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Re: How organic is your garden?

  • Subject: Re: [cg] How organic is your garden?
  • From: "Organic Garden City Trust" <ogct@environment.org.nz>
  • Date: Wed, 12 Dec 2001 14:30:38 -0800

----- Original Message -----
From: <Dboek@aol.com>
To: <jimcall@casagarden.com>; <community_garden@mallorn.com>
Sent: Saturday, November 17, 2001 6:39 PM
Subject: Re: [cg] How organic is your garden?
Thanks to those who have contributed to this subject so far
In Christchurch, New Zealand, we are facing exactly this issue.
I am currently employed to do two jobs, one as advocate for our community gardens association, the other to administer and promote a new organic certification scheme for small scale organic producers. The two dovetail nicely.
The cert scheme works by conducting peer reviews in grower groups of about 4 each...
Several community gardens (who grow high quality, wonderful food, and who are doing great things in terms of improving their local environments, not to mention building community etc) came on board with the scheme (the pilot was funded by our Ministry of Agriculture and forestry).
Several issues have started to appear, all of which are specific to community gardens as their key 'function' is in serving the community and not in being 'certified organic'.
Community gardens typically accept free plants from nurseries that are not organic (recently hundreds of vegetable plants were funnelled out through the network, given to one group by their local nursery). No garden would really consider saying 'no, sorry, it's not organic', since what they want to do is a) grow as many veggies as possible and b) build trusting networks with local businesss. This will impact on their ability to gain a certification.
Gardens are also donated other materials from the community that may cause a problem in terms of organic integrity.
Someone may make a mistake with the compost, someone may use blood and bone on the raised bed... whatever. Slight transgressions of this sort are usually accepted by gardens because they are opportunities for education, and for confidence building etc... But they would cause problems for certification.
I think this is a very interesting area for community gardens to think about, and one that we are struggling with.
It may be that we decide to give qualfied certifications, that acknowledge the good work being done, while also acknowledging the special characteristics of community gardens. And maybe some gardens can be fully certified.
One suggestion has been that certifications could be granted if community garden reps attend a given number of community workshops that touch on specific issues that community gardens address in these regards.
Any thoughts would be most welcome
Best regards
Matt Morris
Christchurch Community Gardens Association

> Hi, Jim,
> You raise some good questions about 'organic' as a standard. There are a
> couple of ways to look at the issue. One is to consider the ecological and
> biological side of 'organics'. The other is to realize that the term
> 'organic' (acknowledging our unquestioned debt to Organic Gardening
> and the Rodale family, who coined the phrase) is not a scientific
> but part inspiring slogan and part marketing device.
> >  The problem is... we extensively mulch our garden from the City of
> >  Huntsville's leaf collection program.  We use 2 year old mulch to
> completely
> >  mulch our garden...Even though we use
> >  organic fertilizers and pest management, the use of the mulch will
> >  us to state the fact that "Yes, we operate an organic garden".You see,
> >  because we don't know if the collected leaves have been sprayed with
> >  toxic chemicals or the yards where they orginate have been sprayed with
> >  toxic chemicals (fertilizers, weed killers, etc.), that is the problem.
> You
> >  are either completely organic or you are not.  One or the other.
> On the bio-ecological side, most of pesticides and fertilizers used in
> are, to the biochemist, 'organic' (carbon based). This means that the
> microbe can break them down. In a well-run municipal composting operation
> (like Huntsville's?), leaf-based composts are probably very low in
> thanks to the composting critters. Even 'fresh' mulches are probably
> dilute, since they are made from leaf drop. You can test the mulch and
> compost to verify this.
> On the 'practical' side, some organic certification agencies allow use of
> municipal leaf composts in light of their low residue, and because this
> important soil building resource would otherwise end up in the landfill or
> burned, both terrible decisions ecologically. See what the federal organic
> standards say, and check with your local certifiers to see what they
> >  I never heard anyone say "Yes, we are 95 % organic".  Thats like
> >  saying, "I feel that since I only smoke 1 cigarette a day, I'm 95 %
> >  smoke-free".  Yeah, right!
> Actually, there are 'transition' categories for farmers in the process of
> moving to 'organic' status on farms. You could make part of your garden
> 'fully organic', while using leaf mulch on the rest (if the leaf mulch
> acceptable as 'organic') and making that part 'sustainable/ecologically
> managed'.
> In my opinion, sustainability and ecological soundness are more
> than 'being certified organic'. Are you building and protecting your soil?
> Are you being very careful about how you use any concentrated form of
> nutrient or biocide, whether its origin is 'chemical' or 'organic'? Are
> considering and strengthening the ecosystems and natural communities that
> border and interpenetrate your garden -  for example, by creating habitat
> encouraging native plants at least along the borders of the garden? Are
> building community with your human neighbors? Does it make sense to turn
> a senior citizen who loves to garden, simply because she wants to slip her
> tomatoes a little 5-10-10? These are the key issues, more than seeking the
> appealing sounding label 'organic'.
> Though I think using municipal leaf mulch or compost on community gardens
> a great idea, you might want to check Elaine Ingham's work on suitability
> different composts to different purposes, based on the 'feedstock' and
> microbial makeup of the compost. Second, do be careful if grassclippings
> included in your municipal compost or mulch blend. Some new herbicides
> on lawns are horribly toxic to legumes and reportedly can persist, even
> through composting, to kill off your peas and beans.
> Though it would take more effort, you could mobilize your volunteers to
> collect your own mulch by picking up bags of leaves from yards that don't
> spray, and then aging and composting them yourselves at the garden. Local
> waste-reduction programs (often sponsored by county engineering
> may be delighted to help do this.
> Good luck! Keep building that soil, son, you're doing good.
> Don Boekelheide
> Charlotte NC
> >                            Best regards,  Jim Call, CASA Community
> >  Volunteer Director
> >                                                     www.casagarden.com
> ______________________________________________________
> The American Community Gardening Association listserve is only one of
ACGA's services to community gardeners. To learn more about the ACGA and to
find out how to join, please go to http://www.communitygarden.org
> To post an e-mail to the list:  community_garden@mallorn.com
> To subscribe, unsubscribe or change your subscription:

Organic Garden City Trust
PO Box 327
ph (03) 365 5038
Fax (03) 379 2250

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