Organic gardening and farming are on the rise. But what does ‘organic’ really mean? Let’s find out.
The word ‘organic’ simply means that something is made from materials that were, at one point, alive.
The term ‘organic food’ means different things in different countries. In some countries, it means absolutely nothing. In the United States, it refers to food produced by certified organic farming methods. Certified organic farming uses the following practices:
In a perfect world, organic foods (and clothing) would be exactly that, but we don’t, so it isn’t. Car fumes, GMO pollen, reckless profiteering, and countless other inputs make purely organic farming an impossibility. It is, however, still worth aiming for.
Organic pesticides and fertilizers
Many organic farmers still spray crops with chemical pesticides and fertilizers, it’s just that the chemicals they use must be from natural sources, and they must be dispensed using equipment that was not used with synthetic chemicals. That being said, some of the ‘natural chemicals’ used in organic farming are pretty awful. Just because something occurs naturally doesn’t mean it’s safe to eat. Death cap mushrooms are a perfect example. Also, good intentions are not always enough. Horse and cow manure are excellent for composting, but are you certain about which medications, diseases, or other ingredients might come along with that manure? Good cultural practices, garden sanitation, biodiversity, and composting can all help reduce the need for any type of chemicals in your garden or landscape.
Mulch is an excellent way to protect unplanted areas, but where did it come from and what is in it? Mulch from tree trimmers is usually a good bet (and free!), but there is still no guarantee that the trees weren’t diseased or sprayed with chemicals. Even worse, mulch made from discarded lumber may contain arsenic. Yikes! You can use your own yard waste to create a relatively organic mulch and reduce landfills as the same time.
Organic potting and planting soil
Deciding to grow your own food isn’t as simple as it sounds, either. Does your bag of potting soil contain ground up car tires? What about styrofoam? Just because a bag of soil says ‘natural’ or ‘organic’ does not mean it is healthy for you or your plants. If you want truly organic, you must look for the certified OMRI (Organic Materials Review Institute) label.
Sometimes we think we’re doing the right thing and it ends up being the wrong thing. For example, if you bought birdseed from 2005 to 2008, you may have been party to poisoning the very birds you were trying to help! Scotts Miracle-Gro knowingly sold birdseed tainted with chemicals toxic to birds, fish, and other wildlife. Would using organic birdseed have been better? Probably. [Personally, I won’t be buying ANYTHING* from Scotts Miracle-Gro. EVER.]
Before despair sets in, let’s turn around and look at the positive side of things. As I said at the beginning, organic farming and organic agriculture are on the rise. Sales of organic foods and textiles are also increasing. As more certified organic farms become established, the prices of organic foods drops, making them affordable for more people. That’s all really good news. Also, for every food item that you grow for yourself, you will have a far better idea what went into that plant before you eat it.
In the world of organic gardening and farming, the bottom line is: who do you trust with your family’s health?
* Scotts Miracle-Gro sells the following product lines: Scotts, Miracle-Gro, Ortho, RoundUp, Tomcat, nature’s care. Osmocote, Substral, Evergreen, Nexa, Celaflor, KB, Fertiligene, Naturen, Weedol, Earthgro, and Hyponex, just so you know what I won’t be buying. What you do is up to you.
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!