When it comes to the prices farmers charge for their produce, the legality of a label often makes all the difference. There’s a lot at stake for what “Certified Organic” really means, which is why the definition has been debated for decades. Recently, the dispute has intensified over the necessity for vegetables and other food to grow in soil to merit organic certification.
The heart of the debate is about whether produce grown hydroponically — meaning the plants are raised in nutrient-enriched water — can be considered organic. Proponents argue that hydroponic systems legally fit the definition of organic growing because the solution used by these systems provides everything plants need to grow, without any synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. They further contend that their methods are even better for the environment than conventional organic farming because hydroponics grow crops with far less water.
Many soil-based organic farmers disagree. They point out that the original mentality behind organic growing is about cultivating soil health, so growing in soil should therefore be essential for organic certification. Naturally amending and improving farm soil has ecological benefits that extend far beyond healthful food, these farmers assert.