I have to admit, I have eaten my share of hydroponically produced lettuce. But I am reconsidering my purchases going forward.
Last November esteemed Vermont organic greenhouse grower Dave Chapman testified before the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) that, if profits were his sole motivation as an organic farmer, he would become a hydroponic grower.
Rather than putting so much effort into caring for the soil by building organic matter and fertility, he would see an immediate boost in yield and profits with a hydroponic container system.
Chapman testified, “Do you have any idea how profitable hydroponics would be for me if I called it ‘organic?’ Why wouldn’t I do that? Because I believe it would be fraud. ‘Organic’ must be based in the soil.”
The organic community’s reverence for the complexity of natural soil ecosystems comes from the knowledge that thousands of species are interacting in diverse ways with one another and with the naturally occurring minerals in soil.
Soil, plants, and animal species have been coevolving for millions of years. Soil contains fungi, micro-algae, protozoa, nematodes, invertebrates, actinomycetes (bacteria that grow in filaments), nitrogen-fixing bacteria, and even the healthy bacteria that reside in our guts!
This respect for, and desire to work with, natural complexity is rooted in the organic community’s embrace of a systems approach to farming. Organic agriculture rejects the reductionism of conventional systems that has led to monoculture, synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and genetic modification to the detriment of our land, water, ecosystems, and health.
This same reductionism has driven hydroponics. Most industrial ‘organic’ hydroponic operations reduce their nutrient requirements to those which can be obtained from hydrolyzed, conventional soybeans.
Hydrolyzed soy, fed continuously through an irrigation system into containers filled with coconut husk (coir), is the primary source of fertility used to produce crops of ‘organic’ hydroponic tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers.