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Is the “USDA Certified Organic” label on a descent to irrelevance?

Real Billions and Real Trillions

While I was searching for images of life in the soil, I came upon the following on Sweet Bay Farm’s website (see above). They’re working to restore soils depleted by decades of monoculture—the continual cultivation of a single crop, in this case tobacco—so this picture of several earthworm tunnels in a clod does not yet suggest anything teeming.

A Conversation With Jeff Moyer

Jeff, before we begin, I want to thank you for the images of the jars of water, one with soil rich in organic matter and one with the dissolved murkiness of soil that is deficient in carbon. Ever since you showed those images during a public talk a decade or so ago, the comparison has stuck with me.

Colorado Soil Systems Receives 0% Loan

In 2016, Colorado Soil Systems received a $15,000 zero-percent loan from the 2Forks Club. This loan allowed us to establish a fruit-tree rootstock nursery to preserve indigenous trees that grow in the valley; purchase irrigation supplies, fencing, and soil amendments; and embark on a vegetable- and flower- production operation.

Reader Interactions


  1. Ainslie Kincross says

    Not a pretty picture…but predictable, as you say. Why is it we humans keeping trying to make Nature into a machine that predictably produces exactly the same stuff, with no compassion for LIFE?

  2. Mark Lipson says

    Eliot’s voice is that of a true fundamentalist, in as good a way as that can be. But the organic community has dozens of different peeves that “crossed the line” for somebody or some group. This has been a very tough one, and the exact line is still being drawn. But not all farms and not all farmers should or do look like the iconic New England pioneers. Despite its sins and shortfalls, organic is more relevant and important than ever to our toxic, heating planet.

  3. Ro Elgas says

    In a time of changing climates organic hydroponic producers offer high nutrient food to local markets using 85% to 95% less water than in-ground crops. I’ve had the privilege of inspecting many organic hydroponic operations as well as Aquaponic (veggies and fish). Contrary to polarizing nature of this article there are some great inputs available for hydroponics. Some of the new microbial based inputs help to build living nutrient systems in the water. The tests of the nutrient value of hydroponic and aquaponics foods coming from the operations we certify have been equal to or higher than in-ground crops! And as for pests… most are using nothing more than sticky-traps as it is an enclosed environment. The only operations using lights other than sunlight are in urban settings very far North and offer much needed herbs and greens to delighted locals who have no other fresh options in the dead of winter. .
    Aquaponics are A-MAZING! They can be set up as nearly closed loop systems producing fish, shrimp, veggies, fish food, worms, and even the fuel that heats the water for the system! Both hydroponic and aquaponic are at the for front in sustainable farming. They offer urban consumers access to fresh produce as well as food security.

    The organic seal has meaning. Organic producers go through a lot to get and maintain compliance to the rule. Those who want to eat clean and locally produced food but live far from a farm have the right to know that their food is organic and has been produced without the use of toxic pesticides and chemicals. Why create an issue where there is no issue. If a product is produced hydroponically it is listed on the organic certificate under, SCOPE: CROP- Hydroponic. If it offends don’t buy.
    FYI- The USDA has appointed an Organic Hydroponic Aquaponic task force. It will begin to meet in this fall to better define the organic side of the industry. …But then the writer knows that and is trolling to build distrust. The only question is why?

    • Eliot Coleman says

      The suggestion that hydroponic produce could ever qualify as organic is an oxymoron – a self-contradictory concept.

      “Hydroponic” contradicts the basic premises of “organic.”

      Organic farming embraces Nature by producing vegetables on optimally fertile soils that are alive and complex to an extent we can barely imagine.

      Hydroponic growing excludes Nature by producing vegetables on an infertile sterile medium doused with chemicals that can never duplicate the nutritional complexity of a fertile soil.

      Organic farming supports the food producer with free inputs from the natural world.

      Hydroponic production saddles the food producer with purchased inputs from the chemistry lab.

      The two could not be more different.

  4. Frank Ventura says

    I agree 100%, we need a new name for Organics and guard it well. And it needs a big name behind it like yours Elliot! Certified Naturally grown doesn’t seem to have been the answer.

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