The Organic Premise:
Many people are aware that food grown according to organic principles is free from exposure to harmful herbicides and pesticides, but that is only one small aspect of organic agriculture. A larger part of organic agriculture involves the health of the soil and the ecosystem in which crops and livestock are raised. Organic farmers recognize that healthy, vibrant, and live soils and ecosystems significantly benefit crops. Natural, undisturbed soil is alive with microbiotic organisms that exist in harmony with the native plant life and the inorganic minerals that provide the soil's substrate.
Synthetic chemicals (such as herbicides, pesticides, and/or fast acting inorganic fertilizers) applied in or around crops interrupt or destroy the microbiotic activity in the soil. Once the microbiotic activity in the soil has stopped, the soil becomes merely an anchor for plant material. In this conventional method of agriculture (in use for only the past 75 of 10,000 years of recorded agriculture) plants can receive only air, water, and sunlight from their environment -- everything else must be distributed to plants by farmers, often from inputs transported thousands of miles to reach the farm.
Plants are commonly fed only the most basic elements of plant life and so are dependent on the farmer to fight nature's challenges, e.g. pests, disease, and drought. Why should a consumer care about agricultural techniques if an organically cultivated green pepper looks identical to a conventionally grown pepper? The answer is multi-faceted, but simply stated, an organically cultivated pepper will be healthier and more nutritious than a conventionally cultivated pepper.
By growing in a living soil where microbiotic activity constantly breaks organic matter and solid minerals into nutrients a plant can use, an organically cultivated pepper plant always has exactly what it needs to grow, from germination to fruit set, and the plant will be healthier throughout its lifespan than a conventionally grown pepper plant. As a result, the organically grown plant will be able to add more and complex components to all of its parts, including its fruit, resulting in a pepper chock-full of micro-nutrients and trace minerals that are important for human nutrition.
Flavor is another benefit of healthy plants growing in a living soil. Flavor results from a mixture of many different and complex molecules. Healthy, living soil provides a constant and more complex mixture of these molecules, which results in more flavor. It's no surprise that chefs working in the highest caliber restaurants prefer organic ingredients to conventionally grown ingredients.
By purchasing locally-grown, organic produce, the consumer supports sustainable methods of land use that result in far less pollution and top-soil loss than does conventional agriculture. Synthetic pesticides and herbices not only kill soil microbes and leave toxic residues on food, they also threaten the health of farmworkers and disrupt natural ecosystems around the farm. Chemical fertilizers pollute lakes, ponds, rivers, and groundwater.
The alternative to using synthetic pesticides and fertilizers usually requires more labor on a farm. With more labor, organic farmers can match or exceed the productivity and quality of chemically dependent crops. Labor, rather than synthetic inputs, typically means more support for local economies, but it can also mean higher prices.
Conventionally grown foods cost less because their hidden costs are passed on to consumers and the environment. These hidden costs include creating synthetic inputs, the resulting pollution from spreading them, and long-term health effects of pesticide residues in our food. In the long run, organically grown food is the best bargain for us, the environment, and future generations.
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