By Bonnie and Amy Grant
There has been much talk about sustainability, green living and our effect on our planet. Inside that conversation is the mention of organics as a method of achieving those goals and softening our impact on the earth. Basically, to grow organic or not to grow organic, that is the question. Okay, it may not be Shakespeare, but organic gardening can be almost as confusing as Hamlet’s archaic soliloquy. There is so much information out there and much of it is rather blurred or just plain untrue. Organic gardening sounds exciting and benign, and here we will attempt to unveil the advantages of organic gardening, layman to layman. However, there are disadvantages of organic gardening too, both in the garden and with the end product. No conversation can be complete without looking at both sides, exposing the organic gardening cons for a fuller understanding of its benefits and detriments.
Organic Gardening Pros
Amy’s viewpoint: There are very few grocery stores at this date that lack organic products and that’s because there is such a demand for it. Even better than buying organic is growing your own. Really, there are so many reasons to garden organically, but here are the top organic gardening advantages:
It’s healthy. First of all, remember the old adage, “You are what you eat?” Well organic gardening practices really do engender tastier, more vibrant, healthier produce than those grown chemically or genetically modified. Food is healthier because it utilizes all the benefits of naturally managed soil.
It’s eco-friendly. Hand in hand with that is it doesn’t harm the environment. Organic gardening is basically growing food the way nature intended. That means that not only the food, but the air and soil, is free from harmful chemicals contained in pesticides, fungicides and herbicides. Organically grown food is also as locally grown as it can get. You’ve no doubt heard of the emphasis on sustainable food. Well organic grown foods fit the bill. Locally produced goods eliminate the need to ship foods, thus eliminating the waste of fossil fuels.
Healthier soil and happier you. By engaging in composting and then using the resulting nutrient rich amendment and introducing it back into the soil, you’re reducing your impact on landfills. And, when you add beneficial bacteria and nutrients back into the soil, you’ll feel happy. Scientists have proven that some soil occurring bacteria act as a natural antidepressant.
Not only will you feel happy, but the potential for diseases such as cancer may be reduced. As the world has gotten more dependent on chemically grown and processed foods, the incidence of diseases associated with exposure to toxic chemicals has risen dramatically. Additionally, engaging in organic gardening is great exercise. Without even thinking about it (and without paying for a gym membership), it gets you moving. Plus, it is proven to reduce stress, a big factor in heart disease, weight gain, and more.
It’s cheaper. Organic gardening is less expensive and self-regenerating. Sure, it may take some initial outlay, but once the soil is nutritionally balanced and composting is successfully going, organic gardening can save you money. And not just in the first year; it will continue to save you money for years to come, especially if you save your own seed.
Everything has a place and purpose. Healthy plants grown organically in properly balanced soil resist many diseases and pests which also means not only less work for the gardener, but cutting the chord with chemical pesticides, fungicides and herbicides. Organic gardening fosters a naturally diverse garden filled with not only plants, but all other living things. When nature is treated accordingly, every creature has a place, including in the garden. Beneficial insects, for instance, help keep the bad guys out, as will companion planting.
Organic Gardening Cons
Bonnie’s viewpoint: A quick search on the web or television will show you that most of the information on organic gardening is positive. Organic foods carry less risk of exposing us to chemicals, their cultivation makes soil better, and the process is eco-friendly. Alongside these pros, however, are some problems with organic gardening. Among the most relevant include the following organic gardening downsides:
Economic concerns. The average inner city family does not have as much access to organic foods as those in rural areas. The cost to bring organic produce into the city combined with the cost of growing the food makes the expense higher, and more than many families can afford. Organic produce costs more because certified farms have to follow rigid specifications. For instance, one of the main organic gardening cons is that no chemicals can be used, which can slow the growing process and promote pest and weed problems in some cases. The whole operation is reliant on each part going well and the balance of nature is easy to upset.
Pest and weed problems. You cannot discuss organic gardening in any context without mentioning the difficulty of controlling pests and weeds. In commercial cultivations, for example, many herbicides and pesticides are registered safe to use. If applied in the manner recommended, they are effective and leave little residue in soil or on our food. The possibility always exists that some toxicity occurs, though, which is why many consumers turn to organics.
Additionally, many perennial weeds are difficult, if not impossible, to control organically and organic pest remedies often fall short of the mark. Weather and population changes also make pest control one of the organic gardening downsides. What worked one year may not work the next due to these types of variables.
Achieving a balance of nutrients. The amount of organic amendments necessary to achieve optimum nutrient levels for food is many times more than the moderate amount of synthetic fertilizer used in traditional growing. Keeping nutrient levels high poses a significant challenge. The use of compost to enhance soil may also spread disease and encourage weeds. Many pathogens and weed seeds can survive complete composting only to plague the next season’s crop. Animal manure is a common soil additive, but it can be difficult to acquire in urban gardens, making commercial fertilizers a more attractive and easy to use option.
Final Thoughts on Reasons to Garden Organically or Not
So, while there are some people who are against organic gardening, sometimes rabidly so, it’s generally the things in which we don’t understand that makes us afraid to try. Yes, it would be hard to argue that growing naturally is bad; however, there are significant disadvantages of organic gardening. Economic concerns, pest and weed management and maintaining balance are only part of the problem. Growing organically takes a lot of time and planning. It is a slow process that requires many hours a day to successfully manage. For those short on time, organic probably isn’t the way to go. All that being said, it wouldn’t hurt to remember that up until recently, folks grew everything organically. Maybe it’s time we turned back the clock.