Categories: Organic Gardening

What is Organic and Why is it Important?

What is Organic and Why is it Important?

Photo by Emily Murphy

So what does organic mean and why is it important?

Organic is organic, right? It’s a ubiquitous term and an adjective used to describe everything from food to soil to fashion. We use it to characterize fabrics with an organic feel, pottery glazed with earth tones, carbon-based materials, rustic furniture — even people can be described as organic.

What is Organic?

According to the Oxford Dictionary:


1. relating to or derived from living matter.

2. produced or involving production without the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or other artificial agents.

Photo by Emily Murphy

Organic Farming and Gardening Buoy the Environment

Organic practices:

  • Improve soil and water quality
  • Reduce pollution
  • Promote closed-loop systems in which farms/gardens are self-sustaining
  • Enable healthy, normal livestock/animal behavior by providing healthy habitats and living conditions
  • Support Biodiversity & Life!

Organic Food and You

Thanks to recent studies, scientists are finding a growing body of evidence to prove that consuming organically grown food reduces one’s risk of many if not most cancers. In one study published in the JAMA Internal Medicine found that a diet rich in organic foods can reduce your cancer risk by 25%. Included in this is reducing one’s risk for lymphoma by 76% and post-menopausal breast cancer by 36%.

In Addition:

  • Organic produce is shown to have a moderate increase in nutrients.
  • Organic meats, dairy, and eggs are generally higher in important Omega-3 fatty acids.
  • There’s less pesticide residue and fewer toxic metals in organic produce compared to conventionally grown produce.
  • Exposure risk to you genetically modified foods is non-existent.
  • Reduce exposure risk to anti-biotic resistant bacteria.

Organic Practices Lead to Organic Food

Organic food labeling in the United States is overseen by the United States Department of Agriculture or the USDA. It states that in order for food crops to be sold under the organic label they must be grown in fields or greenhouses where no prohibited substances (ie chemical fertilizers, pesticides, other) have been applied within 3 years of harvest.

It also states that the land or greenhouses in which crops are grown must also be certified organic. This includes leased properties and all properties must have clear boundaries or buffers. What’s important to know about this is that the law specifies that adjacent properties mustn’t pose a threat to organic certification parameters. These possible threats include conventional farming and other possible sources of chemical contamination such as what might occur if growing areas are near railroads, utilities, roads, and flood zones.

Photo by Emily Murphy

What’s Prohibited

  • Any fertilizer, amendment, or application that contains a synthetic substance not included in the approved for organic growing. This includes chemical or synthetic pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers.
  • Sewage sludge
  • Burning as a means of crop disposal
  • Applying raw manure is also prohibited within 120 days of harvest of above ground edibles such as greens and 90 days of below-ground edibles such as root crops.
  • Livestock antibiotics and growth hormones
  • GMO seeds or any other genetically modified material

Photo by Emily Murphy

What’s Accepted

  • Applying composted plant materials and animal manures (using the time specifications above under “applying raw manure”).
  • Approved amendments and substances as found in the National List of Synthetic Substances.
  • Uncomposted plant material as you might have with conservation tillage (remains of last seasons crops are cut or simply left in fields to cover ground and replace nutrients to the soil through natural processes.
  • Burning to surpress the spread of disease.

What’s Encouraged

Practices and techniques that build and restore soil are a must. This means the farmer or gardener must actively cultivate the soil, doing her best to protect soil structure and fertility while fostering soil biodiversity. Cover crops, crop rotation, and applications of compost are included as organic practices.

Photo by Emily Murphy

What is Chemical-free?

When describing organic as chemical-free one could argue that the basic elements making up the periodic table are chemicals, so therefore even organic practices require chemicals. In fact, this counter-argument has been directed at me and my writings when I simplify organic in this way.

In reality, this is a devil’s advocate response that’s meant to provoke rather than inform. But, it does remind us that details sometimes need clarifying.

Organic is free of synthetic chemicals such as pesticides and herbicides. It’s also free of synthetic or artificial fertilizers.

Photo by Emily Murphy

Organic Matter

Organic matter generally refers to carbon-based compounds found in the environment. Carbon-based compounds are you and me; bacteria, fungi, bugs, and other animals; plants and plant parts like roots; poop and the decaying bits and pieces of living things.

Carbon is the forgotten nutrient and an important one. In fact, regenerative organic practices actively put carbon back in the soil (where about 1/2 of Earth’s carbon belongs), therefore helps combat the climate crisis.

The Best Soil for Your Garden (And You)

Natural vs. Organic

Don’t be fooled, organic and natural are not the same. Natural simply means a particular food doesn’t contain artificial flavors, colors, or preservatives.


When you see produced labeled as transitional in your grocery store, it means the farmer is actively seeking organic certification. So, it means the farm is actively using organic practices to grow food, it just needs 3 years of doing so to become certified.

Photo by Emily Murphy

GMO’s, Organic Practices, and the Environment

The truth about GMO’s that often gets overlooked thanks to pro-GMO *spin, is that many GMO’s are created simply to tolerate the spraying of herbicides such as RoundUp. You’ll often hear seeds or crops referred to as RoundUp ready crops because, when they’re planted, farmers can simply spray an entire field with herbicides killing everything except the intended crop.

This practice is endangering an endless number of plant and animal species. It poisons the environment indiscriminately. It kills habitat for birds, pollinators, and other wildlife, and it then is responsible for the death of these same creatures.

*The spin I’m referring to is to parties that would like you to only consider how eating a GMO food directly impacts your personal health. These same parties leave out how and why many GMO crops are grown such as RoundUp ready crops. However, it’s also important to note that not all GMO crops are designed to be resistant to herbicides like RoundUp, but have other purposes such as disease tolerance, increased or quicken growth, etc.

Does Organic Cost More?

Not always. It depends on where you shop and live and, in some cases, organic produce is less expensive than conventionally grown produce. Learn more in these Consumer Reports findings here.

Photo by Emily Murphy.

Why is Growing and Buying Organic Food Important

Organic food is critical to the health of the environment and human health. In fact, you can’t have one without the other. When we support the health of the environment using organic principles, especially regenerative organic principles, we’re actively supporting the greater environment. Regenerative organic practices actively store carbon in the soil while creating habitat for biodiversity to thrive above and below ground and, in turn, produces highly nutritious food.

Considering that conventional farming practices are one of the top drivers of the climate crisis and the loss of biodiversity globally, it’s critical to embrace regenerative organic farming practices as an alternative to conventional farming for the long-term health of the planet.

In fact, choosing organic is an easy, everyday choice we can all make to address the climate crisis, live healthier lives, support biodiversity, foster soil health, and make a difference.

Other articles you might enjoy:

The Best Soil for Your Garden (And You)

How to Attract Pollinators to Your Garden

Succession Planting Tips: Get More From Your Plot


What to Plant: Easiest Herbs to Grow Indoors
What You Need To Know To Help Western Monarchs


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About the Author: Emily Murphy

I’ve learned there’s something wonderfully powerful in the simple act of growing. Here, in our gardens, we can repair ourselves and our plots of earth with our own two hands. GROW WHAT YOU LOVE and GROW NOW!