In 2012 my best friend and I got the crazy idea to become organic farmers. Two guys from New York City who had never raised a plant in their lives were going to farm. We got our hands on a piece of land in the Bronx and were determined to grow organic vegetable and flower crops—but first we had to address the fact that we knew nothing about planting, growing, or maintaining any type of plant.
Fast forward to 2015 and we’re now in year three of our farm, Pure Love Organic Farms. We’ve restored the soil of a former illegal garbage dump site and have grown some amazing flowers over the past few seasons. But none of this would have been possible without understanding the implications of the soil food web and farming through organic means only.
We came to learn about the soil food web after one of my friends recommended a book called Teaming With Microbes. This book opened up my view of how the health of our soil—and, ultimately, the health of our planet—is dependent on soil life and beneficial insects.
None of this would have been possible without understanding the implications of the soil food web and farming through organic means only.
Conventional farming practices include heavy pesticide use to kill insects that can consume a harvest. Farmers and gardeners understandably don’t want to lose the literal fruits of their labor when harvest time comes, but the problem is that pesticides also kill the beneficial insects that keep detrimental bugs away. Pesticides also kill the microorganisms that allow plants to take up nutrients from the soil and convert them into usable energy sources. This is why our current agricultural system is so dependent on chemical fertilizers. We use pesticides that kill the good microorganisms along with the bad, then need to add in fertilizers to replace the natural life forms that help our crops grow.
And the trouble doesn’t end there. Conventional seeds also come from plants that were sprayed with pesticides, so if you are using conventional seeds you are still causing pesticides to leach back into the soil and kill soil life.
Organic farming and gardening, on the other hand, are designed to rebuild the health of the soil and attract bees and other beneficial insects. To do this, organic farms and gardens employ various techniques, such as composting, crop rotations, cover crops, and planting fruit and vegetable crops in tandem that support the life of multiple species at once. If you plan your farm or garden properly you can attract good insects that eat the kinds that feast on your crops.
For the health of our planet, the health of our communities, and the health of our families, gardening and farming organically is the clear choice. One of the simplest practices that you can take right now is to locate a certified organic seed company that is within your region of the country and buy seeds from them. Step by step we can convert our conventional gardening practices to organic practices and restore the health of our soil and environment.
Photo by Flickr user cbcastro.
Michael Forman is a native of Bronx, New York, and has lived in New York City for almost his entire life. He is the executive farm director of Pure Love Organic Farms, an organic, urban farm that he and three other friends created in 2012 from a former garbage dump site. Michael also works as the North American account manager for Totally Green in the sustainable technologies field.