Organic Pest Control I: Breaking with the Hive Mind, was the first installment of a blogging series I have begun on organic solutions to garden pests. In that piece, I made the claim that many organic gardening enthusiasts (and organic product retailers) are in some wise misinformed about the “natural safety” of organic biocides, and either don’t know, play down, or “forget” the fact that organic biocides have similar negative ecosystemic impacts as conventional chemical interventions. I also made the unblinkingly honest observation that organic biocides work but do not always work well.
In this post, Organic Pest Control II: Breaking with the Hive Mind, I will argue that organic gardeners are obliged to redefine “produce quality” and “gardening success” in holistic terms rather than in terms created by industrial agriculture and the home gardening industry. Over the last twenty years, the home-gardening industry has defined and marketed standards of gardening success that 1) come from industrial agriculture, 2) are illusory and therefore unattainable, and 3) are antithetical, in my estimation, to the whole organic project.
I have been shocked and dismayed to see companies responsible for the most toxic biocides used in industrial agriculture today capturing the organic gardening market. Their real products are not “eco-friendly fertilizers, pesticides and soil amendments;” rather, they are capitalizing on the noxious fiction that organic gardeners who purchase Lottsa Eco-Friendly Product ™ will grow avalanches of vegetables, and fruits the size of school buses, all of it as aesthetically flawless as what agribusiness produces for grocery stores. Exactly where the hundreds of thousands of metric tons of aesthetically flawed conventionally grown produce goes is a question that the Great and Mighty Oz, aka The Man Behind the Curtain, certainly has little vested interest in answering.
Having wagged my finger at industrial agriculture and the home-gardening industry, I’m going to get all up in the faces of organic gardening enthusiasts as well, because in my humble opinion, we have our own neurotic little “issues” too… our sacred cows, our misinformation campaigns, our flatulent memes, and a whole series of self-righteous delusions.
For our purposes here, we need to sho’ nuff straighten out our understanding of natural history if we hope to develop a rational relationship with the plants, pests, and pathogens that inhabit our backyard ecosystems, and if we hope of resist the coercive power of the organic industry to sell us empty dreams.
Brace yourself, because here I go, an over-educated academic, telling it like I see it, straight from the hip:
- The notion of gardening in harmony with nature is romanticized bunk-and-nonsense that flies in the face of what we know of ecology, anthropology, history, and the Neolithic Revolution;
- Gardens are fundamentally unnatural spaces;
- Agriculture, itself, is an insult – an act of violence if you will – against natural environment processes;
- Most domesticated foodstuffs are genetically inferior to their wild cousins and competitors;
- Their inferiority is expressed in their need for greater fertility inputs, as well as their susceptibility to pests and diseases;
- For these reasons, growing domesticated foodstuffs requires even organic gardeners to commit acts of environmental violence in order to defend crops from the consequences of their genetic inferiority;
It seems to me that the First Law of Thermodynamics applies to organic gardening in the following way: every choice we make has a cost, somewhere, whether we see it or not. Before we pick up the organic spray bottle and go to battle with the pests that will undoubtedly attack our domesticated crops this summer, we have to ask ourselves what are the comparative “costs” of the intervention choice available to us? Who pays that cost? Where does the cost accrue? Which of those costs are we willing to pay ourselves or make others pay for us? What compromises in the garden must we accept when we make a commitment to garden in the least ecologically “expensive” manner possible?
I urge organic gardeners to consider the following as “Critical Compromise Number One:”
- Redefine gardening “success” in a way that undermines any association of crop-loss with “failure.” Reject industrial and commercial agriculture’s definition of cosmetically “beautiful” produce. (Re)learn how to tolerate “ugly” produce. (Re)learn how to use a sharp knife to cut away and discard unappetizing parts of what you grow. This rebellion against the powerful influence of commercial agriculture will enable you to make measured rather than reactive pest-management choices.
I will discuss other critical compromises that we organic gardeners should consider in my next blog post: Organic Pest Control III: Acts of Gardening Violence, Petty and Profound.