“Organic gardening is the only way to go!” shout dedicated greenies.
“Megafarms can feed the world!” shout opponents – both those who favor million-acre unicropping and the Monsanto cheerleaders.
But the results are finally in from the Rodale Institute, a 60-year-old nonprofit dedicated to organic farming whose reputation, thanks to its permanence, is above reproach. And the Rodale people have recently put forth a report, based on 30 years worth of observation, which proves that their beloved organic acres are in fact the only truly sustainable way to grow food for more and more people.
In simplest terms, organic farming simultaneously feeds people and the soil on which the food is grown, thanks to innovative (or purely traditional) methods that include cover cropping, crop rotation, no-till farming and an absence of artificial chemicals to increase the soil’s fertility and prevent pests.
Surprisingly, the report is a slim 13 pages. This is next to nothing, for me anyway, after a week of reading reports ranging from 78 to a soul-crushing 123 pages long. But those 13 pages contain enough horticultural wisdom to fill volumes.
The study also makes several highly salient points, first that the key to sustainable growing is creating healthy soil. This might seem like a ‘no duh’ observation until one considers that most modern methods of growing food consist of endless monocropping – of soybeans, alfalfa or corn, for example – that rob the soil of those specific nutrients that each food takes up in preference to others.
For example, the Chinese variety of cabbage called Bok Choy takes tremendous amounts of potassium from the soil – at least twice as much as other standard vegetables, as in the case of corn. In the case of endive, this uptake becomes 100 times as much.
The Rodale Institute’s study, conducted in side-by-side field trials over 30 years, definitively proves that organic methods of growing:
- Produce yields equivalent to conventional farming (which incorporates tilling and the use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers)
- Perform significantly better than conventional farming during drought years
- Build soil using natural ingredients to make it richer and more sustainable over the long term
- Use almost half as much energy, yet are acre-per-acre more efficient
- Produce almost half as many greenhouse gases, or GHGs, as do conventional farms
- Are considerably more profitable than conventional farms
But rather than give away all the Institute’s secrets about organic farming and its value in a more densely populated world faced by climate change and resource depletion, I think you should read it yourself.
After all, it’s only 13 pages. Some children’s books are longer.