What does the USDA Organic label mean as applied to fruits and vegetables? On their blog, the USDA defines the Organic label as follows:
Produce can be called organic if it’s certified to have grown on soil that had no prohibited substances applied for three years prior to harvest. Prohibited substances include most synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. In instances when a grower has to use a synthetic substance to achieve a specific purpose, the substance must first be approved according to criteria that examine its effects on human health and the environment (see other considerations in “Organic 101: Allowed and Prohibited Substances”).
There is quite a bit of mystery in the definition, so much that one has to follow another link where the USDA defines prohibited substances. You can read more about USDA organic if you like.
Now, this begs the question, what is in the food that is not certified Organic? Synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, I’m sure plus a myriad of other substances that diminish the nutritional value of produce.
When you grow a garden, you can be certain of the inputs that go into it. You realize very quickly that dousing your fruits and vegetables with poison that kills bugs that predate humans by several million years is probably not in your best interest.
Another consideration for growing food in your garden is price. The Organic label commands a hefty premium that does not really guarantee much.
But what about pests and fungus that attack plants in the home garden? Wouldn’t the home gardener be forced to use synthetic fertilizer and pesticides to grow his own food, too? The answer is a clear and resounding NO.
The soil of a mature garden, one that has been tended carefully for several seasons, naturally reaches a balance that provides all the nutrients fruits and vegetables need to grow healthy, so healthy that evens pests don’t attack. Three years ago I planted a nectarine tree. The first year, I lost all the fruits to a moth that lays its eggs in the fruit and when the larva hatches it eats its way out of the fruit. The fruit falls off the tree or rots. The larva fattens-up into pupa and buries itself in the soil to emerge the next season as a moth, and the cycle continues. The AG industry has a simple remedy for this: douse the tree with a pesticide like malathion when the fruit is young and green so that the moth does not lay it’s eggs in the fruit, and drench the soil with more poisons to kill off any pupa that may emerge. There are so many problems with this practice beyond the obvious, but that is the subject of another post,
This season, the same nectarine produced even heavier and while I lost some fruits to the same moth, I was able to harvest more than my family eats. So what changed? A couple of things. The tree was more established and healthier. I improved the soil with my own compost and leaf mulches. I also noticed that the mocking birds developed an affinity for nectarines that had been impregnated by the moth. Lastly, I discarded any infected fruit that fell to the ground thus interrupting next year’s cycle.
Producing food at home is the surest way to eat healthier. The home gardener has many advantages over the commercial producer in the true organic practices he uses. And even if pests and birds take some of the harvest, planting abundantly and working the soil overcomes most problems.