Organic: What Does It Mean and Why Is It Important?
The word "organic" is very loosely used in the grow and garden industry. The organic food sold at your local market must adhere to strict certification guidelines in order to be sold as such, but the organics sold in a grow store are not always labeled "organic". This is due to certain state laws, cost-prohibitive requirements or a variety of other reasons. To add to the confusion, some products bearing an organic certification may still contain toxins, like some well-known pesticides and fungicides. One thing is always certain: the label doesn't always tell the full story. That is why arming yourself with knowledge is key in finding your way through the smoke and mirrors of the hydroponics industry.
Below is a description of what the word "organic" can mean and how it is used in the grow and garden industry. If you still have questions the staff at Victory Hydro Gardening is well-versed on this topic, so feel free to call or stop by to discuss this further.
What does OMRI-Listed mean?
The Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) is the worldwide authority on organic products and materials. OMRI provides independent review of products and materials and lists those products found to be certifiably organic; hence the label “OMRI-Listed”. Better than to have us try and explain this any further, below is what OMRI has to say about themselves:
“Founded in 1997, the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) provides organic certifiers, growers, manufacturers, and suppliers an independent review of products intended for use in certified organic production, handling, and processing. OMRI is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. When companies apply, OMRI reviews their products against the National Organic Standards. Acceptable products are OMRI Listed® and appear on the OMRI Products List. OMRI also provides subscribers and certifiers guidance on the acceptability of various material inputs in general under the National Organic Program.”*
Q: Why do some products say “organic” but are not OMRI-Listed?
A: Even though many organic products do not boast an OMRI-Listed certification, they are not necessarily products to overlook when growing “organic”. OMRI acquires most of their funding through the fees they require of manufacturers in order to have their products reviewed. So, some manufacturers opt to not go through the OMRI certification process while assuring to us all that their products are, in fact, organic. So, is it a leap of faith to trust a product to be organic if it has no certification to back it up? Most certainly, but understanding organics along with frequenting a knowledgable grow store versed in organics will make that leap needing much less faith. It is worth noting there are some products available that are over 90% organic and do not claim to be organic while the USDA-Organic certification only requires a product to be 70% organic.
What does “organic” mean, anyway?
Well, if you’re like me, the first time you heard food referred to as being “organic”, you may have thought back to your high school chemistry class that taught you this:
1. noting or pertaining to a class of chemical compounds that formerly comprised only those existing in or derived from plants or animals, but that now includes all other compounds of carbon.**
1. Chemistry. noting or pertaining to compounds that are not hydrocarbons or their derivatives.**
Although the above stated is a definition of "organic", it is not the definition relative to gardening and consumable products. We need to dig further into the term “organic” to find our answer:
3. a. Of, marked by, or involving the use of fertilizers or pesticides that are strictly of animal or vegetable origin: organic vegetables; an organic farm.
b. Raised or conducted without the use of drugs, hormones, or synthetic chemicals: organic chicken; organic cattle farming.
c. Serving organic food: an organic restaurant.
d. Simple, healthful, and close to nature: an organic lifestyle.
e. Having properties associated with living organisms.
f. Resembling a living organism in organization or development; interconnected: society as an organic whole.**
**Source – reference.dictionary.com
Aha! The definition above is more along the lines of what "organic" means in the grow industry.
So, when you’re consuming organic produce, it has been grown only with fertilizers and/or pesticides that are naturally-derived (“strictly of animal or vegetable origin”). Likewise, if you are eating organic meat, the animal from which that meat came was raised free of “drugs, hormones, or synthetic chemicals”. I would take the definition a step further to include "GMO free" as well. Of course, in order for these foods to be labeled as organic, they also must meet the production standards of an accredited organization, like the USDA. Now, when talking about the products found in our shop, “organic” means these products are solely formulated from plant and/or animal materials (ie, kelp meal, bone meal, organic soil), free of both synthetic chemicals and genetically-modified organisms (GMOs). Grow store products are typically certified organic by either the USDA or OMRI. Still, as stated earlier, there are many excellent organic products that forego these certification programs and we do not recommend blindly shopping for organics simply by looking for the USDA-Organic or OMRI labels. In fact, we are finding that organic certifications are becoming rarer in the grow industry, therefore we recommend you research products thoroughly in order to understand what is really in the bottle and whether it is right for you.
Note: Pesticides & Fungicides
It is also important to keep in mind that even when a pesticide or fungicide is labeled "organic", that does not mean it is non-toxic. The deadliest poisons on Earth are organic and naturally occurring in the wild. Understand what is in the pesticides and fungicides being sold at your local grow store or being used by your favorite gardener. Research how they work, what types of plants they are designed for, how they are supposed to be applied and how to protect yourself if they are being used. If you do decide to use a toxic pesticide or fungicide, please be cognizant of how it may affect those who work in your garden and those who live near your garden. Better yet, try to avoid all toxins by simply employing an organic preventative maintenance program in your garden. This truly is the best way to keep your garden healthy, pest-free and, most importantly, safe for you, your family, neighbors and anyone consuming your produce. Additionally, if you are not growing for yourself, demand the produce being sold to you be toxin free.