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Why go organic? July 30, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben was horrified to see a news item on MSN.com this morning announcing that a massive review of studies in London had found that there was no benefit to organic over chemically-grown produce. Well, that is simply not true.

Sure enough, clicking on the article, our friend Ben found that what the researchers had found was that there was no proven nutritional superiority of organic over chemically-grown produce. Despite rumors and claims circulating in organic circles since the beginning of organic gardening, the researchers’ findings have been proved again and again: the nutritional advantages of organic versus chemically-grown produce are minimal to nil. Nutritional value is the result of any number of complex factors, including whether the varitety being raised is inherently nutritionally superior (such as carrots bred for higher beta-carotene content or tomatoes bred for high lycopene content, or varieties in which higher nutritional levels occur naturally); whether the plants are grown in rich soil, receive adequate water and nutrients throughout their lives, and are not weakened by disease and damage; and whether they’re harvested at the peak of ripeness or picked and consumed before they reach their nutritional peak.

This truth has long been known and acknowledged by the organic gardening community. Nutritional superiority is not what sets organic gardening apart from chemical gardening. That being the case, why would ordinary folks like our friend Ben and Silence Dogood choose to be lifelong organic gardeners, or spend their hard-earned money on organically raised food when chemically raised is almost always cheaper?

Two simple reasons. First, if you had the choice of drinking water that had been used to cool down a nuclear power plant or water from a pure mountain spring, which would you choose? It’s not so much about what’s good about organic food as what’s bad about chemically-grown food. This food is inundated with chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. We all know the story of DDT and the devastating damage it did to our planet. But did you know that both chemical fertilizers and herbicides originated as agents of war?

The first herbicide was Agent Orange, and we all know the lingering horror it wreaked on the soldiers and civilians who were exposed to it. It reminds our friend Ben of the early pioneers of radiation, who to a person died of horrific radiation-induced sickness because they didn’t realize that their exciting new discovery could be harmful. Chemical fertilizers were used to make dynamite and bombs during World War I, and it was only by accident that the leftovers were found to increase fertility. Unfortunately, chemical fertilizers artificially goose fertility while killing off the life in the soil that is the true source of sustainable fertility. Back to that in a mo. But first, let me just say that I don’t want to be served up a chemical cocktail—with detriments to my future health that haunt me in my nightmares—every time I eat. I can’t imagine that you do, either.

Okay, back to point #2, the health of the soil. No scientist can argue that chemicals kill soil life and organic practices like applying mulch and compost and using green manures  boost it. As J.I. Rodale, the founder of organic gardening in America, liked to say, the soil is health. Healthy soil, healthy plants, healthy people. Healthy soil means a living community of beneficial insects, including earthworms, and microorganisms that support fertility and crop abundance without harming us.

Our friend Ben thinks that’s worth a little nurturing. Why dump more and more chemicals onto our soil every year when we can encourage that very soil to do our growing for us? Plus, chemical fertilizers contain nitrates and nitrites, those very substances that health professionals are constantly warning us about (as in “Don’t eat hot dogs that contain nitrates and nitrites!”) Our water supply is being contaminated by these carcinogens thanks to agricultural runoff. I don’t know about you, but our friend Ben would prefer to avoid cancer, thank you very much. And I’m willing to do my part not to contribute to its rise by adding more chemicals to our water. 

Seeing a headline like this morning’s makes our friend Ben see red. It’s outdated and misleading. There are very, very powerful reasons to garden and eat organically, including the health of our planet and every creature on it, including us. It’s time people laid the issue of nutritional superiority to rest once and for all and focused on organics’ true benefits.