Organic produce is grown with the old-fashioned methods used
prior to the Industrial Revolution in an effort to stop or reverse
damage done to the environment. Over the years, these methods
have been improved. Sir Howard Albert is known as the father
of the organic movement, which is based on the use of compost.
He developed the Indore method
of composting, while working as
a British agronomist in India from 1905 to 1934. The benefits of
compost as compared with chemical fertilizers include improved
soil structure, better ability to retain water, higher retention of
nutrients in the soil, and the introduction of beneficial soil microbes
that suppress pathogens and help plants obtain nutrients.
The nutrients are released more slowly from compost and
are not leached as rapidly from the soil as are the highly soluble chemical fertilizers. Compost begins with plant residues and/or
animal manures that are aged 3 to 6 months (Figure 1.4). Animal
and plant residues that would otherwise contribute to the
pollution of waterways and landfills are recycled into a low-cost
fertilizer and soil amendment.
|Figure 1.4 Kitchen scraps have been added to
the top of this compost pile and should be mixed
into the center of the pile with a pitchfork or shovel.
Mixing the pile provides for optimal decomposition
and discourages animal scavengers. Composts are
used to improve soil fertility and are made up of
Biodynamic methods were introduced by Rudolph Steiner
in the 1920s. Specialized compost recipes and soil amendments
are used to develop beneficial soil microbes. Astrological
conditions, such as phases of the moon, are used to determine
when to sow seeds and transplant
. This approach has a limited
but dedicated following worldwide, as does another form of
organic cultivation called permaculture, developed in Australia by Bill Mollison. Permaculture integrates the garden into the
J.I. Rodale edited the Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening
in 1959 in response to the American public’s request for an
approach to the cultivation of produce free from chemical residues.
The method has been popular with home gardeners ever
since and has grown steadily in the commercial sector through
the 1990s and into the 21st century. The common goal with all
organic approaches is to grow high-quality produce while having
only a low impact on the environment. The methods can also be
applied in floriculture and landscape horticulture.
and crop rotations are used to take advantage
of natural interactions between plants, soil microbes, and
insects and thus reduce the need for fertilizer and pesticides.
High genomic diversity in crops is encouraged, as it reduces the
chance of disease-induced crop failure and offers a greater selection
of produce to the grower and consumer.
The organic approach requires more planning and can be more
labor-intensive than the conventional approach; however, organic
produce can be sold in the market for more money than conventional
produce. Increased consumer demand for pesticide-free
produce has resulted in a rise in the number of organic farms and
increased the distribution from local farmers markets to organic
produce sections in large supermarket chains.
In October 2002, the United States Department of Agriculture
(USDA) adopted a set of regulations for the national certification
of organic farms. Prior to this, certification was granted
on a state-by-state or regional basis only. These regulations
prohibit the sale of genetically modified organisms
the organic label but do allow for the chemical- and radiationinduced
mutations used for plant breeding purposes. Additionally,
the use of chemical fertilizers is prohibited and the use of
organic pesticides is tightly regulated.
Organic pesticides are derived from plants and other natural
sources. Since some organic pesticide substances may be toxic to humans and wildlife, they are used in small quantities
and only as a last resort. The consumer may not know which
pesticides were used and how soon prior to harvest they were
applied; therefore it is advisable to always wash your produce
thoroughly to remove potential pesticide residue.