why organic?

by Steve Sprinkel
(longtime friend of Big John)
associate editor, ACRES,USA

      Organic growers have been turning that question on its head for decades:

Why use toxic chemicals?

      The answer that is implied now serves even the largest agricultural producers in the world, who have learned from their experiments in organic farming that chemicals are not so strictly required to produce an abundant, marketable crop. They even use organic practices and materials on their conventional crops when appropriate. Organic farming is not as easy as conventional growing, but yields are nearly equitable across the board, as proven by federal, state and university-backed research.

      Organic growers arrive at a chemical-free growing environment by taking different routes. Many, like Big John, who have been gardening organically for many years, begin to adopt more organic practices on their farm ground. Some are concerned about their health, their family's health and that of their workers and neighbors. Others have had first had experience of accidental death due to exposure to chemical pesticide, seeing livestock, wildlife and even humans die from it.

      Such events are not common, but they occur frequently enough to make intelligent people seek out alternatives. Farmers (who have the highest occupational cancer rate in the country) and farm workers continue to be at risk from these chemicals, but there is little danger from the botanical pesticides organic farmers infrequently utilize.

       Other growers become convinced that they have heard enough about environmental degradation and decide to do something about it themselves. They conclude that they don't want to participate in a system that manufactures, transports and distributes dangerous materials that inevitably end up in everyone's air and water. Its fair to acknowledge that these chemcials contribute to the toxic mix of a spoiled environment that causes so many diseases.

      Agricultural chemicals may not be the sole cause of cancer and other life-threatening diseases, but there is no good reason to not eliminate them if its possible. Pesticides and herbicides are designed to kill things, and they sometimes kill things unintentionally.

      This is why many of the synthetic substances used in the 1960s and 1970s have been banned and why more are now listed for prohibition. Continued prohibitions have been incentives for many farming operations to adopt low-input and conservative pest management strategies in order to learn to farm without damaging health or the environment. The organic market premiums benefit those growers.

       Many new-generation organic growers are attracted to non-chemical farming because it promotes creativity and reestablishes agriculture as an art, not merely a form of manufacturing-the fact that organic farmers are fairly paid is just icing on the cake.

       Most farmers relish their relationship with nature, which is one reason why they are farmers. Organic practices empower that relationship and make the environment a safer one for workers, neighbors, and consumers. We consumers pay into that partnership every time we buy a product grown without toxic chemicals. We buy organic foods not simply for their own sake, but because of concerns outside our own personal circle.

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