By Eliot Coleman
Modern agriculture has strayed down a self-destructive path with its devotion to chemical inputs. However, its reliance on stimulants and poisons fits a common pattern. A preference for (1) treating the symptom of a problem with a drug rather than (2) taking action to correct the cause of the problem is an unwise choice made by our society as a whole. Organic farming shows how successful the second option can be.
Organic farming follows an approach at odds with the palliative centered pattern of chemical agriculture. Experienced organic farmers work with the biology of the natural world to create ideal growing conditions. They have learned to employ the freely available, soil-fertility-enhancing effects of deep rooting grasses and legumes, green manures, compost, crop and livestock rotations, and similar management techniques. These practices correct the cause of unproductive soil by stimulating its biological life rather than attempting to treat the symptoms of a dead soil – poor yields and low quality – by purchasing chemical stimulants. The same pattern applies to agricultural pests. Organic farmers correct the cause of pest problems – plant stress – by growing plants in the balanced biologically active fertile soil they have created to enhance the plant’s innate immune system, rather than trying to kill the visible symptoms resulting from plant stress – insects and diseases – with toxic sprays.
Some interesting parallels emerge if we apply this template to modern human society. It becomes clear that our economic infrastructure is highly dependent on selling instant symptom treatments rather than trying to understand problems and correct their causes. Our medical profession peddles pills, potions, and operations instead of working to prevent destructive Twinkie nutrition, harmful industrial pollutants, and over-stressed lifestyles. Our economic theorists push conspicuous consumption as a panacea for happiness rather than suggesting alternatives to meaningless work, addictive behavior, and hollow lives. Governments spend billions on armaments to wage wars (symptom treatment) instead of committing themselves to working out their differences through diplomacy and co-operation (cause correction).
Although successful organic farmers demonstrate daily the existence of a parallel universe where correcting causes is so much more successful than treating symptoms, the significance of that difference is unappreciated and thus unheeded. If its implications were fully comprehended, organic farming would certainly be suppressed. Its success exposes the artificiality of our symptom-focused economy and, at the same time, highlights why society’s most intractable problems never seem to get solved.