Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Romantic Virtues of Dirt

The NYTimes had an article on the definition of "organic": specifically can vegetables grown through hydroponics be considered "organic"?  There's different views, particularly the big hydroponic growers who can get premium prices for their hothouse produce as compared to the dirt based organics.

Back in the day there would have been no question:  the organic movement had IMHO a romantic view of the virtues of dirt: there was a magic in the dirt, perhaps embodied in the bacteria and organisms present in natural soil, soil which had not been denaturalized by the repeated applications of chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides.  (Though back in the 1950's it was mostly fertilizers, not so much herbicides and pesticides.)  The organic people had a faith in nature, usually "Nature", that exceeded their faith in man.  It's partly the old top-down, bottom-up dichotomy.  If you believe in human reason you think people can figure out anything and then improve on what's developed from the past.  If you have a less strong belief, either in the strength of reason or in current development of understanding of natural phenomena, or if you want to avoid the work of understanding, you trust in nature.

I see a similar dichotomy in the controversies over GMO's or the precautionary principle.  I'd generally expect the Trump USDA to go with the hydroponics people, but maybe I'm just using the stereotype of Republicans favoring business people.

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