Monday, October 26, 2009

Certified Organic vs. Regular Top Soil

by Ellen McGlynn

Let me start by saying that while I am a fan of the organics industry, I am not a fan of Certified Organic or OMRI-approved soil. First of all, it is pricey (pound for pound, it is exponentially more pricey than regular organically-derived top soil); secondly, I am not sufficiently satisfied with the baseline soil standards established by the National Organics Program to want to spend the extra money on Certified Organic or OMRI-approved soil. Here is the reason why:

Several years ago, a situation arose regarding the contamination of well water in the area immediately surrounding my home. This brought out the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Department of Environmental Protection, and any number of government officials to help establish the extent of the problem and come up with solutions for its remediation. Consequently, my own property was tested in every way, shape, and form, including surface soil testing approximately six feet deep in several areas of my three-and-one-half acre property. While the results of this soil test reported none of the contaminants in question, the results were nonetheless SHOCKING. The number of other contaminants found in my soil were enough to make an average person think that my home was built on a nuclear waste site. In actuality, my home stands in a clean, wooded, hilly rural area that had been cleared just six years prior to the environmental scare in order to build the home, and no contaminants had been used on the property since.

At the time of this soil test, I was in the process of applying for organic certification, so you could imagine my distress with these results. After contacting the EPA and Pennsylvania Certified Organic, I was left with the following information: 1) the contaminants in my soil were "typical" and almost ubiquitous; and 2) Pennsylvania Certified Organic does not really have a baseline standard for "clean" soil. Their purpose is just to insure that persons seeking certification have not used non-certified chemicals on their property in the three years prior to making their application.

That was not even nearly enough to ease my mind. It only served to make me acutely aware of how poisoned our environment is and how desensitized our government has become to environmental issues. The only relief I found in speaking to these environmental agencies was knowing that I had never financially taxed my small business with the expense of applying for certification or buying OMRI-approved soil just to be able call my wheatgrass "Certified Organic."  In accordance with my own ideals and what I would expect of any certifying organization, I just couldn't fathom how it was possible to  even consider labeling soil for Certified Organic use without first establishing baseline limits for soil contamination (and not just the obvious contaminants like heavy metals).

Now, this was several years ago, and there's a chance that maybe things have changed since then, so for that reason, I would happily welcome any return blog posts to help educate us all. But for now my recommendation is to not waste money on expensive Certified Organic or OMRI-approved soil unless you find that that it really helps take the guesswork out of growing your own wheatgrass or improves your mental framework in some way. As an alternative, I'll be back again next week to offer other solutions for growing wheatgrass in a less expensive, high-quality soil base.


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