Is Organic Farming Better?
By Christie Keith

I had a dog friend over to my house many years ago.  She was admiring my vegetable garden, and mentioned she’d just sprayed hers that morning with sevin. I must have looked horrified, because she got quite defensive about it, saying something like, "The American consumer is not ready for wormy apples and bruised zucchini." (As if anything could actually STOP zucchini, but that’s another subject for another day.)

I simply opened my fridge and dumped my produce drawer onto my counter, and then dumped my fruit bowl alongside it, asking her to find any worms or bruises. Some of it was from my own organic garden, but most of it was from New Leaf Community Market in Santa Cruz, CA. It was without question absolutely gorgeous produce.

I think that the stigma of organic produce as "wormy and bruised" has been replaced, though, in recent years with the idea that buying organic produce is a gourmet, high-end, latte-sipping liberal thing to do, something for the effete and overpaid who don’t mind wasting their money at the health food  store  to buy "feel good" products that are no better than their  conventionally grown relatives in the supermarket. There could really be no better indicator of this trend than the characterization of farmers’ markets as an upscale urban phenomenon. And let’s not even mention Whole Foods Market, whose nickname is "Whole Paycheck."

Much of that impression is deliberately created by conventional farmers large and small. Large, because it’s part of their propaganda strategy to convince Americans that they can have a cheap food supply or an organic one, but never the twain shall meet, obscuring the fact that conventional agricultural practices have led to enormous indirect costs that are being footed by the American taxpayer. Small, because small family farms are being crunched out of existence on all sides, and the initial cost of converting their operations to organic standards is enormous.

An interesting study appeared last month in Bioscience, a peer-reviewed journal published by the American Institute of Biosciences that sheds some light on this issue. Conducted over a 22-year period, the study found that organic farms produce the same yields as conventional farms, but use less water, no pesticides, and 30 percent less energy. In addition, prices paid for organic produce are typically higher. Labor costs, too, are higher on organic farms, but the study still found a net positive effect on income.

Researchers also suggested that organic farming might be part of the solution for global warming, as "soil carbon in the organic systems increased by 15 to 28 percent, the equivalent of taking about 3,500 pounds of carbon dioxide per hectare out of the air."

You can read a summary and buy the full text of the article here, or read an overview on Cornell University’s website.

Now excuse me, I have to go pick some zucchini before it completely destroys my garden shed.

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