Go to the produce section of any market and you’ll notice that organic produce usually costs more than the regular commercial produce. Naturally, when comparing two similar food choices, many people may select the cheaper one. However, the cheaper choice may actually become the most expensive choice! How do I mean that? Let me explain.
We live in a very rural county. A drive around any of the country roads in summer will provide a view of cornfields in various stages of growth. Most of the corn is of average height and expected color. However, every now and then, there is a field of corn as dark green and perfectly uniform as one could imagine. Around here, a good farmer can hope to average anywhere from 70 to 130 bushels of corn per acre, but those I just mentioned were getting 150 bushels or more per acre. What was going on? Well, the signs along the road told the story. These farmers were growing hybrid, genetically modified organisms and painting their fields with commercial fertilizers. “Well, what’s wrong with that? Just look at the yields!” some might exclaim.
Later in fall and winter, I’ve driven along the same roads looking at those same fields, the ones with the crop endorsements. The soil looks like what I’ve seen in the desert Southwest. It’s dry, cracked, and barren of vegetation, except for leftover chopped cornstalks. As a gardener, I wouldn’t expect anything but weeds to grow on such soil. It’s basically “hardpan,” or cemented, compacted rock and clay. How can the corn look so good and the soil look so bad?
Holding back my opinion of GMO crops, I began researching the effects of synthetic fertilizer. Ammonium nitrate (the main ingredient in synthetic fertilizer) takes a massive amount of natural gas to produce. It’s not a natural ammonia from organic material, but a synthetic, manufactured ammonia. The ammonia you may smell in rotting compost or manure has life-restoring properties, but not this. I’ll explain in a moment.
One of the proclaimed benefits of commercial fertilizer is that it has a balanced measure of potassium, which is gotten from chloride and potash, and a balanced measure of phosphorus, from high-sulfur coal. What happens when this is applied to the land? It’s generally applied quite heavily, due to its propensity to run off the soil. When the nitrates enter streams, lakes, and other waterways, they deplete the water of oxygen, suffocating fish and aquatic life and creating “dead zones.” This reaction with bodies of water contributes to acid rain. Nitrogen must be cycled back into the soil for healthy plants to grow. Even though the air is rich with nitrogen, the nitrogen a plant uses must come from the soil, where it is less plentiful. Nitrogen in its natural state as nitrate is found in composting vegetation and in well-aerated soil filled with healthy bacteria, worms, and subterranean organisms, not hardpan.
Synthetic fertilizers give the plants a sudden shock that spurs growth, but they do nothing for the soil. Such a shock inhibits the plant’s ability to take up other essential trace minerals and nutrients. Every single ear of corn plucked and every single apple picked pulls huge amounts of nutrients from the soil that must be replenished naturally. If absent, these nutrients can’t enter our bodies either. These synthetic crops are produced with higher carbohydrate stimulation, but lower available protein. This makes the soil highly prone to weed and insect infestation, which must be controlled with more chemicals. See the vicious cycle?
What does this have to do with choosing or not choosing organic produce?
Plants that have been fed nutrients from organic soil and received their ammonia from decayed vegetation are healthier. Soil bacteria convert the ammonia into nitrates, which allow, for example, nitric oxide production. Nitric oxide lowers blood pressure, dilates blood vessels, increases oxygen consumption, and has countless other health benefits. Synthetic nitrates, on the other hand, can convert into tumor-creating nitrosamines. Just as synthetic fertilizer starves fish and aquatic life of oxygen, when these nitrites enter the bloodstream, they attach to hemoglobin molecules and can end up starving the body of oxygen. With synthetically raised produce, you’re apt to get more dangerous nitrosamines. With organically raised produce, healthy nitric oxides. A simple choice, isn’t it?
From this point of view, which produce might be the least expensive? The confidence of knowing where your food comes from and knowing that your food choices are making a healthy difference is a nice start. Saving our soil is in essence saving our health. So much of life is dictated by the little choices we make. So, if you were to ask me, “Why eat organic?” I’d have to say it allows me to sleep better because of a healthy conscience and a healthy body.
May you be blessed in your food choices and blessed in health!