A new study by Washington State University has confirmed what many of us in the Organic Food movement have long been saying. Studying strawberry-growing in California, they confirmed that both food and soil from organic techniques are healthier. This study is one of the most comprehensive done so far and should go a long way toward convincing many people of the scientific benefits of organics.

There were three main findings in the study:

1) Organic foods are healthier than conventional foods. They found higher levels of vitamin C and antioxidants in organic strawberries than their conventional cousins. This isn’t surprising, we already know that since the oldest records we have (from the 1950s), the amount of many vitamins and nutrients in our fresh produce have dropping for decades.

2) Organic foods have healthier crops. Despite the copious use of methyl bromide, an extremely toxic fungicide on their conventional cousins, organic strawberry plants actually had less fungal rots. This is because organic growing techniques rely on a wide variety of methods to control pests, not just chemicals. By fostering a healthy and diverse environment around the crops, not only are they healthier and more able to fight off diseases and pests, but also fosters a web of predators to eat them. Convention farming, on the other hand, tends to get caught in a constant spiral of adding more and more chemicals – driving costs and damages through the roof without actually providing many benefits. The increases in yeilds from the “Green Revolution” have now began fading as the costs of chemical inputs continues to rise faster than the yields they produce.

3)Organic foods grow in heealthier soils.This point is especially crucial. Without healthy soils, we cannot grow healthy foods. And while conventional foods use soils soaked in added chemical nutrients (fertilizers), they still have less than organics? How is this possible? Because soil nutrition is as much about biology as it is about chemistry. The bugs, microbes and fungi which live in natural soils (eg: forests) fertilize and till the soil themselves. Adding pesticides, fungicides and fertilizers kills most or all of these off, and that undermines the soil far more than it could ever make up for.

Most claims against organic foods state that they cannot produce the same yields as modern conventional growing techniques (read the comments of the first article…). This argument claims that because organics produce less, more forests need to be cut down for fields. While this is an issue, the math needs a closer look. What kind of organic farms are being compared? If it’s two identical fields, it can’t be done right away, because it often takes years for organic methods to re-grow a living soil web. And then there’s the issue of whether yields are being examined per field or overall. By maintaining fertile soils, organic operations can fallow less land and avoid burning out entire fields. Conventional farming methods destroy millions of acres through tilling, irrigating and chemicals. And then there’s the biggest issue of all – cost. If a farm must grow many times more than it would otherwise to repay the costs of machinery, chemicals and loans, then any land saved will be eaten up anyway. And one way or the other, it’s adding many costs to the final price which don’t need to be there – we need to pay farmers for growing food, not Monsanto. And in any case, this argument makes no mention of the millions of acres of land which would be used one way or another – and would be far more toxic under conventional methods.

The organic methods examined here only scratch the surface of what is possible without chemical inputs. We can do so much more with techniques like intercropping or Effective Microorganisms. We simply need to start doing it, and stop expecting petrochemicals to do it for us.