The Noah Project

Rebuilding a sustainable world.

One More Reason to Eat Organic: We’re running out of fertilizer

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One of the most frustrating aspects of the organic food “debate” is the fact that the conversation seems to be stuck debating whether organic food is more nutritionally dense than conventionally-grown food. So when studies come out showing that you won’t get more vitamins from eating organic, conventional growers use that to bash organic farming. They call it elitist, unnecessary, and even imply that organic consumers are… well, jerks.

The problem is that the question of whether or not you can get more vitamin C from an organic orange is completely irrelevant. Maybe, maybe not. But there’s no question that avoiding pesticides and herbicides is healthier than eating food coated in them.

On a larger scale, focusing the conversation almost entirely on individual choice and individual health also misses the mark. Whether or not organic food is that much healthier for consumers in the long run, there’s no question that organic farming is healthier for the planet.

Case in point? It turns out industrial farming is draining the soil of phosphorus — an essential nutrient necessary for agriculture and life itself. That’s not an exaggeration: human beings, like all other life on earth, depend on phosphorus to create healthy cells.

Throughout history, farmers traditionally maintained phosphorus-rich soil by composting plant waste and using manure fertilizer. In the mid-20th century, that all changed. We started mining phosphorus from the Earth itself and using chemical fertilizers instead. It’s not hard to understand why: just sprinkling a little phosphorus on your field is cheaper and a whole lot easier than composting.

There are just two problems with this approach. The first is that the large amounts of phosphorus aren’t completely absorbed by crops. It leaches into nearby waterways. It spreads into lakes and rivers. And once it’s there? It causes algal blooms that create dead zones in the water, devastating the local ecosystem.

The other obvious problem is that we’re running out of phosphorus to mine. And when the world starts to run out of cheap phosphorus in the coming decades, the world’s poorest people are going to starve.

The good news is we can avoid this catastrophe. It won’t be easy, but a combination of consuming less meat, reducing food waste, and shifting to farm techniques that conserve soil nutrients will help recycle phosphorus instead of wasting it. In the next couple of decades, agriculture will have to become more sustainable in order to survive.

So the next time someone tries to tell you that eating organic is elitist, trendy, or doesn’t make a difference… Let them know you’re just doing your part to help the rest of the planet.

Author: :

Julie is an American writer based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. She writes about green living, education politics, and the environment.

Author: Daniela

I will forever be grateful that I was introduced to the utility and beauty of hand crafted products early in life - from the symbolic motifs sewn into the coarse linen fabric of Croatian traditional wear to the colorful Kilim carpets that decorated the parquet floors in my grandmother's living room. I treasure the memories of my grandfather teaching me how to protect myself against the "evil eye," the smell of the flower stalls in the open air market where my grandmother bought produce early every morning for the day’s meals and the summers spent at my great grandmother's where the village wags would come to gossip over thick, black Turkish coffee in her cool stone kitchen. Someone noted that "For all of us that want to move forward, there are a very few that want to keep the old methods of production, traditions and crafts alive." I am a fellow traveler with those who value the old traditions and folk wisdom. I believe the knowledge they possess can contribute significantly to our efforts to build a more sustainable world - one that values the individual over the corporation, conservation over growth and happiness over wealth.

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