The Benefits of Organic Gardening
Environmental and personal health are the two main benefits of organic gardening that are gaining popularity. Despite the misconceptions it is by far the best option for every aspect. Yup, it gets flack...mostly from companies who profit from the sludge they spray all over our food. But I'll address that below too.
The Health Benefits of Organic Gardening
Do you know that chemical pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers have been linked to:
- Breast cancer
- Damaged brain function
- Birth defects
- Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma
- Prostate cancer
- Childhood leukemia
- And much, much more...1
So probably one of the biggest health benefits of organic gardening of all, is just simply skipping all the risks. It's a pretty simple logic. You'd think more people would get it. But unfortunately misinformation is spread about "toxic load" and consumers don't realize that a) what they are exposed to is much greater than what labs test for, and b) all the so-called "safety" has created a false sense of security around such chemicals, to the point where no one even reads the basic safety precautions on the bottle. You can read more about how pesticides in our environment are affecting human health, as well as the more dangers of pesticides here.
In addition to skipping the risks, is the benefit of the gardening itself. Without the potential of chemicals messing up your efforts, gardening also:
- Increases Our Vitamin D: It only takes 20 minutes a day of sunshine to get the optimal amount of vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiencies have been linked to Type 1 diabetes, bone density, joint and muscle pain, heart attacks, multiple types of cancer, and much more.2
- Enjoyable Exercise: Most people don't love the gym, but still need to get active. And I don't think I need to tell you why that matters. Gardening can be an enjoyable way to increase your exercise in a purposeful, "really doing something meaningful" kind of way.
- Reducing Stress: Chronic stress is a serious issue, linked to a suppressed immune system, heart disease, weight gain, and more.3 Being outdoors, connecting with Nature, fresh air and sunshine...it's one of the healthiest solutions to one of the biggest killers.
- Good Soil Bacteria Makes You Happy: Did you know scientists have isolated a bacteria that occurs in soil that acts as a natural antidepressant?4 So don't go killing those good bacteria with all those nasty chemicals, which have been linked to the opposite!
- Offers Another Affordable Solution to Food Costs: There are lots of ways to make organic food affordable, and growing your own obviously tops the list. It can be an upfront investment, depending on how you do it, so just watch for the difference between "needs" and "wants".
The Environmental Benefits of Organic Gardening
When considering organic gardening, we have to consider the environmental impact of conventional gardening.
Many studies have been done about the mixture of pesticides, fertilizers and herbicides. Each report shows serious immune, hormonal or neurological impacts of the current toxicity levels of our groundwater.5
Pesticides are also nondiscriminatory, meaning they kill beneficial insects as well as harmful ones. Harmful chemicals are thought to be a possible cause to bee colony collapse, and affect butterflies and other pollinators necessary to grow food.6
Along with chemical pesticides, fertilizers are thought to contribute to a decrease in plant food nutrients7,8, which affect all species. And because of the nondiscriminatory way in which these chemicals work, we may have yet to discover how much they are affecting animals directly, although we do know that 67 MILLION birds and up to 14 MILLION fish killed each year due to pesticides.9
Why Organic Gardening Works
Most people use pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizers because they don't feel they have an option. But few stop to ask a very basic question; something so basic we don't even notice it: why are the same insects or diseases not a serious threat in Nature? Why is it only our gardens or farms that are so susceptible to attack?
Most common gardening issues are caused simply by how we garden.
The benefits of organic gardening come with working with our environment. Think about this: Nature spreads things out, intermingling varieties of trees with shrubs and flowers. Humans, however, create "monocultures": buffets of one type of plant, appealing both to ourselves and of course, insects.
Michael Pollen talks about this in his best-seller, The Omnivore's Dilemma. Consider what he points out:
- Creating hedgerows of roses provides a smorgasbord for aphids (and their ant enablers) to set up house.
- Planting all our vegetables in one area is like waving a welcome flag to critters, insects, and animals to take notice.
- Fungus and disease spread more quickly when they can easily jump from one species to a nearly identical co-species.
This is the problem with modern-day agriculture, and our desire to replicate it on a small scale at home. When we lay out a feast, it is only natural that insects and disease take advantage of the opportunity to eat and breed wildly.
But reaping the benefits of organic gardening relies on interspersing plant types and varieties, dense plantings that can offer protection of vulnerable plants from their companions, the use of specific companion planting, and the support of natural systems to slow down the spread of disease and create environments in which trouble has no space to start.
The best organic gardening works because it mimics Nature's proven design.
The Arguments Against Organic Gardening
It's as simple as this: Big companies can't make big money by leaving Nature alone.
Companies like Monsanto don't make millions when gardeners collect, save, and share their seeds; they make millions by producing genetically-modified and patented seed that farmers are not allowed to save and must repurchase year after year and treate with chemicals in order to thrive. (Go to Millions Against Monsanto to learn more about this critical issue.)
Oil companies don't benefit from compost and companion planting; they benefit by mass-producing petroleum-based pesticides, fertilizers, and herbicides that create resistant pests, decreased soil fertility, and an endless cycle of their commercial inputs.
The arguments against organic farming all say it's not possible on a large scale, but this simply isn't accurate. What THEY do isn't possible without the broken system they've created to maintain it, sure. But we're not talking about simply eliminating their chemicals and making no other changes. We're talking about reworking the whole system with one that actually works. With a healthy mix of micro-farms, home gardens, bio-intensive farming, permaculture, and yes, a necessary reworking of the foods we consume (because no, we can't organically grow fields upon fields of corn and soy for all the cattle and processed foods we currently consume), an organic system CAN work and we can see the benefits of organic gardening on a large scale.
And on a small local scale we can always make a big impact by growing organic, choosing local, and supporting a sustainable industry whenever we get the chance. Don't let Big Business tell you how to grow. Don't let them downplay the benefits of organic gardening. Tell them with your forks and dollars how you would like them to change instead!