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More to "Organic" than
Meets the Eye
Brattleboro Reformer 11/29/96
Editor of the Reformer:
Thanks to Ray Pestle for his letter on Integrated Crop Management. I agreed with Mr. Pestle that most people mistakenly think that "organic" means absolutely no pesticides.
Good stewardship of the land and resources, responsibility to farm workers and commitment to consumer are not the exclusive provenance of organic farmers. I manage Alyson's Apple Orchard in Walpole, N.H. My background includes a college degree in ecology, teaching for the Audubon Society and work in organic crop and seed research.
An orchard can be a vibrant and complex ecosystem. My goal as a farmer is to work with the natural environment to produce a safe and abundant harvest. I've chosen to use the ICM approach because it is much more compatible with ecological orcharding than organic orchard management. ICM seeks to keep insect and diseases below damaging levels through cultural and biological practices, intervening with a chemical spray only as a last resort.
I choose not to use organic pesticides in those instances because they are generally quite toxic to non-target organisms (including me). I'd lose the beneficial insects and predators that have become established here. To grow apples organically I would need massive amounts of sulfur to control fungal disease. This would acidify the soil and watershed and knock off my earthworms. The chemicals I use are less toxic to beneficial and other non-target organisms (farmers included here) than organic pesticides. They also break down fast and don't persist in the environment.
While growing tree fruit organically might be a more lucrative approach, it simply isn't the most environmentally responsible way of growing fruit. My goal is to grow safe food in an ecologically sound and responsible way. The notion that "organic is good, everything else is bad" is an overly simplistic idea. Farming practices and food safety are complex issues that deserve thoughtful consideration.