People start organic farming for a lot of reasons, as a hobby, a way to eat healthier, to reduce their grocery spending, to earn extra income, etc. There are also many people (like myself) who do it for philosophical reasons as part of a value system. That is not to say that I don’t enjoy my work in the garden or on the farm, it's tiring and in my case there is quite a bit of trial and error, but I do genuinely enjoy it. Which I guess is lucky for me because my reasons for doing it would have me out working with the plants regardless. Now I’m not going to go on a sustainability rant or try to convince you that the ideologies to which I subscribe are right for everyone. The purpose of this post is to try to put organic gardening into a big picture perspective, because I feel that looking at it in that way not only enhances its value, and the fulfillment that we can get from it, but also it can increase our yields and reduce the amount of work that we have to do.
I guess that to begin it would be worthwhile to define “organic”, because it's a termthat is subject to interpretation. In the commercial world it simply means non chemical, which in my opinion isn’t saying much. Sure you are going to avoid the nasty pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides that are used in commercial agriculture and you may even be avoiding some types of GMO, but in the long run commercially available “organic” products are often produced and packaged in ways that are anything but non chemical. A permaculturalist will tell you that organic means not only chemical free and derived from natural processes, but also sustainable, “what was taken was returned in an equal or greater amount” so to speak. This takes the definition a step further and allows for a continuity which purely commercial approach does not. I personally agree with the latter definition.
In any type of agriculture there are basically two approaches, either tofight nature or to work with it. On the one hand we set up boundaries, buy sterilized soil, select seeds for yields, and use a intense regimen so as to continually plant a certain crop. On the other hand we build our soils naturally and allow the microbiology to stabilize itself, select seeds for hardiness and pest resistance, rotate crops so as not to deplete soils, and fertilize only enough for plants to be healthy enough to fight disease and pests on their own. The first way has short term benefits and long term drawbacks the second has short term drawbacks and long term benefits. And although they can both be classified as organic, in my opinion only the latter truly is. When we take an approach to our organic gardening that mimics nature, we can create in our backyards or on our farms, mini ecosystems that provide for themselves as much as possible. This in turn allows us to provide for ourselves as much as possible which gives us a greater degree of autonomy and control in our lives. And to truly be autonomous and in control, our gardening should not be reliant on outside or store bought inputs but rather should be designed to produce everything that it needs to flourish. Now I’m not saying that getting started by buying pots, potting soil, mulch, fertilizers, seeds, etc... is wrong, but I can say with a high degree of certainty that anyone who has had an organic garden for some time will tell you that is not where it ends.
There is a relatively steep learning curve to gardening, and sorting through the mountain of information available can be an overwhelming task in and of itself. And oftentimes in the end it all comes down to good old trial and error to be able to find out what is actually best for your specific situation. In truth when I think about all the work that really goes into having a successful garden, this article might as well have been titled “Why bother to start organic gardening”. And I guess that is the point I’m trying to make.
If you are going to start organic gardening it is necessary to have a good reason, a mindset that will carry you through the many inevitable problems and setbacks that you will encounter. In my experience, organic gardening is not just about growing plants, it's about growing ourselves. In learning to care for the health and well being of our plants we learn to do the same for ourselves. There is so much to learn about soil composition, types of composting, mulches, companion planting, individual plant requirements, ph levels, seasons, rainfall, temperature, dispersed shade systems, watering and irrigation, native and heirloom varieties, homemade fertilizers, pest deterrents, beneficial insects, microbiology, nurseries, grafting, rooting, planting transplanting, and on the list goes. But the journey is as enriching as it is long. You not only learn about the beautiful and intricate natural world, and what it takes to produce food that is truly nutritious. You also learn patience and acceptance, and get to relish the feeling of pride and accomplishment. You begin to see so many parallels between the interactions in your garden and the interactions in everyday life, and begin to understand more clearly what it takes to build an environment that cares for your every need, mentally physically and emotionally. You develop a clearer sense of what your own personal traits are, and which traits of others strengthen you and which weaken you.
So why start an organic garden? Because organic gardening in its true sense is a sustainable activity. That means it returns to you in equal or greater amount everything that it receives. It gives exponential yields in your quality of life. So give it a try. It doesn’t matter where you start, one plant will lead to two, deficiencies will lead to fertilizers, sickness will lea d to remedies, weeds will lead to compost. Spend all the time in your garden that you want because because in nature nothing goes to waste.
Calvin is a Development Instructor with the Fighting with the Poor
Program in Ecuador
Photos show Calvin teaching organic farming in Ecuador.