Hydroponic farming is when plants are grown without soil, in big indoor factories or in containers. Plants are fed entirely or almost entirely through liquid fertilizers. Strawberries, blueberries, many lettuce varieties, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, cucumbers, and herbs are increasingly grown hydroponically. In fact over 50% of U.S. grown tomatoes are grown hydroponically.
In 2017, the USDA (U.S. department of Agriculture) issued organic certification to farms using soil-less growing systems.
For the original pioneers of organic farming, who mostly owned small family farms, who cared for their soil and toiled for years to get organic certification, it was a big blow.
For these farmers, soil is the basis of healthy farming.
The bacterial and microbial diversity of healthy soil ensures that plants grow with the maximum antioxidants, vitamins and minerals possible. In fact, the good bacteria in soil help the plants to absorb minerals from the earth.
Plants grown hydroponically, which are not exposed to these healthy soil bacteria will be devoid of nutrients.
In fact, hydroponic plants are so nutrient deficient that they may actually leach or remove minerals from our bodies.
Big Agricultural companies have taken over the organic industry and are destroying it in favor of big profits.
Hydroponics enable plants to grow at twice the speed and hydroponics containers can be put anywhere requiring less space, thus maximizing profits.
These hydroponic factories are destroying what's left of the small farmer, who just can't compete with the scale of these operations.
The USDA has betrayed the pioneers of regenerative healthy farming and their hard work, in favor of big agricultural companies who pay tens of millions a year to lobby government officials to certify hydroponic farming.
The USDA is alone in the world in allowing hydroponic and CAFO production to be certified as organic. The E.U, the European Union, does not allow hydroponic plants to be labeled organic.
Organic farmers look askance at Big Agricultural Companies who swooped in after decades of hard work building the organic movement, and basically use the organic label without putting in the time money and effort needed to deserve it. Dave Chapman, owner of Long Wind Farm and co-director of realorganicproject.org told Valley News that these growers “want the label, but they don’t want to change how they farm."
When we think of organic we think of plants grown without herbicides and pesticides, but farmers point out that true organic farming promotes healthy soil and focus on feeding the soil rather than the plants alone. This means not only growing "big successful" crops, but also crops that are nutrient rich and healthy.
The idea, says Chapman, is that by “maintaining a high level of life in the soil, you don’t need to use pesticides and fungicides because the plants are healthy.”
Organic crops rely on this healthy diversity of microbes to process nutrients, whereas hydroponics and conventional farming methods are now typically fed fertilizers, because they dont have healthy soil microbes to help them absorb nutrients.
When the Soil is Healthy There is No need for pesticides or herbacides
The Risks of Hydroponics
- Hydroponic vegetables and berries are Lacking in nutrients. Many plants require soil bacteria to help them absorb key minerals and nutrients, without soil bacteria, the plants will be nutrient deficient.
- Plants have to experience struggle to produce antioxidants. Hydroponic plants are given what they “need” to survive, they dont have to contend with bad weather, etc… which actually prevents them from developing antioxidants that make us healthy when we consume these plants that experienced struggle.
- Hydroponic vegetables are Lacking in soil bacteria. We need to be exposed to good soil bacteria to promote microbial diversity in the gut. Ffor our own health. Our society is detached from the soil which is a powerhouse of good bacteria. And hydroponics will make it all worse.
- hydroponics are grown in water based systems that are prone to bacterial outbreaks like salmonella, mold overgrowth and fungi.
Real Organic Farmers weigh in on the hydroponics controversy
In the words of influential Maine farmer Eliot Coleman “organic farming is best defined by the benefits of growing crops on a biologically active fertile soil." Without soil, there is no organic farming."
“Biologically active, fertile soil is key to long-term healthy food and healthy soil. It turns out we were right about this,” he continued. Organic farming is now big business.” As a result, “others are trying to get their hands on that label.”
“The flood gates are now open, at least in Florida. New "plantings" of containerized “organic” berry farms are going in all over. With no transition period to wait out, conventional farms are laser-leveling fields, spraying with herbicides, and covering them with plastic weed mat-then setting pots on top. Yes, they are certified organic. “ This is happening almost overnight. It's a farce. For those who invested in starting berry farms that followed the organic rules, it's a government sponsored fraud.” -Letter from an organic grower.
Gerald Davis, Grimmway Farms: “We say let the hydroponics production method develop its own marketing label, based on the merits of their system – not ride the coattails of a successful label that doesn't match their methods or goals.”
“It’s pretty telling that they want to steal our word,” Linley Dixon soil scientist at organic watchdog group the Cornucopia Institute told ModernFarmer. “We’ve worked really hard for this word, and it means something, and they want it, and it’s not theirs. Let them build it for 30 years, like the organic farmers did.”
Representative Chellie Pingree, Maine: “In case you don't know, there are 1,200 lobbyists on the hill that work for the agriculture and food processing industry. They spend about $350 million a year on forming opinions in Washington. And that's more than the defense industry, so don't underestimate their power.”
Representative Peter Welch, Vermont: “You've got folks out there, including in Big Ag, who want a free ride and to get the benefit of the hard work that organic farmers do, and take some of that market share with a label that wasn't earned.”
Senator Patrick Leahy, Vermont: “I know the fight I had to go through to get the original organic farm legislation through. I want organic to mean organic to mean organic. Would you agree with that?”
Jake Guest, Kildeer Farm “You know we have a right to this term ‘organic' – we have a right. I have a right. I've been doing this all my life, you know? And I have a right to that continuity. This hydroponic growing is a perversion of the word organic.”
Davey Miskell, Miskell’s Premium Organics: “The 40 years that I've been involved in organic farming, I'm not willing to let this group of people take that away.”
Driscoll's Fake organics
A Bloomberg report in Businessweek from July 2015 discussed the famous berry company Driscoll: “Driscoll’s doesn’t disclose financial data but estimates that it has 34 percent market share of U.S. strawberry sales—48 percent in organic.”
Since 2010, Driscoll’s has devoted thousands of acres to “organic” HYDRO berries.
Most of their strawberries are grown hydroponically or in the identical container farming method.
Similarly, Wholesum Harvest grows certified “organic” tomatoes in 58 acres of glass greenhouses. All hydroponic. No soil. Approximate annual retail value of over $100 million
This failure of the USDA to prevent the growth of hydroponic farming has strengthened the divide between the USDA and the organic community.
We have to fight this trend.
But What can we do?
Buy produce from farmers that grow their crops in soil and believe in regenerative farming.
As nutrients in foods get reduced, incorporate as many alkaline nutrient and antioxidant rich suoerfoods as possible to ensure that you stay as healthy as possible.
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