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in defense of hydroponics

national_organic_program

The latest post in our ongoing discussion about the inclusion of hydroponics in the National Organic Production standards comes from Helen Lee, a sustainability specialist, consulting and promoting local and sustainable businesses who currently works as a brand ambassador for a maple water company and holds a Master of Science degree in Sustainable Food Systems from Green Mountain College in Vermont. While her opinions diverge from the Greenhorns’ stance that hydroponics should not be included in organic, we’ve reprinted her submission here today on account of its well-researched facts and the spirit of lively debate. Also, of note, another nuanced opinion in favor of hydroponic inclusion comes from Food Hub manager Michael Powell and appears in the comments section here.

I respectfully and wholeheartedly disagree with Matthew Hoffman’s opinion. I have recently obtained my MS in Sustainable Food Systems and, at Green Mountain College, I studied with one of the people who helped write the original NOP standards.

Hydroponics is neither the ultimate nor the hackneyed solution to solving our current food system crises. A better question to pose would be, “when and how do hydroponic systems fit into a sustainable food system?”

It is a fallacy to think that any system, hydroponic or otherwise, can ever be fully removed from its surrounding environment or from the rest of the supply chain. From the construction materials used to the resources utilized in production and distribution, everything is ultimately connected.  There can be no one ultimate solution in such an interconnected ecosystem. Furthermore, it is misguided to think the NOP standards specifically focus on soil health or that all organic certifications are equal. Continue reading


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the conversation continues: hydroponics divorce people even further from the stewardship of the land

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This recent submission to our series on whether or not hydroponics should be considered organic comes from Joanna Storie, a Doctoral candidate in the Department of Landscape Architecture at the Institute of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences of Estonian University of Life Sciences. She takes a similar stance on hydroponics to our last contributor, adding that hydroponics are not sustainable agriculture in that they divert attention from strengthening rural economies and reinforce urban ways of being that divorce people further from the land.

Have something to add? Email submissions to greenhornsblog@gmail.com.

In your recent blog you asked the question on whether hydroponics is organic or not and I have to agree that it is not. The following statement sums it up for me:


“Hydroponics may be a fine way to grow food and it might be an important part of how cities feed themselves in the future, but it’s no more a form of sustainable agriculture than producing wood fiber in a laboratory is a form of sustainable forest management.”

It also worries me that Hydoponics divorce people even further from the idea of stewardship of the land– which is something that makes the urban areas increasingly vulnerable, because– even if they can produce food in the cities using hydroponic techniques– this will not be the sum total of their food supply.

Recently I submitted an abstract for a conference, which took the position against urban-centric ways of structuring our society, arguing that “rural social networks need to be seen as inherently valuable to the resilience of the whole region.”

I think the hydroponics fits into the urban 24/7 mindset, which values cheap food and devalues rural social network,  thus exacerbating the situation of removing people further from the knowledge of healthy food and healthy environments.


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“hydroponics is not organic — it’s not even agriculture”

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Last week we asked the Greenhorns network what you think about the vertical farm. A perennially contentious idea, are hydroponics the way to the future or are they a hackneyed and ultimately artificial solution to the current crises of our food systems. The following submission on hydroponics comes from Matthew Hoffman, a Fulbright Scholar, Norwegian Centre for Rural Research, who argues vehemently that hydroponic farming be removed from organic certification.  Send us your opinions at greenhornsblog@gmail.com!

The farmers market in Jack London Square in Oakland, California was a bustling scene when I worked there in the late 1990s, and my customers liked to tell me how devoted they were to organic agriculture.

I remember one devotee in particular.  Her tote bag bulged with produce and her brow wrinkled beneath the brim of her floppy hat as she stopped one day to study the sign above my new display of organic flowers.  At length she turned to me and said, “How can flowers be organic?”

This was not the first time that I realized a devoted customer had no idea what organic meant.  So I explained to her about how organic farmers take care of the land, maintaining healthy soil and a healthy environment for plants to grow in without the use of synthetic chemicals—and how organic practices apply just the same to flowers and fields of grass as to lettuces and bell peppers.

She nodded thoughtfully and seemed to appreciate this explanation, but then she frowned again and asked, “What does it matter if you’re not eating them?” Continue reading


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keep the soil in organic

microbes

Can produce grown in a soilless medium be called organic? Vermont-based “Keep the Soil in Organic” says HECK, NO. Growing rapidly, this grassroots movement is drawing attention to the degradation of organic certification by big money and corporate interest in hydroponics. Started with a petition by two small-scale organic farmers, Dave Chapman and David Miskell, “Keep the Soil in Organic” has gained traction nation wide and around the world. Organic has always been about the health of the soil, so why change now?

The hydroponic invasion started as a tiny exception here and there years ago. Now it has become the dominant form of production for certified “organic” tomatoes and berries in the US. What began as a minor trickle has become a major flood, as the hydroponic greenhouse producers of the world have discovered that the USDA will allow them entry into the coveted organic market. By changing the fertilizer brew in their mixing tanks to “natural” (but highly processed) soluble fertilizers, and then switching to “approved” pesticides, the hydroponic producers can miraculously become “organic” overnight.

Growing soilless plants with force fed organic nutrients is a step backwards. Perhaps it is a technological innovation, but not an organic innovation. Call it what you want, but it is not organic.

To learn more about the “Keep the Soil in Organic” movement, check out their website HERE for more information, petitions to sign, actionable steps to take, and  videos of a recent farmer-led rally in Vermont. In their words, “Organic without soil is like democracy without people!”


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keep the soil organic: the truth about hydroponics

Keep The Soil In Organic began as a petition started by Dave Chapman, the owner/grower at Long Wind Farm, and David Miskell of Miskell’s Premier Organics.

Why are we doing this?

We are doing this because of our deep concern about a failure to maintain the integrity of the national organic standards. The way that the national standards work is that a group of federal bureaucrats from the USDA (called the National Organic Program, or NOP) are responsible for defining and administering organic standards for the United States. They are guided by an advisory committee of 15 people (called the National Organic Standards Board, or NOSB) representing organic farmers and consumers, who make informed recommendations to the USDA. The USDA has sometimes taken a long time to respond to a recommendation, but never before have they actually reversed a recommendation of the NOSB, which is charged with the mission of representing the organic community. The NOSB is a balanced group of committed, well informed people, who have taken their responsibility of guiding the federal organic standards very seriously. They do a great deal of good research and hold public hearings to hear all points of view, before making a recommendation. They only make recommendations on subjects requested by the NOP.

The recommendation

In 2010 the NOSB (National Organic Standards Board) submitted a recommendation to the NOP (National Organic Program) that soil-less vegetable production NOT be certified as organic. (See below). Until that time the issue of soil-less growing had never been addressed by the NOP, so the NOP asked the NOSB to come up with a recommendation. The NOSB voted 12 to 1 (with 2 abstentions) to prohibit soilless production. They wrote out a carefully worded, well thought out document, making their arguments clear. The recommendations of the NOSB are almost always eventually accepted by the NOP, but in this case the NOP has not acted on the NOSB recommendation, and three years later, the NOP continues to ALLOW hydroponic vegetable production to be certified as organic. The NOP has not offered any guidance to certifying agencies on this matter, nor any explanation. They have not held public hearings.  Many certifying agencies in the US are now refusing to certify hydroponic operations as organic.

Now Continue reading