Defining Organic As Soil Grown

By Eliot Coleman

Organic farming began as a statement of faith in the relationship between biologically active fertile soils and the nutritional superiority of food grown thereon. The early organic farmers knew that exceptional food could only result from the long-term soil care practiced by the good farmer. Unfortunately, the US Department of Agriculture is presently allowing hydroponic produce to be sold as “certified organic”, despite the fact that water grown crops are not the same as soil grown crops. Hydroponic produce has no more chance of duplicating the nutritional quality of food grown on a biologically active fertile soil than Nestle’s artificial baby formula has of duplicating the nutritional quality of human breast milk.

If hydroponic food is allowed to be certified as organic, the connotation is that both soil grown and hydroponic are equally valid production systems. That seriously misrepresents the truth to future generations. In a world of diminishing resources, real organic farming is the only honestly dependable solution to feeding humankind in perpetuity. Real organic farming does not require purchased inputs. Soil fertility can be constantly renewed with farm-generated compost, green manures, cover crops, nitrogen-fixing legumes, crop rotations, grazing livestock, enhanced biodiversity and other time-honored agricultural practices that work in harmony with the boundless energy and logic of the natural world. Hydroponic growing, in contrast, is totally reliant on chemical inputs and the enormous consumption of energy needed to support artificial lighting and pumps and troughs and filters and controllers and conditioners and additives and treatments.

The universally applicable management systems of the real organic farm are powered by vigorous microbial life in the soil. Thus, these systems are easily accessible at no cost by farmers everywhere. The same cannot be said for the technologically-fragile, energy-intensive, input-reliant, ersatz-food factories that are falsely using the organic label.