When the USDA officially approved hydroponic farming for use in the organic program back in November, the results were mixed.
Some said the change would allow better access to pesticide-free food for thousands of people, but many pioneers of the organic movement were not happy with the decision, including Dave Chapman, a 37-year organic farmer and tomato grower.
True organic farming means “keeping the soil in organic” according to Chapman and many other longtime organic farmers, and indoor water-based hydroponic systems don’t fit the bill.
Now just months later, Chapman and about 15 other “rebel farmers” and scientists have announced their plans to create an entirely new organic seal — one that will take the beloved label back to its true essence if all goes well.
New Organic Label Expected to Debut This Summer
According to a report from the Newburyport Daily News, the organic farmers met late last month in Vermont to create standards for the new program, which they plan to debut at 20 to 60 farms this summer as a test run.
Among the changes the new organic label will bring are the following:
-All organic crops must be grown in soil
-All milk, meat and other products must come from animals raised on pasture in accordance with traditional organic standards. Currently “organic” animals are not not always given outdoor access
-The farms themselves will add the label after being inspected by distributors
-Hydroponic growing is excluded
The group calls themselves the Real Organic Project.
Their meeting comes approximately five months after the National Organic Standard Board voted against a proposal to exclude hydroponically grown produce from the USDA’s organic program.
Linley Dixon, a vegetable farmer in Durango, Colorado and a senior scientist for the Cornucopia Institute, believes the change will be helpful for many young farmers.
“I think that a lot of farmers, especially young farmers, feel that the organic label no longer describes the way they farm, and we’re trying to recapture that,” he said according to the Daily News.
In order to protect the true essence of organic farming, Chapman started a petition called Keep the Soil in Organic which eventually became an organization.
Supporters believe the group’s mission is important because of the many unique aspects of traditional farming that are overlooked with hydroponic, which can produce large amounts of food but in a much different way.
“My work and visit experience on many of the most successful organic farms in the U.S. and Europe differs and leads me to the conclusion that soil based organics blends soil life, non-synthetic minerals, organic residues and physical care of the soil and surrounding lands to create an innovative balanced environment,” said Dave Miskell of Premier Organics in Vermont on the organization’s website.
“Do we know all the mysteries of this process? No, but we are learning. Growing soilless plants with force fed organic nutrients (editor’s note: through hydroponics) is a step backward. Perhaps it is a technological innovation, but not an organic innovation.
“Call it what you want, but it is not organic.”
The Real Organic Project is not abandoning the USDA Organic program through the new label, and says it is not about attacking organic farmers.
Their goal is to preserve and protect the traditional way of doing things.
“Some of the cornerstones of what organic means are being taken away, and we’re concerned about how creaky that makes the whole thing,” Chapman said to the Daily News, adding that the most important factor of organic farming should be to protect and enhance soil fertility.
Considering that the world may actually run out of topsoil in the next 60 years at current rates of depletion according to one senior official, it’s hard to dispute the merits of Chapman and the Real Organic Project going forward.