Jeff Gillman (jeffgillman) Fri 11 Jul 08 18:34
I tend to like organic produce myself. It tends to be fresher and tastier, though it's often a little spottier -- The fresher and tastier is just because it's local I'm sure. Nothing tastes as good as an almost overripe peach that came right off the tree -- that kind of peach won't ship because it's too soft. Sometimes I really miss Pennsylvania and Georgia where I could get them that ripe. Here in Minnesota fresh peaches are a rarity. I've had organic and non-organic fresh peaches and could never tell the difference (except for some Japanese beetle damage on the organic ones). Thanks for all of your answers -- here's something to ponder. I get the general sense that people tend to think that organic growing is good for the environment, or at least more sustainable than conventional growing, but I'm not convinced that's the case -- at least not in industrial organic production (Have you read Michael Pollan's book Omnivores dilemma? -- if so you know what I'm talking about). The most common organic insecticides need to be shipped in from around the world which obviously uses petroleum. Certain organic fungicides last in the soil and can actually build up and inhibit crop growth (copper sulfate, Sulfur) and certain organic fertilizers aren't sustainable because they are mined (greensand, rock phosphate, guano). I won't argue with chemical sensitivity -- some people have it and it can be pretty darn nasty -- and I hate chemlawn myself -- I do use 2,4 D every few years (an herbicide that kills dandilions, plantain, thistle -- just about everything but grass)-- but I've seen them apply the stuff 4X a year -- absolutely nuts. This stuff combined with 2,4,5 T (a banned substance) were what made up agent orange made famous by the Vietnam war. So it looks like I'm arguing against organic -- but really I'm not. I think organic is great, but I'm not sure that it is everything that people think it is. And the truth is that I would like it to be what people want it to be ... so I think organic needs to change. Or maybe we need a new word for organic....
Paulina Borsook (loris) Fri 11 Jul 08 20:10
there's been a lot of stuff written how 'usda organic' standards were a sellout, and continue to be watered down/gamed for industrial farming. as some people here on the well know, i became a reluctant if fanantical activist to stop the light brown apple moth eradication program in california... ANYWAY, the relevent bit here is that the aerial-spray component of the program consisted of something approved by the national organic program of the usda --- and contained mutagens, carcinogens, primary lung skin eye irritants, etc etc. there has been a huge tension in the community, where ccof (california coalition of organic farmers) initially went along with the NOP organic certification --- because they didnt want their farmers to lose their precious 'organic' certification. yet many folks locally who want to buy healthy sustainable food --- dont want to buy food that was grown locally in the spray zone. ccof is no longer okay with this spray...and the poor farmers remain caught in the middle (many didnt want the spraying either, and had no choice in the decision). this has been a hugely divisive issue, pitting farmers, farmers markets, and local produce stores --- against local consumers and enviro activiists. it has been really sad, because really, we have all wanted to be on the same side...
Betsy Schwartz (betsys) Sat 12 Jul 08 06:59
Many of my favorite local farms here use a word other than "organic" to describe themselves. Our previous vegetable CSA was "biodynamic" (which is a philosophy of its own. Our new meat CSA is humane, grass-fed, and hormone free. The farm I can see from my back window is completely pesticide free (except for the corn, grown in another town) but does use some synthetic fertilizer. I like the word "sustainable". It is probably sustainable for a local farm to add a little something to balance the soil as they work to get their crop rotation right. It might be sustainable to give antibiotics to an individual sick animal. It's not sustainable to do industrial-scale petroleum-dependent mass production to keep New England supermarkets supplied with organic produce from Chile all year round.
Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Sat 12 Jul 08 07:11
It is for those Chilean farmers, however. The debate becomes one kind of sustainable versus another: buying local to sustain local farmers versus buying global to support an improved global economy. There are strong arguments on both sides.
Christian De Leon-Horton (echodog) Sat 12 Jul 08 14:00
That's a subject for a different book, I guess, but there is a body of evidence to suggest that the globalization of agriculture is actually destroying local farmers in developing countries and centralizing production into a small number of wealthy companies. Improving the global economy is not necessarily a positive development. Back to organic gardening, I would like to know Mr. Gillman's opinion on the use of mineral fines in gardening. There are an increasing number of claims regarding mineral dusts and the health of plants, but I wonder if it's actually possible to obtain mineral fines in a sustainable manner.
Jeff Gillman (jeffgillman) Sat 12 Jul 08 16:37
I like Betsy's thoughts on sustainability (and why not? They are similar to my own). Wouldn't it be nice to have a "sustainable" section in the grocery store? But I suppose it would eventually be industrialized the same way that organic food is now. My opinion on mineral fines in gardening is that: They may be good or bad. What are the fines from and what is the soil type that you're adding them to? Much of my research over the last ten years has dealt with adding various things to the soil to make it better. Sometimes what you add does make it better and sometimes it doesn't. Without knowing exactly what you're adding and the type of soil your adding it to I wouldn't hazard a guess. I will say that adding organic matter, like compost and mulch, is almost invariably the best thing that you can do for your soil. Before I end this e-mail I should answer Angie's question -- I keep only a small garden near my house -- some strawberries, basil, and marigolds, that's about it this year -- it has been bigger in the past. At work (University of Minnesota) I run an eight acre nursery where we use both organic and synthetic methods depending on what we're working on and the needs of the crop. We grow everything from roses to amur maackia -- and lots of elms -- we currently have a big project going on Dutch elm disease. I grew up on a small orchard (about 500 or so trees -- my dad was a hobby farmer) Over the years we grew peaches, plums, apples, apricots, and a few other fruits. We grew both organically and conventionally. The organic was mostly when we were too lazy to spray anything. Do you think that the world can grow crops using only organic methods and still feed its population?
Alan Turner (arturner) Sat 12 Jul 08 19:07
Bob Geldof did a big famine relief thing back in 1985, and at the end of it all he came to the conclusion that famine was not an agricultural or economic problem, but a political problem. George Harrison did a similar project in 1971, with similar results. Nothing has changed. Decades later, Zimbabwe is in crisis, but it doesn't have anything to do with a lack of fertilizers or pesticides, never mind what kinds. I'm hard pressed to come up with an example of a famine that isn't also related to a war or a governmental policy.
Andrew Alden (alden) Sat 12 Jul 08 19:13
Mineral fines? I haven't heard of that before, but looking at it from the geological side, that sounds like a very slow, gentle way to approach soil improvement. And it depends entirely on what you're adding to what--what mineral to what soil. It doesn't sound like something I'd go very far out of my way to do.
Betsy Schwartz (betsys) Sat 12 Jul 08 19:27
These folks have an interesting lifestyle - they run an organic, energy independent , almost completely self-sufficient homestead on 1/5 of an acre in urban Pasadena, CA, and they're aiming to increase production from 6,000 to 10,000 pounds of food this year: http://www.pathtofreedom.com/ http://urbanhomestead.org/journal/ On the one hand it is an awe-inspiring example of what people can do with a little space (and good weather and lax zoning regulations, neither of which are the case in my part of New England). But I've wondered whether this is "sustainable" for another reason: it looks EXHAUSTING. They have a household with four able-bodied adults, and it looks like it takes all their time to run the place.
Jeff Gillman (jeffgillman) Sun 13 Jul 08 18:23
I tend to agree that right now famine is mostly a political issue -- but that's because most countries dump huge amounts of synthetic fertilizers into the soil to stimulate plant growth. These fertilizers are made through reacting natural gas with air to create ammonia -- the best way we have right now to take nitrogen out of the air for feeding plants. But, it's not sustainable. It costs natural gas and coal (the coal is used to create high temperatures and pressure needed for the reaction to occur). The limiting factor to the growth of most plants is the amount of nitrogen in the soil. In organic gardening the nitrogen comes from manure or, sometimes, something less sustainable (like guano which is a special aged manure). If everyone farmed organically would we have enough manure to sustain our crops at their current levels? It's a big question, and many scientists think that we can't do it. If everyone farmed organically it would demand too much naturally produced nitrogen and so things would slowly crumble. It's an interesting conundrum. Are we now fundamentally unable to farm organically for all of our food because we have too many people for the world to sustain with what it can produce naturally? Betsy, those were neat links, thanks for including them. I have great respect for people who do what those people do -- but like you, I'm not sure whether I could manage that type of garden -- especially with a full time job! I also wonder how much animal feed, compost, fertilizer, and other outside materials they bring in.
What is going to amuse our bouches now? (bumbaugh) Sun 13 Jul 08 19:30
I was quite taken, reading the book, with the aphorism, "The dose is the poison." Could you elaborate on the thinking behind that?
Lisa Harris (lrph) Mon 14 Jul 08 10:15
So, in essence, sustainability is related to population growth/control. Then the question becomes which is more important: sustainability of the population or sustainability of the agriculture?
Gail Williams (gail) Mon 14 Jul 08 11:47
Wow, that's a profound question.
Joe Ehrlich (static) Mon 14 Jul 08 12:11
They're tightly linked.
Lisa Harris (lrph) Mon 14 Jul 08 12:51
Mark McDonough (mcdee) Mon 14 Jul 08 13:15
Alan Turner (arturner) Mon 14 Jul 08 13:36
While you do mention planting resistant varieties in the context of insects and diseases, I was a little disappointed not to see that with regard to deer. While there aren't varieties of the same species that are more or less attractive to animals (that I know of, anyway). If you have a choice in what to plant, you can use daffodils instead of tulips, pine instead of arborvitae. Was that because the list of plants that animals usually skip is sometimes a moving target?
Jeff Gillman (jeffgillman) Tue 15 Jul 08 07:10
Yes Lisa, I think that hits the nail on the head. If we sustain our population at its current level then we will have a difficult time sustaining it with organic agriculture. If we reduce our population then it won't be so tough to go completely organic. Back in the '80s when things were getting crazy in Eastern Europe Cuba had to shut down most of its fertilizer production. This shut down meant that it had switch over to organic methods and so is a good model for what might happen to the rest of the world if we were to switch over. Cubans now eat 1,000 less calories per person than they did prior to this occurrence, they eat meat only once or twice a week, they are a net importer of food (though not from the US obviously), all this and their still using 10-20% of the fertilizer that they once did -- only now they ship in the fertilizer instead of synthesizing it themselves. Back to the book -- Alan you ask about deer -- and I have an answer for you though it's a little bit of a cop-out. In The Truth About Organic Gardening I decided not to overlap too much with my previous book The Truth About Garden Remedies. In my first book on page 167 you will find a list of deer resistant plants, but not nearly as much about fencing, motion detectors connected to hoses, and the like as you'll find in my second book. Finding out what deer will eat is indeed a moving target, and varies from region to region -- but my primary reason for not including it was simply that I didn't want my two books to overlap too much.
Jennifer Powell (jnfr) Tue 15 Jul 08 13:42
If sustaining a food supply for our current population is dependent onm fossil fuels, then it seems inevitable that our population is going to go down sooner or later. On the other hand, cutting 1000 cal/day would probably do most USians good.
Angie (coiro) Tue 15 Jul 08 14:29
Jeff, did you get a sense of where organic gardeners tend to look for information, or how discriminating they are as information consumers?
Lisa Harris (lrph) Tue 15 Jul 08 15:09
ooh, that's a good one. I want to know, too.
Alan Turner (arturner) Tue 15 Jul 08 15:56
Ah! I can cartainly understand the decision not to make any significant part of your book to be a re-run of the first. Still, for the 2nd edition, maybe you'd consider putting a mention of it in? Just a sentence or two, finishing with something like "contact your local ag extension agent, they probably have a current list of deer-resistant plants for your area." Many people who ask me about this problem don't know that there are some things that the vermin don't like to eat. It's a heartbreaker for someone to plant hundreds of spring bulbs (not just the money, but also all the work) only to find that the squirrels ate everything but the daffodils. I had one couple tell me that they'd have been happy to plant nothing but them, but thought they were getting a good deal and doing a smart thing by buying a packaged assortment. Another thing that I get from a lot of people is that they don't even know that they're allowed to call their local agricultural extension agent with a question about a single apple tree. It's a common misconception that extension agents only advise commercial farmers, but their mandate is to advise anyone who asks about anything agricultural. Just like the public library, it's one of those things you pay taxes for, so if it's something they can help you with (often just by answering the telephone) you might as well call them! You'll probably get better advice than you'll get at the gardening department at the big box store. So a tip of the hat to you for mentioning that valuable resource often. It's one of the things I really like about the book.
Jeff Gillman (jeffgillman) Tue 15 Jul 08 18:23
Hi Jennifer -- Yes, I would agree that many Americans could remove 1,000 calories from their day and be just fine...but would they want to? Organic may involve sacrifices that some people just wouldn't be able to handle. Hi Angie, That is a good question. Funny I often ask the practices that organic gardeners/farmers use, but I rarely ask where they find them. My sense is that much of their information comes from packages that pesticides are contained in -- if it says organic it must be good! The serious ones also tend to use books and magazines including, especially, Organic Gardening by Rodale Press. How discriminating are they? Well, it varies widely, but I've found that many people "believe the hype" that they find on pesticide containers -- hype that may or may not be true. There is no doubt that recently "organic " pesticides have been heavily promoted. We still want our poisons, but now we want them to be "green". It would be funny if it weren't so sad. Hi Alan -- excellent point, thanks -- and thanks also for your kind comments about my book. I'm an extension scientist and I like to promote the extension service because I believe in what we do.
Dodge (clotilde) Wed 16 Jul 08 11:37
I love the extension websites where they allow you to send emails also. I had a question once about dogwood trees in East Texas and they were very good about giving me a detailed explanation of the problem. On the 'green' thing. I recently bought a 'green' roach spray. My room mate was told to only spot spray, please because she was really bad about using up whole cans of the stuff. The next morning I went downstairs and was slammed by the smell of mint. Seems one of the main ingredients is wintermint oil. ack! She hasn't been spraying so much lately. Man that smell can be bad if it's too intense.
Alan Turner (arturner) Wed 16 Jul 08 16:18
Now that formerly food crop land is being diverted to fuel crop land, maybe we should be looking at asking Americans to shave a few miles a day off off their driving. It didn't use to be that fuel production would take anything significant away from food production. Many Americans could still stand to trim a thousand calories a day from their diets anyway (myself included), but I thought I'd bring that issue up, since sustainable energy and sustainable agriculture and feeding the population are now all linked.
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