Sunday, March 27, 2011

Organic Farming: The New Big Ag

That title is a little misleading -- I mean, there are a couple of projects right now that are pushing the idea, reasonably and intuitively, that organic gardening is actually better for the environment and more productive crop-wise than industrial farming.  The first example comes from a Grist article by Tom Philpott (a solid journalist who echoes a lot of the issues I like to think about) reporting on new findings from the test plots at Rodale Institute.  Here is a pullout from the article:
As the globe warms up, increased droughts are likely to reduce global crop yields. The ag-biotech industry is scrambling to come out with "drought-resistant" GMO crops. But organic ag might already have that covered: "In 4 out of 5 years of moderate drought, the organic systems had significantly higher corn yields (31 percent higher) than the conventional system."
This just makes sense and it's something you learn in environmentalism 101:  Plants that aren't protected by chemical pesticides/herbicides are more resistant to bugs, because they are naturally resistant!.  They're not going to be completely bullet-proof, but this just comes down our personal ick-factor when it comes to finding bugs in our fruit and vegetables.

Lonely, bruised apple is lonely.
For instance, it's really gross when you find worms when you husk farm-fresh corn, but as my mom-in-law says, "that probably means they didn't use pesticide."  So, that's a plus, right?!  The hard part is finding the will to get out a big ol' knife and cut those wormy parts of the corn off, and then have the selective amnesia to forget the worms were on that corn after you've cooked and served it to the fams.

Another way of thinking helps out here - one of my first kitchen jobs in a restaurant was a place where the line cooks worked so fast that sometimes a burger went flying to the floor.  Two things applied to this situation:
  1. 5-second rule - I need say no more.
  2. "It'll cook out" - meaning, if you slap it back on the grill the heat will kill any bacteria that got past the 5-second rule (see above). 
Does that make you never want to eat in a restaurant again?  Of course not!  So, why is cutting off the wormy parts of fresh corn any different?  Like I said, it goes to our ick-factor for things we are not familiar with, like produce that does not come cradled in a styrofoam platter and wrapped in plastic.

Anyway, the other thing I wanted to post was on BBC International about Environmental Agriculture in...South America I want to say, but I cannot find a reference to the story anywhere.  Folks are playing with old methods of sustainable farming and rediscovering what should be intuitively true to us: organic, non-chemical farming is the just as, if not more, productive than the methods we've come up with in the last 100 years.

Illustration from my personal collection (Good Earth Almanac, by Mark Gregory); I'll spend another post ranting about how formative this book was to my childhood.
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