Keeping Organic Soil-Centric or Can it Get Fishy?

The first organic standard was developed by the Soil Association so it is not surprising that  was founded on the premise that “organic systems are soil based”.  Developments in new technologies, demographics, and consumer interest in locally grown food has driven interest in urban production systems including vertical farms that produce food using hydroponics (these rely on soil-less media or nutrient solutions). Even though the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) recommends against inclusion of hydroponic systems within the list of organic production systems allowed in the U.S., USDA’s NOP has certified numerous hydroponic operations.  Many of the suppliers are not domestic and the produce would not be allowed to be certified as organic in the countries where it is grown (Mexico, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Holland, England, Germany, Italy, France, Spain, and most other European countries prohibit hydroponic production to be certified or labeled as organic). Not surprisingly members of the organic community are pushing back against vertical farms that have sought and received USDA-backed organic certification.

Not everyone is opposed to the idea.  Most efforts to separate what might or might not be acceptable focus on the biology of the growing media- advocates are arguing in favor of systems that include enough organic matter and attendant microbial life to support plant growth.  Advocates for organic soil-less production system concentrate on aquaponics that integrate fish culture with plant production systems.

Chicago is home to the largest organically-certified aquaponic vertical farm so this will be a case to watch as the organic standard evolves along with other sustainability certification efforts..