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The White House Garden: Is Organic Better?

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Posted on : 8:45 AM | By : Nic | In :

Whatever your politics might be, I'm just very glad that the White House lawn is going to have an organic vegetable garden on it. That lawn is fairly useless, and a big organic garden growing food for homeless people just seems to make sense. The layout of the garden to can be found in this PDF. According to the plan, most of the beds appear to be between 4x4 and 4x8 feet, and some of them are using a little bit of companion planting... for example, the nasturtiums and marigolds lining the path will deter pests, and chard and peas mutually benefit each other in growth and pest deterrent.

The garden isn't huge, considering how much room they actually have, but its decent, and its organic, which they've been getting lots of flack for. The Mid-American CropLife Association sent this email to the White House, which basically says in a roundabout way that without the pesticides, Americans wouldn't have had the time to get jobs outside of farming and our world wouldn't be the same. The letter is quite insidious and I'll let you read it yourself, but just some backstory on who MACA is, take a look at their membership and its pretty clear that this is a lobby group composed of agricultural chemical companies and genetic engineering companies, including Monsanto.

One of the things I have been hearing on the internet is that people are arguing whether organic is really better. Some people argue that organic isn't sustainable because it can't possibly sustain all the people in the world. First of all, this is an improper use of the word 'sustainable'... there are two kinds of sustainable. Sustainable agriculture and a sustainable food supply mean two completely different things. Sustainable agriculture is a system of growing food in which everything is self-contained. Even so-called sustainable farms aren't truly sustainable because they might still rely on outside input. For example, an organic beef operation might grass-feed their beef, and use no antibiotics, but if they aren't using the manure from the cows to help grow the grain needed to feed the cows in the winter, its not technically completely sustainable. There are some loopholes... possibly they could market the manure to someone locally who grows grain organically who then sells it back to the cow farmer. But unless this is a semi-closed system where no actual waste is produced by the farm, it's not a wholly sustainable system.

A sustainable food supply on the other hand is one which, quite simply, there is enough food for everyone and it will be able to scaled in output to population growth. Unfortunately even conventional farming hasn't been able to do that, and people worry that switching everyone to organic would only increase the problem, which is a legitimate worry. But, done properly (which means locally instead of outsourcing to Mexico), organic, sustainable agriculture actually would increase yields because they aren't necessarily grown in long rows to be more convenient for machinery - instead, crops are often grown intensively and put out much bigger yields per acre. The difficulty is that this is labor-intensive. It takes more people more hours to do this, and would require more farmers, which means more young people need to be interested in farming.

I honestly believe there would be lots of young people interested in farming if it were treated as a respectable career option. Right now 2% of people are farmers, and those people are losing their farms. There are very few sustainable agricultural college programs out there, and even if a student does find one, getting a job to pay those student loans is tough which makes the education not worth it. There are a few opportunities (which I will post later), but much more needs to be done. If we are worried about food security, and want to stop ingesting pesticides, its going to really come down to who's willing to work for it.

Comments (2)

I'm so excited, I took the ecological footprint test from your sidebar and our family of 5 scored 2.85 earths! Just goes to show us that all the little things add up.

Enjoying your blog,
Mrs. B

AMEN. I couldn't agree more!