The USDA’s decision to certify non-soil-based (hydroponic) farms as “organic” only illustrates how disconnected the world has become from the organic ground of its own nature. Unlike soil-based organic farmers the practices of hydroponic farming do not serve to support either soil biodiversity or carbon sequestration. These key regenerative practices, along with the principle of regeneration itself, must always remain connected to the meaning of the word organic if it is to have any real existential value.
What hydroponic agriculture does support is big business, which now has its hands all over the economic opportunities of a growing market for organic agriculture. Allowing hydroponically-grown produce to be certified as “organic” threatens the livelihoods of small, soil-based organic farmers by undermining the value of their label while it provides a lofty financial windfall to large-scale organic industrialists who largely seek to reap the higher price of organic produce without shouldering the elevated costs and environmental responsibilities of regenerative agriculture.
This is precisely why the National Organic Standards Board recommended that organic certification be denied to hydroponic products. Similarly, Canada, Mexico, and the European Union now restrict organic certification to soil-based producers.
The Center for Food Safety (CFS) has filed a legal action demanding that the USDA reverse its decision and once again prohibit hydroponic farmers from displaying the organic label. The filing has been endorsed by over a dozen organic certifying organizations, including the Organic Farmers Association, the Northwest Organic Dairy Producers Alliance (NODPA), PCC Community Markets, and the Cornucopia Institute.
For those interested in learning more about the practice of good soil stewardship, The Organic Farming Research Foundation has published a comprehensive Soil Health and Organic Farming Series of guidebooks and webinars. Their goal is to provide organic farmers and gardeners with up-to-date information on biological management of plant diseases, the soil-food web, and soil-management plans.