This is The ChangeUnderground for the 19th of December 2022.
I’m your host, Jon Moore
Decarbonise the Air, Recarbonise the Soil!
“Real” Organic Systems
We have a problem. I was listening to a podcast, no names, no pack drill, about the “Real” Organic movement. I can see the point. The USDA Organic Standards have been interrogated by corporate lawyers to find loopholes. So hydroponic growing, a thing laughably not organic, is included in the USDA system and relabelled as container growing, even if the containers only hold pebbles and the nutrients are coming from the fertigation. Clearly this has nothing to do with improving soil health over time, the actual point of organic growing. Other things like a concrete pad alongside a chook shed with doors for the chooks to go outside passes as “having access to fresh air, sunshine and soil”. 5000 head dairies milking three times a day with hay being trucked in and manures mechanically spread on the newly cut hay fields also can qualify as organic under the standard.
The Real Organic system is farmer owned and farmer regulated with the good name of the farm being of the most important currency in the system. Great, all good, soils improving, etc. But the person involved then turned on regenerative practices pointing out that tilling is the only way “true” organic farmers could deal with weeds. Fair enough, the individual stated that they hadn’t really looked too deeply into regenerative practices and then pointed out that no-till systems involving herbicides weren’t organic. Obviously.
That some organic farmers need to till for weed control says more about a lack of understanding of the weed creation process than it says about regenerative systems.
Weeds and Tilling
A quick sidebar on weeds. Episode 127. Weeds!!! ~ From Work to Ecology goes deeper but here’s the executive summary:
When bare rock is first exposed, through the removal of glaciers or volcanic eruption or annual tillage the response of natural systems is to cover that soil as quickly as possible to stabilise nutrients, slow runoff and cool the surface. So things like dandelions, docks and thistles and other broad-leaved “weeds” find a foothold and do their thing. They usually have a large floret of leaves at ground level, deep tap roots for anchoring and drawing nutrients from the deeper levels and a huge seed production ability as well as a short life cycle. Grow, hold on tight, spread seed are the steps.
By tilling we are returning the soil surface to the bare, denuded state that is the ecological niche for these types of plants. I was crook a few years back and didn’t move the pigs on quickly enough and they reduced their run to such a state. I watched, dandelions aplenty covered the soil, which was as hard as concrete but didn’t seem to slow them down. They cycled through quickly and within months clovers had arrived and vetches too. After about six months, approaching Spring, grasses returned, docks arrived and red clovers joined the white and the vetches. The soil became softer and life returned to it from the edges inwards. So the system works at what it does. The regenerative approach doesn’t use animals as poorly as I did while I was poorly but builds upon the principles of good soil management. I was able to use my minimal grasp of these processes to get out of the way and let the natural cycles do the “work” for me.
So if you are going to plough every year or every season and not use herbicides, a good decision I would suggest, then the need to continue ploughing to halt the system at the point you want it to be at some you can grow plants from further along in the regenerative cycle then you are trapped into continuing the process. “Real” organic or not, nature doesn’t give a toss.
The problem as I see it, isn’t the ideas of organic farming nor that of regenerative but the co-opting of the USDA “standards” by corporate lawyers not farmers. Apparently some of these “container” farms are up to 50,000 containers with massive irrigation and fertigation systems. As artificial and trying to create plant based meats, if I may be permitted an oxymoron. If you’re not going to eat meat, don’t, it’s that simple. If you think you can reduce your carbon footprint by eating plants disguised as meat, you’ve missed the point. The factories making those things are just dry dog food factories with a different set of ingredients and recipes with all the transport costs, carbon and actual, involved in shipping in ingredients and sending out food like substances. It’s a con job backed by a huge marketing effort and some subtle psychology.
Change requires changes, it be blunt. I’m six months into a weight loss program, down 22.9 kgs, about 50 pounds or 3 stone 8 for those in the know. 4.8 kgs to go. But the thing I’ve noticed in the chat is people looking for ways to continue eating their favourite foods while still complying with the rules they’ve signed up for. It’s not possible. Eating the same thing that added the weight will not remove it. Doing the same ploughing each year because the weeds keep coming back will not stop the weeds coming back. Replacing them within the system by using mulches, living mulches on larger areas and I think smaller ones too, will improve the possibility of having a “weed” free set of ecological niches that are still productive. Clovers over sown with buckwheat which is then underplanted with winter wheat would have the soils constantly under vegetative cover and remove the bare soil niche that weeds love. As I’ve mentioned before, the organic farm in Ireland where we were staying had tractors with mouldboard ploughs attached running so often the mind filtered out the diesel noises fairly quickly. They used volunteer interns to weed 100 metre long vegetable beds over and over and then reploughed the beds between seasons.
As a species we can get stuck on processes because that’s how we’ve always done them. Organic CAFO dairies? No problem, there’s a loophole for that. Organic non-soil growing methods? Piece of cake, the paperwork will make it “legitimate”, or at least legal.
The Food System
The problem is the food system, the debt levels of farmers and the increasingly corporate nature of farming in the developed world. We can set rules we expect people to grow food under. These do not have to be decided by the chemical producers of the world with huge lobbying budgets, they can be set by the will of the people expressed through their parliaments if we care enough about what we are doing. Continually splitting into different organisations, Real Organic, Biodynamic, BioIntensive, Hydroponic, aquaponic, Fukuoka style and so on does very little but make members of those tribes feel better about themselves because they are the “true” organic farmers. Unfettered laissez faire capitalism benefits no one but the holders of capital. As citizens we have a right and an expectation that the land that feeds us will be there for our grandchildren and beyond and that the food it produces will promote health not chronic disease or poisoning outbreaks. It is not too much to expect, it is time we demanded it.
Decarbonise the air, recarbonise the soil!
Thank you all for listening and I’ll be back, all things being equal, next week.
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