Organic Growing Myths

Organic Growing Myths - debunking the naysayers.
Harvesting in a large scale organic farm.

I get a lot of feedback about organic growing myths. Talk enough about organic growing and organic systems of growing and you will eventually begin to hear the naysayers and the disbelievers.  Most of them are wedded to the concepts promoted by the big agriculture establishment which is funded mostly by the agriculture chemical industry and the major seed companies who hold the patents on the herbicide-resistant GMO hybrids so prevalent in industrial agriculture applications.  I thought it time to debunk some of these myths and misstatements.

#1 Organics don’t work as well or as effectively as synthetic chemical-based systems.

Large scale organic vegetable farm
Large scale organic vegetable production.

Many times this is accompanied by the followup, “There is so much research that shows organics just don’t compare to using synthetic products.”  The problem with this argument is that the research usually doesn’t take into account the difference in an organic system approach and the standard industrial agriculture approach to farming or gardening. 

The Key is the System

Organic systems of growing require that you do the complete system to be effective.  Pulling one component from the system and testing against a product from the industrial agriculture arsenal of pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers is like taking one wheel off of a car and testing that wheel against another car with all the tires still on it.  The individual tire, without the rest of the components that make it a car, is useless and fails every test.   So it is with organic systems.

Testing Equitably

If you test cornmeal gluten as a pre-emergent, a part of an organic system of turf care, against a synthetic pre-emergent agent, the result will be lopsided without a doubt.  Synthetic herbicides are tailored specifically to target a species of plant and begin working instantly.  Corn gluten meal fails these types of trials for several reasons. Corn gluten meal depends on the synergistic effects of the other parts of the organic system to be effective.  Without healthy soil which has not been poisoned by the application of synthetic fertilizers and other products, any individual part of an organic system is usually less effective. That is why we call it a system.  Each part depends on the other part.

There is considerable research that shows organic systems work just as well and, in the long term, work better to provide better growing conditions than the synthetic approach.

#2 It is too expensive to go organic.

Have you priced synthetic fertilizers and other chemicals lately?  How much does a regular landscape maintenance service cost?  Organics are certainly no more expensive to employ when done properly and according to a good system.

Applying synthetic chemicals to industrial ag fields
Spraying liquid synthetic chemicals on an industrial production field

Consider that the main source of nutrients in our organic system is compost. We use it to replenish our soil, resulting in a healthier soil biome and healthier plants.  We use compost tea as a foliar spray to further boost the soil health and plant health. 

The Real Cost of Food

Compare the cost of good quality organic compost to the costs of sprays and pelletized products that are used on most landscapes. This doesn’t factor in the cost of paying a licensed applicator to provide the service. The cost or organic products gets even less if you actively compost and use your compost in your organic landscape and garden maintenance.  We do use some other products such as fish emulsion, dry molasses, worm castings, and corn gluten meal.  They are certainly no more expensive than synthetic products that are commonly used and, being natural, do not leave toxic residues that can lead to environmental disasters as they accumulate or leach into groundwater or surface water systems.

And you must consider the hidden costs that are associated with the use of synthetic products.  The dangers they pose to the environment, both direct and indirect, must be taken into account.

#3 It’s too complicated to go organic.

Spreading organic compost
Spreading organic compost on a field.

I beg your pardon.  Have you read the labels on the synthetic products you get at the big box store?  Once you get past all the warnings and hazard requirements, and you get into the whole mixing and application rate situation, it can become mind-boggling.  User error leads to one of the other big problems with synthetics, misuse of the product.  People don’t follow the directions which result in over-application of product.

What is safety worth

One of the great things about using natural based products such as compost and compost tea is the fact that it is almost impossible to overfeed.  There is no danger that you will burn or harm your plants or the soil biome by applying too much.  Over apply your favorite N-P-K salt-based broadcast fertilizer and watch your lawn react.  Put an extra inch of good quality organic compost on your lawn and see what happens.  Compared to using synthetic products correctly and safely, organics is a breeze. 

#4 Organic growing doesn’t produce the same quality of food.

Let’s come at this from a slightly different direction by first defining “quality of food.”  Are we talking about the things that large scale production farmers want?  Are we talking about how wholesale distributors talk about quality?  Or are we going to talk about the quality of the nutrition of the vegetables, the things that should be important?

What Drives Production Agriculture?

mechanized vegetable harvesting
Mechanized vegetable Harvsting

Big production farm operators talk about quality in terms of uniformity, stability, color, and production rates.  They are interested in how well their produce will be received by the wholesaler and how much cost is incurred during the growth of the produce.  They want uniform-sized fruit so that the process can be mechanized as much as possible.  Big ag is interested in products that will stand up to the rigors of multiple rough handling situation as it is harvested, washed, graded, packaged and delivered to the wholesaler.  The bottom line is the real factor in industrial farming.  Keeping costs low and output high is the goal.  Notice there is nothing in here about nutritional values.

The middleman

Wholesalers are interested in many of the same points of “quality.”  Uniformity of size and color, durability and, of course, market values.  Wholesalers know that most people who shop in retail grocery stores want produce that is uniform in color and size.  They want blemish-free fruits and vegetables.  Because most of the industrial vegetable production occurs hundreds if not thousands of miles from where it will eventually be sold, the wholesaler is interested in durability.  Again, notice not a thought about nutritional value.

wholesale vegetable warehouse
Wholesale vegetable warehouse

So the fruit that ends up in your grocery store fresh vegetable bin is probably several days, if not weeks, old.  It has been chosen for how well it stands up to abusive handling, traveling, long periods in coolers and chillers, and how visually appealing it is sitting on a display.  Nutrition?  Never a thought.

Organic Production Systems

Now let’s take a look at vegetables produced with an organic system, in soil that has been tended properly and provides the plants will all the necessary nutrients to produce nutrient-dense fruit. These are plants that have not been constantly bombarded with toxic chemicals.  Organic systems work with the soil biome to produce nutrient-dense fruit that tastes amazing.  They may not have the same sort of visual appeal that a factory grown tomato enjoys. These products of an organic system may vary in color, appearance, and shape, but It is what is on the inside that matters.

What’s inside is the important thing

Overall, plants grown in properly maintained soil and using organic systems produce foods that have a much higher nutrient density than those grown using industrial agriculture methods.  Plants grown in soils that are, for all practical purposes, dead, and which depend on artificial synthetic blends of nutrients for their survival do not ever have the chance to create the kind of nutrient-rich foods that come from soil which is healthy and alive.  The same goes for hydroponically grown fruits and vegetables.  The missing ingredient is that soil biome, the universe of microscopic life that exists in healthy soil and works symbiotically with plants to provide the rich source of nutrients that plants must have to produce nutrient-dense fruit.

#5 Organic systems cannot possibly provide enough food to feed the billions of people on this planet.

Farmers Market
Farmers Market

We are indeed wedded to the concepts of convenience, low cost, and availability, all which feed the industrial agriculture complex.  A lot of expectations and habits will have to change to make industrial level organic production a reality.  There will be costs.  Changing such a vast and complicated supply and demand system to match the needs of an industrial organic production cycle will take years and be expensive.  Expectations by consumers will have to change.  More focus on nutritional factors rather than cosmetic factors will be required. 

Change is in the Air

But, I think that there is a slow change coming.  By and large, consumers in the USA are becoming much more aware of the nutritional side of the equation and are beginning to speak with their wallets.  The growth of organic production in the USA is on the rise, and many vegetable producers are seeing the changes on the horizon and are preparing actively to meet the challenges. 

How do you make a difference

The upswing in interest in local food networks is also encouraging.  By buying from local producers, the demand for industrially grown produce gradually eases.  Supporting local growers allows them to invest in infrastructure that allows longer growing seasons, if not year-round production of some vegetables.  Buying locally from producers using organic systems also avoids many of the hidden costs of supporting industrial agriculture such as the tertiary health issues caused by nutrient-deficient foods, the unseen costs of transportation, storage, and handling, as well as the environmental costs accrued through the overuse of dangerous synthetic chemicals.

Time is all it takes

It will take time, and there are costs involved, but growing in an organic system and providing enough nutrient-dense foods for the world is possible.  There will be some problems.  There will be some hiccups along the way.  In the end, by returning to the way things worked for millions of years before the chemical industry came along, will, in my opinion, prove to be a much better choice.

Visit West Texas Organic Gardening for more information on organic gardening, lifestyles and living.