Does produce grown hydroponically deserve the organic label? Some organic farmers don’t think so, and they gathered at a National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) meeting where the board voted on a ban on hydroponic practices in organic farming, reports NPR. Hydroponic farmers fought back, saying they can produce food with less water.
Organic farmers turned out at the NOSB meeting in Jacksonville, Florida in an attempt to have the organic label removed from hydroponic vegetables. Vermont farmer Dave Chapman of Long Wind Farm, who’s the National Organic Coalition executive director, said the founding principles of organic farming center around “soil health, regenerating the soil” as opposed to simply providing plants with nutrients.
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Hydroponic farmers disagree. Wholesum Harvest marketing manager Jessie Gunn told NPR, “We can grow our tomatoes organically with three to five gallons of water, per pound of production, as opposed to growing tomatoes in open fields, which can use anywhere from 26 to 37 gallons of water.” Cultivating crops in fields “uses more water, more land, destroys more natural habitat. I mean, what is the true essence of organic?”
Hydroponic vegetables are taking over a growing share of sales to grocery stores. Chapman said already, most organic tomatoes you’d find in a supermarket today never touched soil. He said soon virtually all organic tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers, and most berries and lettuce, will be grown hydroponically, which he considers tragic. Other people, such as members of the Recirculating Farms Coalition, consider hydroponic farming to be sustainable, a sensible choice “especially for a planet with a changing climate, and assorted challenges in reducing use of water, energy, and space.”
The 15-person NOSB, a federal advisory board for the United States Department of Agriculture, voted against the ban, eight to seven.