How Organic is Organic?
May 1, 2012
Iíve been struggling with this issue a lot over the last couple of years. For some things it makes a lot of sense, especially when it comes to pesticides. The dilemma is where to draw the line; with organic seeds, organic fertilizers, buying only organic produce and meat.
Organic Seeds: Is it really worth buying organic seeds? Does it really matter? Hereís my take on it. Organic seeds are usually harvested from plants that have struggled and survived without all the chemicals that allow a low-stress existence. Struggling equates to hardy plants and good genetics. The seeds store fatty acids and chemicals that are needed to germinate. They can also store pesticide residue and other chemicals. Once a seed germinates, the chemicals are transferred into the plant. There are, however, miniscule amounts of bad stuff to be concerned about.
Commercial Organic Fertilizers: I have a problem with organic fertilizers, in that they are not always so organic. The other issue is that the nutrient - micronutrient balance is not always correct.
As far as actually being Organic, just to pick one element (Calcium), many organic fertilizer companies use clam, muscle, and oyster shells because they are considered as an organic source, are abundant, cheap, and have a very high content of calcium. They also contain Mercury, Arsenic, Lead, and a host of other heavy metals which is absorbed by the plant and ultimately the fruit. Many use powdered egg shells for calcium, and chicken manure for a source of Nitrate Nitrogen. That chicken manure is purchased in large quantities from chicken producers. Large chicken farms pump their chickens full of antibiotics, which ultimately ends up in significant quantities in the manure and egg shells used in the organic fertilizers that is used to produce organic vegetables that you pay extra for or that you are growing. Of course the antibiotics in chicken manure and shells is rather insignificant relative to human consumption of the vegetables. The problem with antibiotics in you compost is what they do to the soil. Weíre all working to build up those beneficial microbes in the soil. This is a real problem for legumes if those friendly microbes and nodule forming bacteria are killed off. Dead rhizobia donít create nitrogen fixing nodules on the roots and over time can create nitrogen deficiency. Egg shells donít add enough antibiotics to the garden to be a problem. For me itís an issue of long-term accumulation of contaminants. Adding a continual supply of tiny problems will eventually yield a large problem.
A few years ago, a Cornell Ag-School grad student did his thesis on chemical analysis of organic fertilizers, and did significant research on where the companies sourced their materials. As I understand it, the paper started out as a comparison of organic to chemical fertilizers. Thinking that because they were organic fertilizer manufacturers, the Companies obviously thought that this would portray them in a good light. As a Cornell ďresearcherĒ, he was able to acquire data that the average Joe could have never gotten access to. Unfortunately the kid took a lot of heat for getting data under false pretenses. It turned out to be more of an investigative reporting paper than a comparison. I guess he called the chicken manure sources saying he was doing a paper on disease control in poultry farming, and got a laundry list of chemicals and antibiotics given to their chickens. He was very specific about product names, and publishing a complete chemical analysis of each. It was a giant beeís nest.
Compost and Homebrew Additives: Many of us use a lot of garbage in our compost, literally. Itís a good idea to know what youíre adding. If you are adding eggshells from your grocery store, then youíre adding antibiotics from the commercial chicken factories. If you picture chickens pecking corn in a large fenced area, and laying eggs in those spacious nest, then youíre living in a dream world. They pack them in at 2 sq.ft. / chicken and load them up with antibiotics. Iím sure the corn they eat was loaded with pesticides, which ultimately ends up in those eggshells. Unless you pay extra (organic) for those peppers that go into your salad and then into the compost, youíre adding pesticides. I always am amazed at the gardeners that bring home trailers full of free compost provided by the city, town or county solid waste works. Or those that get free mulch from the county. You know all those blighted tomato plants and herbicide laden grass cuttings that everyone got rid of last year? Itís in the compost and mulch. Others toss kelp in their compost. In 100 grams of Kelp there is 12mg of Arsenic (1.2%), 2.1Ķg of Mercury, 30Ķg of Lead, 21mg of Aluminum, and 3700mg of sodium (3.7%). Those same chemicals are in the Kelp Fertilizer that claims to be so organic. This is one of the reasons that I use good Compost and supplement with chemicals, however, I try to avoid compounds or synthetic chemicals.
Organic Vegetables in the Store: For all of the reasons stated above, Iím not sure that organic vegetables are worth the cost, yet I keep buying them. My real dilemma is still How organic is organic?
Hereís the best thing to come out of my dilemma.
I have found the ideal organic fertilizer that has a proper balance of micronutrients as well as NPK nutrients. I researched Neem Oil and it turned out to be nearly a perfect fertilizer in terms of balance. l also had sticker shock. There is a Neem Manure or Neen Cake available that contains the exact same chemicals and balance. Neem oil is produced in India and is a peasant crop, meaning that it is the source of income for large populations. It is produced by pressing neem seeds to extract the oil in what looks like a large wine press. The pulp and seed casings left behind are in cakes and sold as Neem manure which is an organic fertilizers with virtually no bad stuff in it. The Neem plant grows wild and is highly resistant to pests, so they never get sprayed with pesticides. No big Companies have jumped into the market and developed low-cost ways to extract the oil chemically.