The Truth About Organics
Over 100 years ago, the organic movement arose as an effort to reverse the less-than-desirable effects commercial agriculture was having on our environment: “Erosion, soil depletion, the decline of crop varieties, low quality food and livestock feed, and rural poverty.” The participants in the movement “embraced a holistic notion that the health of a nation built on agriculture is dependent on the long-term vitality of its soil.” The early farmers who pioneered this movement were known as “humus” farmers. Though a little more than just the name for this type of agriculture has changed, two very distinct ideas have remained the same. The first is that organic food is healthier. The belief in and a concern for “healthfulness” has been shown to be the overwhelming reason that consumers purchase organic food. The second is that organic cultures induce pest/disease resistance in crops. In this class of thought, diseases that so plague our crops are thought to be induced by the farmer, and not the plants themselves. These farmers believed biodiverse life is sustainable. Our commercial farming practices are not.
Sadly, the term “organic” in its modern use has in some ways digressed from its well-intentioned roots. Big business has capitalized on marketing claims that add face value to foods, but don’t necessarily ensure more nutritional value, from your food. A “cage-free eggs” label means the hens who produced the eggs weren’t confined in cages, but it does not mean those hens had access to the outdoors. Some commercial farms adopt a few organic practices believing it will bring them more capital, but science has proven a farm cannot be partially organic. For example, according to Carlo Leifert, agronomist and professor of ecological agriculture at Newcastle University, “when you use organic fertilizer in combination with conventional pesticides, you end up with higher pesticide levels in the crop than were you to use conventional (synthetic) fertilizer and pesticides.”
Whatever organic is, or isn’t, the truth is that our agricultural system needs help. When capital is prioritized over health, it’s difficult to find a product or even information you can trust. When researching the information for this post, it was difficult to find any one outlet that agreed with the conclusions of another. Let’s get down to some of the basics, so you can learn what I’ve learned and make the important decisions for yourself, based on the facts, not fiction, that I’ve gathered here for you.
Is organic better for you?
One thing you can be sure of is that organic food is better for you, just not in the way you might think. If you shop organic because of its alleged “immense nutritional benefits,” or because you think it will make you healthy, you’re doing it all wrong. “Healthy” food does not make you healthy or lose weight. “Healthy” cookies will probably carry about the same amount of bad and good as normal cookies. When organic food is touted as being “healthier,” it’s to say that the food is more nutritious in some areas than food treated with regular pesticides. Organic food may be healthier for you because it does not contain dangerous chemicals which otherwise would adversely affect your health. There is nothing special or magical about food just because it is organic, though. It’s simply food, the way it was meant to be.
In much the same way, the federal regulation for organic does not mean the food itself is “healthy”. On a technical level, it means the operations producing organic food must be certified in specific criteria. Each agricultural operation must submit an Organic System Plan (OSP). The OSP shows how the operation will fit its practices to the National Organic Standard. Detailed records must also be kept of all operations, and these records are also expected to reflect the defined OSP. Concerning crop production, the integrity of the land must be present. This includes distinct boundaries on the land and proof of prevention from contamination. Additionally, measures should be taken to allow the greatest possibility for biodiversity and natural resource protection. With annual crops, the supportive practice of crop rotation is actually required for the organic certification. For perennial crops, farmers should employ methods such as alley cropping, intercropping, and hedgerows.
If this all sounds a little complicated, it’s because it is. The simplest way I can put it for you is this: Rather than focusing on the health benefits of organic food for yourself, what you should really be looking at are the health benefits for the environment. When the health of the land upon which our food is grown is healthy, so will you be also. We are living, breathing organisms, and we strive to put the highest quality of nutrients into our bodies because we believe that will garner the most benefit. The plants we eat were once living organisms, which required in the same way, high-quality nutrients to grow and foster the most benefit. If our soil is desolate and devoid of the things that make it so nutritious for our crops, how can we then expect it to fortify those crops with the level of nutrients we need?
Try: Better for the Earth
Organic farming is not simply a method of farming that imitates the agricultural practices of a time before the advent of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers.Organic farming is quite intentional and focuses on feeding the soil itself rather than just feeding the plants. Here are some fast facts about soil:
“Scientists have identified approximately 1 percent of the microorganism species living in the soil and the soil is home to over 25 percent of all species living on earth. Over the area of a football field, microorganisms in the soil produce organic matter equivalent to the weight of 25 cars every year. These organisms aerate the soil, allow water to permeate, provide nutrients to plants and store carbon, which affects the global climate system.” (Facts from www.articles.mercola.com.)
Biodiversity is absolutely key to the health of soils, and without it, soils are not able to provide their numerous other benefits (such as providing nutrients to plants). A meta-study from the Journal of Applied Ecology found that over 30 years of study, there was a consistent 30% increase in soil species richness because of organic farming.
However, the battle for better food does not begin with the enrichment of your soil. We must first rid ourselves of the problem before we can begin working on the solution. The problems, in this case, are some of the biggest. Think genetic modification (GMO foods) and induced resistance, pesticides, and the terrible health of our soil. These issues seem looming, but the reality is there is no one set solution, nor is there a necessary “right” answer. To give you a better idea of what I’m talking about, I’m going to be “tackling,” so to speak, the aforementioned issues by showing you what a farm has done locally in my area to combat these problems. This is just one small example piece of a larger whole that advocates for a cleaner, greener, more nutritious future. None of the operations or the people I’m going to talk about are the magic solution, they’re just trying to do better than what we have currently. And that’s about the only thing any of us could ask for.
The Pesticide Problem
I am from the Reno, NV area. We sit at about 5,000 feet elevation in the high, mountainous, and ultimately desolate Nevada desert. Though the bountiful crops of California’s seven growing seasons are just a state line away, their situation in no way reflects the reality of ours. There is no way to bypass the intensely harmful chemical pollution that goes on in our fields, or any of the other fields in our country or our world. One of the biggest issues that comes from pesticides, in particular, is airborne drift. Even farms that follow 100% organic practices can’t prevent chemical drift from affecting their fields. “Depending on wind conditions during spraying, the chemicals can travel long distances, contaminating organic fields where such pesticides are not legal to use. What's worse, some chemicals, such as pendimethalin, can remain airborne for weeks on end, thereby ensuring widespread contamination.”
Chemical contamination can prevent organic farmers from selling a large part of their crop yield, but alarmingly, it’s affecting a lot more than the farmers’ bank accounts. Pesticides found in trees and groundwater exist in “alarming concentrations.” In one case in Germany, a common herbicide, pendimethalin, has been sampled from tree bark over 10 kilometers away from the site of the original chemical distribution. This is a troubling statistic, and it happens all over the world. If the pollution continues at this rate, it will be affecting more than the nutritional value of our food. Our ecosystems are being threatened, and those are what provide us with sunlight, oxygen, and water.
Dayton Valley Aquaponics in Dayton Valley, Nevada is making strides to combat the negative effects of the pollution phenomenon, and they strive to boost the health of soils. Growing any kind of food in the high desert is extremely difficult, so these farmers are thinking outside the box. To introduce, all of their produce is grown in an aquaponic greenhouse facility. The wonders of modern tech and the science of agriculture are combined in this effort to consistently produce high-quality produce year-round, and this results in consistent living wages for all employed. Most farming follows seasons, which means it’s not a sustainable occupation for many. With aquaponics, though, that’s not ever an issue. Oh, and did I mention they use 85% less water than a conventional, soil-based farm? Plus, their solar panels generate 85,000W energy daily.
So how does it all work? Well, over 100,000 pounds of tomatoes, 12,000 pounds of lettuce, fresh basil, sunflower shoots, sweet peppers, and edible flowers are produced year-round by the farm’s 7,800 Tilapia Fish! The water the fish live in is used to water the plants. Everything the fish produce (i.e. their poop) goes into the water for the produce as well, and this eliminates the need for artificial fertilizer. The soil is able to become much more biodiverse in this manner, and there isn’t a worry about or a need for pesticides. On top of this, the farm doesn’t take up as much space as a traditional soil farm. Less desirable land that wouldn’t be appropriate for traditional farming is used, so no space goes to waste. On top of all of this, the aquaponics facility is literally located in the mountainous and barren high desert region of Northern Nevada. If Dayton Valley can make it work here, it can work anywhere.
What does better mean for you? Healthier food, fewer chemicals, lower prices? These are things you need to consider as you digest the information I’ve laid out for you today. This is just one point of view on the hotly-debated topic of organic food. Dayton Valley Aquaponics is just one example locally of myriad farms around the world that are trying to be better, for themselves and for our planet. Organically grown food is so much more than just a label on the packaging. It’s an effort, it’s a movement, and it’s care. These pioneers are and were people who actually give two whits about what’s going on on our planet. I truly believe that the more you learn about it, the more your opinions might change, and so might your goals. Whether that’s for better or for worse, I can’t say. But our planet and our agricultural system needs help, and we’re the only ones who can provide that.Click here to schedule your FREE Discovery Call with me!
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