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September 2, 2015

Organic, Natural, Veganic or Hydrophonic?

by Anne Paddock

There are hundreds if not thousands of methods of growing food but the four most talked about farming methods and certifications include organic, natural, veganic and hydrophonic. Each of these methods is carefully defined by the processes and products used in the growing and making of our food.

Organic has been the food buzz word for years with many consumers blindly attaching credibility to any product that has the word “organic” stamped on it. For the record, organic farming is

a form of agriculture that relies on techniques such as crop rotation, green manure, compost, and biological pest control. Depending on whose definition is used, organic farming uses fertilizers and pesticides (which include herbicides, insecticides and fungicides) if they are considered natural (such as bone meal from animals or pyrethrin from flowers), but it excludes or strictly limits the use of various methods (including synthetic petrochemical fertilizers and pesticides; plant growth regulators such as hormones; antibiotic use in livestock; genetically modified organisms; human sewage sludge; and nano materials  for reasons including sustainability, openness, independence, health, and safety.*

In other words, organic farmers can use fertilizers, pesticides, insecticides, and fungicides that come from animal by-products (products of a slaughtered animal that are not directly consumed by humans including bones, fat, and gelatin). Organic farmers view the breaking down of animal products as a natural component of the organic process.canstockphoto25389667

Naturally Grown is often referred to as the “grassroots alternative to certified organic farming.” A relatively recent (2002) type of certified farming, Naturally Grown was found as an easier and less expensive alternative to the USDA’s  organic certification, using a production standard similar to the USDA’s. This type of farming and certification is generally sought out by farmers who sell locally and directly to their customers (often at farmer’s markets).canstockphoto16346545

Whereas the Organic or Natural farmer may not have bags of chemical fertilizers on the farm, more than likely there will be containers or bags of bone meal (ground up bones) and dried blood from animals that have been slaughtered, along with animal manure. These products contain nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium – essential nutrients in fertilizers.canstockphoto19614309

Veganic farming is a form of agriculture that uses no animal products or by-products because the use of “these materials  is viewed as either harming animals directly, or being associated with the exploitation and consequent suffering of animals.”* If you’re wondering where the veganic farmer gets his/her fertilizer, look no further than the compost pile.  By adding grass to the compost pile, nitrogen and other nutrients (not found in manure) are obtained and then used in the fields. Using the compost pile is also more efficient because no land has to be allocated to grow the animals who are slaughtered for food and fertilizer. And, what better way to obtain nutrients than directly from the source.canstockphoto15131809

Hydrophonic farming is a method of growing plants in water with mineral nutrient solutions, without soil. There is both organic and inorganic hydrophobic farming with the difference being the use of organic fertilizers (fertilizers derived from animal matter, vegetable matter, or human excreta). Because the USDA requires soil as a growing medium for an organic certification, most food grown by hydrophobic methods cannot be labeled organic, even if organic fertilizers were used.  What hydrophobic farming does is save water. Estimates vary but generally less than 1/10th of the amount of water is needed to grow the same amount of food using hydrophonic methods. canstockphoto27006969

Everyone has a different threshold for imperfection as it relates to how food is grown but what is more important than drawing lines is understanding the methods and choosing the products that are right for you, your family, and the environment. As illustrated above, it is nearly impossible to discern whether food is organic, natural, hydrophobic, or veganic visually. Instead, labels tell a more accurate story so the best way to know what you are purchasing is to read labels, ask questions, and know who grew your food.


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