By Debbie Roland and Emmy Ulmschneider, Master Gardener
Organic is a labeling term that says an agricultural product has been grown by approved methods. So, what is an approved method?
Websters says that organic is “the use of food produced with the use of feed or fertilizer of plant or animal origin without employment of chemically formulated fertilizers, growth stimulants or pesticides.”
Synthetic pesticides and fertilizers became widely used in the early to mid 1900s when they became available to farmers. Later agribusiness discovered that customers would pay much more for any food labeled organic. In the beginning there were no regulations governing this gardening/farming process so in 1990 the USDA collaborated with organic farmers to begin a set of standards. Those continue to evolve until this day.
The Organic Grower’s Association, administered by the USDA, regulates whether a producer went through a registration and auditing process to verify that they restrict the use of fertilizers and pesticides to an approved list, adhere to soil management and don’t use transgenic organisms. Transgenic organisms are where a gene has been transplanted from another species. Think GMO.
Small farms and growers usually use organic practices but do not get certified as such because the documentation and costs are high.
Organic gardening is not just what to spray on the plant or the soil. Organic farmers and gardeners take the following steps to ensure that they grow the healthiest plant for themselves and the consumer. These are steps you may want to use in your own yard and garden.
· Use pesticides as a last resort. Try to control pests by barriers, traps, pruning and crop rotation.
· Use on-site fertilizers. You probably have friends with poultry or farm animals that will be happy to share manure with you. Be sure it is dry so that it does not burn your plants.
· Continually nurture your soil by adding nutrients in the form of compost and other natural additives.
· Minimize all forms of pollution (including light).
· Take care to protect pollinating insects by providing plants they love. Water and shelter. Our food crops rely on it.
· It is a great opportunity to try unusual crops and heirloom plants.
· And most importantly, CONSERVE YOUR WATER.
Check out our local farmers markets for food that uses these practices or incorporate them into your own yard and garden. It is a good feeling knowing that you are doing what you can to help the earth you have been put in charge of while watching your health at the same time.
If you have questions, call the AgriLife office in Odessa at 498-4071 or in Midland at 686-4700. Additional information, and our blog for access to past articles, is available at westtexasgardening.org. Click on “Resources”.