With everything that is happening in the news this week, I was a little surprised that a few subscribers even noticed the story that Terra Firma Farm had signed onto a lawsuit against the USDA regarding its policy of allowing hydroponically grown vegetables to be sold as Certified Organic.
Organic farming has two fundamental principles: to build soil biology in order to grow healthy food, and to use only safe, non-synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. Organic farmers are held accountable to these practices through our certification and annual inspections.
Hydroponic farming grows crops in the absence of soil, using a manufactured growing “medium” and water that is injected with nutrients for the plants. It is as close to real “factory farming” as exists. To most organic growers, it is 180 degrees opposite of organic farming. I personally consider it “less organic” than conventional crops grown in soil, and I know several farmers who agree. Yet in 2007, the USDA made an administrative decision to allow hydroponic crops to be certified organic under federal law.
Organic farmers who grow their crops in soil are required to continuously improve their soil through expensive practices including application of compost and growing cover crops. Hydroponic growers are not held to the same standards because they cannot be. This creates an unlevel playing field, and deceives consumers who believe they are supporting more sustainable farming practices when they are not. Farms like Terra Firma have suffered as more and more hydroponic growers have been allowed “certified organic” status.
Educated consumers can make their own choices about which type of farming they want to support. If they want to buy hydroponically grown crops, they should be able to make an educated decision to do so just by looking at the label on the box. But it shouldn’t be the “Certified Organic” label.