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.
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.
Companion plants 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 (GMOs) under 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.
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