One of our farm goals is to produce the healthiest and most nutritious food we can for our families. This is one of the reasons we chose to apply and become USDA Certified Organic.   But does this certification mean our fruits, berries and vegetables are healthier and more nutrient dense than those raised by conventional means?  I think the answer is both yes and no.  In terms of “healthy” there is no doubt that foods grown without conventional pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers are “healthier” for you.  In terms of nutrition though, that can be debatable. It stands to reason that a crop grown organically on poor, nutrient deficient soil will not provide more vitamins, minerals etc. than a conventionally grown crop in soil that is more complete in minerals and micro biotic life.

The foundation of “Organics” is building a healthier, more balanced soil and to that end I think the average crop  grown on organic soil will be more nutritious than those grown conventionally.  Remember that organic production does not guarantee good soil building.  I know of one large organic farm that I toured a few years ago that had no real soil building program.  When I asked what they did to increase fertility, their answer was to add blood meal between crop cycles. Blood meal is an organic approved source of nitrogen but very little else. In essence they were just adding a shot of nitrogen to cover the reason that their crops were not as good as they should be. In my opinion this is not soil building, it is conventional growing substituting “organic” nitrogen for chemically derived nitrogen.

The modern “Organic’ movement has three large groups or methods within it and all are approved by USDA.  The most notable is the method following the Rodale principles of organic growing developed and refined by J. I. Rodale.   This utilizes an emphasis on compost, crop rotation and cover cropping (or green manures) to improve soil quality.  Another branch is the group which promotes optimal mineralization developed by William Albrecht.  It seeks that optimal nutrition is based primarily on ratios of minerals and quantity of these including trace elements. Restoring a balance in these and that excesses can be as bad as deficiencies.  The third is the BioDynamic movement.  Methods unique to the biodynamic approach include its treatment of animals, crops, and soil as a single system; an emphasis from its beginnings on local production and distribution systems; its use of traditional and development of new local breeds and varieties; and the use of an astrological sowing and planting calendar. Biodynamic agriculture uses various herbal and mineral additives for compost additives and field sprays; these are sometimes prepared by controversial methods, such as burying ground quartz stuffed into the horn of a cow, which are said to harvest “cosmic forces in the soil”, that are more akin to sympathetic magic than agronomy.

There are as many facets to organic growing as there are farmers.  Many gardeners both amateur and professional combine parts of all of these methods and also utilize others such as no-till farming and carbon restoration by use of bio-char.  Our approach and philosophies combine some of both Rodale and Albrecht practices. While Rodale promotes compost as a panacea, we feel this isn’t enough.  If your location is deficient in something, using on-farm generated compost will just perpetuate the situation.  It may benefit soil tilth and microbial activity and this may improve your growth, but not make your food more nutritious.

We know where we want to end up: with the best soil and most complete balance of major, minor and trace elements possible combined with the correct microbes to utilize and convert these elements to plant useable products. But how do we get there?  First you must know where you are before you can map directions to your destinantion. If you want to end up in New York, it is almost impossible to get there if you don’t know where you are to start with.  Go north, east, west, south?  Closed roads, washed out bridges, construction etc.  What to do?  Any approach you take is just a guess and any solutions you add will be just luck if they get you there.   So logic dictates we must first determine where we are and this is one of the purposes of a soil test.    Continued …….