“In the 1940s, when my father taught me how to work the land near Rudd, Iowa, we didnÕt use commercial fertilizers (it wasnÕt available). Instead, we plowed down clover and alfalfa for the nitrogen.
We also used livestock manure.
Nobody labeled us Òorganic farmers,Ó but thatÕs who we were.
The first time we bought commercial fertilizer, I was in grade school. It was Ò3-12-12Ó 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. ThatÕs their choice, but to me they arenÕt organic farmers so much as old-fashioned ones. They arenÕt a wave of the future, but a blast from the past.
The very term Òorganic farmingÓ is a strange one–so strange, in fact, that ÒorganicÓ recently made the ÒList of Words Banished from the QueenÕs English for Misuse, Overuse, and General Uselessness.Ó
Since 1975, Lake Superior State University in Michigan has issued this amusing list on New YearÕs 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 Òorganic.Ó
Most dictionaries define ÒorganicÓ 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: ÒOverused and misused to describe not only food, but computer products or human behavior, and often used when describing something as Ônatural.ÕÓ
Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, lists all kinds of applications. An Òorganic organizationÓ is supposed to be flat and flexible, rather than hierarchical and rigid. In business, Òorganic growthÓ refers to increases in sales and output rather than increases through mergers and takeovers. In France, thereÕs even something called Òorganic law.Ó Maybe it has something to do with regulations on how to eat snails.
Most often, ÒorganicÓ is applied to food–and thatÕs what really bugs several of the wordÕs nominators, according to the LSSU press release.
ÒIÕm tired of health food stores selling products that they say are organic,Ó complains Chad Jacobson of Park Falls, Wis. ÒAll the food we eat is organic!Ó
Obviously, Mr. Jacobson has never munched on a pizza that tastes like cardboard–but technically, heÕs correct.
ÒThe possibility of a food item being inorganic, i.e., not being composed of carbon atoms, is nil,Ó comments John Gomila of New Orleans.
Good point–even if my grandkids entertain doubts about their school cafeteriasÕ mystery meat.
The bottom line is that all food is organic, whether itÕs processed with genetically modified soybeans or grown in a hand-tilled backyard garden in a fantasyland called NatureÕs Valley.
ThereÕs 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. ThatÕs their choice.
But letÕs not kid ourselves: ÒOrganicÓ 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 ÒorganicÓ farming, the fall in food production would cost the lives of 2 billion people.
ThatÕs a lot of organic organisms.
Dean Kleckner, an Iowa farmer, chairs Truth About Trade & Technology www.truthabouttrade.org