By Eliot Coleman
Right from the early days of organic farming back in the 1920s, the founding farmers were successful at farming without any of the toxic chemical aids that had taken over agriculture. The organic producers relied on time-tested agricultural practices like crop rotations, cover crops, green manures, farm-derived compost, grazing livestock, shallow cultivation and deep-rooted legumes to create the biologically active fertile soils that grow the best crops. They were proud of their naturally based agriculture and its benefits. They eagerly communicated those benefits, such as more nutritious food and less strain on the planet, to the public. In other words, they described how their food was produced and why that was important. Customers responded positively because they wanted food grown to those standards. Organic farming quickly went from its small beginnings to be the fastest growing food segment in the market today.
Unfortunately, such popularity gets noticed and attracts the unprincipled. The certification system of the USDA National Organic Program (NOP) was set up to prevent organic fraud by specifying a list of legal organic farming practices. One practice that was prohibited early on was soil-less hydroponic production because what made organic crops so nutritious was the vital influence of a biologically active fertile soil.
Now, one might expect that those who think hydroponic production is desirable would want to follow the same script as organic farming followed and publicize the whys and wherefores of their production system in books and articles to attract the food buying public. If they were to do so they would have to mention their enormous consumption of energy and resources for artificial lighting and pumps and troughs and filters and controllers and conditioners and additives and treatments and multiple parallel mineralization in chemical laboratories. They would have to explain that those industrial inputs are only necessary because hubristic humans decided to by-pass all the biological inputs that Nature provides for free to crops grown in a fertile soil connected to the earth.
The hydroponic producers are not truthful because they know that the food buying public is not clamoring for their obviously artificial faux-food. Rather than tell the truth, they have chosen deception and outright thievery to perpetuate a fraud on the food buying public. The hydroponic industry has put enormous political pressure on the USDA to ignore its own regulations and permit soil-less hydroponic produce to be sold as “certified organic”.
Unfortunately, the USDA caved in and now the vast majority of the USDA Certified “organic” tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, salads, and berries being sold in your food Co-op, chain health food store or supermarket are grown hydroponically, with no mention of it anywhere on the label. And you thought you were paying a premium for real organic.
There are two ways you can fight back to change this situation. First, purchase all you can from your local organic farmers at your local markets. They are still farming the way organic is meant to be and they are producing superior food. Second, print Weeding the Organic Garden and its companion buyers guide and take them to your supermarket produce department. Tell them you want to buy “real” organic produce.
For more information go to the website of the Real Organic Project.