden. Et tu, Brute?
My brothers and I loved playing with LEGOs growing up. We would make little farms and towns. We had houses and families. The possibilities were endless and we enjoyed it for hours at a time.
Of course, the classic building blocks weren’t quite as extensive back then as they are now. Now you can create iconic builds from famous brands (like Hogwarts!). There’s even a television gameshow that challenges contestants to make the most outlandish builds possible to win.
Yet even our favorite childhood toys can’t escape today’s political culture. Take a new addition to the LEGO family: The Organic Garden. It’s a whimsical little set with a number fruits and vegetables, garden tools, rain, and bees. LEGO claims the set aims to “help parents spark conversations about what grows in the garden and introduces kids to the idea of an ecosystem.” I support all of that, but why does it have to be organic?
In the grand scheme of life, it isn’t such a big deal. But it never hurts to say something, so I did. I decided to send LEGO a quick note about it:
My name is Amanda. My family are farmers in the United States. I came across your organic garden set. I’m a little confused–why is it an organic garden? I’m afraid you decided to label it that because of an assumption that organic agriculture is more environmentally friendly.
Unfortunately, that’s not true. Organic farms usually have lower yields, necessitating farmers to work more land. Organic farmers also shun some technology that reduced GHG emissions, like genetically modified crops. And organic farmers can, and do, use pesticides.
By the way, organic is a regulated label here in the US. So generally, gardens don’t qualify. There’s already a lot of confusion around the label, so this doesn’t really help.
I think this is a great Lego set. We should teach our children more about how food grows and how ecosystems thrive. But I’m disappointed you had to slip the organic label on it. I’d love to promote this set for you among my community of farm families–they would love it. But I can’t do that as long as the organic term is used on it.
I’m not joking either. I would be a brand ambassador if they removed the organic descriptor. Most people live off farms. These toys like this can provide a really valuable educational experience.
A week later I received a canned response from LEGO:
The LEGO Group is committed to producing only wholesome, non-violent toys that challenge a child’s creativity and imagination in a positive way. Our values are the most essential elements of the LEGO Group and can be found in every LEGO set we produce. These values are:
- Creativity for the LEGO Group is about self-expression and the empowerment of the individual in an open-ended way.
- Imagination is about endless ideas, curiosity, discovery and exploration to bring ideas to life.
- Learning is about playful learning, learning through play, challenging play, hands-on minds-on play, play that encourages accomplishment and challenges the status quo.
- Fun is about active fun, social, childlike, adventurous fun and the thrill of creation.
- Quality for the LEGO Group is about product quality, ethical values and a consistency in all of our actions that produce an ongoing feeling of trust.
It’s a canned response. But it makes me wonder if LEGO is trying to say that conventional farms aren’t wholesome, positive, or ethical?
Truthfully, this probably isn’t a big deal. It’s a toy with a silly adjective that doesn’t really mean anything. Most home gardens are likely organic, just because they don’t have the pest pressure that a farm would have. And also, who cares?
And let me be clear: I’m in no way advocating that anyone should boycott LEGO, throw away any LEGOs used by your kids, or anything similar. It’s just annoying.
I guess it bothers me because these subtle cues to children add up over time. The juice in their happy meal is organic. Food packaging sports organic and non-GMO labeling. Some crib and sheet sets are made without “toxic pesticides.”
So, sure, it’s just a toy. Or is it?