Rooting For Organics


The National Organic Standards Board is currently considering whether or not to change the organic label to include hydroponically-grown produce: that’s food grown not in soil but with plastic tubes and not in sunlight but with artificial lighting.

Why there is nothing wrong with hydroponically grown produce, allowing hydroponics to exist under the same label as organic will continue to unravel the connection between human agriculture and the organic pulse of the planet. It also likely would hurt small organic farmers by diminishing the value of their organic label while encouraging larger scale methods of food production which in this case would likely involve plenty of inorganic materials like Styrofoam and plastics that themselves may contain a range of environmentally-detrimental chemicals such as flame-retardants and phthalates.

The point is that if producers of hydroponically-grown food want to utilize a non-pesticide driven approach and promote and market this fact to their customers…Bravo!  But at a time when the very existence of earth-based, seasonally-driven cultivaton is under threat, the organic-label should stay rooted in time-honored soil-based methods of agriculture.

The following cogent argument for requiring hydroponically-grown food to convey its credibility under a different designation than the organic label comes from Lisa Stokke, co-founder of Food Democracy Now!

“Thanks to the pioneering work of organic farmers to create a movement around organic food, the label is highly valued by consumers. Large corporations want to cash in on this, by growing food cheaply and calling it organic, so they can access the growing market of eaters who care about the methods by which their food is grown.

Put simply, they want to take industrial agriculture and call it organic.

Amazon, who has recently bought Whole Foods, now wants to scale their investment by mass-producing food they can call organic. Driscolls, MiracleGro, Scott’s — companies whose profit come from conventionally-grown produce, synthetic pesticides and fertilizers and genetically-engineered grass seed — all these corporations are behind the push to call their cheap produce “organic”.

These corporations are trying to change the definition to fit how they grow food, rather than changing the way they grow food to meet the certification determined by the National Organic Standards Board and the National Organic Program.

The “Organic” label has been trusted to stand for clean, nutritious food grown sustainably. It is valuable to farmers and eaters. But big corporations are trying to change the definition so they can label their food “Organic” that isn’t really organic. They want fruits and vegetables not grown in the soil — the foundation of organic agriculture — to be called organic.

Simply: your organic food and the future of organic farming is at risk. The organic farmers that we rely upon daily to grow our food are the stewards of the soil, seeds, water and food – their agricultural practices regenerate the earth and also sequester carbon that mitigates the effects of climate change. The food they provide nourishes us and our families. They have pioneered a modern revolution we call organic farming. The assurance that we have when we go to the supermarket is that we know we can choose to support organic farming by purchasing food that, by its label, has been grown by organic farmers and the regenerative practices that we want to support.

Organic farmers will struggle to compete with mass produced industrial hydroponically grown foods. If these large corporations are allowed to call what they grow “organic”, it will not only make it impossible for you to know which practices you are supporting but what you are actually eating. Even worse, organic farmers will be forced out of business, or forced to abandon the sustainable farming practices that nourish us and the earth.

People who eat food responsibly will no longer be armed with the knowledge they rely on to protect their families. The “Organic” label will no longer represent organic food, and the value of having that label will be cheapened. Consumers will have no idea how their food is produced, and what they are supporting with their dollars.

Right now, the National Organic Standards Board is deciding whether or not to recommend that organic must mean grown in the soil. They will meet in Jacksonville, FL to vote October 31st – November 2. Their recommendation will (in theory) be used by the USDA to make a decision on whether to allow food not grown in the soil to be labeled “Organic”.

Now is the time to make your voice heard.”