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Old-time gardening = organic gardening?

15 years ago

This subject has come up many times since I moved here, a remote, rural, rugged part of Nova Scotia. But especially since my wife and I came up with the idea of offering workshops on sustainable growing practices. We have the only organic market gardens, the only government-registered farm, within a two hour's drive in any direction. I'd like to see more people here gardening, more food coming from local sources instead of coming off the trucks from the mainland, California and China, and ideally no imported fertilizers and pesticides..

This isn't a one-way street - we've taken up a lot of old local practices like harvesting seaweed and eelgrass, and putting fish waste in the soil. We're always learning more about the best practices for this climate.

I've run the idea of the workshops past people here whose families go back many generations. A few have their own small gardens but all have ancestors who had bigger, subsistence gardens. They'll say, 'They never used the word organic, but that's what they did. What's the difference?' The word 'organic' strikes them as a touch arrogant, and proposing to teach something that is common knowledge (a claim that's debatable imo) even moreso. It doesn't help that our produce is more bug-chewed and often smaller than theirs. Many of them use chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

It seems to me there is a difference. For one thing, the organic philosophy is a preventative. If farmers here in the forties had understood organic principles, they wouldn't have jumped at the chance to use ammonium nitrate from the defunct mining operation as nitrogen fertilizer. They might have hung on to their livestock. They might not have used old motor oil as a weed killer in their carrot patch, as one old fellow I know does (good carrots though). Etc.

Is there a difference? How would you explain the difference, if you were asked?

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