Keep the Soil in Organic

What many of us don’t realize here in Vermont is that virtually all the conventional greenhouse production of vegetables and berries in the US have become hydroponic systems. Many of these often California-based farms grow berries or tomatoes or cucumbers in pots filled with coconut husks and fertilized through a drip system. These operations are very productive and have high yields. Over the last 5 years, a small group of very large conventional greenhouse growers realized that they could charge a premium price if they just switched their fertilizer sources to fertilizers approved by the National Organic Program. This was taking place even after the National Organic Standards Board (created by USDA to advise the National Organic Program) in 2010 recommended that hydroponics should not be called organic.

In addition, Mexico, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, and 24 EU countries (including Holland, England, Germany, Italy, France, Belgium, and Spain) do not allow hydroponic vegetable production to be certified as organic. The reason is that the basis of organic farming is cultivating and improving the fertility of the soil. Most organic farmers support this traditional belief and do not want the official definition of organic, as codified by the federal organic program, to be compromised. The farmers who have worked so hard to enhance their soil, and consequently the quality of their food, believe that the certified organic label is a pact between them and their customers. According to Dave Chapman, an organic grower from East Thetford, “Certainly most organic growers would not consider a tomato grown on a little bag of coconut husk suspended 3 feet over the ground and fed entirely through an IV drip system to be organically grown. Nor would most organic consumers, if they were given a tour of a large glass greenhouse with thirty acres of suspended plants and not a speck of soil in sight. This is all so far from the ideals that organic farming was built on. Organic is based on protecting and enhancing the health and vitality of the soil.”

In November, at their semi-annual meeting, upon heavy pressure from the hydroponics industry, the National Organic Standards Board will be re-considering their recommendation to not allow hydroponics to be called organic. Those of us who believe soil is essential to organic systems should email Miles McEvoy, Deputy Administrator of the National Organic Program (NOP) at and let him know. You can also sign the petition to Keep the Soil in Organic at

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