Organic farming, a trend popular since making headlines in 2000, is based on the concept that the farmer should let nature run things. It involves natural pest control, crop rotation and keeping the soil fertile naturally. Although it may sound vague, the concept is simple.
Many products that we use every day can be grown on organic farms. Items including cotton, eggs, grains and vegetables may come from organic farms. Additionally, we may get meat and dairy products from organic farms too. These things are considered organic when they are grown on farms that do not use synthetic fertilizers or pesticides on crops and do not use medications on their livestock including synthetic hormones and antibiotics. The animals are allowed access to the outdoors and fed organic feed.
Crop rotation is part of the organic farming strategy. The purpose is to help the soil retain its fertility. For instance, one year a farmer may grow corn in a field. The next season he may allow livestock to graze and the following year he will plant clover. By adding variety to the field, he will prevent the soil from becoming depleted. Using the field for the same purpose year after year will deplete the minerals from the soil and render the field useless eventually.
Compost is organic and made with decaying organic wastes. It is spread on gardens and in fields to promote beneficial fungi and bacteria growth and create nutrient rich soil. Both home gardeners and farmers can use it. Some examples of organic compost items include:
- Yard waste including grass clippings, leaves and wood chips
- Food including coffee grounds, tea bags, fruits and vegetables
- Manure including horse, cow and chicken
Cover crops improve the quality of the soil. They are also used to protect the soil from wind and water erosion and to maintain the organic matter level of the soil. These are all methods used to keep the soil healthy and nutrient rich.
Cover crops are used to distract the pests from the garden and help keep weeds under control. Cover crops can be grown in places that are bare to prevent weeds from growing in these areas. The concept of using cover crops for pest control is to both attract welcome pests while deterring those that are annoying and give them an alternate food source. For example, if you want to attract ladybugs, since they eat aphids, plant fennel, dill or geraniums as a cover crop. This will keep aphids away and give other insects an alternate plant to eat instead of your garden vegetables and plants.
Criticisms of Organic Farming
Due to the restricted use of antibiotics in organic farming, there is some concern over the levels of microbes in manure and its potential to cause E. coli. At this time, there is not sufficient evidence to support these concerns.
Furthermore, a 2002 report suggests that free-range and organic chickens may be more likely to have campylobacter infections, which can also cause food poisoning. Again, further studies are underway to prove that this is true.