Organic getting big boost,
Big Chem shuddering


America's First Gardener let it be known that her 1,100-square foot veg garden would be organic, much to the chagrin of Big Ag.  The Hill first reported on their industry group rather defensively claiming that "Fresh foods grown conventionally are wholesome and flavorful yet more economical."  There's that feel-good yet meaningless marketing term – "wholesome".  Member companies (think Monsanto, Dow and DuPont) must really be nervous.  But how nervous?

In an email to their supporters, that same industry group wrote: "While a garden is a great idea, the thought of it being organic made [us] shudder." They also sent a letter to the First Lady
asking her to consider using chemicals — or what they call "crop protection
proUSDArobinsonducts" — in her garden.  That mentality makes me shudder a bit.

Next there's the People's Garden on the grounds of the USDA headquarters in D.C., taking the extra step to get officially certified as organic – oh, yeah!  In fact, they're getting their compost from the Rodale Institute itself – and Rodale's very, very happy about that.  Their farm director Jeff Moyer delivered the compost himself, and here's how that came about (via Treehugger):

"Moyer was instrumental in making the connection with the People's
Garden and negotiating the delivery. Moyer, as chair of the National
Organic Standards Board, learned of the garden and its organic status
in conversation with Barbara Robinson, acting chair of the USDA’s
National Organic Program. He offered the compost, and Rodale received
the OK to deliver it."

That's Barbara shoveling organic compost in the photo.  A Bush hold-over, she seems to be totally on board the organic train and boy, we're come a long way since the bad old days when J.I. Rodale couldn't even GIVE money to the USDA to research organic agriculture (so Jeff Moyer tells me).

Oh, it gets worse (if you're Big Chem, that is).  In 2008, to little notice, the government's building management agency switched to 100 percent poultry manure for all its fertilizer needs – on turf as well as flower beds.  We're talking 64 sites covering 84 acres.  Maybe the move went unnoticed because it didn't threaten conventional food-growing, just synthetic landscape products.  Or maybe it was because nobody even knows what the General Services Administration IS. 

And you won't be surprised to learn that this move to organics was done by land managers on their own initiative, not under orders from any political appointee.  (It's nice to be under the radar.)  Here's more about GSA's landscape program.

Next up? According to Janet Kenoyer, GSA's top horticulturist, another organic veg garden will soon be installed in D.C., this one in a courtyard at the EPA.  Big Chem's shudders may soon progress to full convulsions.


  1. I can appreciate the symbolism of having compost delivered by Rodale in Pennsylvania, but do we really want to send the message that organic is good when the compost is being trucked from Pennsylvania. We do, after all, have local compost. If it’s not made on site, they might try using the compost that’s made from all the leaves collected in the District of Columbia. Those leaves are now being taken to Pogo Organics, north of Olney, MD, composted and sold to customers of Whole Foods. But I bet if the USDA or GSA asked, Pogo would be will to provide some of our locally grown compost.

  2. It just goes to show that compost is cool! Big chem needs to start the conversion to organics soon or risk losing hold on the ag market.

  3. Ed, that’s a great suggestion for the future… after all, organic gardens need a continuous supply of compost. Pursue it.
    In the meantime, let’s let Rodale have its moment in the sun! The symbolism is incredibly important for those who have followed the organic movement for these many years.
    I’m so happy I’m all but levitating. This news fits hand-in-glove with a Big Idea I have. Way to go, Washington!!

  4. One of the interesting things about the agro-chemical companies PR push back against the local/organic/sustainable food movement is their use of the idea of “growing food conventionally.”

    Since when in 10,000 years of human agriculture is chemical fertilizers, pesticides, GMO’s and the like, that only came into common use beginning in the late 1940’s, conventional?

    How did mechanized monocrops that are totally dependent on oil and chemicals and that cover entire states become “Conventional”?

    It isn’t. That word needs to be ripped right out of their PR hands in a public display of Liar, liar, pants on fire.

  5. I tend to agree with Ed Bruske on the compost issue, and I bet, in theory at least, old man Rodale would, too.

    Christopher C NC great point about “conventional” — it’s become almost Orwellian a la Newspeak.

  6. The concept that “organic” farming is safer or better is false. To say so denies reality. There is zero proof of any study or scientific test that shows any difference betwen thesafety or in fact the composition of food grown “organically” or with modern methods. None, zero, nada.

    It is a dangerous assumption to believe organically grown means safer and it is a disproved theory that there is a difference in taste. Sure it great to grow your own fruits and vegetables and nothing can match the taste of picking and then eating, no arguement. Assuming that the taste of organically grown produce can be distinguished from the same age produce grown “non-organically” has been disproven time and time again. The amount of heath related problems is as high or higher when organic methods are used. Also, pretending that naturally occuring chemicals are any less dangerous than engineered chemicals is a dangerous suposition.

    Pushing for all food to be “organic” is foolish. Food would cost more affecting everyone in the world with higher prices. Supplies would be less affecting those the most that spend the greatest proportion of their income on food. There would be zero improvement of the taste, nutrisional value or safety of the food supply; there would simply be less food at higher prices.

    If there is one scientific study that shows otherwise please advise, where it is hiding. If there is one case of someone getting sick or suffering any ill effects from properly applied chemical fertilizers or pesticides please show it to me, I have not seen it.

    Commercial fertilizers and pesticides along with modern hybrid crops are the reason we have such an abundance of safe affordable foods. These techniques have been utilized in many developing countries and revolutionized agriculture and helped feed milions. Hybrid rice is improving food supplies in China and India, India is using hybrid cotton to improve yields and the income of poor cotton farmers, hybrid corn harvests with dramatically increased yields are feeding hundreds of millions worldwide.

    It is fine to grow what you want, any way that you like; it is quite another thing to try and impose lower yields, higher prices and poorer crops on the rest of the world.

    There is zero upside and a great downside which is why these efforts will fail and rightly so. Chemicals engineered or natural can be abused and each can kill. Intelligent use of any type is the answer.

    I remeber a story from many years ago about a guy who saved, dried out and salted apple seeds from the apples he ate. He ied from arsenic poisoning as apples seeds contain arsenic. The fact that he died of natural poisoning may be of some consolation to “organic” growers; it was no consolation to the deceased.

  7. I did a little research and it is not arsenic but cyanide contained in apples. It is impossible to eat enough apples to get a fatal dose from eating the whole apple as it would be tooo dilute to be fatal. Also, according to Snopes they are safe if not chewed. Please do not try this athome.

  8. Christopher, what’s even worse PR deception is contrasting organic with “traditional”! Even on NPR I’ve heard that comparison, which is oh, so false, as you point out. There’s nothing more traditional than organic.

  9. Did you guys invent “Jon” just to bring me pleasure? I love it when someone gets all lathered up about one of your posts and spouts off. I love a good argument. Pointless or otherwise.

  10. Well, when pesticides are used there are more residuals shown on the produce. i would suggest you listen to what your grandmother used to tell you and rinse them off before eating. I did note the mention of pesticides in baby food. No levels were given, but I would agree that no risk is acceptable with babies. However I do agree with the Mayo clinic when they say “Pesticides. Conventional growers use pesticides to protect their crops from molds, insects and diseases. When farmers spray pesticides, this can leave residue on produce. Some people buy organic food to limit their exposure to these residues. Most experts agree, however, that the amount of pesticides found on fruits and vegetables poses a very small health risk.”

    …and to my point about natural chemicals versus synthetic, Berkely has this to say “A recent study compared the effectiveness of a rotenone-pyrethrin mixture versus a synthetic pesticide, imidan. Rotenone and pyrethrin are two common organic pesticides; imidan is considered a “soft” synthetic pesticide (i.e., designed to have a brief lifetime after application, and other traits that minimize unwanted effects). It was found that up to 7 applications of the rotenone- pyrethrin mixture were required to obtain the level of protection provided by 2 applications of imidan.

    It seems unlikely that 7 applications of rotenone and pyrethrin are really better for the environment than 2 applications of imidan, especially when rotenone is extremely toxic to fish and other aquatic life.

    It should be noted, however, that we don’t know for certain which system is more harmful. This is because we do not look at organic pesticides the same way that we look at conventional pesticides. We don’t know how long these organic pesticides persist in the environment, or the full extent of their effects.

    When you look at lists of pesticides allowed in organic agriculture, you find warnings such as, “Use with caution. The toxicological effects of [organic pesticide X] are largely unknown,” or “Its persistence in the soil is unknown.” Again, researchers haven’t bothered to study the effects of organic pesticides because it is assumed that “natural” chemicals are automatically safe.”

    Indeed the effects of synthetic pesticides are better known and better controlled simply because they are newer are contrary to what many may believe organic produce is treated with bacterial and other pesticides. These would be from natural sources but very few people can distinguish whether they are being poisoned naturally or synthetically.

    Christiopher, please do not assume that because I have better arguements than you that I am paid to express them. You are the benificiary of my wisdom at no charge. Oh, and that’s right you don’t have any arguements as you have stated in previous posts and your only purpose in life is to be an irritant. The only question is, should we use a natural or synthetic pesticide to silence you. Hmmmm.

    Pam, I dare say that Susan could not bring herself to type the comments I make, even to boost interest.

    PS, I am not “lathered up”, just simply giving my point of view.

    PSS, did you know that fully 1/3 of all products labeled “organic” are not. The only thing organic about them are the higher price tags.

  11. Jamie, the first 2 articles you posted that discuss the need to be extremely cautious about what we feed babies is spot on, but I have to say that the third article you attached left me laughing. It says that there was a study done at Newcastle Univ. that was funded by a grant from the Organic Trade Association (not exactly an uninterested party).

    The article announced “preliminary findings” that there were higher levels of unspecified antioxidants from organic cows than in conventional cows. It does not address what was done/fed to the cows to render some organic and some conventional and it does not address the antioxidants with any specificity. Scientific studies without any scientific fact run an equal (at best) chance of being somewhat true or outright charlatanism. Could be right – could be wrong – but there’s not enough substance there in that article you presented to be worth consideration.

    And, the study could have had enormously different results when all the data was in.

    And, the study was done on cows, not produce.

    Yes, an organic food company did chime in and postulate that what was true for cows was possibly true for produce, but from where I sit, there’s a heck of a lot of difference between cows and tomatoes.

    Jon is right in that “organic” doesn’t mean pesticide free. And you better believe that some of the products approved as organic pesticides can hurt you just as fast as the synthetic ones. If you want to eat food that is pesticide free, grow it yourself or find someone at the local farmers market who believes as you do, but don’t fall into the trap of thinking that “organic” and “pesticide free” mean the same thing

  12. I say if the organic movement gets to bandy around meaningless words like “wholesome”, then big agra gets to too.

  13. I doubt Big Chemical is seriously concerned. They make their money from Big Farming not gardeners and hyphenated farming (free-range, home-grown, pesticide-free, etc.) Let Big Ag feed the world, keeping food prices reasonable and let niche farmers do their thing for the people who can afford their output. One advantage to living in a free country is everyone gets to choose how they garden, (or farm)] and eat and there is room for all kinds of food production.

    Me? My husband, son and I are industrial farmers. My vegetable garden is mostly organic using my own home-made compost. Why? Because I love making compost and what organic matter does to the soil, not because I’m afraid of synthetic fertilizers.

  14. “Christopher, please do not assume that because I have better arguments than you that I am paid to express them. You are the beneficiary of my wisdom at no charge. Oh, and that’s right you don’t have any arguments as you have stated in previous posts and your only purpose in life is to be an irritant. The only question is, should we use a natural or synthetic pesticide to silence you. Hmmmm.”

    I see the gangs all here. If my site meter is any indication from the people who followed my comment to find out who I might be, this post is attracting readers with some very very interesting IP addresses.

    Jon I asked you who you worked for and you avoided it again. Why is that?

    I see no value in arguing points with someone whose sole intent is muddying the waters. You have a disingenuous intent from the start. The volume of your comments suggests you have all these prearranged diversionary talking points available and handy to copy and paste. You either do this professionally or you have an odd hobby.

    Jon, the only question is, should we use a natural or synthetic pesticide to silence you? Sadly, I don’t think there is any chemical, natural or synthetic with an LD50 high enough to overcome the inherent toxicity you represent.

    If you find this irritating, good.

    PS. I corrected your spelling for you in the quote.

  15. Geeze Christopher, get off your soapbox. Just because someone doesn’t agree with you doesn’t make them the enemy. I thought your first post was reasonable and I thought Jon’s first post was reasonable also. But not your last one. And no, before you start seeing a conspiracy where none exists, I don’t work in agriculture (beyond my 1/2 acre back yard garden), I have never worked in the chemical, pesticide, nursery or big ag business, but I have more than a high school biology degree and I actually take the time to read the technical small print.

  16. Della, Jon only shows up here on specific topics in which he likes to sound reasonable in an attempt to sow confusion. There is a bit of a history here, you may not be aware of.

    It doesn’t take much before Jon is insulting most of the commenters here and praising his imagined superior wisdom. It isn’t about agreeing or disagreeing on any particular issue or specific point. It is about his online demeanor and agenda for being here on very specific topics.

    If it comments like a shill and fumes and sputters like a shill, than there is a pretty good chance he is here for more than casual conversation and debate.

  17. It’s always a mistake to reduce a complex subject to a few sound bites, but here I go. I don’t like pig poop lagoons. And I don’t like the rise in type 2 diabetes in this country. I blame synthetic fertilizers and pesticides for both of these things.

    And as a long-time editor I regret the use of the word “organic” when talking about food or farming. So imprecise, so meaningless, so vague. But it’s too late now.

  18. Now I’m really confused. Pig poop lagoons? And diabetes? I thought the rise in type 2 diabetes was pretty well attributed to the increasingly fast food diet coupled with the couch potato syndrome that has overtaken this country. How in the world did you make the leap from too much fat in our food to synthetic fertilizers and pesticides? You gotta walk me thru that with some science because I’m just not seeing it.

  19. Christopher, once again you exhibit the same behavior. You start by being offensive and accusatory with zero input. You somehow expect that ignorant remarks are an acceptable substitution for for discussion of ideas. You have no tolerance for anyone who disagrees with you and seemingly no capability to argue your point of view.

    I am never insulting to anyone with a different viewpoint than myself simply because we disagree. Christopher, I wonder why I just seem to be picking on you. Do you think that I just don’t like to insulted? Do you think that I should absorb your irritating and seemingly uninformed outbursts and continue to treat you civily and not expose your shortcomings?

    The purpose of having reader responses to share thoughts and exchange ideas. You either don’t have any thoughts or are unable to politely express them. You start off being obnoxious, continue to escalate your rage until you disintegrate into babble. This is not how civilized people communicate.

  20. Hey Della. Here’s how I made the leap to poop lagoons and diabetes.
    1. WWII ends. The industries that made the chemical ammonium nitrate (for bombs) were left with a lot of that stuff on their hands. What to do with it all? And what to do with the infrastructure created to manufacture the stuff? Keep making the stuff but use it as fertilizer (it’s full of nitrogen)! Many steps later we have monocrops—grown on huge farms by farmers who no longer bother raising animals (goodbye to all that nice manure that once fed crops).
    2. But we still want our bacon and our hamburgers. And lots of it (thank you McDonald brothers of San Bernardino, CA). So other farmers start raising huge herds of pigs and cattle, fed by the crops grown on the huge farms in point 1. Many of these animal farmers don’t bother growing crops so they have no use for the manure any longer.
    3. Monocrop farmers and pig/cattle ranchers are wildly successful. Lots of cheap corn, lots of pig meat. Must find more ways to make a buck off of this cheap corn. Corn syrup! Very sweet. Let’s add it to Coke as a sweetener. Hell, let’s add it to bread and cereal and ice cream and canned fruit. And what happens to all that manure now that the animal farmers no longer grow crops that need it? They send it to poop land fills, which eventually turn into poop lagoons.
    4. Food gets more plentiful and cheaper but it’s now full of corn syrup. In fact, the cheaper it is the more corn syrup it’s likely to have. People, especially poor people, start getting fatter. Here comes Type II diabetes.
    For a much better analysis of all this read Michael Pollan.

  21. Thanks for explaining that to me Pam. I actually thought you might have some real science behind your claims. It seems to me that the real villain here is the military for making the nitrate for the bombs in the first place. No, wait, why don’t you take it back further to the Chinese, as they developed gunpowder, the precurser to ammonium nitrate? There you go – we can blame all the type 2 diabetes on the Chinese!

  22. Hey Della, you’ll note that I never used the word “villain.” I don’t think anyone in the chain of events I described was evil or malicious or intended to do harm. They were all probably good people who worked hard and just wanted to make a buck, just like you (I presume) and me. But sometimes a lot of innocent actions can combine to produce some not-so-positive results. And I’m not so sure I got any scientific facts wrong, but please let me know if I did. I’m all for life-long learning.

  23. Della,

    1) I am pointing out advantages to organic food, not just produce. Jon had said:

    “There would be zero improvement of the taste, nutrisional value or safety of the food supply; there would simply be less food at higher prices.

    If there is one scientific study that shows otherwise please advise, where it is hiding.”

    These are studies that raise this as an issue, he had claimed there were none. I posted several – I can post others.

    2) You got to return the favor, as your last paragraph made me laugh. If you are so interested in proof and evidence, then you must practice what you preach and show me where I had said anything that would make you think: “If you want to eat food that is pesticide free, grow it yourself or find someone at the local farmers market who believes as you do, but don’t fall into the trap of thinking that “organic” and “pesticide free” mean the same thing.”


    People who are intellectually dishonest do this sort of thing, Della. People also have to realize that what they post online presents an image of who they are. If this angers you, then all I can tell you is simply do not put words into others’ mouths. YOU presented yourself this way, Della.

  24. Jamie, you are absolutely right that I owe you an apology. I started out the comment you are referring to by directing my thoughts to you. Then I moved on with what was meant as a general comment in support of something Jon has said, and I was, unfortunately, a bit oblique in the transition.

    The comments about organic not equaling pesticide free was not pointed at you, was not meant as a challenge to you in any manner. I should have been much clearer (maybe put it in a separate post?) in what I had written. I apologize. Truce?

  25. Della, you did post studies that showed higher synthetic pesticides in crops grown “normally”. You did not and no study by the FDA or any other organization shown these are close to allowable levels and each showed that these same pesticides are in “organically” grown produce at one third the occurrence. Your claim that you showed that these crops were unsafe is simply not true.

    Also, as I stated there are non-synthetic pesticides that are used by “organic” farmers that are not tested for and assuming that natural pesticides and bactericides used in organic farming are harmless is unwise. Actually since modern pesticides are tested and levels of allowable exposure are estimated and “natural” chemicals are not it could be argued that commercial produce is safer.

    I think there are two common misconceptions;

    1- “Organic” farming uses no pesticides or bactericides. This is simply not true. They are used regularly in compliance with the FDA definition of organic.

    2- The second misconception is that allowable organic pesticides are safer than synthetics or even safe. Not so, for example:

    Pyrethrums- Basically, a powder made from Chrysanthemums. What could be more natural, right? Well, it’s a neurotoxin, so be careful. Dust the plants with it, and the bugs are history. Unfortunately, that’s especially true for honey bees, who’s numbers are diminishing worldwide at a disturbing rate. There are also synthetic forms of Pyrethrums, just to keep you on your toes, if you’re trying to stay dedicated to ‘organic only’ gardening/farming.

    Sabadilla- It comes from the a lily with the same name. It too, is a powder that is dusted or sprayed on plants and consequently ingested by a variety of insects. The powder then poisons them via their stomachs as well as by contact, and kills them. It acts as a paralytic, therefore, in certain level doses, it is also dangerous to humans. Over-exposure to humans will slow heart and respiratory activity with cumulative effects which disappear very slowly. Despite the health risk, it is regularly used in homeopathic medicine, (in smaller doses, of course) for among other things, hay fever. It is also destructive to mucous membranes in mammals. As a pesticidal dust, it is usually blended with lime or sulfur mixtures. That means you and your pets are especially susceptible to eye and skin irritation. Did I mention that that it too, is an extremely effective bee exterminator?

    Rotenone- sometimes a powder, sometimes an emulsion, Rotenone is made from the roots and stems of some legumes and vines. (Now c’mon… THAT sounds organic and safe, right?) It is used to kill mites in chickens, but is also used to kill snails in fisheries, as well as fish in general, in various application of regional water management. Humans can consume those fish safely because Rotenone is not absorbed by the human gastrointestinal system. However, recent as well as current research is trying to connect regular exposure to rotenone with Parkinson’s Disease. As of yet, that research is inconclusive, but studies are ongoing.

    Organic growers, if they want to, can use environmentally insensitive organic pesticides irresponsibly, warns Jeff Gillman, an associate professor in the department of horticultural science at the University of Minnesota, where he teaches courses on nursery management and pesticide use. (More Toxic, you may recognize Gillman’s name—he’s the expert from the podcast you listened to).

    Gillman said that when he goes to a large grocery store such as Wal-Mart, he chooses conventionally grown stuff over the big organics. To explain why, he used apples as an example. Apples, he says, are a high-maintenance crop prone to pest problems and difficult to control without sprays.

    “Most of the time the large organic orchards are going to need to apply organic pesticides,” he says. “These organic pesticides need to be applied more frequently than the synthetics, in most cases.”

    The repeated applications of these different organic compounds, contends Gillman, can have a worse environmental impact than synthetic compounds. Note that Gillman’s assessment applies to large orchards. On small, diversified farms, apple pests are much less likely to gain enough of a foothold to cause big problems.

    Gillman also believes that some of the organically sanctioned pesticides are just as bad as the synthetic ones in terms of environmental impacts. “Copper Sulfate … is one that builds up over the years, and you have copper building up in the soil,” he told me. “It’s a bad player and one that you don’t want to see used a whole lot.”

    Then there’s Spinosad, which is toxic to bees, those vital pollinators that are already imperiled

    You see pesticides are used to kill whether they are natural or synthetic. Myself I use the least toxic method possible. I use horticultural oil or insecticidal soap, I use cow manure and most of the time use organic fertilizer on the lawn, I compost. i do however use modern chemicals when necessary, always according to directions and the most environmentally friendly I can find.

    I have no qualms about buying produce from normal farms and no one has shown me that this is any more or less dangerous than buying organic. One thing I would never do is buy anything imported that is labeled organic. It is great to buy at local markets and stands, and I do. If people want to spend extra for “organic” produce, it is their money to waste as far as I can see, but please, you will need to provide evidence that it is any safer. This just does not exist. the fact that one farmer uses natural poison and applies many times more of it to get less satisfactory results is not a selling point to me.

    As Lyndon Johnson said once “The Russians have the ability to kill us three times over and we have the ability to kill them twenty times over. Unfortunately the average person cannot tell the difference”. This is how I look at organic pesticides. Misused they can be just as dangerous as synthetic pesticides and based on the lesser controls on “natural” poisons and the non-existent testing for them I don’t think they are any safer and I have yet to see any proof. Sure you can make the choice that some very low level of pesticides are in non-organic baby food and buy organic baby food thinking there are no pesticides in this food, but there could very well be and logically are natural pesticides and you don’t know because they are not tested for.

    So go ahead and waste your hard-earned money on naturally poisoned food if you want to, just don’t try to impose them on me.

  26. Huh? Jon, I didn’t post any studies. In fact I was on your side. Do you maybe have me confused with someone else?

  27. Sorry Della, mixed you up with Jamie, must have been the pesticides in that organic organic apple juice I had today.

    I apologize for the mixup.


  28. Congratulations GardenRant Women!! It’s plain as can be that you’ve so irked the ChemCo’s that they’ve got a hired PR dude (or dudette) attempting to “set us all straight” with his posts (if he really is a he).

    Keep up the good work!

  29. Zephyr,

    Thank you for the compliment, it is nice of you to suggest that my discourse is worthy of financial reward.

    You seem to be pre-occupied with gender. Personally I don’t see the relevance, so instead of clarifying this for you I think that I will leave you to your conspiracies.

    You’re not one of those people wearing tin hats that blame the government for blowing up the World Trade Center are you?

    PS- How much do you think this is worth. I am thinking of approaching Monsanto or some other company but I have no idea what to propose. Is six figures being to greedy?


  30. Well, I just got 4 yards of “compost” from Pogo Organics, and as far as I can tell, it’s soil, not compost, with barely any organic matter in it. I also ordered (separately) a soil/compost mix, and it was full of debris. I could get better stuff at Home Depot (and that’s pathetic). I think they hide behind the organic label to pass off an inferior product. They’re taking advantage of people who want to make environmentally friendly choices and selling them junk. Anyway, I’d advise people who want good compost to stay away from Pogo.

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