Organic Science Friday

Karen Adler's picture

Freedom’s Just Another Word for Organic

Organic agriculture provides real independence for farmers, for consumers, for communities, and for the world. As we know, organic farmers and ranchers use production methods that are independent of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, and free of antibiotics and growth hormones. The avoidance of these substances, coupled with holistic approaches that foster the cycling and conservation of resources through composting, cover-cropping, and other soil and nutrient-management practices, spells independence from the costly and toxic chemical agriculture treadmill.
Karen Adler's picture

Knowledge is Power: The Natural Farmer Shares Its Bounty

A wealth of practical organic farming information has been gathered over the years by farmers and researchers all over the country, and is shared through a variety of methods. One storehouse of knowledge is The Natural Farmer (TNF), which is the quarterly journal of the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA), a 5,000-strong membership organization with chapters in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, and New Hampshire.

photo of Jack KittredgeThe Natural Farmer, edited since 1988 by Jack Kittredge, a Massachusetts organic farmer, has published hundreds of useful articles since 1988, with each issue focused on specific production and marketing topics ranging from crops such as cucurbits, potatoes, and minor fruit, to explorations of climate change, internet marketing, and manure. And now, with the support of a grant from Organic Farming Research Foundation, 101 of these articles, from twelve issues, are available in a searchable archive by topic and key phrases, such as “organic potatoes,” or “forages for swine.”

Karen Adler's picture

More Buzz on Pollinators

In celebration of National Pollinator Week, we are following last week’s post with some great buzz on native bees, courtesy of our friends at The Xerces Society and the Wild Farm Alliance.

While we love European honey bees, and promote practices to ensure their survival and safety, they are, as the name says, not native to North America. Many crops are dependent on honey bees for pollination, but native bees are often better adapted to various climatic conditions than honey bees. Also, some native bees can be more efficient pollinators than honey bees for native American crops such as tomatoes, squash, pumpkins, cranberries, and blueberries, as well as many old world orchard crops, such as apples and cherries.

Fast facts on native pollinators:

  • Native bees are more effective than honey bees at distributing pollen.
  • Native bees get to work earlier in the day and put in longer hours.
  • Many native bees are more active in colder and wetter weather: mason and bumble bees fly at lower temperatures than honey bees and work in the rain.
Karen Adler's picture

The Birds and the Bees and the Flowers and the Seeds…

With more than two-thirds of all agricultural plants dependent on insect pollinators, primarily bees, to produce seed, effective pollinator management is important to organic seed producers, especially in light of increasing pressures from two key challenges.

Challenge #1: Genetic contamination of seed crops

Undesirable outcrossing can occur when wind or pollinators transport pollen from an outside source into a seed crop field. This can produce a number of different results for organic seed producers; if two organic varieties are crossed, the result may be a new, undesirable variety, even if organic. However, when the movement occurs between an organic seed crop and a genetically modified seed crop, the result might be a seed crop with the genetically modified trait.

Karen Adler's picture

The Real Dirt on Organic Farming

This is part 3 of the 3-part series "From the Ground Up: What Does It Mean to be Certified Organic?"

Karen Adler's picture

Growing Organic Beans, Counting Organic Beans

This is part 2 of the 3-part series "From the Ground Up: What Does It Mean to be Certified Organic?"

Many people don’t know that part of the organic certification process is keeping good records of farming activities. I’ve spoken with farmers who resist this, saying things like, I’m a farmer, not a bookkeeper. Some even see it as a stumbling block to pursuing certification. 

Karen Adler's picture

From the Ground Up: What Does It Mean to be Certified Organic?

This is the first of a three part series. 

The Spirit of Organic

At the heart of organic certification is what many farmers, researchers, and advocates call the “spirit of organic.”  This spirit is described by the USDA National Organic Program, which defines organic agriculture as a production  system that is managed to respond to site-specific conditions by integrating cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity.
 
So, what does it mean to be certified organic? At its essence, it means that when farmers and ranchers grow food and fiber products in accordance with the organic rules and principles, they become stewards of our soil, our water, and the very lives of the myriad plant and animal species on our planet. 

Jane Sooby's picture

Surviving the Drought with Organic Practices

Despite the drought that has been withering his neighbors' fields, organic farmer Klaas Martens, is anticipating a year of good crop yields and way above average crop income.

The reason?

Klaas isn't locked into the typical corn/soybean rotations that his neighbors are. The diversity of crops that he grows allows him to be more flexible in dealing with what the weather hands him. Because spring came early and hot this year, Klaas was able to harvest spring grains early and then plant a second crop into his fields. He chose drought and heat-tolerant forage crops like buckwheat, sorghum, and forage soybeans as his “double crops,” all of which are doing well. An added benefit is that the forages will be in great demand because the drought has reduced availability of feed grains and pasture.

Jane Sooby's picture

When 100% Organic Beer Means Organic

It seems a no-brainer: organic beer is made with organic hops, right? 

Not necessarily. In 2007, conventional beer makers who wanted to jump on the organic bandwagon persuaded the USDA that there wasn’t enough organic hop production to meet supply.  They were granted an exemption from using organic hops.

Jane Sooby's picture

Five Years Later, Scientist Still Thinks Organic Can Feed the World

Controversy arose in 2007 around an article published by a group of graduate students and their professors at the University of Michigan, asserting that “it is time to put to rest the debate about whether or not organic agriculture can make a substantial contribution to the food supply. It can, both globally and locally.”

The argument came up again recently with publication of a paper in Nature that presented an overall yield difference between organic and conventional agriculture of 25%.

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