What is “Organic” Anyway?

I’ve said before that the “problem” with organics is a little like the problem some food lovers have.  Some of us are unabashed carnivores, some are reluctant omnivores, some are vegetarians while others are vegans and the lines can get drawn pretty quickly and folks can get downright militant about their choices.  Food has become political, particularly since the choices about growing and raising it are also economic and environmental.

Ask 10 conventional landscape companies if Round-up™ is safe and chances are all 10 will tell you yes without batting an eye or adding any qualifiers or modifications.

Ask 10 organic gardeners about soil amendments and you will likely get 10 different answers, with modifications, elaborations, and some exclusions, for sure, particularly with the word “sustainable” thrown in.  You’ve seen me say I won’t use peat because it’s not  sustainable–and thankfully my heavy clay doesn’t need it.  But there are plenty of other amendments I could use if I did need it that are much easier to work with than peat anyway that are sustainable.  Coir is the one that most easily comes to mind.

What’s got me thinking about this again is Milorganite.™  I received a press release from the good folks at Milorganite a few weeks ago talking about how they always were organic, they’d always been organic, and they always would be organic.  I know plenty of organic gardeners who use the stuff proudly and lots of folks who love it because it is a great deer repellent.

But because we organic gardeners have to draw our lines in the sand somewhere and get our standards from somewhere, I decided a long time ago that mine would come from CT NOFA–the Connecticut branch of the Northeast Farmers Association, an organization not really too relevant here in Connecticut, but the one that runs all the organic land use courses and certifies all the organic gardener programs.  I figured this was a fairly unimpeachable source (if there was going to be one) and better than some standard that I could just “make up” as I went along.

Some organic gardeners, for example, will not use any “animal” products in their gardens at all, or no animal products on their edible gardens because of the concerns about the pathogens and whether they have been completely killed by the composting process.  Think of it as the “vegan” approach to gardening (and I mean this with the greatest respect).

So what this means is no bone or blood meal and no manure of any kind.

CT NOFA doesn’t prohibit those.  What it does prohibit, however, are “pesticides” from chemical sources (this would include horticultural oils, which have a petroleum base).

It also prohibits the use of fertilizers from human waste, which of course includes Milorganite, which is made from the treated waste water from the Milwaukee sewer system.  It does not include just human waste of course–there are a number of things in the waste stream, as Milorganite’s press release assures us, including effluence from the nearby MillersCoors plant.  But the fact remains that treated human waste is a component of Milorganite.

Whether and how you choose to use it is up to you.  Since I comply with the CT NOFA standards, I don’t use it, even though I have deer.  Once again, if we all liked the same thing, what a boring world it would be!

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