What Our Organic Gardens Taught Us about the Challenges of Organic Regulations


[Cell phone ringing] Hello this is Eric. Hey Eric. How’s it going? Hey there Michel. Pretty good. How you doing? Oh, pretty good. I had a questions for you. Something came up in our community
garden plot that started me thinking about the organic regulations and I
thought you’d be the guy to talk to. Huh, that’s interesting so what is it? Well it’s an issue with poison ivy. Poison ivy? You guys are growing poison
ivy in your vegetable garden? Come on !!! Well we are growing it but not on
purpose. Okay, I just wanted to make sure ’cause you know we’re always trying to figure out what the next crop is here in
California and I figured maybe we’re
missing out on something. Yeah we are pretty progressive out here
but not that advanced [Chuckle]. Okay, okay so… what was the question? Well we have the poison ivy.. it’s growing
in our fence line, and my wife Martha she’s super sensitive to poison ivy and she’s pulled it out one too many times
and been on steroids one too many times. So she said ‘Enough of that, I’m going to use this new product’, new to her at least new to her at least, it’s called Roundup. You ever heard of it? Of course I know what Roundup is, you know in fact maybe I shouldn’t admit this
but I’ve actually used a little bit of Roundup at my house to deal with some
pretty nasty weeds. Say what? You’re Mr. Organic you’re not supposed to use that stuff ! Hey, you know just ’cause I do organic
research for a living that doesn’t mean that I can’t use some of this stuff at home. You know sometimes just a little bit of it in a special situation might…. kind of help. Anyway, so um so what’s the issue with Roundup? So, we used it. It did a great job. It got rid of the poison ivy. But unfortunately, some of our neighbors who
garden organically and consider us some of the hardcore organic gardeners… Martha using roundup must have
challenged their world view or something and they went to the city…our garden’s are on city property… and they asked them to require everyone to use only organic certified methods in the garden plots. That seems a little bit extreme to
me. Martha and I thought so. Anyway after two years of going in front of City Council for hearings and explaining what was going on.. they finally realized that
we were not trying to ruin the planet that we’re just trying to control a
little bit of poison ivy with some
targeted use of Roundup. So in the end they did not pass any new
regulations about everybody having to be organic. Anyway the whole process got me thinking
more about the organic regulations and how certified organic farmers address
challenging problems. And it got me to thinking that sometimes the regulations can actually lead to some less than
sustainable practices, I thought. Interesting so… like… what do you mean? Well, what if a farmer has a major issue
with perennial weeds that could be deal with using organically approved methods but could be dealt with relatively easily with a systemic herbicide when the problem first appears and it wouldn’t require a lot of that
systemic herbicide. It could be applied in a targeted fashion. Interesting, you know you actually kind of hit the nail right on the head with that one because in our long-term research we’re actually starting to get some field bindweed showing up in one of our research plots.
And I’ll tell you what… field bindweed scares the heck out of me
because that thing can spread. And what I’m worried about is that the only way that we’re going to be able to control this is probably with a lot of tillage. And I’ve kind of wondered if we could just use a little bit of a systemic herbicide like
glyphosate or Roundup… maybe we could actually eliminate it really early on before it gets out of hand. Well, and actually from the soil health perspective less tillage might actually be better for the soil health than… you know…using a lot of tillage to get rid of a perennial weed. Yeah that’s kind of what I’m getting at. I wonder if there should be some way for
an organic farmer to apply for some kind waiver or an allowance to deal with
some specific kinds of problems. And I think this perennial weed problem
might be a good example of this. If you think of it kind of like cancer if you
deal with it when it’s small and it hasn’t spread you could deal with it
quickly and it doesn’t get out of hand. That could actually be pretty effective
especially if it didn’t lead to people over relying on some of these inputs, you
know just using them in a real worst-case scenario. I think it’s something to think about. I think that one of the issues with the organic regulations is that having one rule to address all different systems to deal with all different crops with the same rules… that might not be scientifically valid. That’s a good point. You know we could actually talk about this at this conference that’s coming up in Phoenix. Yeah we should talk about it there see
what people think. Yeah ’cause you know what? The only way that we’re ever going to improve these organic systems is if
we share our concerns you know… talk about some of our ideas that some people might think our little bit crazy and if people have an opportunity to not be
afraid to bring up ideas that might be a
little bit out there. Okay let’s do it. Hey sounds good man. I’ll see
you there in Phoenix.

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