header image

Our Blog

Waking Up to Soil Science – Part I

Ever heard of a noble lie? This regal term dates back to Socrates and Plato’s time. By definition, it’s a myth told by the elite to keep social harmony. As an example, Plato was criticized for calling religion a noble lie.

In a recent Huffington Post article, organics was called a “noble lie.” The author, Joe Satran, concluded by saying that “overblown health claims” may be a noble lie to justify the ecological benefits of organic agriculture. His otherwise glowing report did a fabulous job of explaining the Rodale Institute’s 30-year study comparing organic to conventional farming methods. It also addressed many of the arguments that organic encounters such as price, supply and access. Instead of using the facts of his articles to endorse organics, a “noble lie” left it up to the reader to weigh the evidence and decide for themselves. Was he insinuating his true belief? Or challenging his readers?

Challenging readers with a list of persuasions implies that organics is an alternative. Ironically, organic was the original. But the green revolution of the 1940’s made conventional the standard leaving organics picketing on the sidewalk. Many articles use the list technique to compare organics to conventional, i.e. healthier, more nutritious, tastes better, supports local, more ecological and ethical. Instead of trying to convince people with lists, how about we teach people the science behind organics and end the debate once and for all. Science doesn’t lie.

In reading the public comments that followed the Huffington Post article, a thread lingered over the integrity of the organic name. Some argued that the organic certification has been diluted by the infiltration of large food corporations trying to capitalize on the rise of organics’ popularity. One post reminded the other post that the organic product market is not the same as the organic farming practice. Rodale uses science to study the organic practice. They are not responsible for how the open market decides to lessen its meaning. Rodale’s Executive Director, Mark Smallwood, wants to use the science to create what he calls a “massive awakening.”

The Rodale Institute is located just outside of Allentown, PA. They are the nation’s premier research station for organic farming. I immersed myself there for a 3-day course about soil science back in October..

And what I learned is…people can handle the science. Yes, in science there are a lot of complex ratios and talk about parts per million. But if you skim just the common sense off the top, it doesn’t have to be complicated. People don’t need to be a scientist to understand how conventional agriculture defies the laws of soil science. The law boils down to this…we need soil to grow plants. Pure and simple! Conventional agriculture treats soil as merely something to hold plants up. They may as well go into hydroponics which doesn’t use soil at all. The fundamental difference between organic and conventional is that if soil is in the game, it has to be treated like soil. Soil provides an environment for millions of microbes not just to live but to actually make the nutrients for the plants. What matters is the biology in the soil. Rodale’s chief scientist, Dr. Elaine Ingham, PhD, sums up the science this way, “To build soil structure and build healthy plants, we need to let biology do its thing!” To learn more about the biology of soil, read two earlier posts on October 9th and 12th.

Stay tuned for Part II of the article…