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What is organic food?

Dalene Ingham-Brown 03 October 2011

Organic food. Its on everyone's lips, but what is organic? Is it really better for you and how can you convert your garden into an eco-friendly organic produce space? You’re about to find out…

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Organic’ has been one of the most popular 21st century buzz words and has found a home nestled in paragraphs sharing space with words like ‘responsible’ and ‘sustainable’. But what does ‘organic’ mean? Is organic food better for you? What is organic farming? And, how can you grow your own organic garden? You’re about to find out…

What is organic food?

So, what is organic food? Well, organic food is produced without the use of synthetic products like pesticides and chemical fertilisers. Genetically modified organisms are a no-no in producing organic food as are using irradiation, industrial solvents or chemical food additives.

What are the benefits of eating organic food?

  • Organic food is more nutritious, containing higher levels of antioxidants and essential vitamins.
  • Safer for consumption leading to a reduction and even prevention of some allergies and diseases.
  • Dangerous side effects of consuming genetically modified ingredients are ruled out.
  • Organic farming is safer for the environment and protects our natural resources.
  • The toxic chemicals used in commercial farming is harmful to birds and wildlife.

Is organic food better for you?

Organic = Good. Pesticide = Bad.

What is organic farming?

Photo by Dimitri Castrique

The secret to good produce, is good soil. Conventional farming strips minerals and nutrients from the soil and eventually more and more fertilisers are needed… and artificial ‘goodness’ is bad-ness.

Therefore, the key to growing organic food is with building and maintaining the soil. Healthy soil is able to hold onto water, so it needs less irrigation and uses less water. Fewer chemical interventions are used in organic farming, which means farmers only very little synthetic fertilisers or herbicides and only when critically needed. To maintain virtually no need for chemicals means employing good pest management principles to reduce the need for chemical pesticides and herbicides. Fewer chemicals means less chemical run-off, which means less soil erosion and loss of top soil, which is there to help maintain the quality of the water.

Woolworths South Africa has adopted this method of farming to ensure that their fresh produce is packed with organic goodness. When a corporate company shows that they care for the planet, they set a great standard and pave the way for a more organic corporate future.

Grow your own organic food!

Photo by Michaela Kobyakov

The quick and easy guide to getting started:

  1. Stop applying all sprays, pesticides, fungicides and weed killers. All of them.
  2. Select a small area about two metres squared to dedicate your organic efforts to. Find a spot gets sun all year round. Avoid areas next to buildings or fences: possible paint, heavy metals or chemicals may be present in the soil.
  3. Remove debris covering the soil, including rocks larger than a fingernail.
  4. Cover the area with organic material like dried grass, leaves and fine plant material from a non-pesticide sprayed garden.
  5. Get a bucketful of compost from someone else's garden and spread it thinly over your garden patch. You will be doctoring your soil with various soil organisms, worms, little bugs, and other insects and life forms.
  6. Use a shovel to mix the top 3 inches of soil and organic material. Any deeper than this and the insects will die.
  7. Keep the soil slightly damp, but not soggy.
  8. Don’t walk on the soil. Rather create a board to kneel on to avoid compacting the soil. Create a narrow path in the garden patch so that you can reach across the produce in the bed.
  9. Get vegetables that are in 4 inch square pots. Dig a hole slightly larger than the roots. Fluff the roots sideways and plant it. Place mulch around it on the surface with organic material and keep the soil moist underneath it. A bucket with a nail hole in it serves as the perfect slow drip device to water the roots.
  10. Start a compost heap in the corner of your garden. Heap all the clean organic material you can get and mix it up occasionally. Keep the mound moist. Occasionally apply the compost to the soil around your plants. 

An organic future

If every person decided to 'go organic' in their own capacity, which means either only eating organic food which they grow themselves, or only eating organic food which is supplied by supermarkets, soon the supermarkets would have no other choice than to support organic farms. Every farm would be forced to practice sustainable, responsible organic farming methods and contribute to ensuring that this green planet is never known as the brown planet.

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