Publications (Paul's Blog)

November 19, 2009

THE PROOF IS IN THE PUDDING

Filed under: Uncategorized — Paul Dowlearn @ 6:54 pm

I still don’t know exactly where this old saying originated, or exactly what it pertains to. I assume that it refers to the fact that if the pudding tastes good then no further proof should be needed. Perhaps one of you can enlighten me on this. I do feel the saying is applicable when it comes to that age old conflict concerning the use of synthetic gardening products versus using natural products.
When I first became interested in this issue in the early 1970’s there were already plenty of organic gardeners out there. These mainly fell into two categories. There were the older folk who had been gardening prior to the advent of chemical gardening that took place shortly after World War II. Many of these folks saw no need to change. Most tried a few of the new fangled products but wound up going back to what they had been taught and handed down through generations. The other category was made largely of younger folks like myself who had grown up using chemicals but felt like there should be a better way.
I knew the history of farming and gardening went back thousands of years. Although it had worked well enough to advance civilization I also knew that crops would often fail due to insects, disease, or the vagaries of local weather. All of the commercial farmers I knew 30 years ago were using chemicals. When asked they would say (often bluntly) that the best way to farm was to use modern technology. The “old ways” were considered too labor intensive. Organic gardeners puddin1were considered either hard headed cantankerous old coots or new wave “hippies.” Both were thought to be beyond salvation and generally lacking in good sense.
When the organic folks and the chemical folks would get into a discussion it would likely wind up with the chemical faction proclaiming, “Where’s your proof? Where’s your scientific study?” In those days, little or no such scientific study existed although we did have the backing of private research plus about 10,000 years of non-chemical agriculture. Apparently that did not count for much. However that was 30 years ago. Plenty has changed since then.
Today we do have volumes of scientific studies that prove beyond any doubt that organic farming and gardening actually works better, costs less in the long run, plus produces higher proteins and all around healthier crops. There is also a huge volume of studies that prove human and animal health has declined exponentially during the past 50 years as chemically grown crops became popular. Plants grown on synthetic fertilizers become dependant as soil humus and microbial activity decreases. As soil health decreases the incidence of insect pests and disease increase. Accordingly, so does the general health of animals and humans who eat the produce. In fact, no matter which facet of biology you choose to study, you will find evidence of decline with the introduction of synthetic products into the food chain.
While the more desirable life forms are declining there are some that are on the increase. A good example is insect pests. The history of poisonous pesticides shows a steady increase in use. The millions of tons of pesticide we have applied over time has not resulted in the decrease of insects that plague our crops. What has decreased is the good insects that prey upon the bad ones. They are fewer in number and adversely affected by the same poisons. Since the predatorpuddin2 species are declining, we now must use more pesticide because we have more pests. The history of this is irrefutable and easily accessible to those who care to learn.
“Time will tell,” is another old saying that applies. Here we have the recent history of chemical dependant agriculture that has shown us over time that this was not such a good idea. On the other hand we also have a history of the reawakening of natural farming and ranching techniques that combine age old practices with some of the latest technology. Today’s highly successful organic farmers, milk, poultry, and beef producers are well educated and well motivated by an increasingly intelligent consumers market. Safe, fresh, and locally produced is what health conscious shoppers are wanting. These new farmers are a far cry from your typical poor share cropper or truck farmer that virtually disappeared in the 1950’s with the onset of big agribusiness cranking out mass produced, perfect looking meat and produce that had less nutritional value. Now the small family farm has great value and is poised once again to play a major role in sustainable agriculture.
Meanwhile the chemical guys have not been asleep. Their new thing now is to tamper with genetics. Many of these genetically engineered products were promised to reduce the need for herbicides and pesticides. Instead we continue to see increases. However, the buying public having been duped once before is already suspicious of GMO’s (genetically modified organisms). We are if fact seeing “Contains no GMO’s” stamped clearly on a few labels lately just for the discriminating consumer. Besides this we are also seeing big agribusiness companies buying out smaller organic companies while their political lobbies continue to attempt to sabotage the industry by loosening organic standards.
The cutting edge in the organic field of study lately has turned to microbes. We have begun to understand the vital role these minute to microscopic creatures that exist symbiotically in the root zone, inside the roots themselves, on leaf surfaces, and even inside larger creatures like earthworms. We have progressed in our thinking from “feeding the plant,” to feeding the soil, to feeding the life in the soil which in turn feeds the plants. In all three cases we were always feeding microbes, we just did not realize it yet. Once again, there are plenty of scientific studies and other sources that will confirm this.
We, as consumers have the power to turn the tide. The choice is whether or not to continue to support synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and GMO’s or to support local organically grown meat and produce plus (at the very least) switch to natural products in our own homes and gardens. Pretty much a no-brainer when you think it through. Although in many cases we consumers are still faced with little or no choice at the grocery store. It all starts with talking to your local store managers and local farmers or ranchers. Then it is critical to support this by purchasing those products when they become available. The power of the dollar is bottom line for all businessmen and politicians. We often complain that regardless of who gets elected, real change for the better is slow in coming and “business as usual” seems to hold its own. The power of purchase can change history and change it quickly if we would only realize it.
My wife Nila, myself, and our employees have run an organic nursery for 15 years now. As time has gone by we find it a rare occasion when we have to treat for insects or disease. The only exception to this has been fire ants. We raise over 300 different species of native and well adapted plants in containers. We use no fertilizers other than compost and compost tea. Although we do buy and sell plants that are grown using synthetics, we strive to produce as much as we can ourselves. You will find some plants in our nursery that show stress from heat, cold, insects, or disease, but this does not bother our educated customers much. Instead most come back for more and tell us “Everything we buy here does well.” We grow our plants outdoors using natural methods, our one small greenhouse is used to start new plants. When we began this business there were several colleagues of mine who predicted that although my cause was noble, you really could not manage a nursery without resorting to chemicals. In truth, we have done pretty well. The proof is in the pudding!!

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