Over at Grist, Tom Philpott, who writes the mag’s essential Victual Reality column, has a lengthy, and angry, essay about the status of the organics movement. As Philpott sees it, the biggest recent achievements of organic agriculture in the United States have been psychological, not environmental. In fact, he argues, organics have only made it easier for people to ignore the deep problems of our dominant industrial systems. “[O]rganics aren’t inspiring people to think very much at all,” he writes, adding later, “Even as organics gain popularity and make people feel good about what they consume, industrial agriculture is consolidating its grip over the U.S. heartland.”
To move past “this acceptance of mass ignorance,” Philpott proposes that we start talking about something as basic as soil—that we establish “a national composting policy, one that compels municipalities to transform food waste into high-quality, crop-grade compost.” He makes a convincing case for it: Good compost is so rare, he writes, that many organic farmers rely on “manure from confined-animal feedlot operations to fertilize their land. By doing so, we’re depositing all manner of pharmaceuticals and toxins into our best farmland—the very stuff people try to avoid when they buy organic. An alternative farming system that relies on CAFO waste for fertility is a kind of parasite on a sick animal.”
Some small farmers have already switched to organic fertilizers for that very reason.