renais1

Definition of organic growing

renais1
December 14, 2014

I have seen quite a few message threads in this forum which include various definitions and interpretations of organic growing. I thought it might be useful to have a unified discussion of what the term means to different people.
Let me say up front that I am an organic grower, and have always been one. I am not certified, would not want to be, and could not be certified because of some of the current government certification rules. However, I do consider my produce as organic within my interpretation of the term. The forum description of organic gardening says: "Organic gardening is most easily defined as a philosophy that stresses the use of naturally occurring substances and friendly predators and avoiding man-made chemical fertilizers and pesticides." My growing certainly follows these standards. I stress the use of naturally occurring substances as much as feasible. There are situations where there are no suitable naturally occurring substances. In these situations, I will use an available alternative. For example, I had a significant bindweed problem. No naturally occurring substances I tried eliminated the problem; in addition, a good bit of web research led me to believe that such substances did not exist for my application. In this case I very successfully used two treatments of Roundup to remove the infestation. I still stress the use of naturally occurring substances for weed control whenever possible. Another example that illustrates this emphasis for me is application of N fertilizer or amendments. I have brought in tractor trailer loads of manure (60000 pounds a load), many tons of plant waste, and lots of other organics to amend my soil and produce compost. However, I have not been able to satisfy crop needs for N. Therefore, I must supply nitrogen fertilizers that would not be accepted under the government organic certification standards. There simply are no suitable sources of N that would meet the rather strict government standards. This conclusion was confirmed by several knowledgeable professionals, as well as my own research. As the forum definition says, I try to avoid man-made fertilizers as much as I can. In some cases such avoidance is not possible if quality crops are desired.
Another definition of organic (Merriam-Webster) is "forming an integral part of the whole." This definition very accurately describes my organic approach. I attempt to achieve the best overall result in growing, taking into account both the environment and the nutritional quality of the crop. The balancing act between the environment and food quality is a tough one. USDA and California seem to be focused on controlling many agricultural inputs in the certification process, and have less focus on the final produce quality or produce cost. Some other advocates of organic growing are more focused on food quality and allow other inputs to insure productive farming and quality produce. I balance in my own way, but always try to insure that there is a quality food produced at the end. If I produce an inferior organic product, I am not going to please anyone.
A key issue in my mind which seldom gets directly acknowledged is sustainability and time utilization. Often I will find recommendations to solve a given problem which would require significant time and effort to implement. There might be an alternative which would bring the same desired end result, but which would use some non-certified or "non-sustainable" method. A great example is some folks in our area who have two acres covered with landscape rock which has been overgrown with weeds. An attempt was made, taking many hours, to remove the weeds by pulling. It was clear that this was going to take an inordinate amount of human time and labor, and the result would not be lasting. The alternative I suggested, and which was adopted, was to apply an herbicide to kill the weed field, and then use a flame thrower to remove the dead debris. This alternative took a very short time to accomplish compared to weeding. Is it the most sustainable solution? Yes! Remember that human time is a non-renewable resource; your time has a significant value, and cannot be replaced. For the cost of a few gallons of propane, a major problem was eliminated. Propane is also non-renewable, but has a very much smaller environmental and social cost than the human labor that was saved. Again, I label the herbicide/flame use as the organic approach: the most benign overall result to solve the problem. In my opinion, ignoring the value of human labor is one of the greatest mistakes one can make in organic growing: we have alternatives that make sense for saving us much time. Of course, others will make different balancing decisions. How do you define organic for yourself and those for whom you are producing food?
Renais

Comments (51)

  • Michael

    Definition from the head of this forum's page:
    "Organic gardening is most easily defined as a philosophy that stresses the use of naturally occurring substances and friendly predators and avoiding man-made chemical fertilizers and pesticides."

    Does that mean-man made chemical fertilizers and man-made pesticides? If so, there goes dormant oils, insecticidal soaps and Neem oil as they are all created by humans in addition to powdered sulfur I suppose. Humans create all of these things from raw, less refined materials. What about Tanglefoot applied to colored traps, is it not too man-made? I don't know where to draw every last line, frustrating.

  • renais1

    Soil stewardship and water management have been major emphases of my growing. I have a reasonable quality soil to begin with, but the proper application of organic matter has enabled me to utilize the very small natural precipitation. Too much manure or fertilizer would result in undesirable contamination of ground water. The next generation to use this soil will benefit because of the additions I've made over the years; they will not have to use as much water as they otherwise would have, and there will be significantly less runoff.
    I also struggle with what folks define as man-made chemicals. Many of the chemical additions I purchase from Hydrogardens have been processed far less than fish emulsion, and yet fish emulsion is deemed suitable for certified organic but the fertilizers I use are not. For kicks, one might compare the processing of potassium nitrate with that of fish emulsion or kelp meal. In my estimation, the potassium nitrate not only has more nutrient value, it also has a smaller negative impact on the environment.
    Renais

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  • davids10 z7a nv.

    the thing you've all left out-though implied-is that you are commercial growers. if you are; what do you grow?

  • zzackey

    michael357, I use no organic or inorganic pesticides in my gardens. I catch bugs, caterpillars. etc. and hand kill them. Even tho I have been overwhelmed with leaf footed bugs and stink bugs the past two years I've had the best yields ever. I try to rotate my crops every season. I'm still learning what veggies are in what families so I can rotate properly. I use alot of kitchen scraps, leaves and grass clippings in my garden. I use Osmocote (only because we got 80lbs. really cheap when the feed store burned down), black Kow and organic veggie fertilizer I got on a closeout sale. It all seems to work well for me.

  • Hermitian

    I'm very interested in people's ideas about "organic cultivation". I've catalogued 17 distinct philosophies over the years. Here's a few salient points for discussion:

    A. Suppose I go out to a dry lake in the western U.S. Great Basin and collect some naturally occurring Calcium Nitrate. In my experience, most people will agree its natural and many of them will agree it is acceptable for their organic cultivation.

    B. The canning and food processing industries in the U.S. produce tremendous amounts of by-products and among them is an effluent that contains Calcium Nitrate. The latter can be extracted to the point it is indistinguishable from the naturally occurring compound. In my experience there are less people who feel this is appropriate for organic cultivation than those who feel it is ok.

    C. In the third scenario we have the USDA NOP which prohibits Nitrates from organic agriculture -- naturally occurring or not -- due to the effect (rapid growth) they have on the environment.

    How do you folks feel about these 3 different points of view?

  • renais1

    Calcium nitrate is one of the materials I purchase which would disqualify me from certification. I do use limestone as a soil amendment as needed, but often need a calcium suplement, especially for tomatoes and peppers. Calcium nitrate can be applied to the surface or through drip irrigation. There are few other sources of calcium that can be applied through drip, and none that I've found that are any where near as cost effective or horticulturally useful. I am quite aware of the growth effects of the material, and reduce my other nitrogen applications accordingly. The only other calcium source available to me is calcium chloride; I prefer not to have to deal with the large chloride content, especially for the many sensitive produce crops. I could not apply sufficient amounts of the chloride to get the calcium input I need without severely impacting my plants with the chloride unless I went to some extraordinary lengths. The only other nitrate I utilize on a fairly regular basis is potassium nitrate which is an important component of several of the soluble fertilizers I apply. I need to carefully balance ammoniacal and nitrate sources of N to get the desired growth. Nitrates sometimes have a bad reputation because of the ease with which they can be transported into ground water; I don't overapply nitrate since it would be just pouring money as well as fertilizer literally down the drain. Applied correctly, however, these nitrates can produce a very high quality, nutritionally rich produce harvest. In my opinion the NOP concerns show their bias toward environmental protection at all costs vs. production qualtiy and consumer product satisfaction. I would hope that over time the standards can be modified to place more emphasis on end product quality, and place more trust in American producers to make wise use of thier purchased N inputs.
    Too often I hear American producers vilified for improper fertilizer usage; in my opinion almost all producers, with the exception of truck farmers possibly, are quite careful stewards of the land. The producers want the land to be suitable for production by the next generations, and the evironment safe for their children. The land is often a family heritage. It simply is not economically sensible for the producers to waste their money making needless fertilizer applications. Most producers really do love the land, and have a fervor for its protection that is not often matched in the general population.
    Renais

  • renais1

    Certified organic does not need to be the only produce label that describes an environmentally benign product. For the very high quality hydroponic produce produced both in the US southwest, and in several parts of Canada, the labeling "totally insecticide free" does a good job of informing the consumer. Hydroponic peppers, cucumbers and tomatoes are a great example I'm quite familiar with where the current organic standards fail to help the consumer obtain a quality produce item. The hydroponic produce has high visual appeal, great nutritional profiles, and is often produced with advanced integrated pest management strategies which aleviate the need for insecticides, and often mitigate the need for any fungicide. In my opinion, producing these same crops in a certified organic regimin would be much more difficult, and quite a bit more costly. The high quality, year round availability of hydroponic produce is a shining example of environmentally friendly agriculutre mated to advanced crop science. The soluble fertilizers used are quite carefully selected to minimize any waste stream while spurring the plants on to tremendous growth. A look at sales data will confirm that consumers also agree that these products are choice additions to the shopping cart.
    Renais

  • Kimmsr

    Renais1, how long ago did you use that glyphosate product? You are not, and cannot be, an organic grower for 5 years after applying that substance to your gardens/fields/growing beds.
    The use of any synthetic product, at any time, rends that user a not organic grower. None of the glyphosate products, yet, are acceptable to the people at OMRI or any other organic standards group.

  • maplerbirch

    If there was a scientific method applied to give us an understanding of what is happening in the soil as various things are done then we could have something other than philosophy to go on.
    Is glyphosate really in the soil for 5 years nowdays?
    A lot of this philosophy is arbitrary, IMHO.

  • renais1

    My use of a so-called synthetic material does not change my standing; I do not choose to be certified so what OMRI thinks is not important for me. The folks who cannot be organic for some period of time after using certain materials are focused on the certification. I am amazed that the regulations call for a five year span for certification; it sounds like they are not based on current crop science and sound agricultural practice. Those who enjoy my produce also do not care if I am certified (and there is no reason for me to ever go that route). I have an organic growing philosophy which is to grow in a manner having the least negative environmental impact coupled with quality produce and efficient uses of time, labor and material resources, including the land. For me, there certainly have been times when the use of an herbicide was clearly the best choice; land would not have been productive otherwise. There are also times when the use of a soluble fertilizer is clearly the best choice, and sometimes the only choice. Best choice for me is a holistic determination balancing cost, impact, need and results. Others will address the balance differently in their organic approach.
    Renais

    This post was edited by Renais1 on Mon, Dec 15, 14 at 22:22

  • pnbrown

    How is calcium nitrate made?

  • Hermitian

    Calcium Nitrate -- when manufactured, is derived from by-products from both the food processing and chemical industries. The post-processing of by-products to produce Calcium Nitrate involves a little high-school ionic chemistry -- typically carried out in a condensing column. The result is Calcium Nitrate in aqueous solution which is then either (a) reduced to a solution of known concentration, or (b) dehydrated to the salt form.

    When harvested from natural sources, the raw material is placed in a mild acidic solution, then input to the process above.

    I prefer Calcium Nitrate in the liquid form, because the salt form is very hydrophyllic and reduces to a paste if not a slurry quickly -- and then all dosage information on the package is invalid because the concentration has been diluted.

  • Kimmsr

    Calcium Nitrate is a synthetic product not acceptable to any organic grower.
    Anyone that tells people that what they are selling is organically grown and has used synthetic products or any process unacceptable to an organic grower is as bad as Archer Daniels Midland, Consolidated Foods, and possibly even Monsanto.

  • pnbrown

    Kimm, does the hauling of concentrated organic manures hundreds of miles, using diesel fuel, make your heart sing?

  • Kimmsr

    Nope. There is no need to do that and it uses too much of a non renewable resource.

  • Kimmsr

    Can glyphosate produ7cts remain in soils for a long time? Yes. The manufacturers are required to test their products to determine any potential problems, although often the results are fudged to hide them. However, those manufacturers are not require to test what happens when their product is added to some substance that is Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS), the "inert" ingredients. Often these "inert" ingredients can, and will, create with the active ingredient to make a more potent and longer lasting substance and that is why the EPA people have found glyphosate in soils and water years after it was applied.

  • lazy_gardens

    Renais - As originally developed, "organic" farming was a positive thing - defined by using the recommended processes that promoted better soil fertility.

    Now it has become defined by what is prohibited, and become increasingly purist with the inevitable ratcheting of "more organic than thou" leading to insisting on nothing but organically grown seedlings from organically grown parents (ore even multi-generational certification), compost with only organically grown stuff as the ingredients, manure from cows fed organic feedstocks.

  • Hermitian

    Even with the holier than thou stuff, the average consumer doesn't understand that 'certified organic seed' does not necessarily mean that it hasn't been treated in some way. Of course I'm not talking about harsh or human-designed chemicals, but that certain precautions as required by law in some states were taken to insure that pests and pathogens are not present in the seed. Personally I prefer mine that way.

  • pnbrown

    Kimm, tell that to the local growers around here. They have to get crops in the ground and never have a fraction of the finished compost that would be necessary to raise the produce without either synthesized salt fertilizers or dehydrated organic fertilizers (dried chicken manure).

  • Hermitian

    pnbrown, you've hit at the heart of the disconnect between backyard organic growing (or a few acres worth) and the folks growing for market production. A backyard gardener can often draw upon recycled local organic material. But when we start stepping up the number of square feet in production and try to make it economically feasible, the shear quantity of inputs allowed by Kimm's definition can not be generated upon the land producing the outputs -- or by neighboring areas. To argue otherwise is to ignore simple conservation of energy principles in physics: the amount of nutrients (actual N, P, K, Fe, etc. incorporated in plant material) remaining after harvest or grown in fallow areas exceeds the amount sufficient for the next harvest.

    There are limits to any system and we are coming up against them.

    This is not to say that self-sufficiency is a fallacy. Certainly the Mennonite peoples of Homestead Alberta have long put that debate to rest. But they are producing for themselves, and not for a populous. There is a big difference between organic self-sufficiency and crops for a metropolis.

    By Kimm's methods, we could produce about 25 tons per acre. By USDA certified organic, about 40 tons per acre. By conventional agriculture, 70 tons per acre. These are norms, not extremes in yields. WIth the population growth in the U.S. and the present total agricultural output, 50 tons per acre is not sustainable (for the U.S.) past 2050. Overall here in the U.S., we will almost cease agriculture exports after 2050 so as to feed our nation and nearly 100% of it will be from what we consider conventional agriculture because most definitions of "organic" will be economically intractable. This will cause 1/3 of the world population to lose its food source. In addition, semi-vegetarians and pescetarian will be victorious because beef will a luxury.

    There will definitely be people who make a stab at being self-sustainable, we already know that will take on average 15 acres per person (for novices) and 5 acres per 4 people for skilled horticulturists.

    So although I would like my food to be "clean and pure", I'm not sure I or my children will be able to afford it in this world of expanding population.

    For more information on the food production facts I've stated here please review the papers published by researchers in the Agricultural Sciences department at Cornell University.

    Here is a link that might be useful: Cornell University - School of Integrative Plant Science

    This post was edited by Hermitian on Sun, Dec 21, 14 at 21:17

  • Michael

    Uh, I'll take a poke at it: if it's organic it didn't come from nor was it's creation influenced in any way by the agri - industrial complex.

  • Kimmsr

    I became involved with organic growing in the 1960's and helped write the Michigan Organic Growers standards in the 1970's and no one that we certified then had a problem meeting them and did not need any synthetic input to meet production goals. Over the years the yields from crops grown organically have been equal to, and some times greater, then the yields from crops grown "conventionally".

  • maplerbirch

    Not on large acreages, kimmsr. One of our local farmers has 3000 acres in corn or potatoes and maybe even some Del Monte contracts. Most of that is under irrigation and made up of blow sand.
    If you can make 1500 of those acres "organic" with the same yield as the other 1500 under conventional, then what you state is on its way to reality.

    Imagine the headlines if half of every field in potato country was grown organically with superior yields and nutrition.
    This sounds like Agenda 21 "Sustainable" propaganda to me. :)

  • pnbrown

    I think the organic 'scene' has changed a lot since the '70's, plus it obviously makes a difference what is going in in one's region.

    For example, around here there are more people trying to grow truck produce and flowers than there is animal manure or compost materials, by quite a bit. The fairly good retail market means that trucking in dehydrated manures from far away is economically feasible (barely).

    Given a situation like I describe above, this brings up the question from another thread: is it better for the environment to do that, or to use local crude OM sources like leaves and wood chips and fortify with urea, calcium nitrate, etc?

  • Hermitian

    pnbrown,
    The question you've raised is a personal choice.

    If you are trying to grow truck produce and meet certified organic standards, then you'll have to fortify with items on the NOP list that don't piss off your customers -- as I mentioned elsewhere the local residents here of the Hindu faith will want some verification that you're not using blood meal. Certainly urea and any kind of nitrates are taboo on the NOP list.

    If you are a backyard gardener then whatever your philosophy of 'organic' is I'm sure you can meet the fertilizer requirements within being friendly to the environment -- provided your expectations about harvest quantity and quality are appropriate.

    I really like michael357's response in the 'synthetic' thread:
    "To me, the most critical part of any plant growth aide (fertilizer) is getting only to the target crop what is needed, when it needs it and in the quantities it needs it. Irrigation in dry areas like mine is a crucial component for achieving that goal. I could recklessly manage my crop nutrients no matter where they come from and so can you, it's work to get it right as I expect many of you know."

    Here is a link that might be useful: When is a product

  • Kimmsr

    "I think the organic 'scene' has changed a lot since the '70's".
    The only reason for that is because there are some people at work trying to change what it means to grow organic. The basic principles established by Sir Albert Howard are still quite valid, although a number of people do not know them because they have not studied those principles.
    If you make the soil into a good healthy soil, well endowed with organic matter that is well drained but evenly moist, the plants growing in that soil will grow up strong and healthy and have less of a problem with insect pests and plant diseases.
    I have seen those studies that "tell" us that yields from organic farms will be less then yields from "conventional" farms and for the most part what I see says common and accepted farming practices were not followed by the researchers on the "organic" fields. I have also seen other studies that show, when properly prepared organically, yields of organic crops are equal to or exceed those of "conventionally" grown crops, at less cost.

  • renais1

    There is actually a very good acid test comparison of the yields and costs of organic vs. conventional farming: look at what commercial farmers are doing. If the yields for organic farming are greater than or equal to the yields for conventional farming, and costs are the same or lower, you will see farmers moving to organic for the simple reason that it is the more profitable growing method. Farmers are as a whole a very well informed, rational group of businessmen: they want to maximize their bottom line.
    Renais

  • strobiculate

    There are three definitions of organic growing that I use, and six definitions of organic.

    First, the arcane definitions:

    There is a chemistry definition. Molecules that contain carbon are considered organic by the chemist. If you want to argue with this, see a chemist.

    There is a definition used by people who really don't know what the word means. If an artist can use a word a to describe a process, such wording cannot apply to farming practices.

    There is the definition that exists around me: things that organic produce steam when fresh.

    There is the definition that exists for labeling.

    Essentially, the labeling definition is what farmers use.

    And there is what consumers think it means. Note: the labeling and the farmer's definition is not the same as the consumer's definition.

  • Hermitian

    Kimmsr, if you are going to criticize peer-reviewed papers from professors at leading agricultural universities around the country then you won't get any sympathy here. Further, in states that have monitoring programs in place there is an abundance of yield data available. If you can show us a report from one of these sources that supports your claim we will all be very interested.

    This post was edited by Hermitian on Tue, Dec 23, 14 at 12:36

  • lawntofood

    Possible solutions to produce more truly organic food:

    1) Less monoculture ... '3000 acres in corn & potatoes' is nutrient depleting the soil and opens crops up to a myriad of pests and diseases that need treating. It's time for a change, diversify.
    2) Commercially grow organically ... if it yields less, and is more labour intensive, then so be it ... Charge more, it's worth it in the long run.
    3) If you think you can't afford organic food, then stop buying daily $4 cups of coffee, the latest fashions, the coolest computer gadget, and the new car. Your health, and your family's health, is a higher priority.
    4) Most importantly, people need to grow more of their own food. Our bodies need it (for more than just eating) we have the land, or balconies, or community gardens, the resources and the ability. Many other places in the world, people with less means, grow way more personal food than we do.
    5) If we all composted our organic scraps, planted one fruit tree or blueberry bush each year, planted some bean seeds in a pot, lettuce, tomatoes, banned lawn watering, then our neighborhoods would become vibrant food forests, instead of food deserts.

  • Kimmsr

    strobiculate does point to a dilemma and the need for standards for organic growing. If everyone has their own definition of what organic growing is, there is none.
    For those interested in knowing the Rodale Institute is one of the places where actual comparisons of organic and conventional yields have been made.
    If someone sells products as organic and has used a prohibited substance, that brings to question that persons integrity.

  • renais1

    Rodale did quite a few studies comparing the organic growing methods with those of more conventional farms in the area. I had the pleasure to walk the fields in a number of these tests, and to talk to the people doing the work. There was some impressive data collection. They were also able to work with a variety of growers in the area, so different techniques could be studied. Some of the points mentioned above came out of their studies as well. I was impressed with the honesty of the researchers as they studied organic growing. For the most part, they were more concerned with the broader view of organic growing than the narrow definition required of a certified grower. Therefore, they used techniques that our current regulators would not condone as certified. They were also willing to abandon the cultivation of some crops fully organically when they identified problems; they did see the value of modern agricultural advances. I do not recall seeing a study from them comparing overall costs of organic vs. conventional growing that could be used to prove organic growing yielded better and was cheaper than conventional growing for many crops. I did just now look online, and could not find such a study either, so I'd be curious to see a refereed journal reference also. What I did see from Rodale is the support of the notion mentioned by lawntofood above that organic food might cost more, but it was better for you. They did quite a bit, for instance, to study fruit tree production; some of their harvest was obtained without the extensive use of pesticides in some commercial orchards. I saw a large apple orchard test site, and was able to follow the progress in the work. The apples produced did not have the cosmetic qualities of most commercial apples, and were somewhat smaller in size, but were also produced without lingering pesticides. A most notable aspect was residual clay on the surface from an application earlier in the season to reduce fruit damage. The organic produce also cost a bit more, but there were certainly willing buyers, so the cost was not an issue. The complex certification process of today has, in my opinion, brought the focus of certified organic growing toward dogma instead of what I perceive as the original intent: growing food that is nutritious, safe, and has the least impact on the environment. Organic food may not be as inexpensive as other produce, so the consumer is given the choice of how to spend the food dollar. I believe that the notion that organic production costs less than conventional while yielding more is something of a cultural myth in hard school organic circles. However, that should not be the only concern addressed, and I also believe that we should all take whatever steps we can to produce food that is better and safer. Whether that food could be labeled as certified organic or just labeled as grown by a concerned producer with as much care as they could, is a political and philosophical discussion that we'll continue to see carried out in the future. The link has actual data on market organic vs. conventional foods. Those interested might also look as Hermitian mentioned at some of the state production data. Quite a few state agricultural colleges have conducted in depth, well monitored comparisons without a bias to the results. These colleges have done much to improve both conventional as well as organic agriculture.
    Renais

    Here is a link that might be useful: Organic vs conventional food prices

  • renais1

    I had forgotten that the Rodale folks actually do have a link to the information about organic vs. conventional farming in their New Farm section. New Farm has, in my opinion, quite a bit of good advice that can help both certified and non-certified organic growers to produce better products at a lower cost. It is well worth the subscription. There is some philosophical dogma that you may not agree with, but they do a good job of separating it from the good growing info.
    Renais

    Here is a link that might be useful: New Farm prices

  • lazy_gardens

    lawntofood ... "1) Less monoculture ... '3000 acres in corn & potatoes' is nutrient depleting the soil and opens crops up to a myriad of pests and diseases that need treating. It's time for a change, diversify. "

    FYI, most farmers rotate crops and rotate varieties specifically to prevent these issues, but they are also trying to minimize labor costs, fuel costs and the number of times they have to drive a field.

    So that 3,000 acres in corn this year may be 1500 acres of soy and 1500 acres of a different variety of corn next year.

    I've met people online who grow a few thousand acres of no-till, no insecticide corn ... but it's evil corn because they apply a short-lived herbicide to control the weeds while the corn is getting to canopy stage and use a variety of corn that makes its own Bt pesticide.

    2) Commercially grow organically ... if it yields less, and is more labour intensive, then so be it ... Charge more, it's worth it in the long run.
    3) If you think you can't afford organic food, then stop buying daily $4 cups of coffee, the latest fashions, the coolest computer gadget, and the new car. Your health, and your family's health, is a higher priority.

    The "let 'em starve" approach, as espoused by Dame Vivienne Westwood recently. If people can't afford to buy conventionally grown potatoes and tomatoes, you think they can magically buy them if they are higher priced and organic?

    BTW - a "food desert" is an urban or suburban area with NO MAJOR FOOD STORES ... not just one with no Whole Food stores.

    Here is a link that might be useful: Let 'em starve, as long as they do it organically

  • renais1

    lazygardens: I love this quote from the article about eating less so that you can eat organically: '"We need to change to a green economy and a green world and that is easy to do." If it is so easy to do, I wonder if she will show us all how! It is amazing how little connection the subject has with the reality of too little food for so many people, and her let them eat cake attitude. Thanks for pointing out the news article.
    On another note, I have quite intimate knowledge of a small (for its area) family farm in the midwest. The farm is 5 sections minus 20 acres. The 20 acres were given to a family member so that they could have a home nearby. Crops are soybeans, corn, a couple hundred cow-calf pairs and a few chickens. The farmers over several generations that I've seen now do a huge amount to maintain the land, and to maximize the positive impact of their activities. Frankly, if organic growing were really able to produce the same or better yields as conventional growing at the same or lower costs, they would have immediately adopted organic growing. The reality is that organic growing has not yet shown that result for even a farm like this. The farmer tries to use all of the cow manure on some of the closer fields, but needs to balance fuel and labor costs with the expected benefits. Folks often do not realize the equipment and fuel costs associated with one pass of the fields spreading material. The farmers use some of the harvested corn to finish the cattle, so there are fewer external inputs. They grow quite a few varieties of corn and beans each year, carefully monitoring yield, and crop performance. There are buffer zones to help insure that beneficial insects and local birds have safe haven. The farm showed the love farmers have for the land. I vividly recall conversations about yield impacts, and how even a bushel or two less per acre would be a significant blow to the bottom line. 5 sections is 3200 acres, and probably 2000 of those would be in corn in a given year. So, two bushels less on 2000 acres is a hit of 8 or 9k, not an insignificant result at all. Even though 5 sections might seem like a lot to some folks, it is small enough to not even justify purchasing some farm equipment; the work is contracted out to traveling teams. All of these people are very knowledgeable about what they do, love the land, and want to see it preserved for the future generations.
    Renais

  • lawntofood

    lazygardens ... "FYI, most farmers rotate crops and rotate varieties specifically to prevent these issues, but they are also trying to minimize labor costs, fuel costs and the number of times they have to drive a field.

    So that 3,000 acres in corn this year may be 1500 acres of soy and 1500 acres of a different variety of corn next year."

    I am well aware of the process called crop rotation ... my point is that, the process of planting 1500+ acres in corn, soy, potatoes, then repeat ... does little to help protect the soil from nutritional deficiencies, erosion, disease & insects. Hence, fields need to be "driven", fields need to be treated with un-organic methods to stay in a high rate of production ... and this is the dilemma at hand.

    As Renais1 says ... "The complex certification process of today has, in my opinion, brought the focus of certified organic growing toward dogma instead of what I perceive as the original intent: growing food that is nutritious, safe, and has the least impact on the environment."

    Yes, conventional farming is growing A LOT of food for people to eat ... but is it nutritious, safe and does it have a low (or better yet, a positive) impact on the environment? We need to move closer to organic methods in all of our growing practices to protect the people and the environment.

    lazygardens ... "I've met people online who grow a few thousand acres of no-till, no insecticide corn ... but it's evil corn because they apply a short-lived herbicide to control the weeds while the corn is getting to canopy stage and use a variety of corn that makes its own Bt pesticide."

    That is just wrong on so many levels. The mindset of current conventional farming practices is killing the people and killing the planet. It needs revamping, we need new ideas on how to grow a lot of "clean" nutritious food, using constructive methods instead of destructive ones.

    lazygardens ..."The 'let 'em starve' approach, as espoused by Dame Vivienne Westwood recently. If people can't afford to buy conventionally grown potatoes and tomatoes, you think they can magically buy them if they are higher priced and organic?"

    Not at all, but they can grow some for a fraction of the price. Even growing a couple months worth of fresh vegetables can help a family's food budget. Unlike your Dame Vivienne Westwood (Let 'em starve, as long as they do it organically), I am trying to offer ideas, and possible solutions to bring about change so that we can all eat more organically grown food, regardless of income.

    lazygardens ... "BTW - a 'food desert' is an urban or suburban are a with NO MAJOR FOOD STORES ... not just one with no Whole Food stores."

    I was talking about growing more food within food desert communities, because presently they are offered nothing but cheap corn, soy, potato, wheat, "food" products processed & protected with preservatives.

    Kudos! to conventional farming ... people are not dying of starvation ... Instead, they are dying from toxic chemical build up, nutritional deprivation, growth hormone & antibiotic filled dairy products & meats that have caused excessively high rates of cancer, obesity, diabetes, heart and other diseases, in our society ...

    Something has to change, we cannot carry on growing food in a non-organic fashion and expect different results. I think that organic farming on smaller scales, will drastically help farmers, the people and our environment. Downsizing and diversification are going to be key elements to small farm successes. Education to the consumer is needed, about taking responsibly for their health and supporting their local food producers. Local food = less shipping costs, less long term refrigeration, more nutrients (fresher).

    I don't know everything about farming but what I do know is that on my 1/4 acre lot (that includes a 1200 sq. ft house) I grew massive amounts of organic fruits and vegetables in 2014. I grew so much food, that I started selling (and bartering) it to our suburban neighbourhood via a small honor-system farmstand at the end of my driveway. The $3000+ dollars that I made in 9 weeks, certainly helped supplement my full-time job income, the garden fed us for months (still have kale & leeks), plus the pantry & freezer are full of preserves.

    Neighbourhood response and support was phenomenal for both purchasing my produce AND most importantly, for others to follow my lead and plant their own organic food gardens. Now, just because this idea is working for me doesn't mean that it'll work for everyone in the same way ... but what would work for you, is my question?

    Imagine what you could do this year with some new ideas?? Planting a few seeds is always a great place to start ...

    This post was edited by lawntofood on Thu, Dec 25, 14 at 12:18

  • nc_crn

    "Hence, fields need to be "driven", fields need to be treated with un-organic methods to stay in a high rate of production ... and this is the dilemma at hand."

    How anyone can say the guy dumping enough cow poop on his farm to screw up local streams and water tables because he lives near a bunch of dairy farms with free/cheap manure is better than any form of responsible conventional farming by default is beyond me...and it's not like there's only a few of these farms doing this in dairy country. ...then again in most of dairy country you can dump unsold milk right into streams without treating it as waste-water.

  • maplerbirch

    Most all the cash crop fields in this part of the country are covered in green right now. Corn fields might be the exception in the case of so much stubble left behind and being picked so late in the year.
    Cover crops are known as green manure, and are often disced under at planting time, especially in potato fields but also soy beans.
    Dust bowl days are over, so it is good to move forward to the next positive development. :)

  • Kimmsr

    On out trip to and from southern Ohio we passed many farm fields that last summer were growing corn and soybeans that at this time were quite barren and light to dark brown in color. A few, very few, were green although those could have been growing winter wheat and not a winter cover crop. Some, a bit more then were green, had corn stubble left.
    Dust bowl days are not over and will return if we do not learn the lessons provided by those days. You can still see soil blowing in the wind in many farming areas today.

  • maplerbirch

    I meant to say they were over, around here.
    It is over-reaching for me to generalize that it doesn't go on in 3rd world countries like Ohio and for that I apologize. :)

  • lawntofood

    nc-crn ... I totally agree with you in that huge amount of hormone & antibiotic laden dairy waste should not be put on fields in an "organic farming" attempt. Grazing herds leave behind some mature, and that was natures intent. The massive dairy industry is just another question able part of our current food system ... all this talk about providing calcium and protein for the consumer, when America has the highest consumption rate for dairy products in the world AND the high rates of osteoporosis?? How does that compute to providing good health? I mean after all, the cow's milk is meant to develop an 70lb calf into a 1200lb animal within a year ... and we wonder why America is obese? lactose intolerant? I'll have that with cheese please ...

    Dumping milk in streams ! I did not know that was happening ... but I guess subsidized products can be discarded with ease, and with no regard for the environment.

    maplebirch ... your dust bowl days may LOOK like they are over but green manures cannot possibly replace the soil nutrients, and soil structure, that constant rotations of chemically fed corn, soy and potatoes have taken from the earth.

    Shame on you for calling Ohio a 3rd world country. Ohio is a part of YOUR country that has been explotied for profit and political means for the sake of the "economy" and feeding the people cheap food (even if it is killing them) ... would Americans stand by and let an outside country do such a thing to their land, and their people? but it's ok if you do it to each other?

    This thread is about the definition of growing organically .... and how that might, or might not be, achievable on large farming scales. Slamming a point of view does not help develop, or promote, new ideas and solutions to the problems at hand.

  • nc_crn

    I like Dr Ikerd (from that link), but that article is embarrassingly lacking any substance and it's full of emotion-based fear along with some bold declarations.

    He also knows better than to bring up the "food per acre" argument which is getting a little tiring from people who know better. Farming is about time, money, and other "costs" as much as what comes out of an acre.

  • renais1

    Dr. Ikerd used to be quite active in promoting his philosophical viewpoints on organic and sustainable agriculture but did not usually (if ever) offer concrete solutions that were working in practice. For instance, he says in the article, "And it may require more farmers��"but why not?" I wonder if he has looked at how many acres a farmer needs to farm in some of the mainstream crops to make a living (marginal profits are not that high), and how much the land needed to produce those crops would cost to lease or buy. If he did, he might note that the fixed costs can be very high, and quite a few acres are needed to make a go of farming something like corn or soybeans. In many areas there is also significant price pressure on farm lands as people expand communities. Some truck farm operations can make a go of it if they have specialty crops or a variety of crops and the knowledge to grow them. We have several CSAs in areas I visit that are making a go at reasonable profits, but they are not often enough to even provide reasonable support to a small family. Even so, many of the statements about the utility of small farms fail to mention the huge investment in time that these farmers often make. The return for their hours of labor is not necessarily very good. This is one reason many CSAs don't last very long: it was a labor of love, not really a livelihood.
    What irks me most about Ikerd is his comment: "Admittedly, sustainable farming requires a more intimate understanding of nature and a greater commitment to caring for land and people. " In my experience almost all farmers, organic or conventional have a very intimate understanding of the land, and they cherish and care for it as a child; the land is the legacy they leave to the next generation. These farmers are generally very well trained, and know what they are doing. In their own unique ways they are striving to maximize production in line with cost, labor, environmental and cultural constraints. The difference really just comes in how each farmer balances the values they are striving for, since there are many tradeoffs to be made in farming. Do you spend more labor and fuel weeding so you do not use an herbicide; do you fertilize with organic nitrogen sources like manure or compost (with their significant application costs), or do you fertilize with synthetic sources? After many years of living near all kinds of farmers, the only ones I might say really meet the stereotypical land destroyer are a few truck farmers who were out to get as much as possible out of a small plot, with no concern for the future.

    Renais

  • Kimmsr

    The fewer the number of words used to define organic growing the better. This definition works well, "Organic gardening is most easily defined as a philosophy that stresses the use of naturally occurring substances and friendly predators and avoiding man-made chemical fertilizers and pesticides."

  • maplerbirch

    I guess green manure and soil cover is something to be scoffed at and ignored because the dust bowl days are not over no matter what.
    If everyone hates farmers so much and can do better themselves, then perhaps they should.
    If lawntofood believes that I was saying cover crops replace nutrient and/or soil structure then my point about SOM was completely lost to him/her.
    How tedious.

  • renais1

    kimmsr: " "Organic gardening is most easily defined as a philosophy that stresses the use of naturally occurring substances and friendly predators and avoiding man-made chemical fertilizers and pesticides." I think this is a good definition. I would say it accurately describes my growing; I always stress the natural approach, and only use man-made chemical fertilizers and chemical controls when necessary to achieve growing goals. Now if only we could get the certifying folks to take this more relaxed approach, looking to see what actually makes sense in a given situation instead of mandating a one size fits all set of rules. Perhaps give the growers a little more credit for knowing what they are doing.
    Renais

  • Kimmsr

    "use man-made chemical fertilizers and chemical controls when necessary to achieve growing goals." and that makes you not an organic grower, period.
    An organic grower does not use man made, or synthetic, products ever because there is no need. The NOP, National Organic Program, people are lowering the standards as you wish and they will soon be meaningless, no different then "conventional" growing practices.
    An article in our local paper about a "certified" organic egg producer says much about that. This egg factory has porches for the hens to go on to get outside, no pasture as the standards once required, and that producer gets to call those eggs "organic".

  • maplerbirch

    Chickens that are grass fed on pasture lands fortified with synthetic fertilizers is far Superior to any "organically grown" bird in a chicken house.
    I support a pesticide/hormone free, grass fed chicken label over any kind of organic label everytime.

    Consumers could realize the cost difference between the 2 labels and farmers could realize the difference in profit. Farmers should not be bullied by OMRI or the FDA but should set up wise standards learned from both sides of the aisle and capitalize on their own. :)

  • renais1

    We have bought free range turkeys for Thanksgiving from a place that produces both free-range and organic birds. The free-range birds taste so good that people ask where the meat came from. It is like an entirely different animal. The certified organic birds from the same place have to be raised in the big houses with porches. I cannot tell any improvement in taste in the certified organic vs. conventional birds. Free-range eggs are another truly different eating experience; they have a yolk color that is distinctive; there is a distinct flavor to the cooked product, and they test nutritionally as quite different than other eggs. There are some excellent food safety guidelines that are used by the free-range growers; I suspect that in the future the free-range birds will be the taste choice of more and more folks. In our area, with limited natural water, it is the improvement of the pasture for bird grazing which keeps the free-range birds from being certified organic. It just is not feasible to follow the standards and be anywhere near cost effective, or to produce a high-quality product. maplerbirch commented: "Consumers could realize the cost difference between the 2 labels and farmers could realize the difference in profit." In our area, you really should make a reservation to get a free-range turkey; consumers have noticed the great quality, and are ready to pay the premium to get it. An organic turkey can be had off the shelf, and at not that much a difference in price; organic certification adds a lot of costs as does raising free-range birds. In one case, the costs are paperwork; in the other, they are pasture development.
    Renais

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