Bluegrass Harvest: Why Organic?
August 17, 2016

If you take a look at your local grocery shelves, you may notice an increased number of organic products. This increase has led to an influx in organic farming across the country. For some, the idea of shopping organic, non-GMO produce seems unnecessary. Others promote the positive environmental impact and supposed better taste of organic produce. But when it comes down to it, what’s the difference between organic produce and conventionally grown produce? They’re both just fruits and vegetables, right?

Let’s start with defining what the term “organic” really means. Organic agriculture is defined by the Kentucky Department of Agriculture as a “system that integrates cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance and conserve biodiversity.” The US Department of Agriculture National Organic Program sets the standards that must be followed to be certified as organic. In other words, the USDA regulates how farmers must grow their crops and raise their livestock in order to be considered “organic”. An “organic” label is not the same classification as a product deemed “all-natural” or “naturally grown”. Only products that are 100% organic can be labeled with the USDA seal. There aren’t any strict regulations in place for labeling a product as “all-natural” and so the term doesn’t carry the same weight as the “organic” label.

Certified organic production is pretty unique in that farmers are not allowed to use synthetic fertilizers, synthetic pesticides, or any other synthetic products. Synthetic products do have some merits or else they wouldn’t be so popular in conventional farming practices. For example, synthetic fertilizers and pesticides are often inexpensive and fast acting. But unlike organic fertilizers, synthetic fertilizers don’t improve soil texture or soil fertility in the long term. Synthetic pesticides are generally much higher in toxicity than organic pesticides and also pose a greater threat to the environment. Since synthetic fertilizers and pesticides are highly water soluble, they often run off into waterways and pollute the water.

Organic farmers also cannot use sewage sludge, irradiation, or genetic engineering in their farming practices. While the process of genetically modifying produce is a hot topic for consumers right now, the use of sewage sludge or irradiation is probably not as well known. Food irradiation is the process of ionizing radiation to food. The FDA suggests that irradiation “improves the safety and extends the shelf life of foods by reducing or eliminating microorganisms and insects.” Sewage sludge, or “biosolids” as they’ve been rebranded, are the leftover materials from the treatment of domestic sewage use. After households send waste to wastewater treatment plants, the plants remove as many contaminants as possible from the water and the leftover solids are the “biosolids” which can be used as fertilizer. According to an article from Food Safety News, sewage sludge regularly tests positive for a host of heavy metals, flame retardants, pharmaceuticals and other foreign-sounding chemicals and organisms. Although both irradiation and sewage sludge processes are FDA approved, they have not been studied extensively. Scientists don’t have a comprehensive understanding of the effects of their long-term buildup in soils, leaching into waterways, and uptake into crops and the food system.

In an article titled Organic agriculture in the twenty-first century, agriculture experts John P. Reganold and Jonathan M. Wachter argue that organic produce and farming methods have a positive impact on the environment, the economy, and a person’s well-being. They assert that organic farming systems “are more profitable and environmentally friendly” than conventional methods and they “deliver equal or more nutritious foods with less to no pesticide residues.” And because organic farming has a less negative environmental impact, Reganold and Wachter argue that it is more profitable than its counterparts. They add that organic farming has even been “shown to have some sociocultural strengths, such as positive shifts in community economic development [and] increased social interactions between farmers and consumers.” So not only is organic produce better for the environment, it’s also better for the community!

When it comes down to it, organic produce and conventionally grown produce are pretty different. It’s no wonder that organic produce is becoming more popular on grocery shelves.

Interested in learning more about organic farming or perhaps how to get your hands on organic produce? Check out a program dedicated to promoting healthy lifestyles and connecting people to local, organic produce. You can also email to find a fresh food market near you!

Works Cited:

“Food Irradiation: What You Need to Know” U.S. Food and Drug Administration. FDA, 3

September 2015. Web. 14 June 2016.

“Organic Answers for Producers.” Kentucky Department of Agriculture. Print.

Reganold, John P. and Jonathan M. Wachter. “Organic agriculture in the twenty-first century.”

Nature Plants. Vol 2. 3 February 2016. Print.

Richardson, Jill. “Sewage Sludge as Fertilizer: Safe?” Food Safety News. Food Safety News, 4

October 2010. Web. 14 June 2016.