Friday, September 3, 2010

Going Organic

With all I've written about food and growing things, it's a bit strange that I haven't written specifically about organic agriculture until now.

For some reason, growing food organically is generally perceived as a bit exotic. It's often differentiated from 'conventionally grown' produce, a name that makes it sound like using tons of pesticides and chemical fertilizer was the way things had always been grown. In fact, organic gardening is really the most basic way of growing anything, and the way that food was always grown until recently. It's probably the way that you would grow vegetables in your yard if you were just starting out. It's generally about planting seeds, watering, and occasion weeding or other simple plant care.

There are lots of problems with 'conventional agriculture'. First of all, pesticides and chemical fertilizers are made from oil. And with a future where oil might be harder to come by (see my posts on Peak Oil, 7/18/08, Peak Everything, 7/20/08, and Collapse, 7/5/10), I think organic gardening is more than just a tradition from the past; it's likely to be the wave of the future as well.

Also, pesticides are dangerous. A recent study linked pesticide exposure in mothers to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in their children. There have also been studies about the harmful effects of pesticides on children and farmworkers. In addition there is an enormous impact on the environment.

And chemical fertilizers don't help the environment either. They have been been implicated in eutrophication and can actually damage the plants if too much fertilizer is added.

While apparently there hasn't been a lot of difference found between conventional and organic produce in term of nutritional quality, there is a lot of difference in terms of its effect on the environment and farmworkers.

Occasionally there's a choice that needs to be made between buying organic food trucked in from far away and buying locally, grown non-organic food. If I really have to make a choice, I'd probably go with the local but not organic. But buying food that's local and organic is so much better. And if oil supplies get tight, we may not have much choice anyway. We might as well eat local and organic as much as we can now and prepare for how we'll be eating tomorrow.

Quote of the Day: "The foundation of the chemical agriculture and chemical fertilizer industry rests on the assumption that what a plant removes from the soil can be analyzed and replaced in chemical form. Though this would seem to be a logical assumption, it fails to take into account the complex biological processes and mechanisms through which the chemical transactions are performed, processes and mechanisms aided by finely tuned and highly specialized living organisms whose operations cannot be duplicated or even completely understood. In general, the use of synthetic fertilizers short-term rapid growth for long-term gain in structure and soundness." - Deborah Martin and Grace Gershuny

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