As the Green Revolution continues to evolve and influence modern society, the word “organic” is becoming recognized as an important yet controversial term on ingredient labels of popular products. As responsible and progressive consumers, many of us face the decision whether to go organic or not. While an organic lifestyle has adopted an eco-saavy, or “green” reputation, there is still a lot of grey area around what the concept actually means.
So what does it mean to be organic?
First of all, it depends on what you are referring to. The term “organic” in the most basic sense refers to compounds derived from living matter. If you are referring to a plant, “organic” means it is grown without the use of synthetic chemical fertilizers and pesticides. If you are talking about fertilizer, “organic” refers to plant foods that derive their nutrients from biological carbon-based sources. In other words, organic nutrients originate from plant and animal sources as opposed to artificially manufactured compounds.
There are specific criteria developed to determine whether or not a product can be labeled as organic. Various certification processes have been established to ensure that producers adhere to certain standards and guidelines in order to maintain an organic label.
Types of Certification:
- A certification from the Organic Material Review Institute (OMRI) is a widely recognized label in the organic horticulture industry. OMRI is a nonprofit third party organization that determines whether or not products maintain organic standards. Products that are OMRI listed have not been genetically modified in any form and have been approved for use by the USDA National Organic Program.
- The USDA National Organic Program is a nationally recognized label designed to assure the integrity of organic standards. According to the USDA NOP “Organic is a labeling term that indicates that the food or other agricultural product has been produced through approved methods that integrate cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity.”
- Some products are labeled organic although they are not officially “certified” by a third party organization. Companies often adhere to organic practices but do not subscribe to the legalities certification entails. It requires extensive paperwork, more hoops to jump through, and ultimately higher costs. Just because a product is not certified organic does not make it non-organic.
Why go organic?
Chemical fertilizers are water soluble, highly concentrated, and generally available for plant use immediately, which can easily lead to the over feeding of plants. In addition, they often contain ingredients derived non-renewable resources like petroleum or hazardous materials such as arsenic.
Organic fertilizers rely on beneficial microbial life forms to break down the nutrients to make them available for plant use. This slow release of nutrition makes it harder to over feed plants and offers a sustainable and environmentally conscious way to nourish your plants.
Is organic always better?
It depends on the results you are trying to achieve! Synthetic fertilizers are designed to deliver specific quantities of macro and micronutrients to your plants at specific times during their life cycles. They have been scientifically engineered to perform certain jobs and trigger precise actions. Because the recipes in synthetic formulas are so specific, they are consistent and can deliver bountiful harvests usually in less time than with organics. If the main objective is to grow big plants quickly, a grower may opt for synthetic fertilizer.
Unfortunately, chemical fertilizers can have adverse side effects. They deplete soil over time, can lead to toxic salt build up, and with improper use can burn plants. They often lack the flavor of organic produce, and if plants are not flushed adequately with plenty of water, fruits and vegetables can end up with residual chemical aftertaste.
Furthermore, chemicals in synthetic fertilizers and pesticides contaminate soil and groundwater. These artificial components eventually find their way into waterways and oceans affecting our drinking water supply, animal life, and the environment as a whole.
Organic nutrients, due to the inconsistency of their living components, can be less predictable than synthetic fertilizers. Biology plays an important role in growing organically. Sometimes plants may not grow as big and rapidly as with chemical nutrients, so more patience is required from the grower.
As a conscious gardener, the benefits of organic fertilizers far outweigh downfalls. Organic nutrients build soil structure, gradually release essential vitamins and minerals, and are biodegradable. Organically grown produce usually offers sweeter and richer tasting veggies than those grown with chemical fertilizers. As with all food, it is healthier to consume organically grown produce. The ingredients in your fertilizers ultimately end up in whatever you are growing, and like they say, “you are what you eat”!
Is it harder or easier to grow organically?
Growing organically is not necessarily harder or easier than growing with chemical fertilizers. Both methods require careful planning and precise attention to detail.
However, when you grow organically, you are building up the soil biology and microbial life so that you can maintain many harvests well into the future. This is known as sustainable gardening. It is achieved with the use of compost, mulch and organic nutrients. Some of the techniques and practices involved with this method may be more labor intensive than using chemicals, but the end result will be a far more enjoyable, healthy, and worth the effort!
When you use synthetic chemical compounds, you are killing beneficial bacteria and microbes and depleting the soil of essential nutrients. When it comes to pest control, if you spray your plants with chemical pesticides, you might experience immediate results in killing the unwanted pests, but does that really make it the easiest method? Now your plants are left with toxic chemical residue. If you plan to ingest that plant, you are really just poisoning yourself. Chemical options may seem like a quick fix, but in the long run, they can potentially have serious detrimental consequences.
Best tips and practices for growing organically
- Thoroughly mix liquid organic nutrients before applying to plants.
- Start a compost pile. This is a cheap and easy way to recycle vital nutrients in the garden.
- Plant companion plants that deter pests and grow well with one another.
- To prevent mold and mildew, spray your plants with an organic fungicide such as Serenade before the threat of infection.
- To prevent bugs and pests, spray your plants with an organic pesticide such as Safer brand insecticidal soap.
Organic gardening should be a rewarding experience all around. It is holistic in nature as it emphasizes the well being of the soil, the farmer, and the plants being grown. On a greater scale it gentler on global water supply, plant and animal life, and the environment. As ecological consciousness is becoming an increasingly important topic, making the choice to go organic is an easy way that an individual can positively impact a global issue.