There are arguments over some of the terms used in organic gardening. This section attempts to clarify the definitions:


There are a number of different meanings to the term, "organic". They include:


Certified Organic Crops are crops that are certified by an independent agency confirming that they have been grown and processed in compliance with a recognized standard. Growers of commercial organic crops often have problems complying with the Certification Standards. The growers are required to keep detailed records confirming their compliance to a strict standard, they must submit to and pay for an on-site inspection and pay an additional fee for the certification. In some cases, the grower is required to get certifications from multiple agencies meaning keeping even more records, dealing with more restrictions, and paying for even more inspections and certification fees.

The marketing of these crops can also be a problem. Certification in one State, District or market may or may not extend to a different jurisdiction. Nicotine sulfate, for example, is allowed for use as an insecticide in some jurisdictions but not in others. The issue is that it is a very toxic material even to the point of threatening the safety of the farm worker. On the other hand, it can also be considered environmentally friendly because it bio-degrades so quickly and completely. Some jurisdictions give more priority to safety to the farm workers while others give more priority to the way the material bio-degrades. The grower, caught in the middle, ends up in a situation in which he can ship and market his nicotine treated crops to some places but not to others.

Some growers simply get around the certification process and market their produce as "no spray" which also means un-supervised.

The USDA is in the process of drafting a National Standard that would apply to all States and, presumably, to all growers marketing organic crops in the US. A proposed National Standard was published recently but it contained a number of controversial provisions and has generated wide spread opposition. It may never become adopted in its present form. One of the most controversial is the provisions to allow the use of genetically engineered materials in an organic crop program. Another controversy is the provision to allow the use of composted sewer sludge as a soil amendment.

In terms of the home garden, the present OCIA's International Certification Standard, as cited in Appendix A, should be considered simply as a guide as to which materials are environmentally friendly.


Ecosystem is defined in Section A of the FAQ as, "The way the community of all of the living things in a specific space interrelate with each other and with the physical and chemical environment that they share."

"Common-Sense Pest Control" by Olkowski, Daar and Olkowski adds, "By ecosystem, we mean any system that has at least one living component that fixes energy from the sun. For example, if a specific green plant is at the core of a particular ecosystem, that ecosystem includes the animals, fungi and microbes that feed upon that plant and upon each other, as well as the minerals in various forms that cycle through and around these organisms".

About a hundred years before the term "ecosystems" was coined, John Muir said simply , "Everything is connected to everything else". It is this 'interconnectiveness" that makes an environment and the life of its inhabitants an ecosystem.


"Common-Sense Pest Control" by Olkowski, Daar and Olkowski says, "Integrated Pest Management, or IPM, is an approach to pest control that utilizes regular monitoring to determine if and when treatments are needed and employs physical, mechanical, cultural, biological and educational tactics to keep pest numbers low enough to prevent intolerable damage or annoyance. Least-toxic chemical controls are used as a last resort."

The purpose of IPM is to give the best control of pests and disease with the least amount of environmentally damaging pesticides.



J. I. Rodale was the first to use the term "organic" in the context of gardening or farming. He used the statement in a magazine article in 1940. Rodale said that the use of "chemical" fertilizers and pesticides was destructive of the environment. The article advocated the return to the use of natural materials such as composts and manures as a better way to feed the garden and the return to the traditional cultural practices such as crop rotation as a better way to prevent and control garden pests. J.I. Rodale was one of the early leaders of the environmental movement and one of the most articulate. He is most remembered for starting Rodale Press which publishes the magazine, "Organic Gardening" and for founding The Rodale Institute which gives organic gardening and farming supportive data.

The event that ignited the public's passion for organic gardening was Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring", published in 1962. She painted an emotional picture of the environmental damage caused by the use of "chemical" fertilizers and pesticides. Rachel Carson became the voice against the use of "toxic chemicals" and against the chemical companies. "Silent Spring" presented the idea that materials that were derived from nature were safe or "non-toxic" and that materials derived from synthetic sources were environmentally destructive and "toxic". Rachel Carson set the stage for a lot of arguments.

Organic gardening has grown from being essentially a protest movement to being main stream. It is now the style by choice of some 15 - 20 million home gardeners just here in the United States. Organic produce has grown from being a fad item in health food stores to an established presence in many, if not most, super markets. Part of the reason for the reason for this growth is the on- going public concern for the environment. Another reason is the belief that gardening in co-operation with the ecosystem makes for a better garden and better crops.

The recent squabbles over the USDA's proposed National Standards for organic crop production will set the stage for what happens next.