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Dave Chapman and dozens of different long-time natural farmers packed a gathering of the National Organic Standards Board in Jacksonville, Fla., this week. It was their last-ditch effort to strip the natural label from a tide of fluid-fed, “hydroponic” greenhouse-grown greens that they suppose symbolize a betrayal of true natural ideas.
“It really goes to the foundation of what organic farming means,” says Chapman, who grows greens on his farm in East Thetford, Vt. Abby Youngblood, government director of the National Organic Coalition, stated that “we’re seeing, here in Jacksonville, a lot of support for the founding principles of organic, which are really about soil health, regenerating the soil,” reasonably than merely feeding vegetation the vitamins that they want.
Their protests, nevertheless, didn’t persuade a majority of the board, which voted, Eight-7, in opposition to a ban on hydroponic strategies in natural farming.
Members of the government-appointed board, which advises the U.S. Department of Agriculture on guidelines for the natural business, had been persuaded as an alternative by the arguments of firms like Wholesum Harvest, which grows tomatoes and different greens in high-tech greenhouses.
According to the corporate’s Jessie Gunn, there are massive environmental advantages to rising greens indoors, with their roots in small containers. “We can grow our tomatoes organically with 3 to 5 gallons of water, per pound of production, as opposed to growing tomatoes in open fields, which can use anywhere from 26 to 37 gallons of water,” Gunn says. Growing crops in open fields, she says, “uses more water, more land, destroys more natural habitat. I mean, what is the true essence of organic?”
That is, in truth, the central query, and it has provoked a bitter divide within the natural business. On one aspect are natural traditionalists who’re dedicated to the concepts of Albert Howard, an English botanist who impressed the natural farming motion. Howard wrote that “the health of soil, plant, animal and man is one and indivisible.” For farmers like Chapman, nurturing the soil is the essence of natural farming, and a vegetable grown with out its roots within the soil merely can’t be known as natural.
On the opposite aspect are firms like Wholesum Harvest or the berry big Driscoll’s, who say that they’re delivering what customers count on from that natural label: Vegetables grown with out artificial pesticides, year-round, and affordably. “Don’t tell me that people in Duluth, Minn., don’t want strawberries in the middle of January, because I know it’s not true. And they want them grown organically,” Gunn says.
The battle is over greater than philosophy. It’s about market share. Hydroponic strategies, deployed on an industrial scale, are taking up an growing share of gross sales to supermarkets. Chapman says that the majority natural tomatoes offered in supermarkets right now already are grown with out touching the soil.
“What will happen, very quickly, is that virtually all of the certified organic tomatoes in supermarkets will be hydroponic,” Chapman says. “Virtually all of the peppers and cucumbers [will be hydroponically grown]. A great deal of the lettuce. And most of the berries.”
Chapman calls it a “tragic situation.” The Recirculating Farms Coalition, nevertheless, which represents hydroponic producers, welcomed the NOSB’s vote. Marianne Cufone, the coalition’s government director, issued a press release saying that “the NOSB is sending a critical message that sustainability and innovation are valuable in U.S. agriculture.”