Who Do You Trust with Your Food?

Here at Avalow, we pay a lot of attention to food. One of the interesting conversations happening right now is around hydroponic growing getting the green light to be considered organic.

This has raised some heated arguments from both sides, and of course, conversations on Twitter:

Dan Barber

Dan Barber

Michael Pollan

Michael Pollan

Recirculating Farms

Recirculating Farms

Driscoll's Berries

Driscoll's Berries

It is interesting to see how polarizing this issue is. Driscoll’s played a key part in pushing for making hydroponics certifiably organic, but their public stance and website don’t mention the word hydroponics at all, instead emphasizing only the organic practices used.

The key questions abound — should hydroponic farms that use no soil at all be allowed to be called “organic”? If all nutrients delivered to plants come from solutions piped in, is this considered “organic farming”? Organic farming used to mean stewardship of the land primarily, and care in growing. What does it mean when there is no soil?

There are really great benefits to growing hydroponically, especially the availability to grow highly perishable produce closer to restaurants and markets.

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However, it breaks from the active soil management practices organic local farmers practice that have massive benefits beyond the delicious produce. The key issue in this argument isn’t about the types of chemicals used in hydroponics versus approved pesticides for organic soil farming, it’s really about the meaning of the term organic itself.

The CEO of Plenty, a startup focused on vertical indoor farming (with a talented graphics team producing excellent graphics such as the one above), weighed in with an unfortunately self-serving quote.

“We are growing fresh fruits and vegetables that are as organic as any other method,” Matt Barnard, Plenty CEO said. “People have spent 35 years understanding what ‘organic’ is, which is a long time. We, as a business, did not feel it would’ve been fair or equitable to cause a just-as-organic farming operation to have to explain to people something as convoluted as ‘Oh, it’s just as organic as … but not organic.’ That would’ve cost us an amount of money and years that we don’t have the budget for.”

With over $225m in funding and previous marketing positions that hydroponics are “super organics” because they don’t use chemicals or even “post-organic” due to the lack of pesticides, his position becomes even more confusing.

Francis Thickle, recently retired board member of the National Organic Standards Board offered a more reasoned opposing viewpoint — the summary of which is:

“..Organic is at a crossroads. Either we can continue to allow industry interests to bend and dilute the organic rules to their benefit, or organic farmers — working with organic consumers–can step up and take action to ensure organic integrity into the future.”

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The definition has now changed, but that doesn’t mean that there are no more land stewards. Both hydroponics and conventional chemical-free growing will result in benefits for everyone — more efficient hydroponic operations that can grow more than lettuce will be amazing for growing for inhospitable climates with poor soil. Chemical-free growing in the ground (or raised beds!) with efficient crop management and irrigation practices will offer even better and more nutritious choices for consumers while helping preserve our environment for future generations. For those of you not in the trenches to make food better, the key question you can ask right now is “Where does my food come from?”. At the end of the day, organic doesn’t mean what most people think. It is much more important to know where and how your food was grown if you truly want the best flavor, nutrition and guarantee of chemical-free food.