Growing Organic Food For Health

Everyone - including the backyard gardener - who wants to grow food in a way that is sustainable and that respects the natural environment can benefit from using the federal organic guidelines from the Organic Food Production Act that took effect in 2002. These federal standards for organic cultivation were designed by people with a profound knowledge of how to produce food ecologically.

With the home gardener rather than the market gardener especially in mind, what follows here is an overview and some highlights of the standards and regulations. For more details, visit the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) website: http://www.ams.usda.gov. Click "National Organic Program."
~~Soil~~

In an organic gardening system, soil health is fundamental to success. Even though natural fertilizers and other inputs are used in organic gardening, they are minimized by regular additions of organic material to feed and improve the soil. This material can come, for instance, from tilling in cover crops and from using approved soil amendments such as compost.

Raw animal manures are not to be used as soil amendments within six months of harvest for root crops. For crops where the edible part never touches the soil, raw animal manures are not used within three months of harvest. Sewage sludge is absolutely banned. Crop residues can be chopped into the soil, but not burned.
~~Pests~~

Biological pesticides can be used, but should be viewed as a last resort. Before spraying a pesticide, organic gardeners can use predators of the pest species, develop habitat to encourage the natural enemies of pests, and use controls like traps and non-synthetic repellants.


~~Diseases~~

Prevention is the idea. Plants grown in healthy soil are naturally resistant to disease. Crop rotation and selecting the right varieties also contribute to disease control. If, however, there is still a problem, visit the USDA web site mentioned above and select from the National List of biologicals and botanicals that are permitted to certified organic growers.

~~Weeds~~

The federal organic standards allow no herbicides. Control weeds by tilling, hand weeding, mowing, etc. Also, natural mulches (e.g. straw) are useful.

~~Seeds and Transplants~~

These must also be organic for the crop to be labeled organic.

The backyard gardener who is interested in growing organically for the nutritional and environmental benefit rather than for the purpose of marketing, probably doesn't need all the nitty gritty details of the Organic Food Production Law.

Just use the basic guidelines and act with respect for nature, and you're on the way to producing organic food. It's well worth it: healthier for people and healthier for the environment.

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