Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Perfectionism and the Organic Garden

My interest in organic gardening got started in 2010, when I spent a month volunteering on this and another farm. 

Yesterday when we were out to lunch, my brother Eric mentioned that wild blackberries had grown in his yard this summer, but when he picked the berries and washed them, he found them to be infested with tiny maggots. I told him that was a bummer, and he said, “Yeah, I figure next year I’ll just spray them with pesticides,” and gave me a sly, teasing smile.

Putting on a self-righteous tone, I replied, “Well, that is your choice,” and we both chuckled.

Everyone in my family is well aware of my new gardening obsession, as well as my passion for growing food without pesticides. And although Eric was just teasing me about it, his comment got me thinking about perfectionism in the home garden, and why I think holding ourselves to an “organic ideal” is harmful.

I don’t spray pesticides or chemical fertilizers on my garden, but you definitely couldn’t certify my garden as organic— the soil that came with the house as well as the soil I buy is often chemical-laden, and a lot of the scraps I use for compost have pesticides on them. However, if I didn’t start my garden with these cheap or free materials (for instance, the spoiled produce I get to compost every week in the summer is all conventionally-grown), I wouldn’t be as far along on the garden as I am now. The ideal would’ve gotten in the way of actually bringing about good.

Here’s the way I think of it: if I buy a commercially-produced organic tomato raised in California, it was most likely still part of a monocrop farm, sprayed with “organic” chemicals, picked before it was ripe, and shipped a thousand miles to get to the grocery store. If I buy a tomato from a local farm at the farmer’s market, it may have been sprayed with chemicals, but it was picked at its peak freshness and nutrition, and my purchase helps support small agriculture. If I grow a tomato in my garden, even if I add chemical-laden compost to it, it’s still part of a rich mini-ecosystem that encourages bugs and bees to flourish; it’s ripe and nutritious, and it eliminates the need for a tomato grown on a huge farm.

In short, everyone has to decide what’s most important to them, but I believe that spraying your vegetables with chemicals, while not ideal, is worth it if it means you’ll grow your own food instead of buying it at the store. A homegrown garden, regardless of whether or not it has the “organic” label, is an important step in self-sufficiency, good nutrition, food security, and being connected to the land. Don’t let perfectionism get in the way of this worthy goal.


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