Chemical vs. Biological
Last week I attended the annual Organic Farmers Conference held at the Marriott Albuquerque Pyramid. The conference offers a chance for me to see and thank the many local farmers that support us year ’round. I always feel humbled when farmers who, in my eyes, are rock stars, go out of their way to thank us and tell us how much they appreciate what we are doing. There is always plenty of good coffee and amazing snacks. This year we had fresh local organic bread with local organic fruit jams and jellies. Someone at the NMDA likes us because their placement of our table always ensures high traffic volume. And, I always strike up a fast friendship with the occupants of adjacent tables.
Over the years, lots of faces come and go, but there are those steady few that, year after year, plug away, doing what they love to do and, thus doing well. If you don’t think your dollar spent at the farmer’s markets is appreciated, I strongly suggest that you go to the conference next year and listen to their comments. everyone is grateful for the opportunity provide the community with fresh healthy food.
This year I found myself in the middle of a conversation with the director of the Rio Grande Community Farm. He is quite the experimenter; I first became involved with them when he was implementing a large scale no-till program at the farm. He is currently researching the benefits of high quality compost tea. I have known intuitively and seen anecdotally, through my professional career and personal endeavors, the benefits of compost tea and compost extract. For those that don’t know, a “tea” is a living, oxygenated brew of various ingredients, while an “extract” is not living, no longer oxygenated. One is a biological product, one is a chemical product. Most gardeners and farmers are concerned with the chemical makeup of the soil. Does it have sufficient nitrogen levels, what’s the pH, EC? These are chemical questions that can be chemically addressed. Not to be confused necessarily with chemicals, but rather the chemistry of the soil make up. Very important, to be sure, but not the only aspect of soil health and, I would argue, not the most important. Organic farmers are, generally, more concerned with a healthy soil (“A healthy soil grows healthy plants”) then are conventional farmers, but both are constantly analyzing, adjusting, and amending the chemical content of their soil. But when you talk of compost tea, you find that there is a strong biological aspect to the health of a crop. Each plant has a coating of protective microorganisms just as every human is covered with billions of germs. Each germ is keeping other germs in check. When our germ count is out of whack, we are sick. Same is true for the plants and soils. When we address biological issues with a chemical remedy, we find ourselves exacerbating the problem. “I know an old lady who swallowed a fly…” She eventually end up swallowing a horse? and who-knows-what-else? in order to ameliorate a simple fly problem! I read in a recent New Yorker that the scientific world is starting to map germs. They are finding that the intestines of humans have very specific populations of germs. When an anti-biotic is prescribed, that balanced population is thrown into turmoil and it often takes weeks or months to recover. If we use those examples and apply them to food crops, the same holds true: a broad application of a general pesticide kills more beneficial micro-organisms than detrimental ones. Destructive micro-organisms always seem to be more opportunistic; the sudden absence of beneficial micro-organisms allows them to reproduce rapidly thus exacerbating the problem…