The Real Dirt on Organic Farming

Karen Adler's picture

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

“The soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all. Without proper care for it we can have no community, because without proper care for it we can have no life.”
--Wendell Berry

In organic farming, it all starts and ends in the dirt. Robert Rodale, one of the first proponents of organic farming in the U.S., put it simply: “Feed the soil and it will feed the crop.” Plants get most of the nutrients they need from the soil--from the minerals in the earth and the plants and animals that have decayed. Plants also rely on the many organisms in the soil to convert these nutrients into forms they can use, and plants help sustain the organisms by secreting sugars and enzymes back into the soil.

To ensure the availability of nutrients, organic farmers employ soil building practices such as crop rotations, cover-cropping, the use of composted animal manures and vegetation, mulching, inter-cropping, and minimum tillage. These practices are all part of the whole systems approach of organic farming, leading to good soil structure and tilth, nutrient and energy cycling, and the support of the myriad essential flora and fauna, such as worms, fungi, bacteria, and other microorganisms.

In addition to enabling plants to live, grow, and thrive, properly cared-for soil provides important and substantial benefits to the environment. Soil that is rich in organic matter, with good structure, holds water and nutrients, conserving water resources and greatly reducing or preventing erosion and runoff into our waterways. An especially timely consideration is that there is a direct relation between the ability of soil to accumulate organic matter and its ability to sequester carbon. This holds significant implications for the role that organic farming practices might play in mitigating climate change.

To learn more about the benefits that organic farming systems provide to our soil, our environment, and our health, as well as our economy, read Organic Farming Research Foundation’s landmark publication, Organic Farming for Health and Prosperity.

Blog Category:

Social Image: