It’s days like this that I am so grateful to have this blog at my disposal!
It’s 7 am on Sunday and I’m just finishing the paper, drinking Earl Grey tea, and listening to NPR. Liane Hansen just finished an interview with Martha Stewart, who among other things was discussing healthy eating for the new year. She’s a proponent of organic food (as are many of us), and mentioned two reasons she doesn’t like conventionally grown produce. The first – residual pesticides - is a legitimate concern. But then she stated her second concern that “chemical fertilizers in the soil are taken up and stored in the plant.”
Plants really don’t care (excuse my anthropomorphizing) where their mineral nutrients come from. Nitrogen in ammonium sulfate is the same element as the nitrogen in cottonseed meal. The plant uses it for amino acids, chlorophyll, alkaloids, and many, many other compounds.
Martha’s faulty thinking falls into the “organic is safer than chemical” mindset that way too many people hold (you can read a column I wrote about this in 2001 here). “Chemical” is not intrinsically bad and “organic” is not automatically safe. This is an emotion-based argument and inspires fear rather than thoughtful discussion. When someone parrots this mantra, I can’t take them seriously.
I believe that organic methods in production agriculture, ornamental landscapes, and home gardens are superior to conventional practices and support a healthy soil-microbe-plant-animal system. I also believe that many fertilizers are misused and/or overused – but this includes both conventional and organic varieties.
Gerald Horton, a science historian at Harvard, once stated that “persons living in this modern world who do not know the basic facts that determine their very existence, functioning, and surroundings, are living in a dream world. Such persons are, in a very real sense, not sane.”
This is the quotation that came to mind this morning.