Why im through with organic farming

Guest Post: Why I’m Through with Organic Farming

Following on from my last guest post, The Insanity of Biotech by biochemist Paul Little, Mike Bendzela is the author of this guest post. These guest posts have been tangentially exploring similar subjects I have in my book, but in different directions; and this post explores organic farming. In S3: Science, Statistics and Skepticism, I lightheartedly tackle the naturalistic fallacy and use some bad (and funny) statistics that purposefully confuse correlation with causation, intending to teach a lesson. As I was writing the book, Mike Bendzela reached out to me with his organic story that sprouts off from that Correlation chapter, and it is a supremely informative read. (A bit long, well worth it, and you’re used to long articles from me anyway.)

Why I’m Through with Organic Farming

by Mike Bendzela of Dow Farm Enterprise

It’s not what goes into your mouth that defiles you;

you are defiled by the words that come out of your mouth.”

Jesus of Nazareth

For twenty-five years I was a self-styled organic gardener. I say “self-styled” because I didn’t need certification as I wasn’t marketing produce. And by “organic” I mean “too lazy and cheap to buy fertilizers and pesticides.” So I maintained a perennial compost heap and harvested the produce the insects didn’t eat. We ate the leftovers.

Then there was the cheating: The first year that I grew potatoes, I had zero Colorado potato beetles. The second year, I had a jar full. The third year, I had a continent’s worth and had to nuke them with Rotenone dust. I decided to stop growing potatoes for a while.

“But,” the organic people would say, “Rotenone is an organically-approved pesticide.” [Fourat: Fun fact, rotenone is just as toxic as DDT.]

Which leads directly to my point:

The older I get, the more I like food, the more I hate bullshit.

A season in hell

In July of 2010 four of us started Dow Farm, named after the ancestral owners of the land we farm. We would be a small market farm and CSA, the trendy “Community Supported Agriculture,” but we’d just call it a subscription club. Save the Syllables.

I was still working at an organic farm, learning the central pleasures and evils of farming at a scale larger than gardening. Helping to run Dow Farm would mean having to quit this summer job that I really liked and probably taking a significant hit in the wallet for a while.

Would we be certified or not? Certification is a three-year process, the materials are more expensive, and the methods are more labor-intensive. These stresses of organic certification come on top of a central fact of life for Maine farmers: The weather around here is just awful.

The crap we had to endure in 2011 just to get plants into the ground six weeks late meant that if we were going to limit our options to “organically-approved” ones, the reasons had better be good. I decided the best way to research the value of gaining certification was to go to the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA) website, and read the “fact sheets” and the manual.

I found the philosophy of the organics movement to be a barrel raft covered in loose planks. In trying to justify their beliefs, they pile on the claims (planks), each of which rests on a different assumption (barrel). And when one claim is questioned, they simply jump to another plank on the raft and try to hold it all together. Sadly, for the investigator, dismantling a raft of claims requires a crew of rebuttals.

It took awhile for all those planks to be yanked away from me, one by one, and for the barrels to disperse and sink.

The origins of the “organic” vs. “chemical” false dichotomy

In the early 19th century, “Vitalism” reigned. This was the belief that certain materials could only be produced through a mysterious “vital force” in living organisms; hence, “organic” substances were those derived from organisms and their products. Then a German scientist, Fredrick Wöhler, synthesized urea, a component of urine, in a laboratory without having to pee in a bottle. Goodbye Vitalism.

These “mysterious” materials turned out to be the results not of a vital force but of the properties of good old carbon. So the term “organic” came to describe the chemicals based around the carbon atom.

The organic farmers parted ways with the organic chemists around the turn of the century, with “organic” gaining positive connotations and “chemical” negative ones. This commenced with the German mystic Rudolph Steiner and his “Anthroposophic” movement, which includes “biodynamic” farming, a school that believes the farm should be seen as a “holistic” organism that needs to be balanced with various astrological forces. Some ways of achieving this “balance” include shunning “synthetic chemicals” and burying manure-stuffed cow’s horns to focus cosmic energy into the earth.

Today we have the government-sanctioned term “organic” to describe a veritable Leviticus of “Allowed” and “Prohibited” practices that are put into place to ensure that a farm is, well, organic. The term now conflicts with the scientific, chemical definition in just about every way.

For example: a chemically organic, naturally-occurring pesticide produced in Kenya, pyrethrum, is declared “organic” even though it decimates bees, but a likewise chemically organic pesticide native to the North America, nicotine sulfate, is not “organic.”

A synthetically produced, chemically organic fungicide, Captan, is declared not “organic,” but the synthetically produced, chemically inorganic fungicide copper sulfate is declared “organic.”

Go figure. Nowadays, if someone asks if our food is “organic,” I say, “Sure, it’s carbon-based.”

Mother Nature, Bad Parent

Not only are absurdities uttered with a straight face, contradictions are simply codified as “standards.” A central fault of organics is the Naturalistic Fallacy, the belief that substances derived from nature are better than those created by humans. Well, sometimes, anyway. Maybe not.

The USDA’s National Organics Program, which began with an Act of Congress in 1990, articulates the fallacy this way:

“As a general rule, all natural (non-synthetic) substances are allowed in organic production and all synthetic substances are prohibited. The National List of Allowed Synthetic and Prohibited Non-Synthetic Substances, a section in the regulations, contains the specific exceptions to the rule.” [emphasis mine]

In other words, natural substances are OK, unless they’re not OK; and synthetic substances are not OK, unless they’re OK. One can only stand in wonder at how high the manure has been piled in this case, all the way up to the United States Department of Agriculture, in fact.

Allowed Synthetics” are rationalized this way:

(1) The substance cannot be produced from a natural source and there are no organic substitutes

(2) The substance’s manufacture, use, and disposal do not have adverse effects on the environment and are done in a manner compatible with organic handling….

In other words: Mother Nature doesn’t always provide us the protection we need to farm successfully. In fact, She regularly supplies pestilence, disease and infection. If you’re an orchardist, the fungi are your mortal enemy and you have to spray fungicides or your orchard is doomed. So please just be careful with that copper sulfate, which can accumulate in the soil and cause organ damage if ingested.

How about if all farmers agree to use any substance, natural or synthetic, in a way that minimizes adverse effects on health and the environment? In other words, follow the doggone label.

Teh pesticides!”

Something I read on MOFGA’s website, a “Pesticides Quiz,” really bothered me:

“The EPA performs toxicity tests on pesticides prior to registration.

False: Toxicity tests are performed neither by the EPA nor by independent laboratories contracting with the EPA. Pesticide manufacturers provide the data that the EPA bases its judgments on. There is an inherent conflict of interest between EPA’s need for unbiased data and the manufacturers’ need for data that show their products are not hazardous.”

How does a lay person check out such a claim? I Googled “Pesticides” and “Maine” and got Maine Board of Pesticides Control as the top hit. I called the number there and got Dr. Lebelle Hicks, Toxicologist. Dr. Hicks seems delighted to have a real citizen asking her questions.

Summarizing her reply to the scary MOFGA claim: It is true only as far as it goes. But it’s not the EPA’s job to test the compounds that manufacturers wish to market; that would mean taxpayers paying for the testing of products that the corporations will profit from. It is the EPA’s job to set the tolerances for residues and to review the data submitted by the manufacturers according to strict guidelines. Laboratories contracting with the manufacturers perform such tests.

This conversation came sometime after a discombobulating experience I had while working at the organic farm: I was required to attend a workshop upcountry to be certified . . . as a pesticides handler.

So a group of us drove up to MOFGA’s fairground, where the MBPC’s Gary Fish, Manager of Pesticide Programs, gave us a PowerPoint on how to read pesticide labels and how to follow what’s written on them. Calling this an instance of “cognitive dissonance” is putting it mildly. It’s true:Organic farmers use pesticides and they have to follow the same laws as non-organic farmers. No amount of special pleading (“But they’re natural!”) negates this fact.

At Dr. Hicks’ advice, I eventually studied for and received a private pesticides applicator license in Maine. This year, in spite of the weather, we have had the best apples, ever.


From MOFGA’s manual:

Genetic engineering (recombinant DNA technology) is a synthetic process designed to control nature at the molecular level, with the potential for unforeseen consequences. As such, it is not compatible with the principles of organic agriculture (either production or handling). Genetically engineered/modified organisms (GEO/GMOs) and products produced by or through the use of genetic engineering are prohibited.

This prohibition is articulated by the NOP as well:

A variety of methods to genetically modify organisms or influence their growth and development by means that are not possible under natural conditions or processes and are not considered compatible with organic production.

Question: As one of the partners of Dow Farm daily injects himself with insulin that is produced through recombinant DNA technology, does this mean he can never consider himself an “organic” farmer? (Not that he cares at this point.)

The idea that “the principles of organic agriculture” do not “control nature at the molecular level” and do not have “the potential for unforeseen consequences” is a classic instance of the one who judges the gene splice in another’s eye while not seeing the cloned apple tree lodged in one’s own eye.

The anti-GMO crowd simply cannot separate their loathing for a specific corporation, Monsanto, from the science of recombinant DNA technology. Presumably, because “Monsatan” is Bad, the papaya farmers of Hawaii should cut down their groves of trees engineered to resist ring spot virus, beta-carotene-fortified Golden Rice should continue to be withheld from children who will go blind from Vitamin A deficiency, and GE vaccines should be flushed down the toilet.

Plant pathologist Pamela C. Ronald and organic farmer R. W. Adamchak, have done an admirable job in their book “Tomorrow’s Table” arguing that the aims of genetic engineering and organic farming are not necessary at odds. They believe the two can coexist.

However, such a prospect brings to mind the words “snowball” and “hell.”

If it quacks, it’s probably organic

In the Fall of 2000, I got to experience a weekend at the Common Ground Fair, MOFGA’s agricultural event, as a helper at some friends’ farmers market booth. People drive in from all over New England to eat organic spelt crepes, experience organic aromatherapy, and buy twenty-dollar-a-pound organic seed garlic.

MOFGA had just moved to their beautiful new digs in Unity, Maine, and it was enjoyable roaming the grounds between shifts to watch fields being plowed with teams of horses; to gawk at produce and price tags; and to hear lectures on how bio-dynamic beekeepers care for the “bee soul.” Hilariously, coffee vendors not permitted on the fairgrounds hang around outside the gates like ticket scalpers. They do a brisk business pre-caffeinating fair goers addicted to this 100% natural substance.

I caught sight of something called The Whole Life Tent. Entering, I was amazed to find myself surrounded by Reflexologists, Naturopathic Doctors, Homeopaths, Reiki practitioners, and other “modalities” by which one may become “moral, united, integrated, and balanced.” I was unsure what any of this had to do with agriculture.

To my dismay, I realized that what the panoply of fried dough, stuffed animals, and monster trucks is to Maine’s largest commercial fair, the Fryeburg Fair, the whole raft of alternative medical scams is to the Common Ground Fair—a necessary evil to get non-agricultural types to attend. Only much later, when I opened the manuals, did I discover that this disorder is not limited to the fair grounds.

Both MOFGA and the NOP make it clear that livestock must not be subject to the “routine use of synthetic medications.” Antibiotics cannot be used “for any reason.” And yet:

“Producers are prohibited from withholding treatment from a sick or injured animal; however, animals treated with a prohibited medication may not be sold as organic.”

So an animal treated with appropriate medications is thereby rendered unclean.

OK, whatever. There are other ways of treating your animals that pass “organic” muster, according to “Raising Organic Livestock in Maine: MOFGA Accepted Health Practices, Products and Ingredients.” In case of mastitis, for instance, you could have the cow take “garlic internally, 1 or 2 whole bulbs twice a day” or put “dilute garlic in vulva” (using Nitrile gloves made in Thailand, one hopes). Then there are the “Homeopathic remedies, Bryonia, Phytolacca,” and other letters of the alphabet.

However, you must not use Bag Balm for any reason whatsoever.

Go organic”: slander a farmer

At Maine’s Agricultural Trades Show in Augusta in January, we got to mingle with other farmers, big and small, and to attend workshops on combating pests and Internet marketing.

In the Exhibition Hall, I found myself standing behind two young women in wool grilling a commercial apple orchardist about his spraying practices. He was trying to explain to them that he kept both “organic” and “conventional” plots and that the “organic” trees actually needed to be sprayed more often because of the transitory nature of “organic” pesticides. This increased his costs in both chemicals and fuel, which was reflected in the price of his apples. The women then sidled off to another booth. I asked him if they “got it.” He issued a flat “No.”

I had just published an editorial on the remarkable irony that MOFGA, the group that itself defined the sharp divide between “organic” and “conventional” farmers, was complaining about feeling excluded from an event at the show. This event, called “Convergence = Sustainability,”was billed as “bringing all farmers together to talk about common issues.” It was apparently not enough that an entire day of the show was called “MOFGA day.” They seemed to want “conversion,” not mere “convergence.”

In response to the Convergence = Sustainability flap, MOFGA published an editorial with the following contemptible passage:

Why would organic growers and consumers want to converge with conventional agriculture, as the title of a Maine Agricultural Trades Show session, held in January, suggested? Craving the Organophosphate-Arsenic-Laced Special for dinner?

There seems to be no limit to the calumnies organics advocates will heap on non-certified farmers. Maine’s organic guru Eliot Coleman derides non-organic farmers as “chemical farmers” who supposedly believe that “nature is inadequate.” He rehashes the 19th fallacy of “chemical” versus “biological,” dismissing the whole agricultural discipline of plant pathology as “plant-negative.”

Members of the Organic Consumers Association also employ the derisive term “chemical farmers” in their screeds. They even come right out and say that local foods not “organically-produced” are unsafe and that consumers should shun their local farmer who is not certified organic. Their modus operandi is to frighten people into buying organic.

Non-organic farmers and feedlot operators are literally poisoning us and our children…”

The belief armor of such ideologues is so strong that the concept of “dose” doesn’t penetrate. Organic devotees endow “pesticide residues” with seemingly supernatural powers of corruption while simply ignoring the fact that our diets are full of poisons. To them it doesn’t matter, as Bruce N. Ames and Lois S. Gold have shown, that “99.99% of the pesticides humans ingest are natural.”

It doesn’t matter that fungicides protect us from one of the most potent carcinogens known, aflatoxins produced by molds; what matters are the hypothetical effects of micro-grams of fungicides found on apples, as promulgated by such organizations as the execrable Environmental Working Group.

It doesn’t matter that another potent carcinogen, benzo(a)pyrene, is ubiquitous in cooked foods. Instead of considering, by twisted “organic” logic, that this morning’s hot coffee and toast is a cancer cocktail crossing her placental barrier, a pregnant mother propagandized into being afraid of non-organic food will strap her babies into car seats and drive miles to avoid “chemical” farmers and their products.

Surviving the end of oil, organically

The last plank of the organic barrel raft to be removed unceremoniously from my grasp was the “sustainability” claim. In spite of what I knew were absurdities in the organic movement, I still believed that organic farming would be the only option left to us in a “post peak oil world.” Oil-based farming was clearly unsustainable; as oil becomes rarer and more expensive, we will have to find more sustainable ways to farm, and organic is waiting in the wings to save the day.

I accepted that peak oil was imminent, if not here already, and that this would mean the disappearance of “industrial,” “petroleum-based” agriculture, along with the wholesale decline in the accoutrements of contemporary civilization (i. e. well-stocked supermarkets). But having followed the alleged End of Oil for almost a decade now, I’ve amended my position to “maybe,” even “I don’t know.”

The peak oil “collapse,” always just around the corner, never seems to happen. This doesn’t mean “peak oil is a myth”; rather, it means the catastrophic effects have been over-sold, sort of like the media-hyped “comet of the century” Kohoutek in the 1970s, which fizzled out.

Besides, it doesn’t follow from the decline of oil that organic farming will rise. Organic foods have always been more expensive to produce, even in a regime of low oil prices, than supposedly “oil-based” foods. Organic farmers have fuel bills, too, and they are virtually addicted to plastics, so in the predicted expensive oil future, organic prices will continue to outpace conventional prices.

It doesn’t even follow that organic methods are more “sustainable” than “conventional” ones. My deconversion from this last plank of belief has been preserved for posterity in an exchange with Robert Carroll of the Skeptics Dictionary, under his entry on “organic (food and farming).” He says:

“…the problems we will face will probably be exacerbated if we went totally organic. Think of how much more land we would have to use to feed the world’s population. Where is this land going to come from? Clear-cutting rainforests?

…organic farming could feed the world if population stopped or receded, but that is unlikely to happen any time soon. Conventional farming of genetically modified crops may be the only hope for feeding the billions more that are likely to be added to world population within the next 50 years.”

The alleged “sustainability” of organics for a “post oil future” is an instance of an ideologically-based movement co-opting a genuine issue (“peak oil”) and casting it in apocalyptic terms in order to make salvationist claims for itself.

The end of the matter

In the end, there is nothing particularly wrong with the methods sanctified as “organic”—the food produced is as good as any other food—but it turns out that just about every other utterance that issues from the organic movement and its acolytes is an absurdity, a contradiction, a misrepresentation, a slander, or a fib.

I phrase the Jesus quote at the beginning this way:

“It’s not what goes into your pie holes that’s the problem. It’s what comes out of your pie holes that’s the problem.”

So if you currently buy your fresh produce from your local organic farmer and you really like it, continue to do so. Just tell them to cut the crap, along with their prices.

All in all, a fantastically, informative read. Just as we should be wary of Big Ag, Big Pharma, and Big Government when they assert, by fiat, that so-so equals bladdy-blah, so should it be of Big Organic when they assert their methods use no pesticides, less-intensive pesticides, is automatically better because it’s au naturale (wild almonds anyone? They contain cyanide), or, any other contradictory occurrences. I believe Rob Hart has said it best: “The world has changed. We don’t live anything like our ancestors. We don’t work like them, talk like them, think like them, travel like them, or fight like them. Why on earth would we want to eat like them.”

Thanks for the guest post Mike. And don’t forget, if you buy S3: Science, Statistics and Skepticism, I’ll give you Random Rationality: Expanded free (which cost 3 times as much). Just email me your receipt (you’ll find my email at my author website). Thanks for reading.

120 thoughts on “Guest Post: Why I’m Through with Organic Farming”

  1. It should be noted that the events I mention as occurring at Maine’s Agricultural Trade Show happened in 2011, not this year. This essay was written two years ago.


  2. Reblogged this on Socio-Economics, Biosafety & Decision Making and commented:
    Interesting reading. What I want to do is to trace in a research project, all that goes into the process of producing agricultural products using organic, fair trade, socially conscious, and conventional approaches. Sometimes, I wonder if the additional cost of getting certified, makes the attractiveness of producing organic or fair trade…less attractive. I know of a friend who stopped producing organic coffee as the certification was a pain in the neck. This will be an awesome project if I can get funds to implement it at one point…cross the fingers…

  3. Yes, it is time that we all take a long close look at the loonies fighting Big Business. What a bunch of doofs! Some people might think that this article points to ways that we can improve the counter-culture, but no, no, no…. It is time to give in and get with the program because “we the people” can never win. I am so much happier since I gave up and you will be too.

    Yours truly,
    Winston Smith

  4. “We don’t live anything like our ancestors. We don’t work like them, talk like them, think like them, travel like them, or fight like them. Why on earth would we want to eat like them.” Ok, the answer to why we want to eat like them is that we have their bodies and their digestive systems. Driving a car instead of walking, or remote piloting a drone instead of hitting someone with a club doesn’t change how your intestines work. You evolved to thrive on the food that was available to your ancestors. Maybe we can bio-engineer some new humans in future generations, but you can’t change who you are. You need berries, grubs, and roots.

    1. Hey producto. The quote references the way we get our energy (food), not that we need energy. If you really wanted to get food like your ancestors, you would be hunting and foraging, not planting organic farms; agriculture is only 10,000 years old, humanity 200,000 years old. We need food, it doesn’t particularly matter all that much whether it is conventional, GMO, or organic. But we don’t need to make food like our great-grandfathers, who, in all likelihood, lived subsistence lives. That is the point.

      As for your previous comment, I guess you don’t notice the irony in a controlling counter-culture dictating what can and cannot be done in ‘opposition’ to what ‘big business’ does.

      1. No, Fourat, I found your quote and in context it is about what we eat, not how we get our food. And what we eat does matter because big ag biz is not looking out for our best interests. They feed our tongues, not our bodies. Tongues served us well in cave dweller days, but not now when our preferences for sweet, salt and fat are so easily overindulged.

        To say conventional/organic doesn’t matter is charmingly skeptical, but “organic” is about food standards. The champions of those standards may be weak, foolish, and in need of better information, but there is no counter culture dictating what can and cannot be done in opposition go big business…there are only some mostly well-intentioned individuals doing their best. If that best falls short of your standards, then help them to do better. Simply surrendering to “conventional” means big ag biz gets to do whatever they want. Surely you realize that what they want is just money. If only a few corrupt organic charlatans, and some foolishly spiritual hippies are in their way…consumers will be exploited.

        1. Surrendering to conventional is quite strong. I have a few problems with that statement. One, it assumes that something is inherently wrong with conventional ag, when there is not. Of course they want money, every business is predisposed to wanting money, as are organic farmers who want to sell it. There’s nothing wrong with making money, most of us spend most of our lives chasing promotions, education, and a comfortable live, yet we degrade corporations who do it? Seems like a double-standard to me. Secondly, conventional agriculture feeds billions of people cheaply, and we can’t do that with organic agriculture (not cheaply at least). We need to move forward with plant science, not backwards to the past. I’m not saying there aren’t problems with conventional, there will be problems with every approach we take, even organic.

          I don’t buy into the false dichotomy of us and them. The answer is more competition, not a regress to the agricultural past. And, again, you presume there is no counter-culture, as if the FDA and USDA provide a buffer between what “they,” as you seem to think they aren’t, and the public. Steve Savage wrote a great post about just how thorough safety testing is: http://appliedmythology.blogspot.co.uk/2013/05/how-wrong-is-latest-dirty-dozen-list.html.

          1. Fourat–“Organic” has many meanings. When we choose to buy organic, it is really about an attitude. “I don’t trust big ag biz to keep toxins out of my food.” The fact that organic isn’t really safer or less big biz isn’t really the point. It should be the point, but we are down to just a hopeful wish that maybe by spending more on food labeled organic, we will protect our families from some of the pesticides, etc. For many there is a distrust of capitalism and a desire to take a stand, however futile it may be. This kind of unclear, wishful thinking is a problem. We don’t have focused, well-informed goals in opposition to pure, unfettered capitalistic exploitation of consumers. Big ag biz has us where they want us. Your inability to distinguish between standards for corporations and standards for people, and your apparent lack of concern regarding WHICH form of progress corporations will choose to give us seems naively trusting.

  5. Producto Endorsair, let’s not forget that “organic” is now “big business” as well. Steve Savage has pointed out that the vast majority of sales come from large organic farms;


    And let’s not forget that most small, local farmers are not organic.

    It’s easy to conflate elements in issues as complicated as food an farming. For example, one may grant activists’ grudge against Monsanto’s business practices without having to support their wholesale antipathy toward genetically modified organisms and foods.

    Similarly, one can take issue with “big business” and support “small, local businesses” without having to buy into organic ideology.

  6. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on Organic Farming. One thing that I think is sad for the organic farmers is all the time they put into it and then people aren’t really ready to give them the time and money to pay for all their troubles. I am sad for them.

    1. Organic farmers seem to be doing quite well. Sales are rocketing, year on year. You should feel no sadness for them. They provide a service, at a higher cost to those who can afford it, and there’s nothing wrong with that; so long as they stop claiming it will feed the world.

  7. I think we need sustainable, non-toxic farming. Not organic. And then I suppose, we can begin to define that in absurd ways as well. But organic perhaps just sounds better.

    But I will tell you my organic vegetables taste better. I don’t have the faintest idea why. But it’s the only reason I started buying them. It began quite by accident–I couldn’t find the chemically-raised kind that particular day in the grocery store and I was feeling too lazy to look very hard. And then realized I could taste the difference. So long as I live above the poverty line, I suppose I can indulge in that little extravagance and buy celery that tastes like celery.

    I’m totally with you. The older I get, the more I like food, and the less I like BS. And I really love vegetables.

  8. After all, neurotransmitters are chemicals, and without them in our brains we would not be able to chew our food. I sure like that my apples don’t have funguses or worms. I am baffled by the allegations made by both sides. This article really makes sense. Rationally I knew that apple growing requires chemicals. I wondered how apples could be grown organically without chemicals given that funguses and worms are still there. They simply don’t call them chemicals. Houdini would love this slight of hand. Thanks for putting this out there, even though I’m sure it will be controversial. There are a lot of moms trying to make healthy, cost-effective decisions.

  9. Honestly did not read entire article, but wanted an opinion, and i apologize if it is in the article already. They say that the hormones put into food today, particularly meat, allows the meat to taste, look, grow faster, better, it is freaking super meat, but, have you seen the younger generation of teens and hell even pre teens supercharge growth?! Is that the hormones is the food, is not better to eat organically grown food, natural, or how our bodies were designed? Our bodies are adapting maybe to this evolution, but are our minds? Teenage girls and boys should not have added distractions? Really, take a look, and tell me you do not have to remind your self that your looking at a teenager and you should not be thinking of anything more than that…

    Just thoughts, new to blogging, poking around!

  10. I disagree, but that’s OK. It’s what makes the world go round. I had an organic garden for several years, fertilized by the compost pile that was super-charged annually with manure from a local rancher we knew (yes, he followed organic practices too). Zero pesticides, organic or otherwise. We lost some apples and berries to birds, but pesticides wouldn’t have helped that anyway.

    That said, I recognize that I was gardening on a family scale (although it was a very large family garden), and not commercial farming. It’s probably quite different when you have investments to protect and a business to run.

    When I lived in Colorado and was surrounded by farmers, I enjoyed purchasing directly from them. I was less concerned with the “organic” label and more concerned with knowing how they raised their food.

    The “Organic” label is far from perfect for many reasons, including some mentioned in the article, as well as other reasons. But as a person who has no option but to buy from grocery stores at this point in life, “Organic” gives me some measure of confidence. I semi-trust a large-scale organic farm. I have ***ZERO*** confidence in farms that buy from Monsanto.

    1. I would suggest your confidence is misplaced. Over 20 years of GMO production there is not a single credible instance of sickness or death. Sadly the same cannot be said for organics, where thousands have been sickened and killed via food poisoning.

      1. Are we really still on this thread, over a year later? Sigh.
        Sure, I’ll bite. I fear your example is an ‘apples vs. oranges’ case. “thousands have been sickened and killed via food poisoning”????? HUH? My best guess is that you are referring to cases of improperly handled food being packaged for sale. Yeah, that’s a problem – for both “organic” and “non organic.” That has nothing to do with whether the product is organic or not.

        If you are not referring to that, well then, I’m thoroughly confused. How does a product created without (OK, with fewer, bowing to the good points in this article) chemicals by it’s nature create a situation for food poisoning? The lack of chemicals in the garden I used to have neither created or prevented food poisoning. If I failed to follow proper food handling procedures, THAT could potentially cause food poisoning.

  11. You are writing Organic farming. All about fertilizers to produce unhealthy thing in our body. Now a day more cancer occur even though not tobacco habitat or other habitat

  12. Reblogged this on Free words and commented:
    Have you ever noticed health food geeks don’t seem healthier that those who eat regular food?
    I feel that the pressure and tension of dealing with food just poisons them.

  13. There are problems with organic farming. Many more so after the USDA took the job from third party certification. However, this piece lacks integrity. Too many logical fallacies to count. No sources or citations. This is just an opinion piece, and that’s ok, but you’ve dressed it up to be more than that and it just isn’t honest.

    Then overall “logic” here, summarized, is: the government has corrupted the organic industry, so toxic chemicals aren’t toxic.

    Completely silly. Laughable even. A criticl thinking failure at best.

    To anyone who really wants to know the difference between conventional and organic prouction of food, do your own research. To harken some 90’s sci-fi, because yes, nerd here, “The truth is out there.” And this isn’t it.

    1. The overall logic here, which you have not correctly summarized, by the way–and in the process of trying, committed logical fallacies of your own, while failing to identify a logical fallacy committed in the body of the piece–is not that pesticides aren’t toxic, it’s that organic’s methodology, pr philosophy is probably more apt to describe it, is devoid of objectivity and empiricism. By way of pointing that out; he has not said, nor I insinuated, that pesticides aren’t toxic. You, however, completely fail to address the dosage of chemicals, which is the only relevant part of chemical toxicology. As Brian Dunning said: “Every chemical, no matter how safe has a toxic limit, and every chemical, no matter how dangerous, has a safe limit.”

      And, conventional foods of all kinds are well below even the conservative maximum limits enacted by the USDA. Steve Savage wrote a very informative post to that tune: http://appliedmythology.blogspot.ie/2013/05/how-wrong-is-latest-dirty-dozen-list.html. Admirable that you tell people to do their own research, but doing one’s own research does not negate good, objective science.

      1. As lymedig points out, Fourat, there is a problem in your presentation here. You use problems with the Organic movement as a lever to tip us towards accepting “progress,” and conventional farming, and the oversight thereof. How do we know that the USDA’s maximum limits are “conservative”? Your skepticism pendulum has swung so far that now you have forgotten to be skeptical about big biz, its amoral agenda, and its power to control the outcome it seeks.

        For another example of consumer safety in a capitalist society, consider the power plants at Fukushima. They were considered to be well-regulated, with up-to-date safety mechanisms and backup contingencies, exceeding the most stringent safety standards. Everything was as it should be and those who were worried about it were “devoid of objectivity and empiricism.” Except, well, no. There was big money to be made by cutting corners, misrepresenting facts, corrupting regulatory agencies, etc. There is also big money to be made in big ag biz and this means we should be very wary and not blindly accept the official story about conventional food. People like Steve Savage can spin the story by talking about “farmers” doing their best, but the people in control of what you eat should be called by their real names…capitalists.

        1. Producto,

          We know that the limits are safe because they have been peer-reviewed, verified, replicated, and given out to the public domain, warts and all, and can be considered thus, what nature has regarded as true to borrow a quote from Michael Specter from his book “Denialism.” My skepticism pendulum hasn’t swung anywhere, its accept science and the replicated findings of it. Your skepticism pendulum is, I’m sorry to say, not concordant with the data we have.

          The power plants from Fukushima weren’t regarded as safe; TEPCO (the plant owners) were repeatedly told, by the government and courts, to fix the flaws in their design for the purpose of curtailing the risk from the exact event that occurred in 2011. They were mandated by law to do so but didn’t, and a full investigation into the circumstances laid the blame squarely at the docile japanese culture. So, despite the fact that Japan is a capitalist society, the government and justice systems intended to do the right thing, and in this case, the private company did not follow the legal directive and Japan paid the price.

          Your thesis and arguments are the tired and same ol’ conspiratorial nature that one finds in websites like Natural News and Info Wars; high on sensationalism and low on evidence. Of course you will find cut corners if you look hard enough in a few small cases. There are exceptions in every single endeavor of the human sphere; once you find an actual, real, bona-fide conspiracy theory that is not the exception will I buy your argument, and frankly, it just doesn’t exist. (I’m not saying you won’t find small stories that seemingly support your argument, but nowhere do they exist on a grand scale where the public is being duped and hoodwinked.)

          Think about it from a business perspective, what do these companies have to gain in the long-term by poisoning ALL their customers? Nothing, only short-term profits. What do they have to lose by doing so? Everything. Which would they prefer, long-term profits or short-term profits? Obviously, long-term profits. These companies aren’t run by idiots. Your argument defies logic, business sense, and is predicated on a massive, global conspiracy theory that would be impossible to keep secret in this connected world. Given that, I’d say you’re imagining things and think you’re being skeptical when you’re really being hoodwinked by information you think is trustworthy, but really isn’t.

          1. Safety limits for pesticides have been peer-reviewed? To what extent? This isn’t like evolution or climate change, or a non-flat earth; we are talking about teasing out the effects of individual chemicals from the complexity of all our intake. We don’t have numerous “peers” looking at all the minutia. Your confidence in independent verification leads you to a premature “mission accomplished.”

            Fukushima power plants WERE regarded as safe by the majority of the population who assumed that everything was at least good enough. They weren’t just docile; they were under-informed, and overly credulous. Maybe some people “intended to do the right thing,” but the plant managers were able to get away with not doing it, even though problems were not completely hidden. Are you saying that was a conspiracy…or just how things work in a capitalist society?

            Don’t “straw man” me with some global conspiracy theory argument that I’m not making. I’m just talking about how human nature plays out in a capitalist culture. People with money tend to push hard to make more money. And yes, of course, it IS short term money that controls most capitalist decision making. Long term goals get lip service, but most managers need to keep their job with current quarter results.

            What is the information you think I think is trustworthy? What is that you think I am imagining? You seem to have mindlessly plugged me into some stereotype and fired up your standard flame war. In fact, I don’t claim to know what is true about any particular organic/conventional controversies. I’m just saying hold on to your skepticism. You may still need it.

            1. If I’ve painted you into a corner you’re not in, then I apologize. Your arguments sound very similar to those I’ve heard before. It sounds like skepticism, it’s usually not. My position is amenable to further evidence, there has been lots of evidence already that says the residual pesticides from conventional ag have little to no effect. If they did, we’d already see them, both in the farmers in close contact with their fields (they’re healthier than the rest of us, both in terms of cancer and general well-being), and the population that eats them. Being skeptical after a mountain of evidence is already in is no longer skepticism, it’s neutrality, bordering on denial.

              In regards to Japan, yes, the population regarded them as safe, but you do expect the individuals who make up the population to know everything about everything? In a democracy, we delegate the authority to our governments, institutions, and justice system. Those worked in Japan, but the legally binding rules were not carried out by the company. This is the rare event that goes wrong. You point to it as if rules unequivocally in your favor, yet ignore the millions of times it goes right. It’s not a conspiracy, it’s a circumstance that is criminally wrong. It doesn’t mean the system doesn’t work, however. For every bad thing you can point to, there are millions of exchanges, checks, and balances that go swimmingly well. Don’t let your amygdala persuade you into thinking everything functions like that because one singular event went horribly wrong–millions of good things also happen everyday. There’s no point in me arguing it any further, you already have your conclusion and, seems, you will not be swayed; on this and the conventional/organic split.

              Anyway, again, I apologize if I mistakenly painted you into a corner. I still find no merit in your arguments, however. Maybe I haven’t argued it persuasively (most likely), but I’m tired of running around in circles, so I’ll excuse myself from our back-and-forth. Have a good day Producto.

              1. “For every bad thing you can point to, there are millions of exchanges, checks, and balances that go swimmingly well.” If you mean swimmingly well for the privileged classes, they yes, I agree. If you mean for the population at large, then yes, there is no point in any further back and forth.

      2. +1 on the definition of chemical toxicology. It is my frustration as a chemist when people start talking to me what is organic and what is not To imply that what they consider “organic” is “totally safe” is also something that drives me up the wall. Anything, whether chemical or naturally-derived, isolated and purified has toxicity limits. Anything that is plant-based, consumed and ingested has a limit. Bravo for being so clear , articulate and point blank!

  14. Kevin’s World, the compost and manure are used widely at Dow Farm as well. What farmer is not interested in building up soil? That doesn’t make us “organic” except in the sense that we’re using organic matter. The terms are frequently confused: one is an agricultural movement based on superstitions and extraordinary claims; the other simply means pertaining to living matter–organisms.

    Of course you should buy that produce you like up where you live, whether it’s “organic” or not. I do not share your overwhelming, a priori contempt for Monsanto. I really don’t care about them one way or another. I have learned that many farmers like and trust their products. See Brian Scott’s blog “This Farmer’s Life.” He does a fantastic job educating the public about how larger-scale farming works and is transparent about his dealings with Monsanto.

    1. What farmer is not interested in building up soil? Large-scale commercial farms hooked on Monsanto products. Yes, there’s that word again. I do have contempt for that company. I hesitate to call anything “evil” but Monsanto comes close. They frighten me. And yes, I have educated myself about them quite a bit over the past 15 years, well before most people heard of them.

      But back to my first point. Large-scale commercial farms do not build up soil. They overwork and abuse it, then compensate by using toxic chemicals to fertilize what little is left in the soil.

      How can you say organic farming is a movement based on “superstitions and extraordinary claims” yet say that industrial farming is “pertaining to living matter-organisms”? I’m not even sure what you mean by that. Organic farming (in it’s purer, smaller-scale sense at least) means using naturally occurring substances to continue a cycle. That is a long way from the other end, which involves using toxic artificial chemicals and practices that deplete the soil, kill off everything possible, necessitate a war of increasing toxicity, and ultimately, grows produce that lacks flavor and biological diversity.

      “Organic” is not perfect. Far from it. But it’s vastly better than the alternative.

      So, I still disagree with your opinion, but I enjoy the discourse. Thanks for making me think.

      1. ” But it’s vastly better than the alternative.”

        Kevin, this is what I would call a false dichotomy. It’s tempting to think in either-or terms as an advocate of organics (I thought that way myself). To my mind, there are just farmers. The crops, locations, sizes, methods, tools, are so vast in range that making blanket claims about a supposed “alternative” to “organic” just doesn’t make sense to me.

        “How can you say organic farming is a movement based on “superstitions and extraordinary claims” yet say that industrial farming is “pertaining to living matter-organisms”? ”

        I’m not sure you understood my original comment. The word “organic” has multiple meanings that contradict one another in an agricultural context. “Organic” refers properly to that which pertains to living things (“organic matter,” etc.) I didn’t say “industrial farming pertain[s] to living matter,” although it has to in some shape or form. Industrial farmers certainly can’t grow inorganic plants.

        Industrial farmers get a bad rap. They are lumped together in a sort of straw man sort of way then derided. The fact is, there are 7 billion people to feed. Industrial sized populations require industrial sized farms. It may not appeal to our aesthetic sense, but they are necessary and we should be grateful that they keep up in abundant, cheap food.

      2. I’m curious Kevin, how do you know large-scale farmers aren’t interested in building up the soil?

        We farm 3600 acres and we work hard to build up the soil. This year we planted rye grass. Its purpose is to be organic matter (that’s the scientific definition, not the social) in the soil to increase the nutrients and also be a natural weed block. We also apply fertilizer and crop protection products (from Monsanto) to our fields because producing food to feed the world IS hard on soil and we do everything we can to make the land better each year, not worse.

        What you may have forgotten is that this large-scale farm feeds hundreds of people (American average) but it is also directly responsible for feeding my family. And yes, we have this business to make money. It is reprehensible. But if we fail to take care of the land we have, we also fail to make money.

        I’m not sure who you think is running these farms, but most are hard-working, third, fourth, maybe fifth generation farmers who get up before dawn and go to bed after dark and work 365 days a year because they get the land in their blood.

        How many large-scale farmers do you KNOW?

  15. lymedig, your objection to there being no citations is a valid one. The original text I sent to Fourat was so long that I omitted one whole chapter and the Works Cited page. I’m duplicating the sources here for your benefit, using key phrases to denote when a source is cited.

    I apologize for the oversight.

    1. [The status of Rotenone has changed over the years.]

    2. “In the early 19th century, “Vitalism” reigned.”
    Vitalism, Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vitalism

    3. “This commenced with the German mystic Rudolph Steiner and his Anthroposophic movement”

    4. “the synthetically produced, chemically inorganic fungicide copper sulfate is declared ‘organic.’”

    5. “As a general rule, all natural (non-synthetic) substances are allowed in organic production”

    6. “Allowed synthetics.”

    7. “MOFGA Pesticides quiz.”

    8. “Genetic engineering.” MOFGA manual.

    9. “Genetic engineering.” NOP manual.

    10. “Tomorrow’s Table.” http://pamelaronald.blogspot.com/

    11. MOFGA manual, see note 8.

    12. MOFGA, “Livestock.”

    13. “Why would organic growers and consumers want to converge.”

    14. “Eliot Coleman derides non-organic farmers.”

    15. “Non-organic farmers and feedlot owners.” Ronnie Cummins. http://www.naturalnews.com/031519_local_food_organic_farming.html

    16. “Bruce N. Ames and Lois S. Gold have shown.”
    Ames, Gold. http://www.pnas.org/content/87/19/7777.full.pdf

    17. “the execrable Environmental Working Group.”
    http://blog.sustainablog.org/2011/06/dont-let-the-environmental-working-group-diminish-your- quality-of-life/

    18. “benzo(a)pyrene.” http://www.epa.gov/teach/chem_summ/BaP_summary.pdf

  16. Reblogged this on multicolouredsmartypants and commented:
    As someone currently studying the Environment and International Development as part of my degree, I have to say I think this is a brilliant piece. The issues identified reflect all sorts of other problems within the environment/health/development arena as well.

  17. Since this is getting much more attention than I could have expected, I’m duplicating the chapter here that I deleted due to length.

    Surviving the end of oil, organically

    The last plank of the organic barrel raft to be removed unceremoniously from my grasp was the “sustainability” claim. In spite of what I knew were absurdities in the organic movement, I still believed that organic farming would be the only option left to us in a “post peak oil world.” Oil-based farming was clearly unsustainable; as oil becomes rarer and more expensive, we will have to find more sustainable ways to farm, and organic is waiting in the wings to save the day.

    I accepted that peak oil was imminent, if not here already, and that this would mean the disappearance of “industrial,” “petroleum-based” agriculture, along with the wholesale decline in the accoutrements of contemporary civilization (i. e. well-stocked supermarkets). But having followed the alleged End of Oil for almost a decade now, I’ve amended my position to “maybe,” even “I don’t know.”

    The peak oil “collapse,” always just around the corner, never seems to happen. This doesn’t mean “peak oil is a myth”; rather, it means the catastrophic effects have been over-sold, sort of like the media-hyped “comet of the century” Kohoutek in the 1970s, which fizzled out.

    Besides, it doesn’t follow from the decline of oil that organic farming will rise. Organic foods have always been more expensive to produce, even in a regime of low oil prices, than supposedly “oil-based” foods. Organic farmers have fuel bills, too, and they are virtually addicted to plastics, so in the predicted expensive oil future, organic prices will continue to outpace conventional prices.

    It doesn’t even follow that organic methods are more “sustainable” than “conventional” ones. My deconversion from this last plank of belief has been preserved for posterity in an exchange with Robert Carroll of the Skeptics Dictionary, under his entry on “organic (food and farming).” He says:

    “…the problems we will face will probably be exacerbated if we went totally organic. Think of how much more land we would have to use to feed the world’s population. Where is this land going to come from? Clear-cutting rainforests?

    …organic farming could feed the world if population stopped or receded, but that is unlikely to happen any time soon. Conventional farming of genetically modified crops may be the only hope for feeding the billions more that are likely to be added to world population within the next 50 years.”

    The alleged “sustainability” of organics for a “post oil future” is an instance of an ideologically-based movement co-opting a genuine issue (“peak oil”) and casting it in apocalyptic terms in order to make salvationist claims for itself.

    1. The attention of a good thing, thanks for sticking around and helping me answer the comments. I’ll add this to the main body, again, sometime tomorrow.

  18. I am a organic purest. I have to be, due to the allergies in the family. So I appreciate the blog and where you are coming from. However, with a little study anyone can learn to grow organically in the real, unWalMart variety of organic products. Learn about corn gluten , vinegar and solarization for weed control, beyond exercising the hoe. And that would be a saddle hoe. And use a handsoap solution ( one part unscented, natural handsoap, to 8 parts alcohol, and 40 parts water ), spray on your insect infected plants, top of leaves and underneath, let stand for 15 – 20 minutes (depending on the sensitivity of your plants) and make sure you rinse off thoroughly. Don’t do this late in the evening with plants that are unacceptable to fungus, ( tomatoes, goards) or you will kill your plants.Neem oil can also be used for insects with great success. Sure I have been doing it for almost 40 years, but everything you learn improves your garden and the purity of your food. One last suggestion, feed your soil and it will feed you. Good gardening. Thanks for the reflections and advice.

    1. pushinback, I’m not sure what allergies have to do with organic food since the allergens in foods are the same whether they’re produced organically or by other means.

      Your “solutions” for pests assume that there is something wrong with using pesticides. If one follows the label, pesticides are safe and effective.

      The home-made recipes you refer to might work for a small percentage of pests (aphids, say) but not all. They are also not legal for professional farmers to practice: as we learn in pesticide applicator’s training, “the label is the law,” so any “off-label” uses for substances are verboten.

  19. Reblogged this on Silver Star Winery of Texas and commented:
    From my WordPress family this is an interesting take on “Organic Farming.” This is a winner on the daily chosen several blogs from the millions on WordPress Blogs from around the world. The winners of this daily contest of sorts are rendered the seal of being “Freshly Pressed.”

  20. Great article, but as I said to my brother once many years ago, organic is wrapping your head around the fact that eating poop fertilized food is safer than eating chemically fertilized food. And yet I want my food as natural as possible. To me the trick is to buy locally so you can ask (and watch) what the farmer does, and grow whatever you can yourself to be sure.

    1. Very interesting comment b4r, because it articulates the “straw men” on either side of the argument:

      No food–organic or otherwise–is actually “poop fertilized”: the standards are clear about composting methods. High temperatures and appropriate turning and timing convert animal wastes completely, so that calling such compost “poop” after it has been broken down is like calling poop “food” after it has been digested. Sometimes fresh manure is spread on soils (usually in the fall) but it has to be incorporated and allowed to sit and break down for months before crops are planted.

      On the other hand, “chemically fertilized food” is a misnomer, too, as such food is identical to compost fertilized food: the chemicals are identical, the sources are just different. At the microscopic level of the plant roots, all amendments, “organic,” “chemical,” or otherwise, are reduced to their molecular components, so that the plant only “knows” it’s receiving nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, etc., not “poop” or “chemicals.”

      On our farm, we use both compost and commercial fertilizer. I say, do whatever works and is safe.

  21. Your reference that pesticides are 99.99% all natural is from 1990 – thats 23 years ago and no longer can be considered a valid source of information.

    I do agree though, that the process and politics involved with organics is shifty. At the end of the day, eating an apple is better than a chocolate bar. Eating natural foods (food occurring naturally in nature) is better than eating processed foods (food that is not able to occur without intensive assistance from scientists like buffalo flavoured potato chips or wine gums, both delicious). Why is this? I’m not sure. I eat both and still I’m alive. But I presume if humans have eaten this food for thousands of years, my body is probably better equipped to digest it.

    I appreciate your critical review of the organics industry, but still I feel confused and defeated. The food industry feels like an industry that can never win.

  22. you can totally delete this, just want to point out a typo that I make all the time – The – you wrote ‘teh’ instead of ‘the’ on a subtitle The Pesticides – thought you would want to know to fix it because I appreciate when people help me out 🙂

      1. sorry – i’ve got baby brain with a newborn and two toddlers while in the middle of a move and launching a website – my brain can’t think logically so much right now, much less in terms of satire!

  23. Congrats on Freshly Pressed! Secondly, I found the comments here interesting, though predictable 🙂 in that many seem to feel that all “big” farmer or “chemical” farmers are large, heartless corporations. In reality most of America’s farmers are family farmers. The family farm has gotten bigger, often involving extended family and hired hands, but few American farms are actually run by corporations and men in board rooms.

    My husband and I are “large-scale” farmers, depending on how you look at 3600 acres. We farm corn, soybeans, and wheat with best practices and products from Monsanto. We have a six year old and a three year old, three cats and a dog. We shop at Sam’s club and thrift stores so I can be home with the kids and hubby slept 5 hours last night and every night the past two weeks because its planting season and he’s in the tractor.

    We are not out to get you.

    But if you’d like to meet us, we’d be more than happy to talk to you about what goes on at our farm. I blog what I hope are educational recourses for teachers and homeschoolers about farming, plants, science etc. but many adults enjoy reading about our farm as well. You’ll find me at http://www.daddystractor.com, but this might be a good post to get you started http://daddystractor.com/2013/05/06/spring-field-work-happy-plants/

    Happy eating, whatever you choose!

    1. Thanks for the offer, and nice comment. Indeed, that is one of the things that bothers me most. The dehumanization of large groups of people for ideological purposes.

  24. Reblogged this on Tangible Aftertaste and commented:
    This is the best read I have had in along time.
    I agree, I as well am done with Organic “Bullshit”
    I have always known the government is full of poop when it comes to protecting Americans, they only protect their wallet.
    Anyway. This article t=taught me that “Certified Organic” is just as effed-up and Farmer Bob’s commercial agriculture.
    The only way to solve this is to grow your own, YA, Grow your own, community gardens,and personal gardens and crops.
    Let the “COMPANY” know your done with them too!

  25. Good article. I’ve been an ‘organic’ grower for a number of years, around 10 I guess. I put organic in parentheses because in my opinion there really is not such thing, its a load of bunk. You can rotate crops to prevent diseases building up in the soil, spray plants with home made chilli solutions in an effort to keep pests out and companion plant but at the end of the day, you need some amount of chemical.

    As for the BS I agree wholeheartedly agree. Jon Lovett recently wrote an article on same, he said;

    “One of the greatest threats we face is, simply put, bullshit. We are drowning in it. We are drowning in partisan rhetoric that is just true enough not to be a lie; in industry-sponsored research; in social media’s imitation of human connection; in legalese and corporate double-speak.” http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2013/05/life-lessons-in-fighting-the-culture-of-bullshit/276030/

    He went on to say that he thinks the world has reached “peak BS”. On that point I’d disagree but I’m somewhat cynical.

  26. Very good read and very timely. i am moving back into small scale farming with a good friend of mine and in many ways we represent both sides of the business. I was raised on a dairy farm where we used the antibiotics and sprays and fertilizers while my friend was a devotee of Mother Earth News and dyed in the wool homesteader. Needless to say we have butted heads more than once. Now we are working together to turn his 50 acres into a viable business that will at least feed us and our families and eventually make us a decent income.

    As I have read more and more about the organic or sustainable food movement, I keep coming back to one question: can we feed the world this way? Yes we can, but it will take many more people and hand labor to do so. For those countries and cultures where labor intensive agriculture already is the norm, the organic/sustainable practices advocated in this country can be adopted without much disruption and will provide those farmers with more yields and better quality. But in this country, will a substantial minority of our citizens be willing to return to land? I don’t think so, which means commercial farming in this country will continue much of the way it has been practiced for the last fifty years.

    Like you, I despise the hype and the lies that both sides are using. The lack of a middle ground is more of a sign of the times than an actual lack of mutual common ground. Add to that the severely skewed agricultural and economic policies in this country that favor the extremes on both sides without supporting the middle ground of responsible farming and we have a scenario where no one accepts the results offered by the “evil” other side. Hopefully enough people will actually start learning and thinking for themselves to to support good farming practice and policy. I can at least dream.

    Jim Kenney

    1. Jim, thanks for the thoughtful response.

      You say,

      “As I have read more and more about the organic or sustainable food movement, I keep coming back to one question: can we feed the world this way? Yes we can, but it will take many more people and hand labor to do so.”

      This might be true–I certainly can’t refute it–but how would we know? “Sustainability,” feeding the planet organically or conventionally, are such huge questions with so many complicating variables that I don’t see how anyone can draw any firm conclusions without first doing some massive calculations about inputs, fuels, calories per acre, climate, etc.

      My current thinking: “Sustainability” is just a word. As Professor Albert Bartlett has said, sustainability has “both virtue and vagueness,” so that it can “mean whatever you want it to mean.”


  27. Start up farmer here! I’m new-ish, so i may be a little off about a few things….maybe not. I never claim to be all knowing.

    I mostly raise pigs and sheep and would be considered by some “organic” because everyone is on pasture and i don’t vaccinate and medicate the animals (except the sheep for tetanus) and others, because my pigs get grain fed with conventional (non-medicated) pig feed, not organic. At this point I feel like the “Organic” label is largely personal as to what it means which may be its greatest weakness.

    To me it means making an effort to improve the land and the animals on the land. Sometimes this means we just rotationally graze our animals, give them enough space and they are so healthy they don’t get parasites. Sometimes this means we have to worm because the animals arn’t able to fight off the parasites, but not so much that their bodies never develop a natural ability to fend . We pay attention to the outputs and figure out how to improve the soil structure itself so that in 50 years its even more productive than it is today.

    Why is that not a desirable goal? I know most farmers *want* to improve their soil/herd, but sometimes its easier and cheap just to pile on alot of synthetic fertilizer, get the plants to grow quick (but weak) and help them out by spraying pesticides because it PAYS THE MORTGAGE. I frequently see farmers tilling up their dry soil in a big tractor with a big could of top soil floating away. Its bad, that top soil isn’t coming back without a concerted effort to rebuild it, but who has time and spare money?! Then there are trace minerals that were in the soil before….but how many farmers are relpacing selenium, boron, magnese after mining the soil with plant crops that are shipped off the property? This can be remedied by using manure (or animal rotations) rather than only chemical fertilizers. But it is more labor intensive.

    The farm i bought would be difficult to run as a conventional farm. Its a few acres of pasture with a whole hillside of forest facing north. The soil is rocky, though rich. I consider sometimes how i could do something more conventional and profitable….but i can’t. I’m stuck having to go “organic” because this place is just an odd piece of property. I did decide to be “conventional” and rent a rototiller to get my garden started…3 hours later i had a 10×20 patchwork or compacted clay, lumps of clay and resistant grass clods standing dirty but undeterred. I was exhausted fighting with the machine. So, I fence it and move my pigs in the area and like magic! 1-2 feet of nice fluffy clay with manure and urine mixed in…and the pigs weren’t even that hungry for dinner because they were foraging something yummy in the ground. Yeah, sticking with my hippy pig plow from now on.

    1. erikamay85, thanks for commenting.

      My partner and I keep a few cows simply as a hobby, so I can hardly advise you about what to do. However, I notice you are falling for the “organic”/”conventional” dichotomy.

      The is no such thing as “conventional” agriculture. The term is a testament to the effective spread of “organic” propaganda. There is “organic” and everyone else, it seems, and “conventional” only sprang into being as a convenient straw man to pounce on at every opportunity. That is my opinion, anyway.

      For example, you say, “…sometimes its easier and cheap just to pile on alot of synthetic fertilizer, get the plants to grow quick (but weak) and help them out by spraying pesticides because it PAYS THE MORTGAGE.” You might be indulging in a bit of the straw man here, because synthetic fertilizers and pesticides are not cheap.

      There are good, effective, less-damaging farm techniques, and none of them belongs to “organic.” That have no patent on rotational grazing, soil-building, manure-spreading, etc. Take what you can use, and use them. I wouldn’t worry a bit about whether to call yourself “organic” or not.

      1. I don’t worry about my being organic or “conventional.” Every farmer does what they think is best in their case…or do what they have to do. Many farmers are given dates they need to put their seeds in by. If the weathers not right and they miss those dates, too bad. So, thus, we see farmers tilling land that is too dry to till.

        You are right that fertilizer and pesticides are not cheap, but it saves labor in the end so it is a short cut to making a cheaper product.. SEED is not cheap. machinery is not cheap. almost nothing in farming is cheap except the end price that the farmer is expected to sell at.

        Here is something fun for you anti-organic folks: until recently all farming through-out human history was done using “organic” techniques. What happened to the Fertile Cresent? its a desert. What happened to lush Israel, Lebonon, even parts of ancient Greece? Deserts. Around the world “Organic” farming has destroyed ecosystems. See, I’m one to see the grey inbetween black and white issues and I recognize that farming is a very destructive activity. I just want to make it as least destructive as possible.

        Personally, I like to call my farming “not being a short-sighted asshole and leaving land that is better for my children than it was for me.” Thus, why I am not inclined to take my neighbors advise and clear cut the forest on my hillside and start all over. Slow selective logging the way its going to be.

  28. Have you seen the bloodied chickens on supermarket shelves all thanks to optimal profiteering ag business. We definitely need food standards other than the ones we are getting now and there can be improvements over certified organics with time. Raising good agriculture consciousness is necessary because present day modern agriculture is heading into a dead end health wise.

  29. really like your article, I study chemistry sometimes as a hobby when I am in the mood, tho i can’t quite get the calculations of what mole of this will you need to get that, but I get the basics pretty well, we aer all bathed in chemicals, our air is oxygen, nitrogen and others and these are chemicals, water is a chemical, our body is full of chemicals and reactions going on constantly, plants produce chemicals too to fight off pests, to produce it’s own enzymes, to produce food from sunlight and to build up it’s tissues, the bitterness you get from veggies is natural pesicides, kale for example, you know how bitter it is if you eat it, I hate kale by the way and can’t stand cooked greens the texture makes me gag, lol te reason we need to use pesticides is one we don’t practice sabbaths of the land every seven years, you know let the land lay fallow to break the pest cycles,, second is breeding of sweeter veggies (who wants to eat bitter veggies yuck!)thirdly growing the same crops year after year, (because the gov says so or the contractor who agrees to buy your stuff whatever the market requires it hence the middle man the bank or whoever)if farmers were left alone to produce what customers want and to breed and grow what they wanted and what people wanted (instead of the gov protecting corp decides should be on the market and people buy simply because it is cheaper and the good stuff is not) then you would find the need for less pesticides or pesticides that wash off easily. I find this funny this organic thing, one it costs way more, second I grow alot of stuff dont’ require pesticides like various beans, like green wax etc, and tomatoes, and other plants I have, (my husband found if he planted collards in july he got way less pest damage without using pesticides, always a plus, and browsers hate it as it is very bitter, second organic is touted for more then being healthier but watching those vegetarians and others who believe in organics talk I wonder if maybe htey drop acid or lsd or something before they do their videos by the way they talk. for them organic is more than just eating and growing more healthiy for yourself and the enviroment but connecting with nature or bringing the spirit in or whatever, some sort of supersititious worship thing. and some of these vegetarians have some really strange ideas and tolook at them I can tell they are malnorished, the literally look pale, weak and sick. I kid you not. with me tho If I had to depend on my crops for susteancne and not just supplement and for fun, I would starve without using some kinds of chemicals. i dont mind some losses but I do not plant in the same place twice, I move around my yard alot. so no pests ever get a chance to get a foothold.so far.now if I could just stop those darn japenese beetles from eating my roses, virginia creepers i really hate those darn things I have used pesticides on these plants to no avail, the roses I am more careful so the bees don’t get sick.

  30. Thank you for this. I am very interested in feeding my family the most nutritive food I can, but I am often suspect of the demonizing of an entire food practice (like GMOs) and the belief that organics can cure society of everything from oil dependence to autism. Your failure to drink the Kool-Aid, (or the Kombucha, as it may be in this case,) is very refreshing.

  31. Nature does it’s own genetic engineering, but it’s over a very long period of time and it’s referred to as mutation when it shows up. The word organic has become a signal that the food is going to cost more. The problem of oil v.s. food production has a simpler solution that isn’t so main stream yet that seeing the word that defines it means what food is produced is going to cost more. The word is perma culture and it’s a type of gardening/farming that works with how nature likes plants to grow.

    Perma culture cuts down on the amount of oil needed to grow food. It looks messy, but so does going into a forest. Nature keeps house in it’s own way. It’s got it’s janitors to keep the forest floors healthy and it’s got it’s seed carriers that often just drop the seeds onto what appears to be decaying and rotting plant material.
    To us who live in neat little human storage units all of this is wonderful if it’s out there away from our trimmed lawns and pretty gardens but nature has been producing food on this planet for a really long time with out us humans doing it our way.
    Perma culture is a human attempt to actually pay attention to how nature grows food and does what nature does. From what I’ve been able to find on it the difference is that there is no turning of the soil, that’s the biggest difference that I’ve seen between perma culture farming and both organic and farms that use pesticides.
    So I decided I’d try an experiment this year with trying to grow some tomatoes and squash. I poked holes in the dirt and just popped the seeds in and if they grow, good. If they grow and produce tomatoes and squash even better. I’m really tired of eating tomatoes that taste sour but look like they should be sweet like tomatoes I’ve had that were allowed to ripen on the vine before they got picked.
    This experiment means I’m not pulling weeds or spraying of any kind. I’ll just give them water and let nature take care of the rest. I hope it works because nature doesn’t go broke trying to raise food so why should I or any farmer anywhere. And besides I want to enjoy vine ripened tomatoes. I know bugs can be a problem but birds and other animals that eat bugs are natures answer to bug over growths.
    Bugs do their part in the processes that happen in nature so instead of looking at them as something we need to destroy so we can have food, following the example that nature sets for us, maybe it really is time to do as nature does when it comes to raising food. The need for oil doing it natures way would certainly decrease and that’s something I think would make lots of people happy and gardening would take less work but still produce food, so that would make a lot of people happy too.
    I think it’s a better answer to growing food and needing less oil.

    1. whiteringmoon, the “permaculture” philosophy you mention is shot through with the Appeal to Nature fallacy.

      The “example that nature sets for us” concerning pests includes the following: Predation, overshoot/dieoff, extinction, and chemical warfare.

  32. This is a a realistic commentary that has a lot of points I can agree with. Yes, I value organic food because I believe that although pesticides are still used, they are used with a bit more responsibility. By that I mean, there isn’t a spray schedule that just happens because it’s the first of the month. I worked on an organic farm and we only applied copper hydroxide to our tomatoes when we saw late blight on fields next to ours. We sprayed spinosad, a bacteria cultivated from the bottom of a rum barrel that has a devastating effect on caterpillars and a whole host of other insects. Probably the most friendly measure we used was also the most discouraging for us. Row covers we placed over our arugula that were supposed to keep the flea beetles out were time consuming to apply and made almost entirely of spun plastic fibers. Sometimes they worked well and they stayed away. Sometimes we lost whole beds of $16/lb farmers market greens to tiny black insects that had a feast. It was more about the insects life cycle and the timing of it with the environmental conditions than anything.

    You are right when you say there a lot of quacks involved. It’s almost like some of the consumers were attracted from a Grateful Dead concert just so this movement could obtain a following. That’s one of the things that always bothered me about the sector. You have to be too weird to fit in anywhere else to be taken seriously as an organic farmer. The ethics they believe in just aren’t real. We had a guy on our farm that was vegan. So vegan that he wouldn’t eat honey because the bees were exploited. What a joke! By the end of the summer his wife had moved out of state for a job and he was to join her when the season ended. As he attempted to finish out the season living on a local campground in a tent his lifestyle choices began to unravel. It didn’t last long as the lack of flesh comforts that he shunned quickly made him crack. All he talked about was free health care and veganism. All the while long he drove a car to work, used immense amounts of electricity and water, and in the process gave us all a headache.

    What most consumers don’t understand is that any commercial farm, be it organic or conventional, uses an immense amount of resources. Fuel and water for planting and irrigating are some of the biggest expenses on a farm, now let’s take into account water for washing, energy for refrigeration and transportation. It all adds up much the same as it would on a big farm selling to a supermarket. Biodynamic farming is a cool concept, but why all of the hocus pokus? The only types of farming that I can get behind are permaculture and aquaculture.

    These farming techniques save a lot of space and resources, don’t have to be certified to fit neatly into a system with a lot of gray areas, and are sustainable if you’re farming for the right reasons. I’m trying to get back into the agriculture sector, however this time I’m doing it on my own terms. If a guy in a tent doesn’t like what I’m doing, fine. Although I will always do my best to carry out safe practices, I will not cater to an industry that justifies its own importance to the world by undercutting everyone else. I always choose the safest option first, and sometimes that means starting with a bottle of castile soap. It’s true, big farms will fail with the disappearance of fossil fuels. Permaculture practices will make it, but don’t expect to feed masses of people. Instead, expect years when there are total crop failures of certain vegetables. Just as it is for the plants, when this happens disease and pestilence will rip through our population. Crop rotation to avoid these pathogens will become paramount, along with water conservation. The truth is there is no perfect system, and ever since we stopped wandering and foraging and decided to settle down in one place to get comfortable, we as a species began to throw the planet out of whack.

    In conclusion, the red tape that one has to deal with to be a certified producer is just ridiculous. The chemicals that they approve for use are simply products that are a little less harmful, and had enough money and study thrown at them so that the EPA could feel confident that it got enough money to keep the wheels will remain greased. They are as corrupt an organization as any associated with our criminal government. I tried to develop an organic fertilizer with a person that was an investor of sorts and what we quickly found was that most of the work was going to be navigating the hurdles that the EPA would throw up in our way. Two and a half years was the average time for approval, all so that someone with dreadlocks could buy it and feel good about their consumer ethics. Like I said, I don’t want to use chemicals that cause disease and harm the environment. I would prefer just letting things go at some point so you can come back next year and plant somewhere that hasn’t been toxified. This is an expensive decision to make if you’re trying to make money. I’m guessing that’s probably why it’s a very unpopular choice.

    1. Greg, nice comment. My experiences at an organic farm were similar: We liked the fact that we sprayed “soft” pesticides, but we also saw lots of losses. In 2009, we had a particularly ferocious infestation of late blight, and we uprooted and threw away hundreds of mature tomato plants. We tried spraying “Oxidate” (very corrosive to the eyeballs, by the way), but it was too late. What a frigging waste it was.

      I simply do not worry about pesticides anymore since I became a licensed pesticide applicator (actually, organic farmers now have to get the same license. It doesn’t matter whether you’re spraying conventional or organic pesticides). You learn that the label is the law, and if you follow the label, you don’t harm yourself, your plants, or your neighbor.

      You say, ” I value organic food because I believe that although pesticides are still used, they are used with a bit more responsibility. By that I mean, there isn’t a spray schedule that just happens because it’s the first of the month.” This might be a bit of a straw man. Maybe some farms work that way, but I know here at Dow Farm our sprays are done very judiciously because I fricking hate the job of spraying: It costs money, it takes time, and it’s a pain in the ass. We have apple trees, which are evil disease and pest magnets once you get to know them. I subscribe to a newsletter through our extension service which advises apple growers when exactly to spray, what to spray, etc. You learn NOT to waste your time spraying. Basically, fungicides have to be on the trees before the rains come, and if you get more than two inches of rain, you have to reapply the fungicide. It’s pretty intense through scab season–which is, like, right now and lasts into mid-June.

      One nail in the coffin for the organic movement was learning through a grower of apples that he has to spray almost TWICE as much in his organic orchard as in his conventional orchard (yes, he grows both types. He plays both sides, as it were.) His “organic” orchard is surrounded with a buffer zone and he treats his conventional trees with pesticides and fungicides as usual outside that buffer. He uses only certified materials on his “organic” trees withing the buffer zone, but that means instead of making 12 passes per season with the sprayer, he has to make 22 passes!

      Isn’t that just an incredible irony? Organic pesticides are so weak and unstable that they have to be continually reapplied. Sulfur, which is the only option available for organic growers who want to control scab, only lasts through 1/2 inch of rain, whereas the captan I use lasts through 2 inches. So that organic orchard is continually being sprayed. This grower also told us that the materials are more expensive, he has more compaction in his organic orchard due to tractor traffic, and, to top it off, he says, “Those trees just aren’t healthy.” By this he means that his organic trees are constantly under stress from pests and fungi and don’t produce as well–in fact, the organic trees only produce 25% of what the “conventional” trees produce.

      Why does he continue with it? Because of those big, big prices he can command from people up and down the East Coast looking for virtuous “organic” apples.

      What a crock.

      1. I’ve heard apples are rough. Anytime you genetically bottleneck a plant to get the things you want you inevitably lose things that are/were important in the plant’s evolution i.e. disease resistance. There is no way apples can’t be sprayed with anything. I’ve seen someone try and they got roughly 20-30 edible golf ball sized apples, the tree than had to be cut down the following year. 2009 was the year was also the year I was on the organic farm, and we also had late blight, just a lot later than you guys got it out East from what I remember. I feel the conditions kept it at bay (no rain) better than anything we did with powders and sprays. More recently, I’ve worked on a walnut orchard and we went og on half the trees for the same reasons your buddy did, higher market value. We were also forced to spray several times in the seasons. We just got away from using things like Ambush that kills overhead flying birds it’s so toxic! Walnuts are a bit more resilient than apples in that they weren’t fungus magnets. What I meant by my comment about scheduled spraying applied more to vegetable crops like lettuces, broccoli, kale, etc. Basically fresh farmers market type produce that honestly I can’t remember hitting with anything. You just have to take the losses if something happens and move on. Luckily, there are some things that the bugs and disease will leave alone so long as you rotate them around and don’t provide a buffet. Thanks for your feedback, I’m now following your blog and look forward to future post.


  33. i found it disappointing that you are giving up organic farming. i think some of your comments are erroneous – DTT is toxic to certain wildlife i know about but you didnt say about Rotenone – are you saying it is toxic to the same wildlife in the same way? as a natural biochemical i expect it to be easier to decompose (biodegrade). organic chemistry is a branch of chemistry, but the use of the word in chemistry originates from certain old ideas and just because something ‘has carbon’ doesnt make it organic under either definition, so you are wrong to say it. most organic chemistry compounds are not actually ‘organic’ (coming from nature) nor healthy to life, so benzenic would be a better term to allow a distinction. What farming in the first world lost during world war II that organic farmers are attempting to revive is the idea of soul and earth-connectedness that all good farmers should still have at heart, but how did they survive the war and the competitiveness that followed without becoming rapists of nature? In short, financial pressures meant that few did. Only government legislation protects the countryside from greed in the era of petro-agro-chemical-genetic-engineering of the land, its crops and livestock in this 21st century fox-hunting they call farming 🙂

  34. Recently 25,000 bees were wiped out with pesticide application. In Oregon, I believe (unintended consequence). I haven’t yet had terrible pest problems I couldn’t deal with in some natural way. I don’t fancy taking in pesticides and herbicides on my foodstuffs any more than I have to. Even curbside grass can be killed off with dilute saltwater…no herbicide needed. But you’re mind sounds about as made up as mine 🙂

  35. gregsarmas, as conventional cotton farmers, your quote that “a spray schedule just because it’s the first of the month” is just so outrageous that I am having a hard time even commenting on it. To waste time and money “just because it’s the first of the month” has never and will never happen on our farms. And just for the record, the GMO cotton seed that we now use has ELIMINATED all insecticide usage on our farm. With our major pest being controlled by the genetic trait in our cotton, we have not used one drop of insecticide for 6 years and the beneficial insects are flourishing and controlling the minor pests naturally. PS, Great Post Mike!!

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