I was a teenage organic farmer.

“In the 1940s, when my father taught me how to work the land near Rudd, Iowa, we didnt use commercial fertilizers (it wasnt available). Instead, we plowed down clover and alfalfa for the nitrogen.
We also used livestock manure.

Nobody labeled us organic farmers, but thats who we were.

The first time we bought commercial fertilizer, I was in grade school. It was 3-12-12 because those were the ingredients: 3 parts nitrogen, 12 parts phosphate, and 12 parts potash. The fertilizer came in 80-pound bags that we had to lug around and keep dry. If a bag got wet, it would harden and we would have to smash it apart. We applied 50 pounds per acre for corn.

What I remember most of all, however, was the result: The corn shot up faster, the fields grew greener, and there was more of everything. We never looked back.

Today, people who call themselves organic farmers try to avoid commercial fertilizers. Thats their choice, but to me they arent organic farmers so much as old-fashioned ones. They arent a wave of the future, but a blast from the past.

The very term organic farming is a strange one–so strange, in fact, that organic recently made the List of Words Banished from the Queens English for Misuse, Overuse, and General Uselessness.

Since 1975, Lake Superior State University in Michigan has issued this amusing list on New Years Day. For 12 months, LSSU accepts nominations through its website for words and phrases that ought to be purged from our language. Then it selects a few that deserve a permanent place in the rhetorical trash bin.

For the latest list, more than a dozen made the cut–and the worthiest loser, in my view, is organic.

Most dictionaries define organic as a word that pertains to organs or organisms, but in common speech it now means so many things that it has come to mean nothing. Crystal Giordano of Brooklyn, N.Y. was one of its nominators: Overused and misused to describe not only food, but computer products or human behavior, and often used when describing something as natural.

Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, lists all kinds of applications. An organic organization is supposed to be flat and flexible, rather than hierarchical and rigid. In business, organic growth refers to increases in sales and output rather than increases through mergers and takeovers. In France, theres even something called organic law. Maybe it has something to do with regulations on how to eat snails.

Most often, organic is applied to food–and thats what really bugs several of the words nominators, according to the LSSU press release.

Im tired of health food stores selling products that they say are organic, complains Chad Jacobson of Park Falls, Wis. All the food we eat is organic!

Obviously, Mr. Jacobson has never munched on a pizza that tastes like cardboard–but technically, hes correct.

The possibility of a food item being inorganic, i.e., not being composed of carbon atoms, is nil, comments John Gomila of New Orleans.

Good point–even if my grandkids entertain doubts about their school cafeterias mystery meat.

The bottom line is that all food is organic, whether its processed with genetically modified soybeans or grown in a hand-tilled backyard garden in a fantasyland called Natures Valley.

Theres a market in the United States for so-called organic food, and if certain farmers want to meet it through old-fashioned practices, then by all means they should go right ahead. Thats their choice.

But lets not kid ourselves: Organic farming is inefficient and hard to square with the demands of modern life. Norman Borlaug, the father of the Green Revolution, has estimated that if the world were to switch to organic farming, the fall in food production would cost the lives of 2 billion people.

Thats a lot of organic organisms.

Dean Kleckner, an Iowa farmer, chairs Truth About Trade & Technology http://www.truthabouttrade.org